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Royal Deeside :
Ballater in Victorian Times - Village People

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On this page Sheila Sedgwick details the results of much patient research into the people who inhabited Ballater in the 19th Century. Descendents of many of those mentioned still live in the village and many people viewing this page from elsewhere will recognise the name of their forebears.

Although this page deals primarily with people, the information does overlap a little with that on other pages. In particular, in the section called Personalities more details are given about a few colourful characters

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Ballater History Old Kirkyards Francis Farquharson Lord Byron Ballater Local History Group
Bridges of Ballater Ballater in Victoria Times Alexander Gordon Ballater Highland Games AA Box 472
Go To Page A village is born Ballater people Some Personalities Ballater Buildings Aspects of Village Life Church matters

Victorian Ballater by Washington Wilson
Victorian Ballater as photographed by Washington Wilson
1 Early Settlers 2 1840 to 1900 3 Into the Twentieth Century

Early Settlers in Ballater.

In its first fifty years – roughly 1790-1840 – Ballater grew quite slowly. Some information on the early settlers is given below.

James Smith and Mary Kerr, whose address was Bridge of Ballater, had a daughter Ann in August 1793. This was one of the earliest baptisms in the new village. A second daughter, May, was born in 1798. James Paterson and Elspet Hunter had a son, William, born in September 1796.

Isaac Bremner, the former Tullich tailor, and his wife Margaret Wright were early settlers. Isaac was the Bellman or Church Officer while Margaret carried out the duties of a midwife. Once a year, usually around the New Year, she went round the people in Tullich and any settlers in Ballater to collect a donation of meal, which she regarded as a perquisite of her husband as Church Officer. The Bremner sons were Charles, born in 1803, and William, Alexander, Isaac and George between 1807 and 1819, with a daughter Anne in 1811. William Dunbar and Margaret Campbell had a son William in April 1805 and another one, James, in August 1807.

Charles Clerk and Mey Lawrence seem to have started their faintly in June 1810 with Alexander. By September 1812 they had another son, William and in April 1814 yet another, then in August 1816, a daughter, Jane.

John Jamieson and Jane Jarvis had a son James in January 1811, then some other boys. Their last child was probably Isabella, born in 1824. At this early stage of Ballater's history, boys appear to have been arriving faster than girls.

Among the early occupiers of property seem to have been Robert Smith and his wife Margaret Macdonald, who in 1811 were living close to the river bank.

The wife of the Rev. Robert MacGregor, Missionary Minister and assistant, had a girl, Isabella, in August 1811. Another girl, Anne Brown, was born in September 1818, although there were probably others between. His wife, Janet Menzies was reputed to be very beautiful.

James Catanach and Elizabeth Watt had a daughter, Mary, in 1813, and another, Isobel, in June 1819, although again there may have been other children. George, son of William Paterson and Janet Stephen, arrived in April 1814.

A family of Mitchells also had a dwelling close to the river bank, which was later the site of the farm of Sluievannachie. One of the Mitchell girls, Anne, married George Sharp, a carrier for goods between Aberdeen and the Ballater area. Their first child, who was baptised William Farquharson, appeared in 1813 and then John in the September of 1814. Then in May 1814 came Helen. They had twin daughters, Charlotte and Anne, born in May 1824. Another of the Mitchell girls, Betty, married James Robertson and had a daughter in September 1828, Isabella.

Samuel McKenzie, whose wife was Margaret McDonald, had a daughter Mary, in 1814 and another, Elspet, in June 1818. Samuel was for many years responsible for the maintenance of the road from its junction with the Pass of Ballater, through the village to the Bridge of Gairn. Their son John was born in October 1821. (The two daughters, Mrs Dunn and Mrs.Elsie or Elspet McKenzie were living in Ballater in 1890.) Colin Coutts and Margaret Ferguson had a daughter Margarete in November 1816.

Residents appeared from outwith the area. John Skeaff, an Irish soldier, a drummer with Hopeton's Regiment, settled early in Ballater after his discharge. He married Elizabeth Davidson and raised a family. The first born was a son then there were a few daughters. In after years one daughter married Alexander Paterson who had a considerable shoemaker's business in the village. Another daughter Isabella, married Alexander Mitchell, druggist and grocer. Their daughter Margaret was born in May 1828 to be followed in August 1830 by Alexander then David in 1833. After several years in business he and his family emigrated to America. John Skeaff was not the only soldier to settle in Ballater, Most of those who did were of the 93rd Regiment.

