Old Midmar church and graveyard

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The tiny graveyard and church ruin of Old Midmar or Migmar in Aberdeenshire lies below a narrow busy road west of Echt so if you go to take look be careful.

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The roofless kirk is St Nidan’s, and you’ll battle with Google looking up that one as is the way with many things Scottish and Welsh, and its cemetery date from the 17th century. However this church is a replacement for an older one and it is likely several churches occupied this site over many many centuries. The remains that are there now are from a church built in 1677 but there have been changes to the original building over time. It was common for newer churches to replace older ones and use some of the same stone, as happened here  -with locally found granite, partly dressed.

Nidan was a 6th/7th century Welsh priest who is said to have helped spread Christianity to this part of Scotland.

The church is set among trees on a wee hillock across from Cunningar motte. Cunningar possibly took its name from the Latin for rabbit cuniculus or the Gaelic which is coinín. Think too of the American rabbit island or Coney Island. Anyway it looks like the place had so many rabbits they named the place after them. Cunningar mott dates from the 12 or 13th centuries when a Norman bloke rode north and claimed the land as his. To prevent the natives from trying to move him on he protected his house with a motte. All went well until a hundred or so years later when the black death struck and the house was abandoned and buried. There’s been quarrying on the site over time which put paid to most of the remaining motte.

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Outside the graveyard is a beehive structure with a plaque to the Bel family buried in the cemetery. The Bels, it tells us were master masons and ‘practical architects’ who worked Midmar, Castle Fraser, Crathes, Craigievar and Fyvie for centuries.

A short way off to the west and higher up lies the magnificent Midmar church and graveyard which incorporates a fine recumbent stone circle. This newer kirk was built in 1787 at which point the old kirk shut its doors.

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It is not really possible to get an impression of how the church looked in the 17th C because it was divided up into  burial enclosures accessed through separate doorways when it stopped functioning as a church. In 1740 the parishes of Midmar and Kinairney were united.

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These burial enclosures were for members of local landed families of Corsindae, Kebbity and Midmar and parish ministers.

Corsindae and Midmar are well-known today but Kebbity or Kebbaty was new to me. Various families are associated with the estate including the Davidsons and Forbes.

In 1698 George Forbes of Kebbity was one of many lairds mentioned in parliament (Scottish parliament as this predated the union of parliaments of Edinburgh and London) concerning licences to trade with Africa and the Indies. 1698 was the year of the launch of the Darien scheme at Panama that fell foul of attacks by England and its allies determined to wipe out Scotland’s trading company.

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James Mansfield of the Castle of Midmar has a plaque on the east wall. Sir William Wallace is said to have ordered the biggen of Midmar Castle as a gift for a friend when he was Governor of Scotland – Wallace not the friend. Midmar was reputedly the area’s most valuable property in the early 18thC but I’ve no idea how prestigious it was in the 14thC.

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James Mansfield possibly bought the Barony of Midmar from one of the Davidsons.Most of the landed families appear to have followed the usual practice of being absentee lairds but the Davidsons  of Kebbaty appear to have been residents. Some of the Mansfields were bankers in Edinburgh.

James Mansfield was an improving landlord who had his workers knock what had been wild, barren land into shape including the creation of a large and well-stocked garden and banking families would have had the means to pay for it.

Another James, was a captain in the army who was killed during the Highland regiment mutiny at Leith in 1779 – along with many largely unarmed Highlanders who were virtually slaughtered as a lesson to others not to question military orders.

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/the-affair-of-the-wild-macraas

Around 1730 alterations were made in the kirk to accommodate a pulpit to conform to post-Reformation church architecture.

Many inscriptions are illegible. The oldest marker I found I could decipher in part was from the 17th century.

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‘Here lives Alexander Tytler farmer at the milltown of Corsendaye who dyed March 23(?) 1690 aged 84 years as also Margrat Martin his spouse who dyed june 16 1681 ???James Tytler ? son farmer at the forsaid place who dyed February 20 1736 aged 90 years and Jean Middleton his …’

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James Rolleston Sterritt, a surgeon with a very grand name, made even grander when he married Patience Duff of Corsinae and added her family name to his – as her first husband had also done. He was Irish and a surgeon with the Royal Navy. His family is buried within the old kirk and features one of the largest memorials.

There are only a few dressed and polished granite stones, many are simple undressed stone, mainly granite.

Dressed and polished black granite, not a northeast granite but possibly from Scandinavia

The greyish pink granite stone below may have come from Hill o’ Fare near Echt.

The memorial to James McIntosh, a gardener, features plant motifs.

Some nice carving on a freestone memorial to Jessie Laing.

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I’ve no idea who belongs to this memorial that stands proud on the south side of the graveyard. Sadly it has lost it inscriptions.

There are a number of very old stones – this one comes from a time before colour, when the world was in black and white – which some people really believe.

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And suddenly colour magically appeared and all was right with the world.

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This stone belongs to the McIntosh family, wonder if its the same as the gardener above, who lived in Kirkstile. Kirkstile I believe is the cottage close to the graveyard, see below.

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As you can see the McIntosh’s knew personal tragedy. In 1871 Christina Forsyth, his wife, and James lost two of their children within days of each other, Jessie aged 7 on 22nd July and Robert aged 8 on the 30th. They had a baby around that time and that child, Charles, died at 7 years in 1878. Their surviving son, Theodore, died at 55 years and James and Christina were aged 92 and 84 respectively – dying in the same year, 1915.

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If walls could speak –

The cottage had several turning hooks attached to its walls – does anyone know what they were for?

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See too the recumbent stone circle at Midmar http://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/the-great-recumbent-stones-in-scotlands-stone-circles

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7 Comments to “Old Midmar church and graveyard”

  1. As a Bell (my name is Alan Bell) I loved your reference to the Bel family and also your Wallace references, I’m taking on a project to open The William Wallace Community & Events Centre in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire. My blog details my exploits.

  2. Lena, the turning hooks on the wall are for holding open shutters.

    Like the site & the mix, don’t like the odious Brian Wilson or his social climbing non relative? Two cheeks of the one erse.

    • Yes thanks for the info. Someone else pointed that out to me. Kind of obvious once you know. Simple technology – and it’s lasted. As for your last point I can’t disagree with you. Odious man.

      Appreciate you reading the blog.

  3. Thanks for getting in touch and clearing up that wee mystery. I was going to look out newspapers from the time to see if I could find out why the two children died. Saved me a bit of work. I suspected it had been scarlet fever at the time but there were lots of illnesses that were fatal at the time so it’s good to know the truth.

    Are you Theodore’s grandson?

    Yes, I suppose it’s likely you great grandfather worked at the church since he lived a stone’s throw away.

    It would have been a whole lot quieter around there then. What a nightmare of a road it is now.

    Lena

    • Hi Lena My grandfarther was Peter McIntosh son of James and Christina. I remember when i young that I saw a family bible that James had. He was also a gardener so he might have been a church Officer part time. Christine came from Autcherless. is there any body who could find out about the other child Charles who died. I do have a family tree that i am doing at tribalpages under mcintosh and gildroy password nuneaton. Thanks Stuart Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2014 10:07:19 +0000 To: stu.mcintosh@hotmail.com

      • Hi Stuart The family history people in Aberdeen are very helpful and have lots of resources to check family backgrounds. Have you tried them? You can get birth and death certificates online from Scotland’s People website but it costs money. L

  4. Hi thanks for that, James and Christine McIntosh are my great gradparents, there son and daughter died of scarlet feaver. i gather he worked in the Church may be as a warden,If any body could help would be great to find out more about them.
    thanks
    Stuart McIntosh

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