Old Statistical Account (1790) Parish of Nigg

Nigg and Shandwick Community Collage
Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in CaithnessSir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty


The First Statistical Account (1790)

On the 25 May 179, Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness wrote to over nine hundred Parish ministers throughout Scotland asking them to contribute to a Statistical Inquiry by answering as best they could,a series of one hundred and sixty-six Queries respecting each Parish.

Old Statistical Account (1790) for the Parish of Nigg

The following is a transcription of the actual Account of the Parish of Nigg from the first or old Statistical Account of Nigg

PARISH OF NIGG (County and Synod of Ross, Presbytery of Tain)
By the Rev. Mr Alexander Macadam

Name, Extent, Surface, Soil - The meaning of the word Nigg or Neig,as it was formerly written, is uncertain.Some suppose that it is a corruption of the word Niuc or Nook, and that this parish is so called, because it lies in a corner of the country; but there is no great ground for this supposition, as there are few, if any, instances of the Gaelic names of places being corrupted, especially in those parts where the Gaelic continues to be the living language of the country. The more probable opinion is that it is a Celtic term, expressive of the peninsular situation of the place, it being almost surrounded by water; and what, in some measure, corroborates this opinion is that the parish of Nigg, in the shire of Kincardine, is exactly similar in situation to this Parish. The parish of Nigg is above 5 miles long, and in some places between between 2 and 3 broad. It lies from S.W. to N.E. On the S.E. it is bounded by the Murray frith, on the S. and S.W. by the bay and frith of Cromarty. In the S.E. side of the parish, there is a hill, commonly called the hill of Nigg, which rises at a place called Shandwicke, and extends about 5 miles along the shore of the Murray frith, terminating at a place called Dunskeath, nearly opposite to Cromarty. Some parts of this hill are now covered with large plantations of firs in a thriving condition, other parts are let out in grass pasture cattle. The face of the hill, hanging over the Murray frith, is, in some places, covered with grass and heath, abounds with medicinal herbs, where, some time ago, a number of goats were kept, whose milk from that circumstance, was remarkable for its good qualities in restoring health. But a great part of the face of the hill is rocky, and accessible only to the birds of the air.The eagle, all the different kinds of hawks, build their nests in these rocks, some of which are several hundred feet in height. In them also great flocks of cormorants and other sea-fowl take up their residence, in there from Caithness and the Northern Isles, whither in the summer season they repair to hatch their young. On the declivity of this hill, and exposed to the north, lies a considerable part of the arable grounds of this parish and which are reckoned to the best quality, being a rich loam, with a clay bottom. At both extremities of the parish, the soil is light and sandy. During the winter season, a great part of the parish is wet, occasioned by the rains, which falling on the hill and distilling through the earth, ooze forth in springs in many parts even of the arable grounds. Towards spring these dry up, and feed-time generally commences about the 10th of March. In the one end of the parish they begin to sow barley in the beginning of April, in the other end they begin not till about the middle of that month. During the spring months vegetation is rather slow, owing to the strength of the soil, and its northerly exposure; but when the influence of the sun becomes more powerful, vegetation is rapid, and the harvest seldom fails to be early. It generally commences about the 20th of August, and is finished about the 10th of October.

Agriculture - The usual crops raised in this parish are barley, which is of the best quality, oats, pease, rye, and potatoes; wheat also has been attempted with some success, but for want of inclosures, and because what is sown in the spring does not fill and ripen to perfection, some who have attempted raising wheat, have discontinued it, finding a barley crop almost equally profitable, and far less scourging to their fields. The generality of farmers being poor and having no leases, never venture to make improvements in agriculture, or to deviate from the mode practised by their forefathers. There is a great number of horses, but, a few excepted,they are of a very trifling and diminutive kind. The farmers keep a great flock of black cattle, which they employ in tilling their grounds; but it is supposed that they shall soon be obliged to adopt a differerent method, because great part of the Highlands, where their cattle were wont to be grazed in the summer season, are now converted into sheep farms, the number of which is still increasing. Some time ago, there was a considerable number of sheep in this parish, but at present there are very few; the grounds on which they were pastured being laid under plantations of fir, to the no small loss to the farmers in general, who are by this means deprived of many advantages which they derived from that useful animal, such as the best of manure for their fields, clothing for their households, and some help annually to pay their rents. The valued rent of the parish is L.4205. 11s Scotch. The real rent, that of mills included, amounts to above 2000 bolls, partly barley, partly meal. On some farms, the rent is paid in kind, and on some others the victual is converted onto money, from 10s. 6d. to 13s. 4d. the boll. The rent of the land varies, according to the quality of the soil. The lands of the best quality are let at 2 bolls an acre. And what is most remarkable, the rent of a considerable part of these lands has not been augmented for 200 years back, and yet at present it is as high as the land can possible bear. There are 9 proprietors in the parish, none of whom reside in it at present.*

*Price of Labour - The stated wages of the day-labourers, are from 6d to 8d a day. The amount of the wages of farm servants, cannot be easily ascertained; for though their fee is inconsiderable, yet they have a great deal of perquisites which make the whole of what they receive to amount to from 12 to 14 bolls of victual annually. The servants being generally married, and having families, prefer receiving their wages chiefly in victual. A capital defect in the mode of farming practised in this parish is, that they employ too many servants. Maid servants receive of wages from L.1. 6s. to L.1.12s. annually. All other tradesmen are paid by the piece of work which they execute in it at present.

