HOUSES OF BRAEMAR - PART 2
Talk to a Braemar Local History Group audience, by Alison Grant MacKintosh, 16 October 2016.
I’d like to talk this evening about what we can learn from the census, what it can tell us, and what it can’t.
There are many sources for the history of house occupation, but the census is the most useful.
The first Scottish census of any real use to historians was 1841, but the idea of counting the population goes back to the Old Testament. When King David decided to count heads, God was so furious that he sent a pestilence on the land. This discouraged further census attempts till as late as the eighteenth century.
When UK governments decided head-counting might not be punished with pestilence, they began conducting a census every ten years from 1801, but the first ones don’t tell us much. They were mere head-counts, inspired by a fear that the population was growing too big for the country to support.
For genealogists, the magic date is the sixth of June, 1841, the first useful census. Of course the government didn’t embark on this huge exercise just to please genealogists. The questions change and increase over the years, and reflect what the government was trying to find out. By 1841, they wanted to know about housing shortages, employment patterns, education requirements.
The 1841 census is actually quite a frustrating one. There’s no indication of relationships, and one just has to guess on the basis of ages whether Donald Lamont is Robert Lamont’s son or his much younger brother.
But the ages aren’t accurate either. They are rounded down to the nearest five, so three sisters aged 19, 17 and 15 will all be listed as 15. I thought I’d made a terrific find once in the form of three sisters who appeared to be triplets, remarkable survivors if they were born in 1826. I got quite excited about it. Fortunately I was doing this piece of work for Rosemary Bigwood, probably Scotland’s most distinguished genealogist, and she tactfully put me right.
From 1851, the real information piles in. Every census since then has asked more questions: age, relationship to the head of the household, occupation, birthplace, any disabilities, and who spoke Gaelic.
Giving false information was a punishable offence, but it’s amazing how many people risked it. Women were often economical with the truth on the subject of their age. Of course it’s possible that they weren’t entirely sure of their age, but I richly enjoyed tracing the history of Agnes Smart of Banchory, who became eight years older every ten years.
This all changed in the 1911 census. In 1908, the government introduced the old age pension for people over seventy, and it wasn’t worth missing out on the money by pretending to be younger.
The 1911 census had a further trap which could catch women out. It asked a woman how many children she had had. Tricky for women who had children no one knew about.
The census is, of course, a snapshot of where everyone was on that one night, which since 1861 has been in late March or early April. Anyone who was away from home on they night will be listed wherever they actually were. It can be difficult to track down these absentees, at least with any certainty that one has found the right person. They could be on holiday almost anywhere, or temporarily working away from home. They could be serving in the army overseas, they could be abroad as missionaries, they could be fishermen at sea on census night. They could be in prison or in hospital. Children might be spending the night with Granny.
And it was a Braemar lad staying with Granny who gave me the idea of talking a bit about the census. Let’s consider the remarkable case of six-year-old George Hutchinson. The census tends to be short on jokes, and it is also short on people who could be in two places at once. George Hutchinson, at only six years old, managed both.
In the 1841 census, George’s father lists him as present at his house in Braemar, which was probably 2 Castleton Terrace. His maternal grandfather Alexander McDonald also lists him as present at his farm in Inverey. And what follows may be a mistake, an entry in the wrong column, but I’m sure granda was joking when he listed six-year-old George as an agricultural labourer.
George’s father, who was also called George, was born in 1801 in Peterhead and came to Braemar as a miller some time in the 1820s. He married Jessie McDonald, who was born and brought up at Woodside on Chapel Brae. They had nine children.
The Hutchinson family is an interesting example of how names can change to patronymics, by adding ‘son’ to the father’s surname. Their ancestors were called Hutcheon – in the late 18th century one of them began calling himself Hutcheon’s son, which has become Hutchinson by 1801
George senior did well as a miller, and in the 1855 valuation roll he’s the tenant of a house, lands and meal mill at Kindrochit. This was probably Clunie Mill. He seems to have been a shrewd manipulator who didn’t miss a trick. In 1846 he brought a lawsuit against his brother James. Their father had died, leaving instructions on his children’s inheritance. James as executor had a letter indicating that George was to receive two pounds. George produced a letter showing it ought to be ten pounds.
The letters were produced in court. The sheriff found that George’s letter had been defaced, and amended from ‘two’ to ‘ten’, so he lost his case..
George received only two pounds. Unfortunately he was counting on the ten pounds to pay a debt.
The lad who was an agricultural labourer at the age of six followed his granda into farming career.
By 1901 he is a farmer and butcher, widowed and living at Balnellan in the care of his niece Annie. It’s a large household. Also at Balnellan are his teenage nephew George Thomson, a butcher, who surprisingly was born in London, and an impressive number of employees. George has two domestic servants, four farm servants, a carter working on the farm, and an engine driver’s assistant, all living in the house. The engine was probably something like a tractor, or a threshing machine.
