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Parish of Spynie

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: New Spynie
1834-45: New Spynie

Spynie or New Spynie, a parish in the northern part of Elginshire, NW of the town of Elgin. It is bounded N by the parishes of Duffus and Drainie, E and SE by the parish of St Andrews-Lhanbryd, SSE and S by the parish of Elgin, SW by the parish of Alves, and NW by the parish of Duffus. On the N the boundary follows for 3 ¾ miles the drainage canal in the old basin of the Loch of Spynie, and its continuation westward to near Mid-Kintrae. On the S it follows the present and former course of the river Lossie, from the bend at Roy's Pot, NE of the town of Elgin, 3 miles upwards to Aldroughty, and thence passes still farther to the W for ¾ mile along the Monaughty Canal. The old course of the Lossie just mentioned extended from the bridge at Bishopmill along the S side of Lossie Green and the Borough Briggs Lands, rejoining the present course at The Haugh. Elsewhere the line is artificial. The length of the parish, from E to W, through the line of the farms of Westfield and Spynie, is 5 1/8 miles; the width, from N to S, through the church, is fully 2 3/8 miles; and the area is 5971.512 acres, of which 25.856 are water. A ridge of high land, running from ENE to WSW, near the S side of the parish, attains an altitude of 300 feet above sea-level at the top of Quarrywood Hill, the highest point in the parish. From this ridge there is a slope towards the S to the Lossie, and a longer one towards the N to the Spynie Canal, the flat ground along which in the NE is but very little above sea-level. The greater portion of the ridge just mentioned is covered with fine woods, that on the SW side, about 1 mile to the W of Elgin, being covered with a stretch of natural oak. This is the Oak Wood, and the whole of the rest of the western portion is known as Quarrywood. The eastern portion is the Hill of Spynie. Of the whole surface of the parish, about 1400 acres are under wood. The rest, except about 200 acres, is almost entirely arable, the soil varying from rich clay in the great northern hollow to a stony loam on the higher grounds. The subsoil is clay. The' underlying rocks along the S and up to and beyond the top of Quarrywood Hill are Old Red Sandstone; but from a short distance beyond this, down along the hollow, as well as all through the Hill of Spynie, they belong to the rocks which have figured so prominently in geological discussion since about 1857 as ' the Elgin Sandstones.' (See Elginshire.) Boulders of rock of Jurassic age also occur scattered about the valley, chiefly in the NE. There is a small patch of limestone in the extreme E near the Palace of Spynie. Both sandstone deposits are extensively quarried for building stone, and in some places for millstones. The rock is generally of excellent quality, and varies in colour from a very light yellowish grey to red and brown. The drainage is carried off by the Lossie and the canals already mentioned, and rivulets flowing to them. Along the Lossie and on the slope northwards from Quarrywood Hill there are several well-marked river and lake terraces. A considerable strip of land along the northern and north-eastern part of the parish was formerly covered by the waters of the Loch of Spynie. It is possible that within the historic time a shallow arm of the sea extended all along the valley of Roseisle and Duffus, from Burghead to Lossiemouth; but whether this was so or not, it is certain that, long after the western portion of the hollow had become dry land, the eastern portion was occupied by a sheet of water communicating with the sea. In the NW of Spynie parish are three farms bearing the name of Kintrae, from Celtic words meaning ` the top of the tide.' In 1397 there is mention of a harbour at Spynie; and in 1451, when the lands were erected into a Regality, the right ` of harbour ' was granted. The loch must at this time have been connected with the sea by the Lossie, which then flowed through it. Hollingshed, in his translation of Boece, speaks of it as `a lake named Spiney, wherein is exceeding plentie of swans,, which were drawn thither by the abundance of a herb called `swangirs,' which, once planted anywhere, could not be again rooted out, and which was not entirely beneficial-in its results, `for albeit that this lake be five miles in length, and was sometime within the remembrance of man verie well stocked with salmon and other fish, yet after that this herbe began to multiplie upon the same, it became so shallow that one may now wade through the greatest part thereof, by means whereof all the great fishes there be utterly consumed.' Underneath the present surface of the drained bed, evidence of the former connection of the lake with the sea may be found in a deposit of sandy mud, containing shells of oysters and a number of other marine molluscs. The Bishops of Moray were almost sole proprietors of the loch; and after the lake became shallow they began, about the close of the 15th century, to try to drain it by deepening the bed of the Lossie, and by this means the water was kept down till after the Reformation, when, under the lay proprietor, the works were neglected and the waters increased. In 1609 the Episcopal Bishop Douglas carried out works, excluding the Lossie, and ran drains into the basin of the loch; but the troublous times of the Covenant were at hand, and so little more was done till 1779, - the loch being then about 5 miles in length and at its widest part 1 mile in breadth, and covering an extent of about 2500 acres, - when extensive works were carried out by Messrs James and Alexander Brander of Pitgaveny, which had the effect of reclaiming over 1100 acres of land. Their operations were stopped by Sir William Gordon of Gordonstown, who claimed the whole loch as his property, and the drains being neglected, the waters again began to rise. In 1808-12 a canal recommended by Telford was carried through the whole loch and on to the sea at Lossiemouth, where there were sluices for shutting out the tide. These works, which had cost the large sum of £12, 740, were entirely destroyed by the great flood of 1829, and the waters again increased, till in 1860 the loss to proprietors and farmers had become so great that fresh operations were undertaken. The great drain was restored and deepened, and new self-acting sluices erected. These are four in number, and each consists of a mass of iron weighing 18 hundredweights, and very delicately poised and tightly fitted into a frame, so that they shut with the slightest pressure, and exclude all sea water. The cost of the whole works was about £8000, but the result has been highly satisfactory, and the bed is now thoroughly dry, except a portion that has been retained for sporting purposes, near Pitgaveny. This, which is cut off from the main canal by a strong bank of puddled clay, is about 110 acres in extent, and is in the parish of St Andrews. The greater portion of the land recovered has already produced, or will in course of time produce, excellent crops; but the loss of the picturesque stretch of water, frequented by all kinds of waterfowl, has been a matter of sad regret to sportsmen.