The Fergusons, James and Jane, had a son John at the end of 1817, then a daughter Margaret in October 1819 and a son William in 1821. Peter McDonald and Lilias Grant had a daughter Charlotte, born in April 1819.

Alexander Gall and Isobel Stephen settled in the village, where their son James was born at the end of 1819. Alexander was a carpenter and for some years prior to 1848 he carried on his business at Burnfoot of Braichley. He went to Australia where his descendants still live. A son, Angus, was born to Angus Mclntosh and Catherine Gruer in 1819.

William Tastard and Mary Dingwall were among the early settlers: they had a daughter, Anne, born in 1819, followed by a son, William, in December 1823. A William Tastard and Anne Stewart had a daughter, Mary, in 1828 and another, Anne, in 1831 and a number of other children. This may be a different William, or he may have re-married. Charles Bowman had lived in Ballater but 'eloped' when Mary Dingwall accused him of being the father of her illegitimate twins Jane and Margaret, born in March 1823. A Mary Dingwall (the one mentioned previously?) had an illegitimate child to James Stephen in June 1825, baptised George.

Once settled in Ballater, couples perhaps decided it was time to raise a family. Most couples had children and again most families were large. The names mentioned give some idea of the names and numbers of people living in Ballater in the early years of the nineteenth century.

William Mitchell, of the family mentioned previously (?), and his wife Barbara Fleming had a son John born in April 1823 and a daughter Margaret the following year. Peter Mitchell and Jane Findlay had a daughter Esther in 1828, a daughter Anne at the end of 1829, a son John in December 1830 and Peter m May 1832. Alex. Mitchell and Ins wife Jane Cattenach had a daughter Jane in 1831.

James McPherson, William Grant, James Stephen, George Grant, Joseph Brown and a number of Cattanachs and Gordons together with Andrew Donaldson and a name that does not appear to be local, James Porter and his wife Margaret Warrack, all contributed to the population increase of Ballater.

Station Square, Ballater in Victorian Times
Station Square, Ballater in Victorian Times

Some Further Settlers.
Jane Mason, wife of John Smith, had a daughter Ann in 1819. John was a mason. Ann baked bread and sold it. For many years she was the only baker on Upper Deeside. When Jane gave up, there was no regular baker for a considerable period. A few loaves were brought from Aberdeen, for sale, but very little "loaf" bread was actually used. (The Mason's daughter, Mrs.Cattanach, was still living in Ballater in 1903, at the age of 90.) The first baker to carry on business to any extent was William Pringle. For many years he had no opposition. His son Joseph continued his father's business, but by that time there was opposition from John Knight. Joseph sold his business to Alexander Anderson. He too met with business rivalry from John Malcolm. Joseph Pringle's business was continued by Messrs Milne and Smith. A baker's cart also came from Aboyne every week.

Alexander McWilliam and his wife had a son John born in February 1821. Angus Stewart and Jane McQueen owned two or three houses in Ballater. They had a son, William, in 1821. A native of Tomintoul, Angus was generally known as "Tomin". He usually acted as "watcher" on the river during the fish spawning season. Unfortunately some of his so-called friends were in the habit of taking him to a local hostelry and plying him with drink while other "friends" raided the spawning beds to their heart's content. Even when "Tomin" did discover the poachers at work, they managed to give him the slip and continue activities in another part of the river.

Other settlers were Donald Courts and Margaret Ogilvie, whose daughter Anne was
born in 1821, followed by a sister Margaret in August 1823. Donald Coutts was the local auctioneer who took delight in wiping off old scores when at his job. A real character, his quips were enjoyed or feared by those who heard them. On one occasion he got his own back on the bachelor minister of the parish, the Rev Hugh Burgess, who resided near the Muick Bridge. (He also had land in Ballater.) He had previously referred to Donald as a black sheep. At a sheep auction Donald called out, on seeing the minister, 'Now here's a fine black sheep. Far's the minister?' (By 1877 the well known auctioneer was Alex Duguid, assisted at times by Duncan Davidson of Glengaim.)