Ten years later, George has retired and will die a couple of years later, reputedly of drink. His brother Thomas is now head of the household, and the numbers have grown. He and his wife Cecilia Sim have had five children, but two have died - more on them in a minute. Two are still living at home: Jessie is an art student, and Mary is a book-keeper, probably working for her father. There’s a staff of eight people: a kitchenmaid, farm foreman, horseman, cattleman, two labourers, a hind, and a butcher.
What had happened to the two children who died?
The Clunie appears to have had a fatal fascination for Hutchinson boys. The family grave commemorates Georgie, who was drowned just below the bridge in 1899, just before his fifth birthday. Eleven years later, nine-year-old Willie was drowned only yards from the same spot.
The National Park’s archaeology report gives a fascinating picture of life around Braemar, and in particular it’s a startling picture of depopulation. Glen Dee, Glen Lui and Glen Derry suffered their own Highland Clearance. I’ve never found that in any history of Scotland, but it was devastating.
I’ve added some historical archaeology to what was found on the ground, and as always it’s interesting to see how closely the history and the archaeology are both telling the same story.
We’ll start at Allanaquoich. This is a very old settlement. An early 18th century map shows a two-storey farmhouse, two outbuildings, and four cottages. In 1739 there were eighteen tenants – not eighteen people, but actually eighteen households.
This is an area where the Highland Clearances took their toll. The clearance was ‘quite aggressive’ - and these are the National Park’s words, not mine. Anyone who wouldn’t farm in the new ways was out. By 1810, more people had been cleared out to make way for deer, and only one tenant remained. The buildings probably didn’t last much longer – close to the Dee at its junction with the Quoich, most of them were swept away by the Muckle Spate of 1829. The seventeenth century sawmill was one of the casualties – the remaining ruins are of the replacement sawmill built in the nineteenth century.
The same clearance was taking place in Glen Dee. The archaeology survey found twenty-two settlements on the Mar Estate – and a settlement can mean anything from four to twenty buildings. There were seven settlements in Glen Lui and seven in Glen Dee.
The last survivor was Dubrach, the farm of Peter Grant, last survivor of Culloden, which was cleared in 1792. He was a young man of seventy-eight at the time, but no longer living there. There must have been some tears over Dubrach. Close to clear water, far from the excise man, it was the perfect place for a whisky still, which was found in the excavations. It’s reassuring to know that the mourners at Peter’s funeral dispatched about four gallons of whisky. Could some of it, just possibly, have been a 40-year-old malt from Dubrach?
The censuses also have an interesting tale to tell of depopulation in Glen Callater and Glen Clunie. Here there was no oppressive landlord cracking the whip, but just the slow drift from isolated communities into larger settlements.
Even within living memory, people have abandoned houses and farmsteads around Braemar, and it’s almost a shock to come across a census entry in 1841 and think ‘but there aren’t any houses there…’
In the 1960s Father John Copeland celebrated Mass in the ruins of the chapel at Ardearg, which was in use until 1795. It was a moving occasion, typical of the imagination and enterprise of Johnny Cope, as we affectionately called him.
Until 1891 there were one or two households at Ardearg. And they weren’t just the priest or just isolated farm workers – in 1871 they included a tailor, Alexander McIntosh, and his family. People would have been dropping in all the time for fittings for their clothes.
In 1881 there were nine people living in Glen Callater, and 42 people living in Glen Clunie, in houses and farmsteads that have now completely disappeared.
The Coldrach settlement has now almost disappeared, and that’s pretty much how it looked when my mother and I used to explore it in the 1950s. And yet it’s occupied in the 1911 census, by a young gamekeeper, John Lamont, and his sister Jessie.
The same year, the Baddoch farmstead was occupied too. Isabella Grant, the head of the household, describes herself proudly as a farmer and grazier. She has two teenage daughters, and employs one farm servant, Alexander Allan, who is twenty.
The Baddoch was probably cleaner in Isabella’s time than it had been a couple of centuries earlier. On 23 June 1732, a baby named Jean or Janet Grant was born at Mill of Aberarder. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that her mother had absolutely refused to give birth at home at the Baddoch. You can’t really blame her. Her husband Archibald Grant was using the room to store manure.
Probably the most interesting resident of the Coldrach was Ann McIntosh, who was born there in 1780. Her name may not ring any bells, but you’ll have heard of her son. His name was John Grant, which is not exactly unique in Braemar, but he was a bit of a character. He became head forester to Queen Victoria at Balmoral, and then personal servant to Prince Albert.
Grant was a rebel. It seems to go with the name. The Queen had decreed that all her Highland servants must wear the kilt. John Grant wasn’t having it. He turned up for work every day in trousers, and he is the only servant not wearing the kilt in his portrait.
The Queen knew when she was beaten. Prince Albert seems to have had a sneaking regard for Grant’s style. There must certainly have been a conversation at some stage about Grant’s old mother Ann, living alone at the Coldrach. Prince Albert had a cottage built for her on the Balmoral estate, and her final years were probably spent in something like luxury.
