Parish of Aberdour

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: Aberdour
1834-45: Aberdour

Aberdour (Gael. abhir - dur, ' confluence of the stream '), a village and a parish of S W Fife. The village lies just to the W of Whitesands Bay, a curve of the Firth of Forth (here 4¾ miles wide), and is 3 miles W by S of Burntisland station, and 7½ NW of Leith, with which in summer it holds steamboat communication from 3 to 6 times a day. Sheltered on the E by Hawkcraig cliff (270 feet), northward by Hillside and the Cullalo Hills, it nestles among finely wooded glades: commands a wide prospect of the Firth's southern shores, of Edinburgh, and of the Pentland range beyond: and by its good sea-bathing and mild climate draws many visitors, for whose further accommodation a terrace of superior villas was built (1880-81) along the Shore Road, on sites belonging to the Earl of Morton. The village proper, standing at the mouth of the Dour Burn, consists of 3 parts, regarded sometimes as distinct villages—Old Town to the NE, Aberdour in the middle, and New Town to the SW. It has a good tidal harbour with a picturesque old pier: was supplied with water in 1879 at a cost of £2000: contains the parish church (erected in 1790: and seating 579), the Free church, 2 inns, 3 insurance offices, a post office under Burntisland, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, and a hospital for 4 widows, founded by Anne, countess of the second Earl of Moray. Here, too, were formerly St Martha's nunnery of St Claire (1474) and the hospital of SS. Mary and Peter (1487), and here, concealed by brushwood, still stand the ruins of St Fillan's church (c. 1178), mixed Norman and Second Pointed in style, with a S aisle, a porch, and the grave of the Rev. Robert Blair (1583-1666), Charles I. 's chaplain, who, banished from St Andrews by Archbishop Sharp, died in this parish at Meikle Couston. Steps lead from the churchyard to the broad southern terrace of Aberdour Castle, a ruinous mansion of the Earls of Morton and Barons Aberdour (1458), held by their ancestors since 1351, earlier by Viponts and by Mortimers. Its oldest portion, a massive keep tower, is chiefly of rough rubble work, with dressed quoins and windows: additions, bearing date 1632, and highly finished, mark the transition from Gothic forms to the unbroken lines of Italian composition that took place during the 17th century. Accidentally burned 150 years since, this splendid and extensive pile has formed a quarry to the entire neighbourhood(Billings, i., plate 12). An oyster-bed in Whitesands Bay employs, with whelkpicking and fishing, a few of the villagers: but the former industries of spade-making, ticking-weaving, and wood-sawing are quite extinct.

The parish, formed in 1640 by disjunction from Beath and Dalgety, contains also the village of Donibristle Colliery, and includes the island of lnchcolm, lying 1¼ mile to the S, and Kilrie Yetts, a detached portion of132¾ acres, 1½ mile to the E. Its main body is bounded N by Beath, NE by Auchtertool, E by Kinghorn and Burntisland, S by the Firth of Forth, and W by Dalgety and Dunfermline. Its length from NW to SE is 4¼ miles, its breadth varies between 1¼ and 3¼ miles: and the total area is 6059½ acres, of which 85 are foreshore. The coast is nearly 2 miles long, but probably comprises twice that extent of shore line. The western part of it rises gently inland, and is feathered and flecked with plantations the eastern is steep and rugged, with shaggy woods descending to the water's edge. From NE to SW the Cullalo Hills, 400 to 600 feet in height, intersect the parish: and the tract to the S to them is warm and genial, exhibiting a wealth of natural and artificial beauty, but that to the N lies high, and, with a cold sour soil, presents a bleak, forbidding aspect. Near the western border, from S to N, three summits rise to 499,513, and 500 feet: on the south-eastern are two 574 and 540 feet high: and Moss Morran in the N, which is traversed by the Dunfermline branch of the North British railway, has elevations of 472 and 473 feet. About 1200 acres are either hill pasture or waste: some 1800 are occupied by woods, whose monarchs are 3 sycamores, 78, 74, and 78 feet high, with girths at 1 foot from the ground of 16½, 20½, and 13½ feet. The rocks are in some parts eruptive, in others carboniferous: and one colliery, the Donibristle, was at work in 1879, while fossiliferous limestone and sandstone are also extensively quarried. Mansions are Hillside, Whitehill, and Cuttlehill: and the chief landowners are the Earls of Morton and Moray, each holding an annual value of over £2000. Five others hold each £500 and upwards, 5 from £100 to £500,4 from £50 to £100, and 19 from £25 to £50. At Hillside ' Christopher North,' the Ettrick Shepherd, and others of the celebrated Noctes, met often round the board of Mr Stuart of Dunearn: at Humbie Farm Carlyle wrote part of Frederick the Great. But (pace Sir Walter Scott) Aberdour's best title to fame rests on the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens. A baron, it may be, of Wormieston in Crail, that skeely skipper conveyed in 1281 the Princess Margaret from Dunfermline to Norway, there to be wedded to King Erie: of his homeward voyage the ballad tells us how-

'Half owre. half owre to Aberdour
It's fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens,
wi' the Scots lords at his feet.'

