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Photo of old yellowed map showing the River Deveron and the piers of the first Banff Bridge.

The present Banff Bridge was opened in 1779, although not formally signed off until 17th June 1780.  Some of the original drawings of this Smeaton designed bridge, widened in 1881, do exist.  Many people are however aware that the present bridge replaced a previous one but little is known about it.

The Roy map of 1747 gives a sketch of both Banff and Down (although the latter is not named) and it does show a ford across the river.  This appears to be the King’s Ford, located 1350 feet south of the present bridge, just upstream of the mouth of the Gelly Burn on the Macduff side; part of the track from this ford to Down is still traceable on the ground.

A bit later there was also another ford utilising the west end of Scurry Island – the island just round the first major bend to the south – which joined the track past what is now Kirkside farm.

Use of the fords however was quite difficult and certainly dangerous; the tracks to them were also reported as not easy to navigate in wet weather – or until the 2nd Earl Fife undertook to improve them if the land was passed to him – which only took place in 1777.  The alternative was the use of a ferry, but some of the arguments used to make the case for a bridge show how dangerous the ferry was too: “not a single year passed without some unfortunate occurrence at this ferry”; “inconvenience to the public”; “frequent stoppage of mails”.  One of the reported incidents was 12th January 1739 when several people lost their lives after the ferry overturned.

The case for a bridge over the river was several decades in the making, and the earliest known detailed map of either Banff or Down (not named Macduff until 1783), dated October 1763, does show the beginnings of the first bridge.  This unique map shows the first bridge had three piers in the river, plus one on each bank – hence four arches compared to the present seven arched bridge.  It was largely paid for by the Government and is reported to have cost between five and six thousand pounds.  It opened in June 1765.

However great it was to stay dry crossing the river – remembering it was the main route to Aberdeen – on 17th September 1768 there was a large storm, and a huge spate of water came down the river.  This undermined the west, Banff side, pier, and the bridge collapsed, although fortunately without loss of life.

Unfortunately the ferry that had to be resumed was not so safe; in January 1773 seven lives were lost when the ferry was carried out into Banff Bay.

Smeaton decided that the new bridge should be located “the breadth of itself further up”.  Not particularly clear but the 1763 map allows some scale measurements to be taken and it would appear the old bridge was slightly to seaward of the present bridge.  The stones from the old bridge were re-used in the new bridge when work started in 1772, much of the rest coming from the quarry now at Bridge garage.

Colour image of a painting showing a distinguished grey haired man.

The Banffshire Journal was founded in 1845 but it’s first Editor, James Thomson, lasted only little more than a year.  For the next six decades Alexander Ramsay was the Editor, initially appointed when he was just 25.  He had served an apprenticeship in Edinburgh – since the age of 13 – then worked in London, before coming to Banff in early 1847.

50 years into his job he told friends at his Jubilee, “Since the day I first entered the Town, I have never ceased to take a lively interest in its affairs.  On nearing the east end of the Bridge, and looking out of the window of the coach, I saw the fair prospect of the Town resting on the slope of the hill, the river in the foreground, the sea to the right, the valley of the Deveron stretching southwards. I felt that I could live in this place.  I have been so engrossed I work ever since that I had no time to think of a change.”

He started the regime of printing on Mondays for distribution on Tuesdays, and also appointed a correspondent in every parish, who weekly reported their local news to him.  He made sure the paper covered not just local subjects, but everything he could think of interest to his readers.  His political editorials tried to be balanced, which must have resulted in some discussion since his controlling shareholders were two Tories, the Earl of Fife and the Earl of Seafield!

He had many interests outside of the Journal itself.  He purchased the copyright of the Polled Cattle Herd Book (“polled cattle” are those cattle breeds that naturally have no horns, such as Angus and Galloway) and published many editions, remaining it’s editor until 1901.  At times he was also a Town Councillor, was Provost for two years, Chairman of the Parish Church Musical Association, and an Elder of the Church.  Other posts he held were on the Banff School Board and Chair of the Banffshire Field Club.

There was a large gathering for his Jubilee in 1897; at least 150 polled cattle farmers and many friends gathered in the Banff Council Chambers.  One of the things he was presented with was his portrait, painted by Marjorie Evans, herself a grand-daughter of a Provost of Banff.

Dr Ramsay passed away in 1909.

Colour photo of a distinguished General holding an Argentine flag

19th August 1824. 

Doña Josefa Balcarce y San Martín de Gutiérrez Estrada is probably not a name that many people recognise; a few more may remember his more common name of José de San Martin.  This general became a great friend of James, the 4th Earl Fife, after they met during the Peninsular Wars in Spain.  At that time they had both given allegiance to Spain, but José was born in Argentina, and in 1812 was drawn back to South America.  Interestingly the Burgess Roll of Banff for 1824 lists José as from Colombia, rather than Argentina; this may in fact have been correct as José’s last South American domicile was in Guayaquil, originally in Peru, at that time very recently annexed to Colombia and today in Ecuador.  

It was actually James Earl Fife – who had returned to UK in 2011 as his father was ill – that organised José’s trip from Spain via London, as switching allegiances to now fight against Spain from being one of their most successful military leaders was a delicate situation!

As a great strategist José was the General that led Argentina (then known as the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata) to gain independence from Spain, and also led armies to liberate Chile and then Peru.  He ceded to the better known Libertador Simon Bolivar in 1822, left his life in the military and politics and came back to Europe.

