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Parish of Garvock

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Garvock
1834-45: Garvock

Garvock is a parish in Kincardineshire, bounded on the NE by the parish of Arbuthnott, on the SE by Benholm and St Cyrus, on the SW by Marykirk, and on the NW by Laurencekirk. Its extreme length, from NE to SW, is rather more than 7 miles; its greatest breadth, from NW to SE, about 4 miles; and its area is 7982 acres, of which 16 are water. The name is derived from two Celtic words denoting a 'rough marsh or meadow.' Though cultivation has done much in the way of improvement, there are still parts of the parish to which the original name is not inappropriate. It is intersected, but very unequally, by what is distinctively named the 'Hill of Garvock,' a range of high land covered with heath. On the NW of this ridge are Barnhill, and the upper lands of several farms otherwise lying in Laurencekirk. On its S lies much the larger part of the parish, descending gently to form a hollow plain, chiefly of cultivated land, and rising again to higher ground (where it borders upon Benholm and St Cyrus) varied by a single narrow opening, the source of the romantic Den Finella. Bervie Water, well known to anglers, winds 17/8 mile along the border of Garvock, separating it from Arbuthnott. It receives two inconsiderable streams in the parish, one of them flowing, when not checked by drought, through the picturesque Woodburnden. The surface of the parish along the Bervie Water is 140 feet above the level of the sea. It rises thence, and at Denhead attains a height of 462 feet, falling on the SE border to 455 feet. The three highest points of the Hill of Garvock are cairns, situated from the parish church respectively 7 furlongs NE, 3 furlongs NW, and 12 furlongs SW, and their various altitudes being 854, 813, and 915 feet. On the last the tower of Johnston is built. Those cairns and others in different parts of the parish are supposed to be relics of the Druids; and several have been found to contain evidence of having been places of sepulture at a very early period. There is one on Barnhill, which tradition marks as the grave of two travelling merchants who, early in the 18th century, quarrelled and fought on the spot, and were both killed. Here it may be noted, in the words of Mr Jervise, that 'stone cists, flint arrowheads, and curious stone balls have been found in various parts of Garvock; and in March 1875 there was discovered, at a depth of 15 inches, in a gravel hillock near Brownies' Leys, an oval-shaped vessel made of burned clay, about 11 inches deep by about 8 inches wide, and containing part of a skull and other human remains.' But the spot which has attained the greatest celebrity is that known as Brownies' Kettle, or Sheriff's Kettle, on the farm of Brownies' Leys and estate of Davo. Here was the caldron in which John Melville of Glenbervie, Sheriff of the Mearns, met his cruel fate at the hands of his brother barons, being 'sodden and suppit in bree,' in literal compliance with the too hasty sentence of his majesty James I. The story is too well known for a detailed account to be given here. The unnatural deed was perpetrated about 1420 or 1421, and on 1 Sept. of the latter year, Hugh Arbuthnott, George Barclay, Alexander Falconer, William the Graham, Gilbert Middleton, Patrick Barclay, and Alexander of Graham were received 'to the lawes of Clane Macduff for the deid of quhillome John the Malaville, Laird of Glenbervy.' The chief actor, David Barclay, preferred to seek for safety by building the Kaim of Mathers, to the security of which he retired for a time. The heritors are James Badenoch Nicholson, for the lands of Arthurhouse; Hercules Scott, for the lands of Balhagarty; David Scott Porteous, for the lands of Bradieston; George Taylor, for the lands of Craig and Br adiestown; Alfred Farrell, for the estate of Davo; David A. Pearson, for lands of Johnston, etc.; trustees of the late Earl of Kintore, for the lands of Redford; Patrick Dickson, for the estate of Barnhill; James Scott, for Easter Tulloch; trustees of the late John Scott, for Upper Tulloch; and Viscount Arbuthnott, for the lands of Whitefield. The soil has been described as 'mostly either thin or medium loam resting on a hard subsoil, or stiff clayey loam lying on a cold sour bottom. Considering that a large portion of this parish consists of uncultivated hilly ground, the rise in rental must be regarded as very large. As already indicated a large extent of land has been reclaimed on the slope of Garvock Hill during the last twenty-five years' (Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1881, p. 112). Tradition bears that a large part of Garvock was in ancient times a forest, and there are traces of the deer-dyke by which it was enclosed. It is uncertain how much interest was held in the parish by Hugh le Blond, who had owned the patronage, and land also in the neighbourhood, of the church, or how long that interest continued in the family of Arbuthnott. But in the first quarter of the 14th