One of the striking features of the Braemar census returns is the picture they give of life in the village, and the range of goods and services available. In the 1841 census we find a wine merchant, a seed merchant, and a bookseller. Many of us will remember a time when Braemar had three grocer’s shops, all distinctly different from each other, a home bakery - oh those butteries – a shoe repairer, and two postal deliveries a day, with the option of going to a window at the side of the post office in the late afternoon to collect your mail, if you couldn’t wait till next morning. In those halcyon days we also had a taxi service, a resident ambulance, and the latest in snowplough technology.
It has famously been said that there was a point in history when Aberdeen had as many universities as the whole of England, and Scottish education is justly acclaimed as a cut above the rest.
In Braemar in the mid-twentieth century we had two schools, and until the early twentieth century there was a school in Inverey too. Both of the original Braemar schools are how houses, so I think that brings them into the scope of this talk, and it might be a good chance to look at education in Braemar.
The churches were responsible for most of the early schools – priests and ministers saw that nothing much was being done about education, and they took on the responsibility. In 1872, an Education Act transferred responsibility for Church of Scotland and Free Church Schools to regional school boards, and education became compulsory for children from five to thirteen. Ten years later the school leaving age went up to fourteen.
Of course Braemar was streets ahead. There was a Catholic school in Braemar from 1820, before the building on Chapel Brae became available. And the first teacher was banned from teaching only two years later.
By normal teaching standards he’d done nothing wrong. But when he set up his own school in Braemar, John Morgan knew perfectly well that he was breaking the law.
In 1822, penal laws against Catholics were still in force. The laws had been relaxed a good deal in the course of about two hundred and fifty years, but in theory it was still just possible that if John Morgan had persisted in running his school, he could have been banished from the country, or even put to death.
Dominie Morgan wisely retreated to Inverey, where he opened a school in slightly safer territory. He taught there for fifty-five years.
In 1829, the final remains of the penal laws were repealed, and the way was open for a Catholic school in Braemar. By 1832, the new teacher Alexander Thomson was making the daily walk from Inverey to teach in Braemar. He may have been a pupil of John Morgan, and certainly shared his courage and determination. He was already at an advanced stage of tuberculosis, and the daily walk to Braemar in all weathers wrecked his remaining health. Only five months after opening the school, he was dead.
Until the 1880s the teachers were always local and always male. There were some distinguished men among them. John Calder served with distinction in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. John Grant – no relation, so far as I know – was a highly educated man who had studied for the priesthood in Spain, but chose a teaching career instead.
In 1855, the school completed a full circle which must have been very satisfying to John Morgan, still teaching in Inverey. The school appointed another Morgan to the post of head teacher – his son, who was also John.
Miss Mary Macdonald was the teacher I was always told about when I was a child. She taught my father and his seven siblings. They used to tell stories of her strict discipline, and were proud of the beautiful handwriting she taught them. Miss Macdonald appears in the 1911 census at 2 Fern Cottage, where she lived for the rest of her life. She is listed as a head teacher, aged only 32.
My memories of the school on Chapel Brae start just before the renovation of 1953. If you’ve ever visited the Scotland Street School museum in Glasgow – it was like that. The only heating came from a wood-burning stove in the centre of the room. My Auntie Jessie, the mother of my cousins Margaret Garden and Ian Johnstone, was the school caretaker at the time. In winter she used to make a huge pan of cocoa for us with our school milk, and it was very cosy drinking cocoa round the stove.
The renovation of the school brought central heating and flush toilets. The work was done in the summer term. The school moved to Castleton Hall, and on hot days everything was moved out of doors and we had lessons under the trees to the right of the hall.
It’s worth taking a look at the theory that Catholics lived in Auchendryne and Protestants in Castleton. It certainly looks a bit like that. Why else have the Catholic church and school always been in Auchendryne.
It’s true that the majority of people in Auchendryne were Catholic. But the largest Catholic family in the village – my own ancestors – lived from the earliest records in Castleton. I am the only member of the direct line of my family, since at least 1703, who was born and brought up in Auchendryne. I’m rather proud of that.
While the Catholic school on Chapel Brae progressed from illegal institution to the tight ship run by Miss Macdonald, what was happening to young scholars in Castleton? Again the answer is that the building has survived and is now a house, Gowanlea.
The house is on the first Ordnance Survey map of 1843, but as usual, it isn’t easy to trace it very far back in the census.
In 1891 the teacher is James Forrest, age 37, living with his sister Margaret.
Ten years later the teacher is John Badenoch, and what catches the eye about Dominie Badenoch is that he came from Buckie – as did Miss Hepburn, who came to the Chapel Brae school in 1939. He had seven children, the three youngest born in Braemar.