Also among the early inhabitants were George Clark and his wife Elspet Watson. George was a carpenter and had property near the bridge. Their first child, a daughter Jane, was born in October 1822. Alexander Smith and Margaret Robertson's first son James was born in December 1823.

James Forbes, whose wife was Catherine Tastard, was probably a mason. He was drowned in the Dee, date unknown, (but after 1823) when crossing the Dee at the Boat of Polhollick. A daughter, called Mary had been born in March 1817,and another, Catherine, in February 1823.

Alex. Riddell and Eliza Duncan may have taken up residence fairly early. Alexander Riddell was a blacksmith, which occupation he followed for many years. He and the woman who later became his wife were in trouble with the Session. A son James was born in May 1823, as a result of anti-nuptial fornication. They then married and had a daughter Elizabeth who arrived in December 1824, a son Alexander in September 1826, Jane in October 1828, Margaret in March 1831 and Catherine in April 1833. After a few years in Ballater Alexander rented the Victoria Hotel in Kincardine o' Neil. Alexander's father was both blacksmith and boatman on the Dee. His premises were on the north bank of the Dee roughly half a mile below Ballater and almost opposite the old Pannanich Lodge. The Riddell family had come from the Monymusk area in the 1780's when the stone bridge was being built. They were probably not the only family to seek such occupation here.

One Riddell brother settled in Ballater and one in Crathie parish. Several of their sons followed their fathers in the blacksmith's trade in Ballater and one in Crathie. (In 1877 two blacksmiths, James Riddell and James Wriglit lived in Ballater.) A third blacksmith, John Clark, was in Dorsincilly. He and Ills wife Isabella Eddie, had a son William Austin in March 1822.

Lewis and Margaret Stewart took up residence in Ballater. It is uncertain what Lewis' occupation was or where they had come from. He may have been employed on bridge building or house erection. They too raised a large family. Lewis Symon and Margaret Stewart had a son Leslie (an unusual name for the area) in 1824.

Peter Stewart and Margaret Brebner; James Testard and Jane Brown; Joseph Brown
and Elizabeth Archibald; Charles Stewart and Jane Stewart were other inhabitants who raised families in the late 1820 and down to the 1840's.

When Victoria became Queen, Ballater's population was increasing, with so many young children.

Farquharsons & the Post Office.
A feu, dated 19lh.January 1820, had gone to John Farquharson. He carried on business as a merchant in Ballater for some years early in the nineteenth century, and was probably one of Ballater's first traders. At first Ballater had no Post Office and it was not until 1830, as a result of a petition, that letters could be addressed to Ballater and not to Tullich.

John Farquharson's brother Donald kept the Post Office for several years. He also had a considerable amount of property in Ballater. Donald's son John succeeded to the Post Office and for many years he too carried on a thriving business as a merchant. His daughter Elizabeth followed him in the Post Office. When she finished the Farquharson family had run the Post Office for almost a century. Some of their ground was sold by descendants and became the site of the Victoria and Albert Halls. St.Nathalan's Lodge of Freemasons also secured a feu and built a Lodge.

The Victorian Era
By the time Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 the early settlers had produced quite a number of children, although the community was still very small and development of the village in its infancy. The names mentioned in the church register give some idea of the names and numbers of people living in Ballater in the early years of Victoria's reign but the list is by no means exhaustive.

New Names.
As the years went by new names appeared alongside the old ones. Mackillop, McLagan, Ross, Brown, Cattenach, Gray, McKinley and Paterson were the names of me 30's, 40's and 50's as were the ones we know today, - Grant, Stewart, Michie, Farquharson, Mitchell, Riach and Gordon. By the 60's names like Lindsay and Mirrey together with Simpson, Cumine and Stirton, Thain and McAndrew were brought in by outsiders employed in the big houses. By 1880 the illegitimacy rate was still high as a percentage of the population.