This parish is now in the presbytery of Dunfermline and synod of Fife: anciently it belonged to Inchcolm Abbey, its western half having been granted by Alan de Mortimer, for leave of burial in the abbey church. The bargain was broken, for ' carrying his corpse in a coffin of lead by barge in the night-time, some wicked monks did throw the same in a great deep betwixt the land and the monastery, which to this day, by neighbouring fishermen and salters, is called Mortimer's Deep.' The minister's income is £435. There are 2 boardschools, at Aberdour and Donibristle, with respective accommodation for 184 and 180 scholars, the latter having been rebuilt in 1880 at a cost of £1500. These had (1879) an average attendance of 118 and 120, and grants of £83,1s. and £80,6s. 4d. Valuation (1881) £12,500, 3s. 10d. Pop. (1801) 1260, (1831) 1751, (1851) 1945, (1871) 1697, (1881) 1736. See M. White's Beauties and Antiquities of Aberdour (Edinb. 1869), and Ballingall's Shores of Fife (Edinb. 1872).—Ord. Sur., sh. 40, 1867.

Aberdour, a village and a coast parish of N Aberdeenshire. The village, called commonly New Aberdour, having been founded in 1798 in lieu of an old kirk-hamlet, stands 7 furlongs inland, at an altitude of 337 feet, and is 8 miles W by S of its post-town Fraserburgh, 6¾ NW of Strichen station. It has a post office with money order and savings' bank departments, 2 inns, and fairs on Monday week before 26 May and on 22 Nov.: at it are the parish church (1818, 800 sittings) and a Free church. Pop. (1841) 376, (1871) 628.

The parish contains, too, the fishing village of Pennan, 3¾ miles WNW. It is bounded N by the Moray Firth, NE by Pitsligo, SE by Tyrie, S by New Deer, W by King Edward and by Gamrie in Banffshire. From N to S its greatest length is 6¾ miles: its width from E to W tapers southward from 55/8 miles to ¾ mile: and its land area is 15,508 acres, including a detached triangular portion (27/8 by 1½ mile) lying 1½ mile from the SE border. The seaboard, 6 miles long, is bold and rocky, especially to the W, presenting a wall of stupendous red sandstone cliffs, from 50 to 419 feet high, with only three openings where boats can land. Of numerous caverns, one, called Cowshaven, in the E, afforded a hiding-place after Culloden to Alexander Forbes, last Lord Pitsligo (1678-1762): another, in the bay of Nethermill of Auchmedden, was entered, according to legend, by a piper, who ' was heard playing Lochaber no more a mile farer ben, ' and himself was no more seen. Inland, the surface is level comparatively over the eastern portion of the parish, there attaining 124 feet at Quarry Head, 222 at Egypt, 194 at Dundarg, 248 at Coburty, and 443 at North Cowfords: but W of the Dour it is much more rugged, rising, from N to S, to 522 feet near Pennan Farm, 590 near West Mains, 670 near Tongue, 703 on Windyheads Hill, 612 near Glenhouses, 723 near Greens of Auchmedden, 487 near Bracklamore, and 524 at Mid Cowbog. This western portion is separated from Banffshire by the Torr Burn, and through it 3 deep ravines, the Dens of Troup, Auchmedden, and Aberdour, each with its headlong rivulet, run northward to the sea: but the drainage of the southern division is carried eastward, through Glasslaw Den, by Gonar Burn, the Ugie's northern headstream (Smiles' Scotch Naturalist,1877, ch. viii.). The prevailing rocks, red sandstone and its conglomerates, belong to the oldest Secondary formation, and are quarried for building material, as formerly at Pennan for millstones: the soils are various, ranging from fertile loamy clay in the north-eastern low lands to very deep peat earth on the south-western moors. Antiquities are ' Picts' houses, 'near Earls Seat: the Cairn of Coburty, said to commemorate a Danish defeat: the ruined pre-Reformation chapel of Chapelden: and on the coast to the NE of the village, crowning a sandstone peninsula 63 feet high, the scanty vestiges of Dundargue Castle, built by the Englishman, Henry de Beaumont, fifth Earl of Buchan in right of his wife, and captured from him by the regent, Sir Andrew Moray (1333). Some will have this to be the Aberdour of the ' grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens; ' at least its church of St Drostan, at the mouth of the Dour, was certainly founded by St Columba in the latter half of the 6th century. ' With Drostan, his pupil, he came from Hi, or Iona, as God had shown to them, unto Abbordoboir, or Aberdon, and Bede the Cruithnech, or Pict, was Mormaer of Buchan before him: and it was he that gave them that cathair, or town, in freedom for ever from Mormaer and Toisech ' (vol. ii., p. 134, of Skene's Celt. Scot., 1877). The chief estates are Aberdour in the E and Auchmedden in the W, belonging to the Fordyces of Brucklay Castle in New Deer and the Bairds of Cambusdoon in Ayr, who own respectively 20,899 and 5979 acres in Aberdeenshire, valued at £12,744 and £2704 per annum: whilst 71 proprietors hold a yearly value in this parish of under £100. Purchased by the Gartsherrie Bairds in 1854, Auchmedden belonged from 1568 to 1750 to their more ancient namesakes, whose last male representative, Wm. Baird (1701-77), compiled the interesting Genealogical Collections concerning the Bairds of Auchmedden, Newbyth, and Saughtonhall (2d. ed., Lond. 1870). Parts of the civil parish (with 256 inhabitants in 1871) are included in the quoad sacra parishes of New Byth and New Pitsligo: the rest forms a quoad sacra parish in the presbytery of Deer and synod of Aberdeen, the living-being worth £393. Four public schools -Aberdour, Auchmedden, New Aberdour (junior), and Glasslaw-with respective accommodation for 150,130, 102, and 70 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 107,85,62, and 30, and grants of £65, 10s., £64, 11s., £43, 11s., and £20. Valuation (1881) £8671, 16s. 3d. Pop. (1801) 1304, (1841) 1645, (1861) 1997, (1871) 2176: of registration district (1871) 1945, (1881) 1931.—Ord. Sur., sh. 97, 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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