A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1851), Samuel Lewis


SKENE, a parish, in the district of Aberdeen and county of Aberdeen, 9 miles (W. by N.) from the city of Aberdeen; containmg 1546 inhabitants. This place was originally part of the royal forests of the kings of Scotland, and was granted to the ancestor of the ancient family of Skene by Malcolm Canmore, as an acknowledgment of his having saved the life of that monarch by killing with his dirk a wild boar by which the king was attacked while hunting in the forest. In commemoration of that event, the intrepid defender of his sovereign assumed for his family name the Gaelic term Skian, signifying "a dagger or dirk", which eventually was extended to the estate, and from which the present name of the parish is obviously derived. The lands continued to descend from the ancestor of the family, by direct succession, to his heirs, till the year 1827, when the family became extinct; they are now the property of the Earl of Fife, as heir of entail. The parish is bounded on the west and on the south by the Leuchar, separating it from the parishes of Echt and Peterculter respectively. It is about six miles in length and four miles in extreme breadth, comprising 9400 acres, of which 6350 are arable, 1300 woodland and plantations, and the remainder moorland, moss, and waste. The surface is diversified with numerous small hills of moderate height, whose summits are mostly planted with fir, adding much to the pleasing character of the scenery. There are also interspersed, fertile valleys in a high state of cultivation, contrasting with several large tracts of moor and moss. On the south-west boundary is the Loch of Skene, a fine sheet of water of elliptic form, about three miles in circumference, and twelve feet in its greatest depth; it abounds with pike and eels, and, receiving numerous small rivulets, forms a natural reservoir for supplying water-power to several mills and other works. The Leuchar burn issues from the Loch of Skene, and after passing southward along the western boundary of the parish, takes an eastern course along part of its southern limit, and flows through the parish of Peterculter into the Dee.
In general the soil is light and gravelly, of different degrees of fertility in different parts, but most productive on the old infield lands: the chief crops are oats and barley, potatoes, turnips, and the usual grasses. The system of husbandry is greatly improved. The lands have been mostly drained; and where the common mode has not been found sufficiently effectual, furrow-draining has been adopted. Considerable tracts of waste have been reclaimed and brought under profitable cultivation. The lands have been inclosed, chiefly with fences of stone, for the erection of which materials are found in abundance; and the farm-buildings, of late years much improved, are generally substantial. In the hills and moorlands is good pasture for sheep and cattle; and much attention is paid to live-stock. Few sheep are reared, many of the sheep-walks having within the last few years been converted into plantations. The cattle, of which about 2500 are kept, are usually of the native breed, and considerable numbers are sent from Aberdeen to the London market. A few horses for agricultural purposes are also bred on the farms, and these are for the most part hardy and robust. With the exception of some wood on the lands of Skene, the plantations are generally of recent formation: they consist of ash, pine, plane, willow, and the various kinds of fir; they are well managed, and regularly thinned. There is nothing peculiar in the geology; the principal subsoils are sand, gravel, and clay, and the rocks afford stone of good quality for the construction of fences. The annual value of real property is £7397.

Skene House, one of the seats of the Earl of Fife, is situated in the western part of the parish, and has been enlarged. It was for many generations the residence of the family of Skene. The walls of the mansion are of great thickness; the interior, which has been lately fitted up anew, contains many stately apartments, a fine collection of pictures, and a library of more than 6000 volumes. The demesne is embellished with timber of venerable growth, among which are a stately chesnuttree on the lawn, and some beautiful silver-firs in the avenue; the plantations of more recent date are also extensive. Easter-Skene, a mansion in the Elizabethan style, erected by the present proprietor, and situated in a well-planted demesne commanding a view of the Loch of Skene and the lower range of the Grampians; and Kirkville House, a handsome residence in the cottage style, are the other principal houses.

There is no village properly so called. A factory for spinning woollen yarn, the machinery of which is driven by the water of Loch Skene, and, on the failure of that power, by steam, has been established at Garlogie by Messrs. Hadden and Sous, of Aberdeen; and about 120 persons are constantly employed here, in connexion with their carpet-manufactory in that city. The factory is conducted with the most scrupulous regard to the comfort of the work-people, for whose accommodation there are neat cottages, and a schoolroom for the instruction of their children under a master and assistants maintained by the company. Several of the inhabitants of the parish are employed in the handicraft trades requisite for the wants of the neighbourhood; there are shops in various parts for the sale of different wares, and some inns. Facility of communication is afforded by the turnpike-roads to Alford and Strathdon, and to Kincardine and Tarland, which branch as forks from the Aberdeen road near the eastern boundary, and on the former of which there is an office under the postoffice of Aberdeen, whence letters are regularly delivered. There are also roads kept in repair by statute labour.

Ecclesiastically this place is within the bounds of the presbytery and synod of Aberdeen. The minister's stipend is £158. 6. 8., of which one-third is paid from th exchequer; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £2 per annum: patron, the Earl of Fife. Skene church, which is situated nearly in the centre of the parish, was built in 1801, and has been repaired; it is a neat substantial structure, and contains 700 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and Independents. The parochial schoolmaster has a salary of £30, with a house, an allowance of £2 in lieu of garde and the fees; he also participates in the Dick bequest, and receives £20 from a bequest by Dr. Milne, o Bombay, for the gratuitous instruction of twenty-five poor children. There are several Sabbath schools, numerously attended; and a parochial library, forming a collection of upwards of 600 volumes, is supported by subscription. The principal relics of antiquity are some remains of Druidical circles, and vestiges of a Roman road leading from the river Dee to the Don, which may still be traced in its progress through the parish, and near which were lately found two Roman urns, a sword, and some spear heads. In Skene House are preserved some manuscripts of a date prior to the invention of printing, and a charter of Robert Bruce confirming the original grant of the lands by Malcolm Canmore. The identical "skian" with which the wild boar was killed, is said to be in the possession of a distant relative of the family.

[From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1851) - copyright Mel Lockie 2016]