century the lands of Garuocis were among the gifts to Sir Alexander Fraser, Thane of Cowie, brother-in-law of King Robert I., and Great Chamberlain of Scotland, who fell at the Battle of Dupplin in 1329. His grand-daughter, Margaret Fraser, became the wife of Sir William Keith, founder of the castle of Dunnottar, and the barony of Garuocis was for several generations in possession of the Keiths-Marischal. It is included in charters to the first earl and the fourth, who died in 1581. In his time a lease of the lands of Shiells was given to James Keith. great-grandson of the second earl, 'a man of parts and merits,' devoted to Queen Mary, a favourite of his chief, and captain of the castle of Dunnottar. He was head of the family of Craig, and, though possessed of lands in several counties, including some in Garvock, he made his residence on Shiells. There he had virtually exercised the powers of baron, administering justice and holding councils on the Baron-hill (Barnhill); while the adjoining height, still known as Gallow-bank, had been utilised by the grim 'finisher' of the law. The 17th century began the breaking up of the barony into various holdings. Before 1628, Bradieston ('town of the flat meadow land') was in possession of Robert Keith, grandson of the above-mentioned James, an d Provost of Montrose, who subsequently acquired the barony of Scotston and Powburn and the lands of Haddo. He was commissioner from the burgh of Montrose in the Scottish Parliament of 1639, and he died in 1666. His initials, 'R. 1666 K.,' with shield and crest, are still found on a stone which had been part of a funeral monument, and is now built into a wall of the church. The lands of Balhagarty ('town of the priest') are known to have belonged in 1637 to Earl Marischal, and they were in possession of Scott of Scotstarvet before 1672. There was a charter of the lands of Whitefield in 1617 to Sir Robert Arbuthnott and his wife, Mary Keith; and in 1677 the Hon. Alexander, younger son of the first Viscount Arbuthnott, had a charter of the lands of Tullochs ('little hills'). In the last quarter of the 17th century three branches of a distinguished family were conterminous proprietors. In 1672 the lands of Barnhill and Henstown were in possession of Lord Falconer of Haulkerton; in 1682 Smiddiehill and adjoining parts belonged to Sir David Falconer of Newton; and in 1684 the lands of Shiells were disponed to Sir Alexander Falconer of Glenfarquhar. The eldest branch succumbed, and the Haulkerton title and estates passed to Glenfarquhar, who enjoyed them only for three years, when David Falconer of Newton succeeded, as fifth Lord Falconer; and, coming into possession of the whole lands which had belonged to the three families, was probably the largest heritor of Garvock for the time. Space cannot be given for a detailed account of the transmission of the various lands to their present respective proprietors, but it may be stated that in course of this transition the parish numbered among its heritors more branches than one of the Barclays, descendants of the once powerful De Berkeleys. The church was rated in 1275 at 1 8 merks. In 1282 Hugh le Blond, Lord of Arbuthenoth, granted to the monks of Arbroath the patronage of the church of Garvock, with an ox-gang of land and some common pasture. The earliest recorded vicar was William, who did homage to King Edward in 1296. Coming to Reformation times, the church with three others was served, in 1574, by one minister, who had the Kirklands and a money stipend of £133, 6s. 8d. Scots. The reader had £20 Scots. There has been no vacancy in the office of parish minister since 1698, the successive incumbents having all had assistants and successors ordained before their death. The stipend is returned as £183; the manse (built in 1866) is valued at £25, and the glebe at £15. The church (built in 1778) is seated for about 300 people. The churchyard has a few old gravestones; and on the manse offices there is the fragment of one with date 1603. The church was dedicated to St James; and a well in the den near the manse, called St James's Well, had the reputation once of working miraculous cures. S t James's Fair, now at Laurencekirk, was long held near the church on Barnhill, where the site may still be traced by the turf seats which did service in the various tents. The parish has always been well provided with the means of education. The public school (built in 1866) has accommodation for 92 pupils. In 1881 there was an average attendance of 37, and the government grant was £41, 2s. 6d. Garvock has also a joint interest in the school at Waterlair, and gives an average attendance there of about 30 scholars. The valuation of the parish, in 1856, was £4215. In 1883 it had reached £6270, 13s. 11d. The population, in 1755, was 755; in 1801 it was 468. The highest point it has reached since was 485 in the year 1811; and the late ceusus (1881) reduced it to a minimum of 428.—Ord. Sur., shs. 66, 57, 1871-68.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer


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