Colour photo showing the front of the rectangular gothic building

About a mile south of Duff House, in a very peaceful location looking over the river, is a Mausoleum built in 1792 by the 2nd Earl Fife, initially for his parents, but now with possibly 21 residents, including the first five Earls.  The sixth Earl – who became the first Duke of Fife – was buried at Mar Lodge on Deeside, another of what was the Duff family properties.

The Mausoleum is a rectangular “gothic” building, with stone latticed windows and a slate roof.  When a restoration was done in 1912, one of the reasons apparently was that the then stone tiled roof was leaking, and the slate roof was put on top to make it weathertight.

Other work in 1912 included filling in the crypt.  As you enter through the main door in front of you are three large stones in the floor which cover the steps that went down.  There was then an aisle running left and right, with a total of 22 shelves, in pairs, for coffins.  The only location known of any of the listed incumbents is the First Earl and his (second) wife Jean, who are in the northeasterly corner, looking out over the river.  His son, James the 2nd Earl, had them brought to the Mausoleum from Rothiemay once the Mausoleum was completed.  William the first Earl Fife never lived at Duff House in his lifetime – although he had it built – but has been here now for 228 years!

A list of people buried in the crypt is incised in stone just inside the door; this lists 19 people.  It does get a bit confusing because two other lists have been printed in history books, and all three are slightly different.  If the lists are combined a total of 21 people are spending their time in the crypt.  Monuments to many of them adorn the inside of the Mausoleum itself.  The first Earl’s at the east end is made of Coade stone – refer to the separate “story” of 16-Sep-19 for more information.  A number of excellent examples exist around the Mausoleum, but the first Earl’s tomb is marred by the crest at the top being damaged by rusting – and hence expanding – supporting metal work.

Originally the windows were filled with coloured glass; years ago fragments could be found on the ground outside, and some remnants can still be seen in the stone tracery.  In 2016 a small amount of restoration was done described well by the notice posted at the time:

Please take care around this building as work is underway,

Unfortunately we must repair the damage without further delay,

We do not mean to disturb your visit and would like you to know,

Just what it is we need to fix and how about it we might go.

The window has been vandalised and the tomb is a little green,

The gate is rather rusty and needs much more than just a clean,

So please excuse us while we work, we won’t take too much time,

But watch this space and soon the building will be looking mighty fine.

And indeed, the conservation contractors for Aberdeenshire Council, did a great job.  The building was plenty fine enough for a tea party with Their Graces The Duke and Duchess of Fife in 2017 !

A “story” about the Provost Douglas tomb on the outside south wall was put on this site on 11-May-19.

The Mausoleum is normally kept locked, but can be viewed during the grounds guided tours from Duff House (but not during Covid!) or in mid-September for Doors Open Day.  For 2020 the latter was a virtual experience and a short Mausoleum video narrated by the Duke of Fife can be seen and heard at https://youtu.be/9koNx6v5Z6A

Portrait of George Robinson
A portrait of Provost Robinson
George Robinson (1743-1827), Provost of Banff 

In 1817 George Robinson, the greatest of Banff’s Provosts, after 34 years of running the town’s affairs, presented the Head Court with a statement of what had been achieved in that time. It was an impressive list, and what was more, everything was costed, and the town was still solvent. 

Not everything had been plain sailing. His first move in 1785 had been to arrange for Banff to have its own Customs House, because until then every boat had to send an officer overland to Aberdeen to get the paperwork signed (that meant an overnight stay in those days). This excellent move was thwarted because Banff had two rival earls, each of whom wanted the right to appoint the local exciseman, and we had to wait till these two earls were dead in 1807 to find a compromise, and get our own Customs House. 

Other reforms came more easily. There was a new east quay at the harbour, a grand new parish church, new meal houses in the (Old) Market Place, and a new town house and jail. There were new turnpike roads, and the new entry to the town along Bridge Street. There was a new water supply for Banff. They put a new upper storey on the Academy, doubling its size. After the high tides of 1807, which washed away the shingle bar across the river mouth (it came back) there were new sea defences on Low Shore. Also money was laid out to bribe fishermen with boats and free houses, so that they would settle in Banff, hence the Seatown, as Banff became a fishing port. By matching funding, the Council had got a major public grant to enlarge the harbour further.   

Almost all of this had gone through on the nod. The Deacons of the Incorporated Trades would sometimes look at the accounts, hoping to save public money. Provost Robinson had found himself again and again defending the meagre pay given to the schoolteachers. As he said in his statement, “To that system which prevails in Scotland, and by which even the most indigent may receive the benefit of a classical education, is to be ascribed the pre-eminent success of our countrymen in all parts of the world.” He was right, and he had been a very effective Provost. At the north end of Low Street is the arch built for the entrance to the New Market, with his name on it.

The old Banff Academy, Institution Terrace, Banff

Crossing the Deveron Bridge, what first attracted me to Banff was the prospect of the Old Banff Academy facing east on a rise above the High Street, overlooking the approach from the bridge.  The Neo Greek, single storey, 15-bay classical frontage by William Robertson (1837-8) of Elgin, spoke of Banff as a town which valued culture and learning, as indeed it does.  It also spoke of a darker side to Banff’s history.