Of course not all nineteenth-century children were educated at school. I spoke about Coille Bheithe in the last talk, but since then I’ve found a census entry which strikes me as quite sad. In 1901, a nine-year-old boy called Walter James was staying there with his governess, a Miss Hanson from Manchester, and a servant who was also the cook. Young Walter was born in Cairo. Who were his parents? Were they still alive? What had brought him to Braemar, to live what sounds like a lonely life. I feel quite sorry for this little boy, on the outskirts of the village where he couldn’t even look out of the window to see the local children going to school. I hope it wasn’t as bad as that.
House history can tell us even more about the infrastructure of the community. From houses to police, and from at least the time there was a police station, there was also a policeman.
The first mention of a police station is in 1871, when the police constable was George Leslie from Logie Buchan. Ten years later it was John Brebner from Keithhall. Neither of them was married. In 1891 the police constable was John Robb. His age isn’t clear but looks like sixty.
Auchendryne Lodge appears as a holiday house on a tourist map of 1906, but it was built in 1881 as a house and surgery for the doctor.
The first doctor to live and practise in the building was James Noble from Fraserburgh. He’s been difficult to trace with any certainty, as everyone in Fraserburgh who wasn’t called Buchan seems to have been called Noble. I’m grateful to Maureen Kelly for sharing additional research on the Noble family. James was the oldest of seven children, and his father was a draper.
He was only twenty-seven when he came to Braemar in 1881, and it’s easy to imagine a bright young man, fresh from his training and enthusiastic to put it into practice. He came with his younger sister, whose name appears to be Spearman. This sounds an unlikely name for a twenty-five-year-old woman. Maureen’s research showed that she really was called Spearman - she was named Margaret Spearman, and in a family of many Margarets must have decided to adopt her middle name. They had a servant, Isabella McPherson.
Ten years later Dr Noble’s practice is prospering. Margaret Spearman has moved on, and Dr Noble is now living with his widowed mother, and his much younger sister Willa. He still has a servant, Jane McGregor, and he now has a carriage. How do we know? There’s another servant, seventeen-year-old George Wright from Tulloch, and he is a live-in groom. Young George would have cared for the horse, and probably driven the carriage.
Dr Noble’s wife Annabelle, whom he married about 1891, doesn’t appear in any census in Braemar, and it’s because of a dramatic accident that we know she was here at all. In 1899, Auchendryne Lodge was hit by lightning, and extensively damaged. The Aberdeen Journal report describes a fire in a bedroom which also damaged the parlour below, and lightning shooting along metal pipes. Dr Noble was away from home; Mrs Noble and the servant were in another part of the house, but must have been severely frightened.
As tends to happen, I became fascinated by the life of Dr Noble and did a lot more research.
Small snippets of information seeped out from Grampian Health Board archives, and from my old friend the British Newspaper archive. Two years after his arrival in Braemar he was called out to Loch Callater to examine the body of a church minister from Dundee. The Reverend Kelly was on holiday at Hope Cottage, and had set out at six o’clock one morning to climb Lochnagar. A fierce storm overtook him. About twenty minutes from the summit he met two climbers, also ministers, who tried to persuade him to turn back. Mr Kelly was confident he’d be fine, and determined to continue his original plan of coming down the Glen Muick side and walking to Ballater for a train home to Dundee.
He must have changed his mind or lost his way, because two days later he was found dead, near the Loch Callater bothy, by the Auchallater shepherd. The shepherd made straight for Braemar to call out the policeman, and the doctor. It is all reminiscent of the days more than fifty years ago when mountain rescue meant a few strong willing local men with no training or equipment, and the doctor to give first aid or sign the death certificate. Dr Noble signed that Mr Kelly had died of exhaustion and exposure.
Dr Noble makes an appearance in the records some years later, requesting testing of the water from a spring and storage tank at the stables at Mar Lodge.
This was doctor as public health inspector, and less interesting than the times he was called out to one of the many distinguished visitors to Braemar. In 1890, one of those visitors credited Dr Noble with saving his life.
Charles Cardale Babington was Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge. There is a portrait of him in the National Gallery in London which shows him as a venerable old gentleman, looking rather like Darwin, with a chest-long white beard.
Babington visited Braemar for six years, working on his paper A List of Plants found in the Valley of Braemar. He was over eighty but nothing stopped him. He spent a lot of time on the particularly interesting plants to be found in Glen Callater and on Morrone.
He’d almost completed his work for the 1890 season when he began to feel a bit unwell. He soldiered on for a couple of days, and then suddenly his illness took a serious turn. As he describes it in his journal, he did not expect to survive.
Dr Noble was called, and drove him to Ballater - - probably with young George Wright holding the reins. Babington doesn’t explain why Ballater – possibly to put him on a train and get him to hospital in Aberdeen.
Thanks to Dr Noble’s care, Babington recovered and lived five more years. Here’s how he described the experience in his journal:
This record cannot be closed without testimony of deep appreciation and gratitude for the great professional ability and devoted care and watchfulness of Dr James Noble. That in a time of grave need so skilful and tender a physician should have been raised up, is something which no words can repay. His name is a household word.
