Posts tagged ‘graveyards’

November 30, 2014

Old Midmar church and graveyard


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


‘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 …’


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


If walls could speak –

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


See too the recumbent stone circle at Midmar



May 14, 2013

Cluny cemetery with mortsafes and magnificent mausoleum

Cluny Cemetery near Monymusk in Aberdeenshire.


Image are mainly from the old cemetery at Cluny.


This graveyard is dominated by the Fraser Mausoleum, a circular neo-classical building of ashlar grey granite (ashlar being well-dressed stone). This impressive structure was designed by James Byers of Tonley.

James Byers was an 18th century Scottish artist and architect from Tonley, Tough, Aberdeenshire. He was a man of considerable learning and a dealer in antiques and paintings – among his clients was the English artist Constable. The Byers were Jacobites (his father had fled after Culloden) and like Bonnie Prince Charlie James spent a considerable part of his life in Rome where he was a great authority on all things cultural and he became what might be described as a cultural guide for those undertaking the Grand Tour.

Incidentally Byers was responsible for the famous Portland Vase coming to this country. He took possession of it after its owner, one of the Barberinis, found himself in debt over a game of cards. Byers sold the vase to the Scottish diplomat and archaeologist Sir William Hamilton. Eventually the vase found its way to Britain.

Before I get carried away with Byers let me return to Cluny.


A friend of Eliza Fraser, Byers presumably oversaw the work done on the mausoleum ensuring its quality – perhaps the work of mason William Cottie whose signature is on the building – finely proportioned, this drum rises from a square podium and finishes with a dome complete with oculus.

The Fraser coat of arms sits over the doorway and around the top of the drum runs a frieze – Elizabeth Fraser of Castle Fraser MDCCC VIII.


Protecting the glazed door is a wrought iron grille.


This is the view inside through a rather dirty window.

Alongside lies a simpler Fraser burial enclosure.


As striking as the mausoleum in a very different way is a terracotta monument to Leochel Cushnie teacher James Reid and his French wife Marie Claudine Nardin. They married for the second time, once in England, at 24 Dee Street Aberdeen on 14 Jan 1859.  Marie Claudine became a sewing teacher.  She died on 7 Jan 1897.


Dating from around 1897 it is in early Italian Renaisssance style with a medallion head, presumably of Marie Nardin.


The grave is protected by angels on both sides of the monument.


The angel holding a torch representing immortality of the spirit and the resurrection.

??????????????And on the opposite side is the fallen angel.


The graveyard boasts four splendid mort-safes. If you weren’t a Fraser who could afford a grand mausoleum to protect your recently deceased then you might have use of a mort-safe.

Before bodies were legally made available to anatomists, Scottish doctors learnt their trade with the help of resurrectionists, grave robbers, who dug up recently buried corpses and sold them for dissection.

These were commonly used in the 19th century to prevent bodies awaiting burial being stolen. A corpse might lie within the protection of a mort-safe for six weeks until decay made the body unsuitable for dissection.

Churches might own one or two and could hire them to other churches. Some groups purchased mort-safes and charged fees for people who made use of the safes.

Cluny’s mort-safes are made up of wrought iron riveted cages but as well as the iron each has a top of a coffin shaped granite slab 2.15m long by 0.76m wide and 0.15m thick.


Several granite stones dating from late 18thC are contained within the old graveyard. There are numerous references to family members who lived and died abroad, signifying the extent of Scottish migration over the centuries.



Traditional cemetery imagery nicely carved into the unrelenting hardness of granite.

??????????????One of the ground level horizontal slabs with the skull and crossbones representing death.


Unusual scroll design on this stone.

??????????????Gravestone of a policeman.


Gravestone with an image of a piper either applied by sandblasting or laser.


Gravestone of a blacksmith with a carved anvil.


DSC02775 - Copy

And a stone commemorating a farmer and his wife.

The original Cluny kirk belonged to the cathedral of Aberdeen and was known as St Machar’s Church. It fell to ruin and was demolished in 1789.

Almost forgot – if you look around the more recent cemetery at Cluny you will be staggered by the number of accident victims buried there.  It’s an interesting detail recorded on the stones but why have people stopped putting deceased’s occupations on gravestones? These make fascinating reading on old stones and add to our understanding of generations and the times they lived in.