rd logo

Royal Deeside : Some Aspects of Village Life in Victorian Ballater

Images of Royal Deeside, Scotland
home page

In this section Sheila Sedgwick describes many aspects of life in Ballater during the 19th Century. During that time Ballater grew from virtually nothing to a popular Highland holiday centre. It was also the terminus of the Deeside Railway and the place where Royalty and many other important visitors transferred to carriages to take the onwards to Balmora Castlel.

Many aspects of the village life are described in the other pages of this section and on this page several diverse aspects of village life are described.

surrounds & environment
villages & small communities
news & events
visitor attractions
sport and activities
history and folklore
businesses and services
community : services
community : activities
contact & website info.
Accessible sub-menu

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

Archway for Queen Victoria, Ballater
Archway erected to celebrate Queen Victoria's visit to Balmoral

What do we know of Ballater, its dwellings and its customs in Victorian times?

Food was at first very simple, - much as it had been in the glens for generations. Breakfast consisted of porridge or sowans (meal steeped in water or milk, the solid matter at the bottom being the sowans: boiled with water and salt, it was eaten like porridge). There was brochan for lunch, - gruel often eaten with butter or honey or vegetables like kale. In the evening there would be potatoes, bread, oatcakes, milk or water and malt ale. Meat or fowl or game could be added, according to circumstances. Once visitors began to come in numbers, with new ideas and a more palatial life-style, locals began to copy these trends. Food tastes gradually developed to include much of what we eat today, and advancing trends in food preservation and treatment came to the area. Nevertheless, diet was governed by financial considerations. In the early days of the village a cow could be grazed on rough land for £1 per annum.

The early village regulations allowed for one Established Church and one pub. The first organised building plan involved the erection of a few thatched houses along the north side of what is now Golf Road. The first public house in Ballater was kept by George Clark, in a room of a private house.

Reading material - if one could read, - was usually a shared copy of the weekly Aberdeen Journal, price 7d. There was little money to spare at first. In 1845 an Inspector of the Poor took over the duties carried out by the Kirk Session and distributed help to the needy. There were still needy people.

James Smith had moved into the area about 1807: presumably there was a feu when he became schoolmaster. He taught in temporary accommodation until a permanent building was erected, with school premises on the ground level and his accommodation above. A separate school was built around 1836. He was a popular and successful teacher, a number of his pupils qualifying in medicine and divinity. A Miss Logan opened a Female School and ran it for a number of years. When Mr. Smith retired he was succeeded by Mr. Murray. In 1862 Mrs. Farquharson of lnvercauld erected at her own expense a Female School. The two teachers were Miss Clark and Miss Anderson. They were followed by Miss Whyte, who stayed for a very brief period, and Miss Simpson, who remained for a number of years until she married the schoolmaster, Mr. Murray.

Two sisters called Ferrier had a very successful period of teaching in what was then known as the 'Female' school. During their period of office a disagreement arose between the School Board and a section of the community. The board wished all teaching staff to be under the Headmaster of the Public School while some of the community wished to retain the services of the Misses Ferrier in the Female School. Several public meetings were held and feelings ran high. Long-standing friendships were broken and never restored. By 1879 the schools were amalgamated.

After Mr. Murray's retiral, Mr. David Craib was appointed, He was followed by Mr. Lawson, who was still teaching in 1901. A new school was erected after the passing of the Education Act in 1872, but as Ballater grew rapidly after that date extension had to be made to the building at two successive periods. By the end of the nineteenth century there were two male and five female teachers.

Feus. [Feu n(Scotland) Perpetual lease at a fixed rate - piece of land so held -OED]
In the early days there was not really a great demand for feus within the village, for by 1848 there were only 36 feuars in all, the duty amounting to £40 p.a.. A professional valuation of the property was for £249. By 1900 the feu duty amounted to £472.7s.9d. and the valuation was almost £6,000. The 1861 census recorded 362 adults aged over 16 years resident in Ballater while in 1901 the figure was 1256. So Ballater had grown rapidly. This rapid growth was to a large extent due to the fact that Ballater became 'popular' when Victoria and Albert purchased the old Balmoral and rebuilt the new one, and the coming of the Railway to Ballater in 1866.

The Muckle Spate.
The Muckle Spate of 1829 did a great deal of damage. Apart from the fact that the bridge was washed away, much property and stock was lost. About an acre of the minister's Glebe land by the Dee was washed away and it was necessary to strengthen the embankment. Some accounts survive to give some indication of rates of pay at the time. Charles Paterson who was probably the overseer, worked a 10 hour day for 2/- Others earned about 1/6. Four women also worked for 10 hours each day, but their day's wages were only lOd. Three of them, and perhaps all four, had on at least one occasion appeared before me Session on a charge of haughmagandy. Men with a horse and a flat-board cart also worked a 10 hour day. Five of them earned 5/- per day but the Manse servant seems to have earned 6/-. Alexander Riddell, the blacksmith who was in attendance received 1/10 for sharpening his tools. The costs were shared by the Heritors - Aboyne, Invercauld, Abergeldie and Monaltrie.