Industries and Trades
As far as 'industries' were concerned, there were two in Ballater. The Bobbin Mill at Turner Hall, (hence the name) was run by three generations of Pithies. At one time they were sending 10,000 bobbins to jute works in India, after being finished off in Aberdeen. The Illingworths ran me woollen mills at the Bridge of Gairn from early days to the 1890's.

William Grant was a native of Glenlivet. He started up in Ballater as a carpenter, but when he married Elizabeth Tastard and had a large young family, among others George, Anne and John, things were difficult financially. However, by hard work the Grants prospered. Some of their family were later among the major property owners of Ballater.

Another settler was a weaver, Donald Symon. He was an enthusiastic, if not very proficient piper. He acted as porter to coach passengers in me early days, and was a well known figure among the visitors to Ballater.

John Stewart carried on business as a butcher or flesher. His 'shop', a small wooden sentry box type of erection was on the east side of the road, below Church Square. It would appear to have been a very small business. The butchery business became more profitable, and two brothers, James and George Gordon, did well. William Troup, and after him David Todd, butcher in Aboyne, kept a shop in Ballater, which did a good trade. John Moir started up in opposition to David Todd and for about 20 years carried on an extensive business. Eventually it failed and another member of the family of Troup, Charles, took over. They extended the business in spite of opposition from Alexander Wood. Both businesses were doing well when Queen Victoria died. In addition to these local suppliers, a cart came weekly from Aboyne.

Seller of Firewood:
John Fraser, another well-known member of the community, kept a horse and carted firewood to the locals. He collected his wood on the hill of Pannanich. Wood or peat were the only materials used for fuel, coal being an expensive luxury, so at every door there were piles of firewood, stacked ready for use.

The first medical practitioner to reside in Ballater was a Dr. Clark, a young man whose father had property in Ballater. He does not seem to have been very successful in his profession. There was considerable rivalry when Dr.Robertson came to Deeside and began to practise medicine, the result being that Dr.Clark left me area. Dr.Robertson later became Commissioner to the Queen at Balmoral. Sometmie later, a doctor from lower down me valley called Sherrifs gained a reputation for his skill in medicine. It seems that gradually he was called in to treat illness in Ballater. He finally decided to settle in the village and eventually owned a great deal of property. Dr. Reid practised for several years, to be followed by a succession of others, - Drs. Beattie, Spence, Shearer, Jack, Holden, Mitchell, and Hendry. The last two were probably in practice at the same time. Dr. Reid and his wife Jane Clark had a daughter Elsie Erskine, born in March 1854.

In the early days, local women acted as midwives. Margaret Wright has already been referred to. There was also a Mrs. McWilliam. In the mid-nineteenth century there was a basic training and midwifery was regarded as a profession. Jane Bowman or McNaughton was another midwife. She does not seem to have been very successful. Sarah Brown or dimming had a long and successful practice down to the end of the century. Her help was not only sought in cases of childbirth: she seems to have prescribed in cases of illness. When there was an emergency it was quite a usual sight to see her astride a horse, urging the animal to its greatest speed. She worked closely with Dr. Sherrifs, and as long as she was able, she made a daily round of the village. After she gave up the work because of infirmity, the duties then became the responsibility of the medical officer.

William Logan was a well-known son of Ballater. A watchmaker, he had an excellent business in the 1860's and acquired a great deal of property in the area. A number of his clocks remain in Ballater. He was a man of above -average intelligence. One of William's delights was to engage in an argument, which he usually won. He was an elder of the Kirk but went out to the Free Kirk at me Disruption in 1843. His wife was Catherine or Christian Keith. Their daughter Jane was born in 1818. They had a son James in 1821, Henderson in July 1823, then Mary in March 1825 and Alexander in July 1826.

"Nuisance Officer":
As early as 1832 the feuars of the village appointed an official 'to reside in the village and to inspect all streets and lanes and wherever he observes any dunghills, wood, stones or rubbish' and to call on feuars living opposite to remove the rubbish or pay the cost of doing so. Two shillings was levied from every feuar each year. The appointment was reviewed at frequent intervals and it was constantly reiterated that no cattle, horses or swine should be loose in the streets. The same officer was to prevent vagrants from entering the village.

