Archiver > ABERDEEN > 2009-08 > 1249584725

From: Gavin Bell <>
Subject: Re: [ABERDEEN] SMITH family New Pitsligo Aberdeenshire
Date: Thu, 06 Aug 2009 19:52:05 +0100
References: <8CBE211138E0F1A-1428-717D@WEBMAIL-DF03.sysops.aol.com> <4A76A820.1040700@which.net><8CBE396684A76B2-B84-15BB@webmail-md19.sysops.aol.com> <4A793F9B.8030509@blueyonder.co.uk><A495B11346F64EDD83C96A56079AB00A@LENOVO53E5F674> <4A79B000.4080708@which.net><4279F302E603432A878406DFCAE6F466@DGK1M81S>
In-Reply-To: <4279F302E603432A878406DFCAE6F466@DGK1M81S>

Bobbie and Brian Amyes wrote:

>Hi Gavin
>Your reply to Keith suggests that the houses would be of better quality than
>he has assumed.

The Census for 1861, 1871 and 1881 called for information on the "number
of rooms with windows" occupied by each household. This was not, as has
been suggested so that the occupants could be assessed for the Window
Tax (which had been abolished some time earlier) but as a
rough-and-ready measurement of living conditions. Not a few households
in the major urban areas would have returned a score of zero, because
they lived entirely in cellars or in inner rooms with no direct access
to air and light. But in the places Keith named, all households but one
lived in houses with 3 or more windowed rooms. The one exception was a
widow on her own, who had the use of a single room with windows.
Certainly not palatial by modern standards, but also some way from the
hovels Keith had been told they lived in.

>As my ancestors were at Slacks of Cairnbanno, New Deer in
>1841and 1851 census and there is only one house there now, a two storeyed
>one, and piles of out-building like Keith described, are there any photos in
>ANESFHS magazines of what cottages might have looked like on farms at that

I have to say that there are actually several houses there, because
"Slacks of Cairnbanno" wasn't in the mid-19th century the name of a
single farmstead but applied to a number of different settlements strung
out along a mile or so of the road. You can see this via the National
Library of Scotland website at:


Scroll down the list and click on "Sheet XX.7 (combined)" which brings
up the relevant extract from the 25-inch OS map surveyed in 1870
(although annoyingly, it displays it on edge - the NLS have only
recently put the 25" online, and I think this is a teething problem).

If you compare this with the equivalent area on the modern OS maps
(Explorer sheet 426, around map reference NJ853465) you will see that
there are still buildings on some (but not all) of the sites inhabited
in 1870, but that the buildings there today simply don't have the same
shape as those of 140 years ago. I don't have a transcript of any of
the relevant Censuses to hand, but I am fairly sure they would show
multiple households all with "Slacks of Cairnbanno" as their address,
but with no way of telling which particular farmstead they were part of,
let alone any indication of precisely what building they might have
occupied. So I doubt whether the "two-storeyed building" is
necessarily where your ancestors lived.

And while I am open to correction from anyone who knows better, I would
doubt that there are many photographs in existence of Aberdeenshire
farm-workers' houses in 1841 or 1851. Photography was still very much
in its infancy at those dates, and by the time that it became common
(probably not much before 1880) a lot might have happened to the rural
housing stock.

>I have seen the family house [1851census] in South Street, Mintlaw but
>that is in a village. How would farm cottages have differed?

There might just possibly have still been some houses of an older style,
with either dry-stone or turf walls, and thatched roofs, but by the
middle of the 19th century, I would have expected there to be many
"improved" houses, with mortared walls and slate roofs, most likely of
the "but-and-ben" pattern, ie single-storey buildings with two main
rooms, on either side of the front (and only) door, but occasionally
with a third "middle chalmer" towards the back of the house, and
probably with a floored loft which could be used as sleeping
accommodation. Many such cottages survive, although mostly extended
almost beyond recognition both sideways and upwards.

Gavin Bell

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