 The 1837-8 building was financed by money left by Banffer, James Wilson, ‘late of Banff, in the island of Grenada, a charitable fund for the good of Banff … expended on the school’.  Mr. Wilson died in 1799 at the height of the slave trade in the Caribbean; it is likely that his legacy was directly or indirectly linked to the enslavement of Africans on the plantations in Grenada.  It is well known that many North East families owned plantations in the Caribbean in the 18th & 19th C.  One such was another Banffer, James Gardiner(d.1825), owner of the Swanswick plantation in Jamaica.

  Mr. Wilson’s will directed that the whole of his stock, after the decease of certain annuitants, be given to the magistrates of Banff, to be used for charitable purposes, according to their discretion.  The estate was sufficient for the construction of an infant school, a free school on the Madras system, and class-rooms for the grammar school, as well as, a library and a museum. 

 When the annuitants died, their descendants brought a case declaring the will invalid.  The case went to the House of Lords, which ruled in favour of the magistrates and so in 1838 Banff got the bequest and the town got its Academy.  By coincidence all enslaved people in Grenada were freed by 1 August 1838.

A view of Canal Park from the Howe
A view of Canal Park Banff
Canal Park Banff

Everyone living in Banff will be familiar with the name Canal Park, being the area of ground that was, for many years, the home to Deveronside football team. Where did the name come from? There are no canals around Banff.

The following quotes from the Minutes of Banff Town Council shed a bit of light on the subject.

In 1724 Lord Braco applied to the court “for sanction to straighten his marches by carrying up his canal in a straight line from the sluice in the new bulwark towards My Lord’s garden, “and seeing the place called the Dogie’s Pott is deap and wet ground he desires liberty to build a little farther down on the common betwixt him and the town to have his dyke on a sure foundation, and if he has any advantage he is to pay the value as agreed on”

In 1734 “Bracco is allowed to make a drain from the water of Diveron into a canal which he  is making out in his park, and which drain shall go through a piece of the town’s commonty”

This seems to be the beginnings of the name Canal Park in Banff, a canal built to carry the stones for building Duff House form the sea to the building site. On 11th June 1735, the foundation stone for Duff House was laid with the Duke of Fife and William Adam, architect, in attendance.

The stone for the north and south fronts came from a quarry in Morayshire and the rest from a quarry near Queensferry. In 1741 Adam’s account listed £468-1-0 5/6 d for stone and £2500-5-0d for carved stones. The stone from Queensferry came in to Banff as ballast in meal boats and then made the last part of the journey via the canal to Duff House.

It’s difficult to imagine how the sea front looked back then as the coast of Banff has changed over the years e.g. in 1699 nineteen and twenty one year leases were being offered on the “Salt Lochs” along the sea front to anyone interested in order to improve conditions for the salmon trade. Early maps don’t have sufficient detail.

In 1906 the Duke of Fife (6th Earl 1849 – 1912) gifted Duff House and its grounds including Canal Park (around 140 acres in all) to the people of Banff and Macduff. The Duke of Fife was married to the Princess Louise, eldest daughter of Edward, Prince of Wales.

A cross in the wall
The cross marking the site of Banff Episcopal school at the junction of Sandyhill Road and Bellevue Road.

Those of you who are observant will have noticed a stone cross, built in to the wall at the corner of Sandyhill Road and Bellevue Road. The date carved around the cross is 1864.

This cross marks the site of the Episcopal female school, opened in 1864. Thanks to old copies of the Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser, we are able to have a picture of the site in those days and have some fascinating details of the building.

The site of the new school was given by the Earl of Fife at the lowest possible feu duty and is described as “on Sandyhill Road, forming the south corner of St Ann’s Hill Lane”

We know that the school was built by subscriptions and that it was a “new female school for St Andrew’s church”. As well as local subscriptions, there were also subscriptions from London, Edinburgh and Birkenhead. The school was necessary because the old schoolroom in Boyndie Street was too cramped and this had meant that the roll had to be capped at eighty scholars.

The buildings included a teacher’s house which was a two storey cottage which was built on to Sandyhill Road with the school building behind it. The school was described as “substantial and commodious”, the schoolroom being 40 feet long, 20 feet wide and 14 feet tall. The entrance to the school was on the west gable via a porch, measuring six by eight feet. The school was “well lighted by three rolled plate glass windows. The building had ornamental finials and on the end facing the road, a stone cross with the date of erection. This building cost around £350.

The architect for the project was Mr James Booker of Banff and the first headmistress was Miss Marr of Old Deer. The school was supported by school fees and a government grant.

By 1921 the school was closed and in 1923, a request was made to let the school to the Girl Guides. In the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s, the building was the technical and woodwork department of the Academy.

In 1966, the school was used by Mr Thomas Woodham as a skirt factory. This business survived until a recession hit and all his staff were laid off in 1981. The factory sent orders as far afield as Canada, Australia and Austria.

The school and house were demolished in 1982 and all that remains is the cross in the wall.

Colour photo showing bridge over the Craigs of Alvah gorge

In August 1829 the worst floods known around Banff occured; could have been much worse if it wasn’t for the Craigs of Alvah and the Duff House estate wall.