On the south-eastern margin of the old lake-basin stand the ruins of the Episcopal Palace of Spynie. The buildings, which have no doubt been the work of several successive bishops, were ranged round a quadrangle, about 50 yards in length by 44 in breadth, with a tower at each corner. The sides were occupied by buildings or protected by connecting curtain walls. A postern gate on the N led to the loch, and the principal ordinary gateway was on the E side. The shield above it bears the arms of Bishop John Innes (1406-14). The principal feature in the ruins now is the great tower at the SW corner, 60 feet high, 50 long, and 40 wide, and the outer walls are between 9 and 10 feet thick. The inner wall to the court is very much thinner, being only between 2 and 3 feet thick. The windows, which must have been unusually large, have all been protected by strong iron bars. The lower part is occupied by vaults, one of which at least seems to have been used as a dungeon. The first floor was the great hall, and above were other large rooms, with vaulted closets and passages. One very small bedroom is associated with the name of Queen Mary, who `supped and slept' here on 17 September 1562. At the corners were cape houses. This tower is known, from its builder, as `Davie's Tower,' it being the practical reply made by Bishop David Stewart (1461-76) to a threat of the Gordons. The Earl of Huntly and his kin having been excommunicated, threatened that they would come and pull the bishop out of his pigeon holes at Spynie, to which the bishop replied that he would soon build a house, out of which the Earl and all his clan should not be able to pull him, and this tower was the result. It is a magnificent testimony to the worthy prelate's architectural taste. On the S wall, on the outside, are the arms of Bishops David and Andrew Stewart, and of Patrick Hepburn. On the S side of the court was a spacious tennis-court, and parallel to it the chapel. On the E were the kitchen and other offices, and round the precinct were gardens and an orchard. The castle passed in 1590 to Alexander Lindsay, Lord Spynie, who never lived in it; but he re-sold it to the Crown in 1606. After Bishop Guthrie was deposed in 1638, he tried to keep possession of this palace, which he had provisioned and garrisoned, but when he was attacked by General Munro in 1640, he was compelled to surrender, and in the subsequent troubles of the middle of the 17th century, when the armies of Montrose and the Covenanters were marching and counter-marching in the north, the building was held by Innes of Innes and Grant of Ballindalloch in the Covenanting interest. After the Restoration it became again the Episcopal residence, the last bishop who resided in it being Colin Falconer (1680-86), who died here. After the Revolution the building passed to the Crown, and it was allowed to fall to ruin; all removable portions being carried off by the people of the district. About 1825 more attention began to be given to its condition, but the mischief had been done. In 1840 it was sold to the Earl of Fife, in whose possession it still remains. In 1590 Spynie gave the title of Baron to Alexander Lindsay, fourth son of David, ninth Earl of Crawford, but the peerage became dormant on the death of George, third peer, in 1672.