That last sentence, his name is a household word, certainly suggests Dr Noble was highly regarded by local people too. And there is a memorial in Braemar that says this more clearly.
If you go in to the cemetery and down the main path, then just at the point where the path turns right you will see a tall obelisk. It needed to be tall, because there were a lot of names to fit on to it. Mr and Mrs Charles Bonner are commemorated there with their eleven children. Two of their sons died in the first world war, and their names are on the war memorial. The first name on the gravestone is Noble Bonner.
As a child I assumed Noble was the dog. In fact he was the youngest son. He was named after the doctor who delivered him – and who signed his death certificate when he died of meningitis at the age of twelve – Dr James Noble.
Dr Noble continued to serve the Braemar community until 1907, when he retired and was given a presentation in the Invercauld Arms. In the 1911 census he and Annabelle were living in Peterculter in a house called Eureka Villa. Dr Noble has retired early and is only 58 - maybe tired out from the standards of care he gave to Braemar.
ar / Clova area Ky on 9 August.Braemar has been Braemar has been a tourist resort since the mid nineteenth century, and the houses show the results. In the last talk we looked at the expensive holiday houses – a fabulously wealthy young Yorkshireman at Sunnyside, Scotland’s leading judge at Coille Bheithe. Canmore, now known as Braemar Lodge, seems to be an extreme example. It is unoccupied in every single census – clearly, an expensive holiday house.
In the late nineteenth century Canmore was owned by a wealthy widow, Ellen Georgiana, Lady Kennard. She was born in Calcutta in 1836, and died in 1916 at Grosvenor Terrace, London. I found a photograph on a family website - a rather plain woman submerged in a voluminous dress.
We’re also all aware of the tradition, the economic necessity, of letting the main house in the summer and moving to the wee house. Wee houses are, according to architectural historians, a distinguishing feature of Braemar. My maternal grandmother, who was amazed at the size of families in Braemar, remarked ‘Even the houses have little ones.’
We all know the main house was usually let out in the summer – but it’s rare to find the evidence that brings this information to life. The census was taken in early April, before the season began, when the usual residents were in residence. Just occasionally we get a glimpse of the visitors.
This was what happened with Linn Cottage. It is on the 1881 map, but as just an orange rectangle with no name attached to the house or the owner. Without a name, I had nothing.
So it was back to my old friend, the British Newspaper archive. I mentioned last year that the Aberdeen Journal faithfully recorded the arrivals of ‘distinguished visitors’ until the end of the Victorian era. This has often got me started on a house-history quest, and it worked again. In July 1899, a family from Llandudno in Wales arrived to spend the summer at Linn Cottage. They were Mr and Mrs C Le Neve and their daughter, Miss H Le Neve. An unusual surname is a joy. There are actually no Le Neves in the entire London phone directory, which sharpened the chances of finding the right person.
I went back to the Newspaper archive, and something rather creepy happened. I kept getting matches for Dr Crippen, who was hanged in 1910 for murdering his wife. What was the connection between Dr Crippen and Linn Cottage?
Well, I’m relieved to say there isn’t one. Or at least, probably not, but we’ll park that one meanwhile. Dr Crippen’s accomplice was his mistress, Ethel Le Neve. The archive’s search engine was also homing in on this unusual surname.
It took a lot of research, but at last I found a family history of the Le Neves. It was crammed with information – I love the people who make this sort of thing public – and I could be certain that the family at Linn Cottage were Clement Le Neve, his wife Sophia, and their daughter Helen.
Among Braemar’s distinguished visitors, Sir Clement Le Neve, as he would become four years later, is a star.
He was one of ten children of an Anglo-French family. He and four of his brothers all became engineers. Clement was educated in France, then took postgraduate degrees in mining engineering in London and in Germany.
Clement was an advisor on mining engineering in Italy, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela. He was then appointed Inspector of Mines in Cornwall, where he was unpopular with mine owners because of his high standards for safe working conditions.
As an expert on safety, he was called to the Isle of Man to a serious accident. It is still talked about on the island as one of the two worst accidents ever to happen on the Isle of Man. Miners were trapped underground and poisonous fumes were building up. There seemed no hope of getting them out alive.
Clement, only in his early thirties, did a quite extraordinary thing. He saw it as the perfect opportunity to study the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Not on the miners. On himself. He insisted on being lowered into the mine.
It looks absolutely suicidal. But possibly the rescuers tried a bit harder, once they had the Inspector of Mines down there too. Everyone was brought out, unconscious but alive.
And this is the remarkable man who quietly spent the summer with his family at Linn Cottage, in 1899.
Oh, and what about Crippen’s mistress, Ethel Le Neve? The author of the family history ended by saying that she was believed to be related to them.
But wait a minute - the Le Neves must have rented the house from somebody. Some local family moved into the wee house to give Linn Cottage for the summer to the Le Neves from Wales. Who?