In 1845 an Inspector of the Poor was appointed so the session gave up one of its functions and handed over the money that remained in the ‘Poores Box’. There were still people needing help

In the early days of Ballater's existence, several tradesmen rented crofts of arable land in the vicinity. Two masons, William Tastard and Alex. Mitchell and two carpenters, Charles McLagan and John Ross, had land, as did the watchmaker William Logan and John Sturton, a labourer. Later on Major Farqulharson and John Smith the schoolmaster, John Moir and William Paterson all had land. It was eventually included in the farm of Sluievannachie.

It seems the first carpenter contractor was William Clark, followed by a man named Calder. James Ross had a thriving business, as did the carpentry side of the already mentioned Duguid family business. James Ross and his wife Anne Wilkinson had a number of sons and daughters.

A family of Grants also undertook a great deal of work, while several other men did jobbing work on their own account, - men like James Michie, William Stewart, and James McHardy.

James McHardy tended to indulge too frequently in alcohol, as a result of which he was locally called "Sparkie". He kept a steelyard for weighing loaded carts. Tins would appear to have been a very primitive construction, with many wooden parts. James had a fixed figure for weighing every load and he usually went straight to the public house and spent all he had earned.

Hotels in 1880 were The Monaltrie, Coylachreich (contemporary spelling) a thriving establishment run by Mrs. Frances Deans, and Pannanich Hotel with Mr. John Gauld. A temperance hotel was run by James and William Deans in the 1870's. Refreshment Rooms were run by Charles Cook, who seems to have had something of a monopoly. By 1880 too, there were eight Lodging House keepers, - three men and five women. They were William Birse: William Mitchell Jnr: James Ross: Mesdames Duncan: Christina Pringle; the Misses Elizabeth Duguid: Jessie Murray: Anne (?) Young

A number of men had employment in local businesses. Alexander Paterson already mentioned had an excellent shoemaking business, employing several men. Charles Moir employed men too, but the nature of his business is uncertain. It may also have been a shoemaker. Other shoemakers, still in business in 1877, were Findlay Coutts, Peter Dunn, Charles Milne and David Simpson. Coutts and Simpson were still in business when Queen Victoria died. Businessmen spanning quite a long period were Charles and John Young and William Castle.

Millers, as one would expect, lived out of Ballater, but sold their grain in the village. James Ross was in Tullich and James Stephen in Bellamore.

Isaac Brebner (Bremner) already mentioned, was Ballater's first tailor, moving in at an early date from Tullich. In the early days too, William Ritchie and two sons traveled round the area, staying in the household of customers until the required work was completed. Later they ran a large business in Ballater itself.

There were other tailors, some consecutive, some concurrent. Among them were Joseph Smith and Robert Cattanach, both tailors and dodders with fair sized businesses. Others involved in the same line of business were Wilkie and Son, Matthew Ritchie, John Coutts, and two Barron brothers for a short time. Robert Davidson and David Wilkie were in business when Queen Victoria died.

The first plasterer in Ballater was William Mitchell who earned on an extensive business on Deeside for many years, without any opposition. His sons followed him in the business which did well. Munroe and Wright then opened a rival business.

There were four stonemasons in Ballater around 1880, - William Anderson,: James Coutts: James Reid: George Wilson: Charles McLagan and Jos. Robertson were carpenters about the middle of the century. In the late 1870's to 90's there were four groups of wrights, Messrs. Alex. Elmshe: George & Peter Grant: James Ross Jnr. and James or John Farquharson. Thomas Dick was the village plumber towards the end of the century.

Ballater supported two stoneware dealers, W. James and Peter Riley; a woman flour dealer, Jessie Gordon; John Summers, a fruiterer, and George Smith, a saddler. Margaret Pringle was a baker and confectioner, Francis Rae the Chemist, and William Reevie, the photographer. A firm known as The Northern Agricultural Co. supplied coal, lime, manure and animal feeding stuffs at Ballater station. By 1880 there were General Merchant businesses run by Messrs. Birse, Coutts, Ferguson, Rae and Thomson. They were also grocers, as were William Low, and Jessie Murray. There were a number of businessmen, like Henry Illingworth with his woollen mills.

