Chalmers Family Cork 

Auchterless Parish 

This is Upperthird and the Oldwood, in Auchterless where my father grew up.

The Barclay and Esslemont Families were connected to the places on the map

The Parish History below was written sometime after 1903. It is not known to what extent the early part of the history is accurate.



Family Names connected with parish

Early History of Parish


Parish Dates



 Built 1779

Ythan burn Auchterless

Family Names connected with parish

Chalmers, Esslemont, Barclay, Niven, Tocher, Stephen, Geddes

Early History


By the Rev. Alex. A. Duncan, B.D.

 Up from the north bank of "pearly Ythan," its spire visible from most parts of the Howe, stands the stately Church of Auchterless (Gaelic - the cultivated uplands). Under the shadow of the new Church lie the ruins of the old. Of the pre-Reformation Church, Time with discriminating hand has spared the ancient awmrie; and of the edifice restored in 1780 there yet remains the western ivy-clad gable, from which the bell still clinging to the belfry but recently ceased to call to worship or to the new-made grave.

The history of the Church in Auchterless before 1157 is shrouded in uncertainty, though even then it had a past of no little consequence. In that year the Church of Ochtirles, with the pertinents, was confirmed by Pope Adrian IV. to Edward, Bishop of Aberdeen. In the Chartulary of St Andrews, before the year 1413, and definitely fixed as 1366, Oucbtirlys is entered in the valuation of churches and benefices, and at a Court held at Aberdeen on January 16, 1548, the taxation of the "Spirituall and Kirk Landis and Patrimonie" is returned for the Kirk-toune of Auchterles as xx. shillings, the incumbent being "Chanter of Abirdene."

 It is, however, from the "Register of Ministers and their Stipends sin the yeir of God 1567" that the first definite information is obtained as to an incumbent of Auchterless,-Robert Allerdas, probably one of the Auchterless family of that name, "a Reider," with the modest stipend of 20 Scots.

The Ministers of Auchterless from that date are as follows :-


 John Rechie.


 Henry Scougal (f)


 Gideon Murray, A.M. (a)


 Alexander Barclay, A.M.


 Robert Maitland.


 Patrick Setone A.M. (h)


William Gray.


William Johnston. (i)


John Forbes, A.M.


Alexander Barclay, A.M. (k)


Walter Hempseid.


Alexander Ross. (1)


Patrick Urquhart. (6)


Andrew Gauld A.M.(m)


Andrew Massie.


William Stuart, A.M. (n)


William Massie. (c)


Alexander Rose, A.M. (o)


 William Gray. (d)


George Dingwall A.M.


 William Meldrum. (e)


Alexander Gray D.D. (p)

1898- Alexander Adams Duncan, B.D. (q)

 (a) Resigned: became Chamberlain to Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, and founded the house of Elibank. (b) Admitted minister by the Bishop of Clocher, in Ireland, but fled to Scotland "because of the bloody persecution raised be the rebels." (c) Son of and "Helper and conjoint minister" with Andrew Massie. (d) Translated to Dunse. (e) Regent, Marischal College translated to Tranent.

(f) Translated to Professorship of Divinity, Aberdeen. Author of "'the Life of God in the Soul of Man," &c., and founder of Church Guilds. (g) Translated to Peterhead. (h) Translated from Dyce: deposed 1694. (i) Translated from Kearn. (k) Translated from Peterhead. (l) Part of his tombstone is built into present church tower. (m) Translated from Kinnairney. (e) Itinerant minister at Glenlivet : translated to Turriff. (o) Translated from Drumoak. (p) Translated from Strichen.

( q) Assistant and successor.

