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Royal Deeside :
Church Matters in Victorian Ballater


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The parish of Glenmuik includes Ballater and surrounding areas. When Queen Victoria was born in 1819, the parish had for over 200 years been composed of three areas, - Tullich, the chief one, and Glen Muick and Glen Gairn, the two smaller ones. The latter church had a separate existence from 1863 to 1929, when it was linked to Glenmuick then united with it in 1949.

The church had a central place in the life of the village - particularly in the first half of the century. On this page Sheila Sedgwick relates the stories of the various churches in Ballater in the nineteenth Century and of the effect (or lack of effect) of the church on the villagers lives.

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Tullich Kirk, near Ballater Tullich Church near Ballater is now a romantic ruin.

The Influence of the Kirk Session.

In the early 19th century the power of the Kirk Session was still very great. Being 'sessioned' was a considerable ordeal. The session dealt with three types of offence,

moral offences, described as ‘haughmagandy’ or fornication:
offences involving 'prophanation' of the Sabbath;
and ‘dishauntening’ of ordinances (staying away from church !)

Culprits were fined, but by the second half of the century the indignity of appearing on the ‘Stool of Repentance’, in the face of the congregation, had gone. Some sensitive souls could not face the ordeal of public rebuke and absconded, or on occasion, committed suicide. If penalties or fines were not paid, the Procurator Fiscal could be called upon to enforce punishment. Censure meant the offender was virtually an outcast. An Aberdeen surgeon was involved in two paternity suits. He paid the fines for himself and the women but was not punished, as the women were. Was this an example of sex or class discrimination? Even elders were involved in haughmagandy. Rape was fairly common.

It is interesting that from 1819 onwards, the occupation of an offender is listed in the records, e.g. carpenter, blacksmith, mason. There were sad cases, as, for example, when an expectant mother only 15 years old was turned out of home by her father and died in a field, the baby surviving only one day. By 1848 the whole attitude was softening. Fines or penalties became voluntary. Pressure to marry after an illegitimate child was conceived or born was no longer exerted. Those who were prepared to marry were 'married instanter' in face of the Session. Sackcloth disappeared. However, a number of cases of fornication and two of incest were still being dealt with by the Session in the 1880's. A painter in Ballater admitted being the father of a Banchory woman's child, but he was excused censure because he was getting married the following week - to a different woman!

Weddings and funerals often caused the Session problems. A bride and groom usually invited guests to celebrate. There was a meal, often provided from money contributed by the guests, and much drinking. Dancing was to the pipes or fiddle. The situation frequently got out of hand, with considerable debauchery. Funeral practices were, in the eyes of the Session, even worse for bad behaviour,.

Fines were exacted for 'riotous conduct and breaching of the Sabbath.' Much of the bad behaviour seems to have been as the result of drink. In the early years of Victoria's reign there was much lawless behaviour, most of it due to excessive drinking. Many "irregularities" took place after weddings or local "Fairs".

The baptism of children was a matter of great importance. Papists were tolerated in mixed marriages, but there was still a great deal of animosity. The regulations 'dishauntening of ordinances' (not going to church) were no longer strictly observed, although elders satisfied themselves that their 'flock' had made a reasonable attempt to attend services.

The Church Officer was an important person, - in his own estimation at any rate! He had to keep the Church clean and tidy, attend to the heating apparatus, show visitors to their seats and ring the bell. There were many instructions issued to him but the most frequent seems to have been that he must dig the graves to a depth of not less than five feet deep. Presumably he had not enjoyed digging deeply!

The former Free Kirk, Ballater, Royal Deeside The former Free Kirk at Ballater

The Disruption.
The 13th. August 1843 was a sad day in Ballater. A split, known as the Disruption, between the established Kirk and the Free Kirk was occurring through much of Scotland. In Ballater the Disruption occurred, when three elders - William Reid, William Leslie and Donald McKenzie, together with a considerable number of me congregation in Ballater left the church and set up their centre of worship in a sheepcote near Craigendarroch. The split in the church in general was caused by the issue of patronage, - the local Heritors' right to present a minister to a congregation. The dissenters soon built themselves the splendid church on Braemar Road. The rift was later mended and the former church is now an hotel.

Glenmuick Church.
By the late 19th Century the "Centrical Church", opened before 1800 was felt to be no longer in keeping with the more prosperous image of Ballater. It was removed and another more ornate building erected on the site. The new Kirk, designed by J. Russell Mackenzie of Aberdeen in 1873, lay at the heart of the village, and still does. It was designed to have seating for 600 with 100 in the gallery. This was usually adequate, in the 1880's and 90's, except at times of Communion services,

In the absence of a musical instrument, the Precentor fulfilled an important duty. He led the congregation in singing. In the 1880's the Precentor's behaviour gave cause for concern. On two occasions he had been reprimanded for intoxication while on duty. On another occasion he was found fast asleep in the sick room of the barracks. He had twice been given a 'second chance' and vowed abstinence. After considerable discussion and many promises of total abstinence on his part, the Precentor had his third chance. I gather he did not fall from grace again!

It was at this time that the congregation was told it would stand at praise but would sit, leaning forward reverently on the book board, for prayer, - 'this being the nearest approximation to kneeling that the pews would permit of.' When the organ was installed in 1889 and the new pulpit placed in a more forward position, with a new Communion Table, the seating capacity was reduced.

Glenmuick Church, Ballater, Royal Deeside A new church was required as Ballater expanded during the Victorian era

The Roman Catholic Church of St. Nathalan was not built until 1905, so is not Victorian. In the Scottish Episcopal Church worship at first took place in the private chapel of the original Glenmuick House. With increasing numbers of visitors to the area, it was in 1897 decided that the village should have its own place of worship. A small chapel with a corrugated iron roof was built a little to the south of the present church. The building of what we know as St. Kentigern's was commenced in 1906, so by date, that is not Victorian either. The altar, together with a set of six candlesticks, was donated from the Glenmuick House Chapel.


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Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
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19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
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