Well, the bad news, from a historical point of view, is that the householder was called John Lamont. A John Lamont, or a John Grant, makes the heart sink. There were dozens of them. Linn Cottage can’t be positively identified until 1891 - although it is older than that - and there were at least three possible John Lamonts. It took a lot of painstaking research, I could almost say painful research, to find out which John Lamont lived at Linn Cottage. I was immensely grateful to Zan for confirming that they were not her family of Lamonts. That ruled out quite a few.
In 1891, the householder was Ann Lamont, a widow with two sons and a daughter. The older son John was a postboy, and the younger, William, was a shop boy. This is interesting because they probably both worked for the same employer, and we’ll come back to that later. The other interesting thing is that the Lamonts at Linn Cottage set up a tradition of working for the post office that continued until the 1950s.
By 1901, John the postboy is the householder. He has married Isabel, who is ten years younger than he is and comes from Aberdeen, and they have two children, Ethel and John. Ethel is the one to watch - we’ll come back to her later too.
By 1911 John Lamont has a new job, as a groundsman at the golf course. Isabel has had seven children, five of them still alive. Ethel, the oldest, is twelve, and the youngest, Arthur, is six.
But let’s go back to the link with the post office, to John the postboy and William the shop boy. We can’t be sure they both worked for John Hendry, but it’s very likely.
Many of us will still remember a shop called Hendry’s. It kept the name many years after John Hendry died, because what he set up was a small retail empire. Nowadays it’s the Co-op. John Hendry sold everything - not just food but also clothes, household equipment, china, and tourist souvenirs. And he ran the post office as well.
Of course this required a large and dutiful family. There were plenty of family businesses like this in nineteenth-century Braemar - the Hutchinsons and Sims intermarrying and running the butchers, the Grants running a blacksmithing business.
In 1881, John and Jane Hendry had six children and the two oldest were already working for their father, Isabella as a telephonist and John as a shop boy.
Ten years later the business has grown. Now there are seven children. Three are working for their father as shop assistants, and two as telephonists. One is still at school, and one son, Alexander, has escaped the family business and is a medical student in Edinburgh.
But let’s go back to Linn Cottage. I promised to return to Ethel, who was a baby in the 1901 census. What happened to Ethel? Well, the Lamont family at Linn Cottage clearly had the Post Office in their blood. The story is told, briefly but in detail, on a gravestone in the cemetery in Braemar. It reads:
In loving memory of Ethel Lamont, Postmistress, Strathdon, daughter of J and I Lamont, Linn Cottage, Braemar, died August 13th 1976 aged 78.
And here’s a thought. Ethel is an unusual name to find in a Braemar census. Was she, just possibly, named after Crippen’s accomplice, Ethel Le Neve? She was born when the Le Neve family were at Linn Cottage, and this was ten years before the Crippen murder. Can you just imagine Clement asking what they were going to call the baby, and maybe they said they hadn’t decided yet, and maybe Clement said “I have a cousin called Ethel - that’s a nice name…”
As for the Hendry family, their story would make a talk all on its own. And here’s an interesting thing. Remember Alexander Hendry, the medical student who escaped the family business? Of course I wanted to know what happened to Alexander.
There was a reason he intrigued me, quite apart from his breakaway from the family business. In the old days of St Andrews School on Chapel Brae, there was an annual book prize called the Alexander Hendry Dux Prize. I won it in 1960 and it was a terrific book, which I read so many times that I still almost know it by heart. So of course I was curious about Alexander Hendry. Could this be the same person as Alexander Hendry the medical student?
It took a lot of research. I know, I do say this often, but it is a measure of my passion for research. Once there’s something I really want to know, I can’t bear to give up. Many a cup of tea has gone cold while the research heated up..
The answer was tucked away in the archives of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh. This is what archives used to be like. A tiny attic room at the top of a Georgian building in Queen Street. The moment you set foot on the narrow spiral staircase, you can smell the dust of centuries. This is where I found the answer to this distinguished son of Braemar, who escaped the family shop and post office and went on to greatness.
When the first world war broke out, Alexander Hendry from Braemar was 49 years old and a GP in Ballater. His house and practice were at Netherley, which is now a guest house but has kept the same name.
Doctors were being encouraged to volunteer for additional part-time duties in treating military and civilian casualties of the war.
Alexander agrees to register for service on condition that his own work is covered if he should be called away from Deeside. He points out that he has taken on the duties of three doctors who have left for war service, and that his practice extends about forty miles. This probably meant something like Aboyne to Inverey.
But when we look at Alexander’s CV, it’s clear that he was more than a country GP. He is also medical officer at the Red Cross Hospital. And here’s the really interesting bit - he is surgeon apothecary to the royal household at Balmoral.
This probably explains the knighthood conferred on him in 1931, when the lad brought up above the Co-op became Sir Alexander Hendry, KCVO - Knight Commander of the Victorian Order. This is an honour in the personal gift of the monarch, who at the time was George the Fifth.