Auchterless had for its Tutelar Saint, Donan, Abbot (640 A.D.). His feast was on April 17, and that of his relics on April 18. In the "Ecclesiastical History of the Scottish Nation" Dempster says the life of Saint Donan, in that golden age of holy men, was pre-eminent in its blamelessness, He further relates that the Saint's staff, which cured fever and jaundice, was broken by the reformers. Probably this staff, invested with miraculous power, together with the reverence in which the Saint was held, accounts for the following legend -The site of the Auchterless Church was chosen on the Kirkhill, an eminence on the southern border of the present parish, and building operations were begun; but whatever was built during the day was ruthlessly and malignantly destroyed by night The crux was removed and the difficulty overcome by a unanimous decision to consult the Saint.

Accordingly his staff was committed to the Ythan that its destination might reveal the site of the church. This it accomplished by stranding high and dry on the river bank opposite the present Kirktown. Notwithstanding the mists of legendary lore that envelop the personality of this wonderful Saint, there is still left behind

a living impression of a man of God, his spirit kindled at the lamp of Iona, carrying the Light of Truth Eternal to a people who knew no god but the Baal of Druid priests and no worship save that of the circle and altar of stone.

That Auchterless was given to the worship of the Druids is evident from the number of Druidic remains. While these are to be found in several parts of the parish, the most remarkable are the stones on Kirkhill, where three concentric circles were traced, the stones being large and white In the "Statistical Account of Scotland," 1794, it is remarked--" Superstition still spares them, though stones are so scarce."

In more ways than one Saint Donan has left the impress of his influence even on modern Auchterless. Two wells were named after him, one on Mains of Hatton, the other at Moat. These derived their names no doubt from a still more important perpetuation of his memory-Donan Fair,-which superseded in course of time the original religious festival, and was held first on Mains of Hatton, and afterwards at Moat. Near the church an oval-shaped eminence is still traceable. This is the Moat-head, at one time the seat of the baronial court. (a) The Gallowhill is now identified with Hill of Hatton.

Still more closely connected with the history of Auchterless Church is the Chapel of Seggat, supposed to be dedicated along with the well near by to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beside the well and the ruins of a place of worship in which James IV. told his beads in 1504 there are traces of a burial-ground where several families of distinction were interred. The Presbytery records of 1649 reveal the prevalence of superstitious customs, in particular the frequenting of the Well of Seggat, the water of which was believed to have curative and supernatural powers. The Presbytery of Turriff, by instructions from the Commission of the General Assembly (I 649), visited the Kirk of Auchterless to demolish the chapell, altar, and well," and ordained "that a karne of stones be put upon the Well of Seggat." Though this was carried out by Mr Andrew Massie, minister, the well was emptied by some "evill affected persones." A larger "karne of stones" had no better effect, nor had further efforts, repeated until the year 1653, when, the elders having already refused "to waire anie more paines" in the matter, the minister, baffled and despairing, intimated to the Presbytery "that he had done all that can be done for the tyme," and by common consent the subject was allowed to drop. Even in the beginning of last century the practice of visiting the well still survived, the spell used, after depositing money or other gifts to the Saint, being in these words

Chapel well and Chapel water,

Drink it and ye'll get better.

The Kirk-Session records: begin in October 1706. From traces of fire on the first pages it is supposed that previous records have been accidentally burned. The recurrence of a like disaster was in 1901 provided against by the purchase of a fireproof safe. The appearance of the ruins of the former Church itself is evidence that no completely new edifice has been erected since the Reformation, until 1879, when the present handsome Church was opened, December 4, having been built at a cost of nearly 4500, with seating accommodation for 795 worshippers. The number of Communicants on the Roll at present is 752.

The present Manse (before excambion of glebe, 1866) was built in 1863-4, at a cost of 1500, and the offices, which had become very dilapidated, were substantially rebuilt in 1900. The Church - fitting monument of the generosity of the heritors-was completed in 1895, when the tower was built by the family of the late Mr Watson of Blackford, in memory of their father, mother, and sister. In the tower hangs a very fine bell, weighing 22 cwts. 14 lbs. The beauty of the tower has since been very much enhanced by the addition of a three-dial clock, the gift of James Allan, Esq. of Templand. The clock was set agoing on April 10, 1903, and the hours are struck on the bell already mentioned.