(Note on 'old money': £1 = 20 shillings; 1 shilling = 12 pence (1s = 12d); i.e. 240 pence to £1. 5/- denotes 5 shillings and 1/6 denotes one shilling and sixpence.)

1838/1839 was a bad year, weatherwise. Roads were blocked for 10 weeks and supplies ran low. Food and seed shortages were so severe that the men were all called out to clear the road of snow at Coilacreich to enable Braemar people to get their seed oats from Aberdeen to their homes. In 1872/73 the embankment on the Dee near the Invermuick Manse was again washed away: 33 yards had to be renewed.

Funeral practices were, in the eyes of the Session, a cause of bad behaviour,. The lyke wake, when friends sat up all night by the coffin, was not being so frequently observed by the middle years of the nineteenth century, but on the morning of the funeral the men gathered for a few drams. In Ballater there was no great distance to carry the coffin to the church, so no need for refreshment on the way, but this loss was remedied afterwards. (By 1860 a more seemly approach was being adopted.)

Women did not go to the graveside. A bell was carried in front of the coffin well into the 1840's and the mort-cloth for covering the coffin was frequently used, the hire charge money going to the relief of the poor.

Awaiting Royal Train, Ballater
Staff a waiting the arrival of the Royal Train at Ballater

Social Status.
In 1849 most people were still living in the surrounding glens. The only Ballater children baptised that year were the children of five couples, the Mackenzies, two families of Young, the Calders and the Patersons. Two of the men were occupied as labourers, one was a servant, one a shoemaker, and one a sawyer. Ballater was not quite 'middle class'! In the next seventeen years, up to the coming of the railway in 1866, there was little change in occupation. The majority of men who became fathers were labourers, with a few plasterers, masons, carpenters, tailors, bakers, merchants, butchers, hoteliers of one type or another, and me occasional soldier of the 931rd. The only child who was definitely upper class was Elizabeth Mary Harriet, daughter of the Right Honourable Lord & Lady Cochrane of Monaltrie House. Very gradually the number of labourers decreased while the merchants and carriers and railwaymen increased, together with the number of those catering for the needs of visitors. The era of greater prosperity had arrived! The old Manse by the Muick Bridge, next to the burial ground, was demolished in the early 1850's and the stones used to build a new Manse at Invermuick. It is interesting that a list of elders in 1866 shows them to have become more "middle class".

Patrick Geddes.
A biologist of note who worked on zoological projects before doing research in Mexico, Patrick Geddes, was born in Ballater in 1854. Hampered in his research work by failing eyesight, he turned his attention to ecology and the improvement of living conditions. (He is now often considered to be the 'father' of town planning and the 150th anniversary of his birth was celebrated widely in 2004.)

One could travel by coach to Braemar, leaving the Invercauld Arms at 10 a.m. daily, with an additional departure in the summer season. (The hotel was formerly called the Monaltrie Arms but changed its name after the Monaltrie line of Farquharsons died out. In recent years it has reverted to its original name.) The proprietor of the 'coach' business was Charles Cook. There were two carriers to Braemar, daily, with John Milne, or on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with John Smart. Horse hirers were Dean & Farquharson and William Paterson.

The Fire Brigade
By 1890 the Fire Brigade was using the church bell to call out its men. It seems the whole village turned out to see the horse drawn engine go by, or to follow it to its destination.

Temperance Society.
Alcoholism, always a problem on Deeside, became a matter of grave concern, and a Temperance Association was set up. It seems that a number of men joined on the first night, and then went to the local public house to celebrate their membership!

Ballater Games.
Ballater Games began in July 1864, on the green round the first church. The games were only open to parish residents. A founding Committee consisted of Messrs. Cook, Haynes, Ferguson, A. Reid, Glennie, Paterson, Illingworth, Ross, W. Grant, W. Reid, Gordon, A. Grant, Smith, Massie, Anderson, and Stewart. The committee that conceived the idea of the games was made up of the local public-spirited men, presumably the leading men in the community, who saw an opportunity that would be a benefit to the expanding village.

Ballater Burgh.
Ballater was created a Burgh in 1891. There were nine elected bailies and a Provost, John Brebner. (The Burgh continued until local government reorganisation in 1973.)
A Victorian account of Ballater, by an unknown author, describes the village as a place of cheerful people. It speaks of the pleasure felt by villagers when the Queen came, on her way to Balmoral. Locals, very much used to seeing Royalty in the area, sent a letter of condolence to Edward VIII on the death of Queen Victoria on 22nd. January, 1901.

Ballater must have been a very interesting place in which to live in the Victorian era!

Top of Page

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
    AA Box 472    




This website is maintained for the benefit of the residents of Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland by
Ballater (RD) Ltd, a charitable company limited by Guarantee.


Copyright © 2003-2013 Ballater (RD) Ltd