Sometimes a house just gets to me, and I can’t bear not to know more about it. When I was a child my father sometimes went to Mar Lodge, and it was a thrill when he took me with him. The Victoria Bridge was kept locked in those days, and we had to collect the key from the lodge house. I used to sit in the car marvelling at this little doll’s house of a place. Even then I could tell that, architecturally, it was very special. It’s a perfect little classical gem.
It first appears on a sketch map of the Mar Estate dated 1826, but it’s older than that. In 2003, the archaeologist Tom Addeyman had the opportunity of surveying it, and dated it to late 17th century. Tom found that the impressive portico is just slightly more recent than the house, and that the roof was originally a foot or so lower. He found evidence of an original extension and coal shed at the back, and a terraced garden with a low wall and railings on the slope behind the house.
In the 1861 census, a road-mender called Thomas Stewart was living there, with his wife Jessie, two very young children, and a visiting teenage girl, Jane Grant, from Crathie. Maybe the extension, now demolished, made it less of a squeeze.
The Lodge continues to be occupied in every census, although not by anyone who is described as a lodge-keeper or other key-holder. It seems to have been available to rent to anyone, worker or elderly single woman, looking for a home. By 1911, Thomas Anderson from Edinburgh is living there with his wife Margaret and her sister Mary.
Victoria Lodge is older than the present Mar Lodge and the Victoria Bridge. It was built to impress; it was the first building a visitor saw, and it was the Duke of Fife’s way of assuring the world that he was a very important person with a very impressive estate.
But the landowners weren’t generally in their grand properties on census night, any more than there were guests in the hotels or in the locals’ houses. So what was going on while the grand houses and castles were closed for the winter?
The 1891 census gives a snapshot of what was going on.
At Balmoral, the Queen was getting some upholstery done. An upholsterer from London was living in the castle, and appears to have had it all to himself.
Abergeldie is in the capable hands of the housekeeper Margaret McDougall, and her husband John, a gamekeeper, both in their sixties.
Invercauld House also has a housekeeper and a gamekeeper living there, and also a carpenter.
At Braemar Castle, Angus Macintosh, a retired gamekeeper aged 80, is the sole occupant, probably in the house at the back.
Twenty years later though, Braemar Castle is home to a remarkable collection of accents. James Connor the house steward is from London, John Vidler the footman from Sussex, Anne Brown the kitchen maid and Ellen Diplock the housemaid are both from Forfar,
I’ve saved the best till last, because Balvenie was a very interesting house to research.
I’m always excited when people ask me to research their house. It’s a wonderful sign of their love and respect for the house and its place in the community. So when Jayne asked me if Balvenie could be the oldest house in Braemar, I was quite startled. It had simply never occurred to me.
The problem with identifying the oldest house in Braemar is always the lack of dating evidence for the other contenders. No one really knows the age of Castleton Terrace.
So is Balvenie the oldest house in Auchendryne? We were brought up to believe that Juniper is the oldest, but I’ve never found the evidence.
Jayne has architectural dating evidence that puts the roof beams of Balvenie around 1750. Just think of it – these trees were growing when the Earl of Mar raised the Jacobite standard.
The Royal Commission report on Balvenie isn’t very useful, but the British Listed Buildings Survey contained a small gem – the speculation that the original heather thatch may still be there, sandwiched between the roof and the loft insulation.
For more information, I contacted the obvious person – a retired council housing manager in Sheffield. This isn’t as mad as it sounds. My cousin Terry Horan shares my passion for Braemar’s history, his parents had once owned Balvenie, and I wondered what he knew about the house.
He told me there was only one piece of information he could give me. He had installed the loft insulation himself, and was astounded, when he went into the loft, to find the original heather thatch still in place. Heather nearly 300 years old, that our ancestors might have walked on.
I have no hope of proving it – but Balvenie certainly could be the oldest house in Auchendryne.
So how do you start researching a house history? Balvenie was a terrific example of what we’re up against.
First, I had to assume that the name Balvenie is less than a hundred years old. I asked a few people but no one knew. That’s the intriguing thing about Balvenie – it’s tucked modestly away and you can easily forget it’s there.
So I went back to the 1881 map, which has got me started many times. It isn’t perfect – but there was a house in about the right place. It wasn’t named, but the owner was a Mrs Duncan.
So I started searching the National Archives for census, birth, marriage and death records for Mrs Duncan, right?
Well, no. I knew absolutely nothing about her. No dates. No other names I could link her to. I did have a quick look at the 1881 census, when we might reasonably expect she was living in the house. I couldn’t find Mrs Duncan, and I couldn’t find Balvenie.
My next move, faced with an impossible situation, is usually the British Newspaper Archive. Had she ever done anything to get herself in the papers?
Well, yes. She had died. Catherine Duncan died in February 1912, aged 82.
These few words alone were enough to give me access to birth and death records, to every census entry from 1841 to 1911, and from there to her marriage, her husband’s name, and the names and ages of her children.