 Although instrumental music was not introduced until 1882 by the gift of a small organ from Mrs Watson of Blackford, an organ chamber was built in the new Church of 1879. The efforts of the ladies of the congregation, by a bazaar, have recently been so successful, that the sum required for a pipe organ, viz. 300, is practically in hand.

Previously unused for winter evening services, the Church was, in December 1898, lighted by a set of handsome lamps, bought with proceeds of a sale of work, and in the following year a pulpit-screen was gifted by the heritors, at the instance of the generous Laird of Hatton.

Wall tablets:

In the vestibule of the Church are wall-tablets in memory of Garden William Duff (d. Sept. 17, 1866); George Dingwall, minister, born at Smallburn, died in the actual discharge of his pastoral duties" (1862); and Emma, wife of George Barclay, M.D. Within the Church are other tablets in memory of Clementina Louisa Duff (d. March 16, 1883); Sterritt Duff Watson (d. June 15, 1897); and John Wallace, M.A., M.D. (d. July 16, 1879).

Behind the Church (which is heated by hot-water circulation), and communicating with the Vestry, there is a spacious Session-House, with the usual furniture, also a reading-desk and piano. Here are ranged the presses containing the books of the Parish and Sunday School Libraries, endowed by the late Rev. George Dingwall, A.M. The Parish Library comprises about 1000 volumes, and is well patronised. The other bequests or trust funds under Kirk-Session control are from the Burnett and Chalmers Mortifications. In addition to the Library endowments, Mr Dingwall bequeathed 100 to the poor; and in 1902 a similar sum was bequeathed for the same purpose by the late Mr Ross Hunter, Badenscoth.

Church Vessels The congregation has reason to be proud of its Communion vessels of solid silver presented by "Jean, Mrs Duff of Hatton," in 1863, and consisting of four cups and two large flagons with stands. In addition to these the Kirk Session purchased, at the opening of the present church, four patens or bread plates and two cups to match those already presented. In an inventory of congregational property made in 1748, there are mentioned two silver cups bought by the heritors and the parish, two large tin patens and one tin basin for baptism. Two other pewter cups bear the letters A. R. (Alexander Rose), and the date 1784. All these are still in existence except one of the silver cups which, since 1784, has disappeared.

The Kirk-Session registers, though limited in range, are not wanting in historical significance. It is true the Disruption of 1843 leaves no trace behind ; it was not epoch - making in Auchterless. The omission of the eleven days after September 2, 1752, the earthquake of August 13, 1816, and many other events of more than local import are carefully recorded, but the most significant historical allusion is that which points to the march of the Duke of Cumberland through Auchterless in 1746, when a sick soldier, left at Seggat, was granted twelve shillings from the Kirk-Session funds.

From the many pages of these silent witnesses, left as a heritage to succeeding generations, it is gratifying to know that the Church and its affairs bulked largely in the life of Auchterless, social and individual. May it continue thus! May its vitality increase! And even as Auchterless, with no village centre, no new industry, still maintains the Gaelic significance of its name, so may Its spiritual life become more and more the cultivated uplands of the field of God.

 (a) On June 20th, 1650, the Kirk Session chose as Parish Magistrates James Meldrum of Hatoun and Patrick Gordon of Badinscoth.

Present Office-Bearers are :-

Elders -Messrs James Allan of Templand; Wm.Wallace, Chapel of Seggat (1869); Garden A. Duff of Hatton ; James Stephen, Redhill (1883); James Anderson, Cowley; John Gray, Bogs, Gordonstown; John Hunter, Seggat; George Peter, Lenshie; James Weir, Moat ; Alex. Wilson, Pitglassie (1894).

The Session Clerk: is Mr Adam Loogmore, M.A., Schoolhouse;

The Precentor: Mr JoIm Cheyne, Kirktown; and

The Church Officer: Mr John Mackie, Balmuir Cottage.

 Back to: Scotland