To the SW of the Palace is the old church-yard, in which stood the church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which in the early part of the 13th century served at times as the cathedral of the diocese of Moray (see Elgin). This remained the site of the parish church down to 1736, but the position being inconvenient, the church was in that year removed to its present site near the centre of the western portion of the parish, 2¼ miles NW of Elgin; and it was this that gave rise to the name of New Spynie given to the parish in connection with school board, parochial board, and registration matters. The few houses beside the church constituting the kirkton are spoken of as Quarrywood. The new church is a very plain building, with belfry and doorway taken from the old church, of which no portion is now left. The former bears the date 1723. The bell was also brought from the old church, and has the inscription, `This Bell - For the Pearis of Spynie. Me Fecit, 1637. Soli Deo Gloria Michæl Borgertwys.' There seems to have been a Culdee church in the NW corner of the parish. It is referred to in the beginning of the 13th century as veterem ecclesiam de Kyntra. No trace of the building has remained for a long time, but the churchyard attached, which stood in the centre of the eastern margin field called Chapelfield, on the home farm of Westfield, was preserved until a comparatively recent date. On the S side of Quarrywood Hill are the remains of a Celtic hill strength, known locally as the Danish Camp.

The great main road from Aberdeen to Inverness passes through the southern portion of the parish for 2 ¾ miles, and the roads from Elgin to Lossiemouth, Hopeman, and Burghead, also intersect it in the E and centre. There are a large number of good district roads, and a reach of the Morayshire branch of the Great North of Scotland railway system passes for mile across the eastern end of the parish. In the eastern portion of the parish is a large brick and tile work. The only mansion is Westfield. Spynie includes the Bishopmill suburb of the town of Elgin. It is in the presbytery of Elgin and synod of Moray, and the living is worth £250 a year. The parish church, built in 1736 and repaired in 1883, contains 400 sitting's. A school in Bishopmill is under the Elgin school board; under that of Spynie, New Spynie school, beside the church, with accommodation for 102 pupils, had in 1884 an attendance of 40, and a grant of £34, 11s. 2d. The principal proprietor is the Earl of Fife, and 3 others hold each an annual value of £500 or upwards, 2 hold each between £500 and £100, and there are a number of smaller amount. Valuation (1860) £4565, (1885) £5432. Pop. (1801) 843, (1831) 1121, (1861) 1600, (1871) 1612, (1881) 1620, of whom 772 were males and 848 females, while 424 were in the landward part of the parish. Houses (1881) 330 inhabited, 11 uninhabited, and 9 being built. See also R. Young's Parish of Spynie (Elgin, 1871).—Ord. Sur., sh. 95, 1876.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

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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