Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Banff

Banff (pron. Bamf; anc. Boiniffe, Bainife, and Bainffe, from Boin or Boyne thanedom), a royal burgh and seaport, the capital of Banffshire, in a parish of its own name, and a parliamentary burgh, comprising the separate police-burgh of Macduff, in Gamrie parish. By road it is 1½ mile WSW of Macduff, 45½ miles NNW of Aberdeen, and 22 W of Fraserburgh; and from two stations, Banff Bridge and Banff Harbour, on the Turriff and Banffshire sections (1857-59) of the Great North of Scotland railway, it is 29½ miles N by W of Inveramsay Junction, 50 NNW of Aberdeen, 16¼ NE of Grange Junction, 20¾ NE of Keith, 48¼ E by N of Elgin, 75¾ ENE of Inverness, 185¾ N by E of Edinburgh, and 202½ NNE of Glasgow. With the Moray Firth to the N, Banff Bay and the Deveron to the E, to the S Duff House and its finely-wooded park, Banff was parted till lately into the larger low town and the sea-town, one built on a gentle declivity towards the river, and the other crowning an elevated plateau, that breaks off suddenly within a few yards of the beach. But by the feuing of the space between-the site of the ancient castle-the two have been brought into connection; and at present there is a southward extension of villas along the Sandyhill Road; whilst the whole is characterised by a neatness and liveliness that yearly attract an increasing number of summer visitors. An ancient place, Banff has retained few relics of antiquity, the House of Airlie and the Ogilvies' stately ` Palace ' both having disappeared, the latter destroyed by General Munro in Aug. 1640; of the Castle, as old at least as 1364, nothing is left but a scrap of the outer wall and moat, the portion in which Archbishop Sharp was born (4 May 1618) having been demolished early in this century. The present castle was built by James, sixth Earl of Findlater and third of Seafield (1714-70), as a jointure residence, and is a plain modern building, inferior in interest to the Laird of Auchmedden's town house at the head of the Strait Path. The old kirk is represented by only one vaulted aisle, the burying-place of the Ogilvies, Lords Banff (1642-1803); and a Carmelite priory, founded before 1324, an Observant priory, a house of the Knights Templars, a bedehouse for eight old women, and four pre-Reformation chapels-all have left hardly a vestige.

To come to the modern town, Banff has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Union, Commercial, National, North of Scotland, and Aberdeen Town and County banks, a Central Savings' Bank, 24 insurance agencies, 4 hotels, a gas-light company (1831), a water company, a spacious market-place (laid out in 1830), masonic lodges, a bath-house, etc-, and publishes the Tuesday Liberal Banffshire Journal (1845)- The Town House (1796) is a plain three-storied edifice, forming two sides of a square, with an earlier fluted spire, 100 feet high at the outer angle; the County Buildings, also Grecian in style, were erected in 1871 at a cost of £7214-one-half thereof defrayed by Government,-and contain a court room, 38 feet long, 28½ wide, and 26½ high. A County Prison (1796) was discontinued in 1878; the County Lunatic Asylum (1865) is a Tudor structure, built at a cost of £12,000 for 90 inmates, near Ladysbridge station, 2½ miles WSW of the town. Chalmers' Hospital (1862), a striking Elizabethan pile, like Donaldson's Hospital at Edinburgh, cost £6000 of the £70,000 bequeathed by Alex. Chalmers, Esq- of Clunie for ' the support, maintenance, care, and relief of 50 destitute sick paupers, lunatics, and infirm persons of both sexes, being natives of Banffshire, ' this being one out of several mortifications-Cassie's (£10,000), Smith's (£10,000), Wilson's (£5500), etc. Other noteworthy structures are the seven-arched bridge (1779), leading across the Deveron to Macduff, with a free water-way of 142 yards; the Young Men's Christian Association Hall (1866; 650 seats); St Andrew's masonic lodge, Venetian in style; the Fife Arms Hotel; the public schools (1838; cost, £4500), a Grecian building, with eastern façade 154 feet long; Pirie's Institution (1804); and the Biggar Memorial Drinking Fountain (1878), designed by J. Rhind after St Giles's spire, Edinburgh. The library of the Literary Society, in the Town-House, is extensive and well-selected; and the Museum of the Scientific Institution, in the vestibule of the public schools, has been greatly improved under the curatorship of Thomas Edward, the ` Scotch Naturalist ' of Smiles's charming work (Lond. 1876)Places of worship are the very plain parish church (1790; 1500 sittings), with a spire added about 1848; a Grecian domed Free church (1844; enlarged in 1876 by 108 sittings at a cost of £1200); a new Gothic U.P. church (1880; 275 sittings; cost, £1800); an Independent chapel (1834; 400 sittings); a new Gothic Wesleyan chapel (1878; 259 sittings; cost, £1400), with a spire; St Andrew's Episcopal church (1833; 356 sittings), a Debased Gothic building, adorned in 1875-81 with three beautiful stained-glass windows; the new Gothic Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (1870; 250 sittings); and, in the Town House, a Plymonth Brethren's chapel. The two board schools, public and Episcopalian, with respective accommodation for 803 and 90 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 433 and 59, and grants of £403,7s. 6d. and £46, 16s. 6d.