Population - According to Dr Webster's report, the number of souls was then 1261. The popoulation is rather on the decrease, owing to the union of farms, and several places where cottages once stood, being now inclosed and planted. At present, the examination rolls of the parish contain 933 souls, in which are inserted all who are 6 years of age and upwards. From the average number of births, those under 6 years of age, supposing them all to live, cannot amount to 200 more. The principal part of the inhabitants is employed in husbandry. In this parish there are 4 blacksmiths, 8 wrights, 2 coopers. 7 millers, 12 weavers, 9 tailors 12 shoemakers, 1 flax-dresser and 31 fishermen. This last class or men have, for 6 years past, subsisted themselves and families chiefly by raising crops of potatoes, the fish on the coast having mostly left it. This circumstance has occasioned a considerable advance in the price of that necessary article of life, so that what 10 years ago could be purchased for 5d. will now cost 2s.6d. The average number of births is something above 20. The number of deaths cannot be ascertained with precision; because, of those buried in this church-yard, the greater part is from the other parishes in the vicinity. The number of marriages is about 6 annually.

Ecclesiastical State, Stipend, Schools, Poor - Nigg is one of the mensal churches that belonged to the bishoprick of Ross. Behind the church is still to be seen the foundation of a large house above 90 feet in length, which goes under the name of the Bishop's House, though not the place of his constant residence; and the hill already mentioned is, in old charters of the lands of the parish, called the Bishop's Forest. One of the vaults of the house remained entire in the year 1727. The present church was new built in the year 1727, and underwent a thorough repair about two years ago. There were of old different chapels or places of worhip, particularly one at Culiss, where there is a small inclosure that goes by the name of the Chapel Park. Scarce a vestige of the building remains. There was another at Shandwicke, the walls of which stood pretty entire till within these few years. To the admission of the late incumbent there was a violent opposition on the part of the common people, headed by some of the heritors, and which terminated in a secession of almost the whole body of the people from the Established Church. Nor could the minister, though a man of sense, and greatly useful to the people by his medical skill, ever procure decent auditory in the place. After residing among them above 30 years, the number of his hearers did not exceed 69 persons, and though those who at present attend worship in the parish church greatly exceed that number, it is to be remarked that they are chiefly composed, not of the original inhabitants of the parish, but of those who have removed hither from other parishes, nor can it be expected that the present generation will return into the bosom of the Established Church. The examination roll of the Established Church contains only 260 persons, while that of the Secession contains 673. The King is patron. The stipend is 10 chalders barley, with the vicarage-teinds, which, about 30 years ago, are said to have amounted in value to from L.16 to L.20 Sterling; but, at the admission of the present incumbent, they amounted only to from L.6 to L.7, and are still sinking in value, from the decrease of sheep in the parish, so that it is likely they will soon be inadequate to defray the expense of collecting them. There is a good manse, with offices, which have been lately repaired, and a glebe of father more than four acres of good quality. There is a parochial school, but no school-house at present; the heritors, however, have ordered one to be built. The salary is only L. 8: 6: 8, a paltry consideration to induce any young man, who has been at the expense of a liberal education, to undertake an office of all others the most slavish and fatiguing. The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge have been pleased, of late, to appoint a school-mistress for this parish, to instruct young girls in the different branches of education necessary for that sex, which, it is believed, will prove of singular benefit to the place; as heretofore it was impossible for parents to get their children educated, but by sending to towns, which, by reason of their poverty, and the high rate of board wages, very few of them only were a able to do. Here, as in most other parishes in the North, the poor form a considerable part, who have no funds but what arise from the weekly collections in the church, and the interest of L.20 Sterling, which was lately mortified for benefit of the poor by a widow lady in this place, The number upon the poor roll is 28, who receive yearly the scanty pittance of from 3s to 10s. a-piece, according to their respective necessities. But in this parish there are several other poor persons, who belong to the Seceding meeting-house here, and who receive no public charity, as the weekly collections of this society, of which they are a part, are appropriated to another purpose. The only resource, therefore, on which they depend for subsistence, is begging from house to house.