Markets & Fairs.
Early in the century, markets or fairs that had been held in Tullich were transferred to Ballater. One was on the second Tuesday of May, and one on the second Monday of September for sheep, and on the second Tuesday for cattle. These markets were well attended for many years. Great numbers of sheep and cattle were brought from Banff, Elgin and Inverness areas and dealers came from Perth, Forfar and further south. A great deal of business was transacted.

Banks and Officials.
By 1877 Ballater had three banks or their agents, and a Savings Bank. Tills latter had actually started in 1821 but even after 20 years had less than 50 depositors.

There was a gas works, with Robert Menzies as manager. The Inland Revenue (Excise) department had a supervisor, four officers and an assistant. There was, of course, an important railway station because of the visitors to Balmoral. Most of the crowned heads of Europe and Russian rulers appeared at one time or another, so the station master was considered to be a man of some importance. In 1877 it was James Cowie.

Family Names.
The names already mentioned continue until well after Queen Victoria's death. There were a few additions and a number of subtractions, with families emigrating to Australia, Canada and America and New Zealand, but basically names were the same right up to and just after the World War of 1914-1918. There were many visitors, but as a place of permanent residence Ballater did not really appeal until somewhat later. Around 1877 we know the following private individuals, (men) with their families, were living in Ballater and were in business or in positions of responsibility. For convenience, they are arranged alphabetically:-

Messrs. Elijah Burwell; ? Cowie: James L. Douglas: R.G. Foggo, Ballater Lodge; Peter Lamont: John Livingstone: Lewis Ritchie: Robert Thomson; Gilbert Wilkinson, Monaltrie: ? Yule. The Doctor was Dr. Jack, and the minister the Rev. John Middleton, M.A. A number of ladies seem to have been householders, - Mesdames Cameron: Cumming: Margaret Farquharson of Sweetbriar Cottage: Jane Hall: Janet Leslie, Viewfield Cottage: Mitchell; Nicol: Paterson: Jane Ross: Simpson. Also, presumably householders, were the Misses Jane Cumming: Margaret Logan: and Stewart. These are Ballater folk, resident within the village, and no account has been taken of those who resided at Tullich, Glen Muick or Glengaim.

J. J. Carter was supervisor of the Inland Revenue, A. Chivas was the local policeman, and Donald Farquharson the sheriff officer.

Ballater Posties circa 1900
Ballater Posties about the beginning of the 20th Century

And into the twentieth Century
There were a good number of births in Ballater in 1900. The fathers' occupation showed the range of activity in the life of the village. There was a roadman (surfaceman) two railway porters and a railway guard, a painter, a slater, three carpenters, five masons, a blacksmith, a carter and a carrier. A gardener called Rose who had twin girls appropriately named them Lily and Daisy. There was a forester, a shoemaker, a tailor, a hotel keeper, a barman, a merchant.

The Inland Revenue Officer also had a child baptised. That list only deals with those who had children in 1900. Others of similar occupations had their children born in another year. John Stephen was a Railway porter. His wife Jane had a son John. Another Railway porter was Alexander Gordon and his wife Mary Ewan. There was also a Railway guard, Peter Shepherd whose wife was Barbara Still: James Marr, roadman (surfaceman) and his wife Jessie Smith: Hugh Livingstone, painter and Elizabeth Macauly. Together with John Knowles, watchmaker and his wife Elizabeth Mi chie they all had children the next year. George Robertson, slater, and Jessie Massie: Henry Duncan, shoemaker and Isabella Simpson: and James Anderson and Mary Moir also became parents. Charles Forbes, carpenter and Euphemie Ritchie had a son named after his father, while another carpenter George Beddie had a daughter Susan. Three masons resident in Ballater had children, - James McLaren, James Micllie, and Robert Sturton. Two others, James Beattie and Anne Forbes and Henry Ross and Barbara Coutts had a son and daughter respectively. The coal merchant William Glashan, George Smith, blacksmith, Alexander Craig, merchant, William Abercrombie, carpenter, William Deans, hotel keeper, and plumber Thomas Mitchell, all had children.

John Watt, the miller at Mill of Prony had married Jane, the daughter of the woollen miller at Balgairn, Henry Illingworth. Their son Denton (keeping up a tradition of that name in the family) was born in 1900. He was my uncle.

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Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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