The port of Banff includes the creeks or sub-ports of Macduff, Fraserburgh, Gardenstown, Portsoy, Port-Gordon, and Garmouth; and Banff itself makes but a small figure in the aggregate business of the seven. Its harbour, formed at the Deveron's mouth in 1775, is greatly inferior to that of Macduff, in spite of a pier and breakwater constructed by Telford in 1816 at a cost of £20,000. Often impeded by shifting shoals, it should at ordinary high water admit vessels drawing 12, at spring-tides 15, feet. On 31 Dec. 1880 there were registered as belonging to the port 130 sailing vessels of 21,538 tons, against a tonnage of 1943 in 1797,4301 in 1836,7448 in 1845, 13,009 in 1853,12,891 in 1863, and 17,033 in 1873. This shows development; but hardly so the following table, which gives the tonnage of vessels that entered and cleared from and to foreign and colonial ports and coast wise, with cargoes and also-for the four last years-in ballast:-


Of the total, 440 vessels of 32,948 tons, that entered in 1880,4 of 214 tons were steamers, 26 of 1845 tons were in ballast, and 378 of 26,653 tons were coasters; whilst the total, 416 of 31,128 tons of those that cleared, included 4 steamers of 214 tons, 303 ships in ballast of 22,968 tons, and 349 coasters of 25,049 tons. The trade is mainly, then, an import coastwise one, and coal is the chief article of import-38,822 tons in 1879; whilst exports are grain, cattle, salmon, herrings (21,785½ barrels to the Continent in 1879), etc-, the foreign and colonial imports amounting in 1880 to £36,293, the exports to £45,840, the customs to £1808- Banff also is head of the fishery district between Buckie and Fraserburgh, in which, during 1879, there were cured 29,110 barrels of white herrings, besides 156,632 cod, ling, and hake-taken by 512 boats of 4380 tons, the persons employed being 1485 fishermen and boys, 46 fish-curers, 60 coopers, and 1026 others; and the total value of boats, nets, and lines, being estimated at £44,558. The herring catch has been returned at 15,208 crans in 1877,14,781 in 1878,21,400 in 1879, and 25,558 in 1880. A Morton's patent slip, for ships of 300 tons, has been in use here since 1836; and, during 1875-80,65 sailing vessels of 11,760 tons were built within the jurisdiction of the port. There are further a tobacco, a chemical manure, and a rope and sail factory, 2 woollen mills, a tannery, an iron foundry, a brewery, a distillery, a timber yard, and a brick-field. Friday is market-day; and fairs are held on the Friday before May 26, the first Friday of August, old style, and the Friday before Nov. 22 A traditional residence of Malcolm Ceannmor (105893), Banff certainly is older than the reign of Malcolm IV., who signed a charter at it in 1163. A charter of William the Lyon two years later refers to it as a royal burgh, and in its privileges of royalty it was confirmed by Robert Bruce (1324), Robert II. (1372), and James VI. (1581). Its part in history has been insignificant. In April 1644 it was pillaged by the anti-Covenanting Lairds of Gight, Newton, and Ardlogie, with forty other 'brave gentlemen,' and again in the following March by the Marquis of Montrose, who, 'marching to Banff, plundered the same pitifully, no merchant's goods or gear left; they saw no man in the street but was stripped naked to the skin. Some two or three houses were burned, but no blood shed, and so they left Banff.' Cumberland's troops, en route for Culloden, bivouacked round Duff House, then building, on 10 Nov. 1746, hanged two suspected spies, and destroyed the Episcopal chapel; in 1759 a French ship of war, appearing off the coast, caused a prodigious scare. A flying visit from Dr Samuel Johnson in 1773, and a longer one from Burns in 1780, with great floods of the Deveron (1768,1799,1829, and 1835), well-nigh exhaust Banff's local history. One episode remains, the trial and execution (1700-1) of James M`Pherson, as 'holdin, known, and reput an Egyptian.' Son of a Highland laird and Gipsy dam, he had been leader of 27 armed men, with a piper playing at their head; and his target and huge mediæval two-handed sword are preserved at Duff House; his fiddle-neck is an heirloom in the Cluny-Macpherson family. Burns tells us how-