Antiquities and Natural Curiosities - Near the place of Shandwicke stands a large obelisk, on the one side of which are cut the figures of different animals, on the other a cross handsomely executed. The former is supposed to be a much older work than the latter; and the tradition is that the stone was erected in memory of a shipwreck suffered opposite to that place, by the Danes when they were wont to infest the northern coast, in which shipwreck three sons of the King of Denmark are said to have perished, and to have been buried where the obelisk stands. Adjoining to it there is a piece of ground, which carries the appearance of a burying-place. The foundation of wall surrounding it remains, and marks of graves, both there and at the chapel, are to be seen, and in digging the ground human bones and skeletons have often been found. As to the particular time of the invasion and shipwreck, nothing is handed down.*

* There are two circumstances which serve to confirm the tradition, and the fact to which it refers; one is that the obelisk already mentioned is commonly called in Gaelic Clach Carraig, i,e, the stone of the rock; the other is that the rock opposite to Shandwicke, where the shipwreck happened is, from that event, known to seafaring people by the name of The King's Sons. That rock lies not a half mile distant from the shore, and there is a great depth of water on each side of it. It stretches 2 or 3 miles in almost a straight line from E. to W. and is not to be seen at high-water; and this, a few years ago, occasioned the loss of a ship belonging to the Orkney's bound for Cromarty, which in a fair evening, standing in to near to the shore , struck upon the rock and went down directly, the crew having only time to save themselves by the boat. The top of the mast was seen for several weeks above water.

There was another obelisk in the church-yard of Nigg, said also to have been erected by the Danes. The sculpture upon it is still entire, and is much the same with that of the other monuments left by that people, consisting of figures of animals, and of weapons used either in war or hunting. It stood till about the year 1725, when it was thrown down by a remarkable storm of wind, which at the same time threw down the belfry, and broke the bell of the church. The Rev. Mr Cordiner, who, in his progress through this country had occasion to view the obelisks, has favoured the public with some account of them, and has likewise given plates of them in his useful and entertaining book. Where that range of rocks, which over hang the Murray frith, terminates, at a place called Dunskeath, on a small moat situated above the sea, once stood a fort, of which mention is made by Sir David Dalrymple, in his History of Scotland, vol.1. p. 121, built as far back as the year 1179, by William, surnamed the Lion, King of Scotland. The ditch around the castle, and the entrance to it, may still be observed, but nothing of the wall, or of the stones of which it was built, remains. It was built with a view to suppress disorders in the country, and to disperse and destroy robbers, and other persons, who came to plunder, as may be collected from its name Dunscath, or Dunsea, which is compounded of two Gaelic words, Dun, a "Fort or Castle" and Scath, "Destruction" or "Dispersion". The farm adjoining to it is still called Castle Craig. In the place Ankerville, a part of the property of Mr Cockburn Ross of Shandwicke, in a bank removed at more than the distantance of a mile from the sea, and raised many feet above its level, there is a stratum of oyster shells of considerabble extent, and above a half foot in depth; they lie about three feet below the surface of the ground, and underneath them there is a stratum of fine sand like that on the sea shore. It is difficult to account for their being there, without supposing the ground to have been some time covered by the sea; and to conceive that, from the elevation of the ground, not only of this but of the neighbouring parishes. In that extensive piece of ground called the Sands of Nigg, and about a foot under surface, there is stratum of different kind of shells, of considerable depth, many boat-loads of which are annually dug up by fishermen of a neighbouring parish, and made by them into lime of a superior quality. It is some time before the pits, from which they are taken, fill up, become solid, which render these sands dangerous, and sometimes fatal to passengers, especially to strangers, some of whom falling into these pits before the tide is thoroughly gone, unhappily lose their lives. In that range of rocks which over-hang the Murray frith, there is a number of natural caves, some of which are so capacious that they could contain from four to six hundred men a-piece, The entrance to them is narrow, but within they widen to a great extent, are of an amazing height, and of a depth which no man would incline to examine. There are drops of water constantly distilling from the upper part of these caves, which, gradually petrifying, make them to appear above like an arch of the finest marble. In these, different birds take up their up their residence, and numbers of pigeons hatch their young in them.

Disadvantages - One great disadvantage which the farmer in this place labours under, is the high multure which he pays to the mills. If he send eight bolls of corn to the mill, he must leave one of them for mill-dues, But the principal disadvantage, and which above every other thing retards all improvement in agriculture, is the want of fuel, of which no kind whatever, young fir-trees excepted, is to be found within the parish; and these fir-trees, or thinnings of the woods, are generally sold at such a rate, that it would be much easier for the people to provide themselves in coals, The fuel used in this parish consists chiefly of peat and turf, of which they carry from the distance of five or six miles; and in cutting and carrying which, the farmers and their servants are employed for the whole of the summer season, to the total neglect of every thing that might improve and benefit their farms. And what is still more distressing, many of them are under the necessity of going through the sands to fetch home their fuel, and must therefore for by night and by day watch the opportunity when the tide is out, so that it is no unusual thing to see them set out for the moss at the time when others go to rest. The badness of the roads, and the great distance which they have to go, occasion them great expense in carts and harness, and after all they have but most uncomfortable fuel. If the season be wet, they generally lose their labour, being not able to carry their fuel out of the moss; and what they carry home is so wet, that it will not answer for fire. It was therefore with the highest satisfaction they learned that it is intended to bring a bill into Parliament, to repeal the duties payable on coals carried coast wise to the North, as it will enable them to procure fuel at a cheaper rate, and with far less drudgery, and at the same time will permit them to direct their attention to agriculture, which at present, from the above-mentioned cause, is too much neglected by them.

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