For 17 days in 1824 he visited his friend James at Duff House.  During that stay, specifically on 19th August, the town of Banff granted him the freedom of the Burgh.  He probably cut quite a dashing figure at the time; the artist for the painting shown here is not known, but it was painted 1825 or 1827 so quite representative of his visit to Banff.

José went to live in France, and died on 17th August in 1850.  One hundred years later and the then Argentine ambassador, Carlos Hogan, paid a celebratory visit to Banff on 25th October.  Part of his visit was planting a native Argentinian “Monkey Puzzle” tree in Banff Castle grounds – where one can be seen today together with it’s plaque.  There is a story that the first winter was not good for the actual tree planted by Carlos Hogan and another was quietly substituted!

Just over two years later and Banff is given another accolade in memory of José de San Martin.  Carlos Hogan went on to become the Argentine Minister of Agriculture, and arranged for a square in Buenos Aires to be called “Ciudad de Banff” – Town of Banff – “in recognition of the hospitality given to the Argentine Liberator Don José de San Martin by Banff in 1824, and the freedom of the Burgh they conferred upon him.”  That Plaza retains that name to date in Buenos Aires.

Greyscale image of the wedding ceremony

27th July.  Louise and Alexander’s marriage service started at noon, 131 years ago today.  Quite an auspicious marriage for Banff and Macduff, as Alexander was the Sixth Earl Fife with his main home being Duff House, and Louise was the Princess Royal, the daughter of the then Prince and Princess of Wales.  Prince Edward became King Edward VII in 1901.

The ceremony took place in the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace, attended by most of the British Royal Family as well as royalty from Germany, Denmark and Greece.

In the main picture in this Story, the foreground characters from the left, are some of the seven bridesmaids, Alexander, Louise, Prince Edward of Wales, Princess Alexandra of Wales and Queen Victoria.

The other photo in this article is a large silver two-handle cup that stands 24 inches high, has an engraved representation of Duff House and the couple’s coat of arms, and bears the inscription “Presented to H.R.H. the Princess Louise of Wales and The Earl of Fife, K.T. on the occasion of their marriage by the Inhabitants of the Royal Burgh of Banff, July 27, 1889”.  A very handsome gift indeed.

A commemorative special Illustrated London News was published just four days later, and bearing in mind that this publication at that time did not use photos but hand drawn engravings – and there are sixteen of the actual wedding itself in this edition, one being a double page, and the rest at least half a page – is quite remarkable.  Additionally this publication has several dozen engravings of other views, with about a dozen being of Banff and Macduff including Duff House; hence it is a great source for the heritage of the area.

Alexander was first made Duke of Fife and Marquess of Macduff two days later, and, unusually, in 1900 he received a second set of Letters Patent which amended the 1889 ones to allow the Duke’s titles to pass to his and Louise’s daughters Alexandra and Maud, as there was not a male heir. 

The 1st Duke of Fife died in 1912 from pleurisy likely as a result of complications from being shipwrecked off the coast of Morocco while on a cruise on the ss Delhi; the rest of his family all survived. Louise, Duchess of Fife is reputed not to have favoured Duff House, and hence the gift of the estate to the people of Banff and Macduff in 1907.  She is of course the person behind the name of the sports and community club and making Banff and Macduff the only place in the world with two Royal golf courses.  Louise died in 1931, and her remains are with her husband’s in St Ninian’s Chapel at Mar Lodge.

Cover of Random Rhymes - a book of poetry written by Colin Grant Mackenzie

You have probably never heard of Colin Grant Mackenzie (1832-1913); me neither, until recently.  It turns out he was famous for his woodcut printing skills, and somewhat of a poet to boot.

Mackenzie was born in Banff in 1832; the only census entry I could find showed one Colin Mckinzie, 8 years old, present at Gallowhilll Street for the 1841.  Strangely, there is no mention of either parent in the census return.  In the valuation records for 1855 a James W Mackenzie is recorded as a tenant occupying ‘part of house back of Journal office Old Market Place’.  Could James be a relative, perhaps Colin’s father, given that we know Colin learned hand-press printing at the offices of the Banffshire Journal?

Whatever his parentage, in 1850, this Banffer arrived in the USA a fully-fledged journeyman pressman.  In 1854 he joined Harper Brothers and made the woodcut overlays for their illustrated work; he was the first printer in America to make such overlays.  Later on Colin joined what became University Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  During his time there he printed the writings of Longfellow and other great literary men of the day.

In between developing the printing industry in the US, Colin found time to print four series of his own poems, “Random Rhymes”: series 1 in 1867 (Cambridge: the author) series 2 in 1883 (New York: the author) and 3 in 1903 (Brooklyn: J.J. Bowles).  The fourth was unpublished.  Here is a flavour:

“Hail Brothers of the printing ink!

Ye are the faithful, loyal crew,
You hold within your faithful hands,
Power, mightier than Archmedian screw–
The Printing Press rules all the lands”

If you want any more of this Banffer’s poetry, you can buy the fourth series of “Random Rhymes.”  Be warned it doesn’t come cheap – currently on sale for £1,260.84.

Colour photo of James Duff dressed in his road cloak and fur.
Colour image of a painting of Captain George Duff in uniform
Colour photo of triangular-ish gravestone
Black and white image showing old fashioned glass testing equipment, bunsen burners etc
A poster for the cinemas in Banff and Macduff