Sae rantin'ly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntin'ly gaed he;
He play'd a spring and danced it round
Below the gallows tree;.-

and relics more precious than either sword or fiddle are his rude reckless Rant, and the beautiful air to which he set the same. He played it as he walked to execution, and at the gallows' foot proffered his instrument to who would take it, but no man venturing, snapt it across his knee (Groome's In Gipsy Tents, 2d ed. 1881; and Spalding Club Miscellany, vol. iii., 1846). The town council comprises a provost, 3 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, 3 councillors, etc.; and, besides burgh, guildry, and sheriff courts, quarter sessions of the peace are held on the first Tuesdays of March, May, and August, and the last Tuesday of October, sheriff small debt courts on every Tuesday during session. With Elgin, Cullen, Inverurie, Kintore, and Peterhead, Banff returns one member, its parliamentary constituency numbering 997, and its municipal 514 in 1881, when the value of real property within the parliamentary burgh amounted to £12,192 (£8660 in 1865), and the corporation fixed revenue to £787. Pop. of municipal burgh (1782) 2380, (1831) 2935, (1851) 3557, (1861) 3724, (1871) 4032, (1881) 4255; of parl. burgh (1851) 6042, (1861) 6781, (1871) 7439, (1881) 8841.

The parish of Banff is bounded N for 2¼ miles by the Moray Firth, E by Gamrie and a detached portion of King Edward parish, Aberdeenshire, SE by Alvah, S by Marnoch, W and NW by Boyndie; and has an extreme length from NE to SW of 6½ miles, an extreme width from E to W of 3&hy. miles, and a land area of 6073 acres. The Deveron traces the eastern, the Burn of Boyndie the north-western, boundary; and the latter receives two rivulets from the interior, whose surface has a general southward rise, attaining 274 feet at Gallow Hill, 308 near Upper Denhead, 512 at the Hill of Culbirnie, 466 at Ella, 456 near Ord church, and 573 at the Hill of Ord, on the Alvah border. Clay slate and greywacke are the prevailing rocks, but granite, mica slate, and Old Red sandstone also occur; and the granite and sandstone have been quarried for building, while patches of fossiliferous lias clay have been worked for bricks and tiles. The soils vary greatly with the rocks that they overlie, and where resting on slate are argillaceous and very fertile. Nearly four-fifths of the entire area are cultivated, and some 260 acres are under wood, the remainder being either pasture or waste. Inchdrewer Castle, a farmstead now, 3 miles SW of the town, in 1713 was the scene of the tragical death of George, Lord Banff, murdered, it was thought, by thieving domestics, who then fired the building to conceal their crime; Duff House is the only great mansion in the parish, of which it forms the most conspicuous feature. The chief proprietors, with the extent and yearly value of their estates within the shire, are its owner the Earl of Fife (72,027 acres, £35,880 + £300 for harbour), the Earl of Seafield, of Cullen House (48,946 acres, £33,878 + £390 for harbour), and Sir Rt. Jn. Abercromby of Forglen House (8053 acres, £6290); 1 other holding an annual value of £500 and upwards, 3 of between £100 and £500,16 of from £50 to £100, and 78 of from £20 to £50. In the presbytery of Fordyce and synod of Aberdeen, this parish is divided between the quoad sacra parishes of Banff (4629 inhabitants in 1871; living, £480) and Ord. At Hilton and Headrooms, 4¼ and 7¼ miles SW of the town, are 2 public schools under the landward board, which, with respective accommodation for 140 and 100 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 70 and 42, and grants of £55,1s. and £38,6s. Pop. (1801) 3572, (1821) 3855, (1831) 3711, (1841) 3958, (1851) 4426, (1861) 4673, (1871) 5015, (1881) 5252.—Ord. Sur., sh. 96,1876. See the late Jas. Imlach's History of Banff (Banff, 1868).

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a royal burgh and seaport, the capital of Banffshire"   (ADL Feature Type: "capitals")
Administrative units: Banff Burgh       Banffshire ScoCnty
Place: Banff

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