But it wasn’t going to be that simple. Firstly she used her married name and maiden name interchangeably. Her maiden name was McDougal – Mc, and only one l. This plagued me throughout the research. Every time she disappeared from the records, it was because I’d added that second l to the search terms.
But all this came later. The second problem was that according to the Aberdeen Journal, the funeral was in Edinburgh.
The trail had suddenly gone cold. Mrs Duncan apparently was from Edinburgh, and didn’t live in the house at census time, outside the summer season. A holiday house? I could hardly bear the disappointment.
It didn’t stop me for more than a moment. I searched for her death certificate, and everything changed. It was in her maiden name, McDougal. She had died at Balvenie, aged 82, of heart failure. Her parents had been Hugh McDougal, gamekeeper, and Lizzie Downie. Her husband was James Duncan, labourer, deceased.
Just possibly, now that I knew she could be calling herself McDougal – with one l – I might find her in the 1911 census.
Sometimes I feel ancestors are hiding, laughing at me. Sometimes they just suddenly pop up, probably still laughing. I’ve heard other genealogists say this too. Catherine McDougal or Duncan did this all the time. There she was in the 1911 census, living with her son-in-law William Grieve and her daughter Elizabeth Grieve. William was a bus driver, which was a novel occupation to find in a Braemar census.
And they were living at Banchory Cottage. If the 1881 map was correct, then Banchory Cottage was Balvenie.
The 1911 census was helpful on this. In older census entries, houses may have just a random number, which is not consecutive but simply all over the place. In 1911, the house before Banchory Cottage is Hope Cottage, and the one after is Auchendryne. That seemed good enough evidence to me.
For the next ten years – about ten minutes, in research time – it was easy. There she was at Banchory Cottage in 1901, aged 70 and working as a laundress.
And here’s another interesting thing. Another laundress next door at Hope Cottage, and her name was Eliza McDougal. With one l. There’s a good chance they were sisters, although I haven’t been able to prove it. The real question is, were they colleagues, or were they deadly rivals? Were there Gaelic curses flying back and forward over the soap suds?
Once I’d found Catherine Duncan in the census, we were on a roll. She was traceable at Balvenie back to 1871. Before that, and also in 1881, houses are identified by random numbers and it’s very difficult.
But here’s an odd thing. Over successive censuses, Catherine Duncan was living with one or more of three daughters. And all four women had different surnames. The daughters were Catherine Gordon, Jane Birse, and Eliza McHardy, who later became Eliza Grieve.
What are we to make of this? I went back to the 1911 census to see how many children Catherine Duncan was recorded as having. The answer? None.
Absolutely stuck, I wondered if the Aberdeen Journal was right in telling me she was buried in Edinburgh. Was it just possible that she’s actually buried in Braemar?
Well, don’t believe everything you read in the papers. She is buried just to the left of the Farquharson mausoleum, with her husband James Duncan and their daughter Jane, who died aged 22. That accounted for Jane, although I still can’t understand why, although she was single, she had the surname of Birse.
More research revealed that Catherine and James were probably married less than a year – which could just about account for Jane. James Duncan died of tuberculosis at the age of 35. This was alarmingly common in Braemar and it tended to strike young men. Another young man in Inverey died of tuberculosis on the same day.
This still left me with the problem of who these three daughters actually were.
I searched for all three of them under every surname they might have been registered with. Then I searched every possible variant of their Christian names, against each of these surnames.
My goodness, I can say this so quickly. It actually took two solid days of research.
Jane is a difficult name to research. At various times she could be known as Jean, Jeannie, Jessie, Janet, Jonnet, Jenny, or even Jane. And I had to try all of these against Duncan, McDougal (in every possible spelling) and Birse.
Catherine is a difficult name to research. She could be calling herself Kate, Katie, Cath, Cathy, or Catriona. So I tried all of these against Duncan, McDougal, and Gordon.
Eliza is an absolute brute of name to research. She could be Elizabeth, Elspeth, Lizzie, or occasionally Betty or Bessie. There are two Elspeths in my ancestry and I have found seven different spellings of Elspeth – and counting. I tried all of them against Duncan, McDougal, and McHardy.
I’d love to say that it ended in triumph. It didn’t. It ended in total failure.
I was left with just the satisfaction of knowing it had all been great fun, and that I couldn’t have done more. And very grateful to Jayne for asking me to research her house.
I’ve talked about the research process for Balvenie because for me it absolutely vibrates with what I love about the history of Braemar. They are our forbears. Whether or not we are descended from any of them, we can claim descent as residents of Braemar. They, too, could get up every morning and marvel at the beauty of the hills. They braved the climate and went about their work – hard work for men and women alike. It was snowing the day I began research on Catherine Duncan, and I cringed at the thought of her laundress hands raw and splitting in the cold, constantly wet.
Between the lines of the documents, we can imagine their lives. We walk in their footsteps. We tread the same ground.
© Alison Grant MacKintosh