Parish of Rafford

(Synod of Moray, County of Elgin, and Presbytery of Forres.)
By the Rev. Mr William Stephen, Minister.


In the course of time, the name of this parish has undergone some variation. About the beginning of the 13th century, in a charter from Ope Innocent to Bricius bishop of Moray, it is denominated Ecclesia de Ruffus. How long this has been the received orthography, seems not very clear; but from the commencement of our presbyterial record in 1651, I find it written, at successive periods, Raffart, Raffard, and for about 60 years back, almost invariably Rafford. Being no adept, however, in the ancient Celtic or Gaelic languages, I will hazard no conjecture about its true etymology.

Situation, etc.

It is situated in the county of Elgin, presbytery of Forres, and Synod of Moray; extends from N.E. to S.W. above 8 English miles in lesngth, and from 5 to 3 miles in breadth. On the E. it is bounded by the parishes of Alvah and Elgin; on the S. by those of Dallas and Edinkillie; on the W. by the river Findhorn, and the parish of Forres; and on the N. by that of Kinloss.

Climate, etc.

The face of the country is much diversified; part of it being low, flat, and fertile; part of it is elevated, moorish, and rocky. The complexion of the soil, too, is various; consisting of a deep and rich clay, a hot and blowing sand, and black and shallow mould, bottomed with rock; though the greater part is composed of a rough brown gravel, where the bottom is a continued stratum of small pebbles, so closely compacted that no ploughshare almost can pierce it, and having the appearance of calcination.


The hills, none of which are remarkable for height, are chiefly covered with heath, furze, whins, and juniper. They produce abundance of excellent peat, turf, fallen fir, and other fuel, and afford extensive pasturage for sheep and black cattle.


Here are two valuable quarries, the one of freestone, the other of grey slate, both of which are deemed inexhaustible. The access to both is easy, and the materials are much esteemed in building, for theri easiness in working and durablility.


The native breed of cattle is small; an ordinary ox or cow seldom outweighing 70 or 80 lbs. a quarter. The horses are very indifferent, except with the best farmers. Sheep are numerous, small sized, and mostly white; their wool is fine, and the mutton very delicate.


According to Dr Webster’s report in 1755, the population of Rafford then amounted to 1313 souls. From an accurate list taken in 1791, the number of parishioners did not exceed 1072; of these 488 were males, and 584 females; about 840 were found examinable, i.e. above 7 years old. The number of householders was exactly 238; of whom 136 were married, and had issue; 16 were married, and had no issue; 18 were widowers; 48 widows; the remaining 20 unmarried, and 5 of them bachelors. The annual medium of births for the last 7 years, as they stand on the record, may be computed at 32; of marriages, at 8: But of the deaths no exact register has been kept, owing chiefly to that relucatance with which the tax on burials was paid by country people.


About 40 poor are supported from the parish funds. Our capital stock is L.50 Sterling, and our weekly collections amount from 2s. 6d. to 3s.


Few of the natives are remarkable for longevity. There are now only about 3 individuals in the parish whose ages exceed 80, and the generality of old men seldom attain that period.


The bulk of the people are employed in agriculture, and some have pretty extensive farms, though few have begun to inclose their grounds, or to lay down green crops. This defec may be partly owing to want of due encouragement, as well as to ancient prejudice, to which last cause it is perhaps too often ascribed. Of late, indeed, several of the farmers have built decent houses, for which they have an allowance from the landlord, and a spirit of improvement begins to prevail. Those whosse farms are in good order, yoke two horses only in a plough, with which an expert hand will make very neat and excellent work; but the greatest number discover a predilection for oxen, of which they generally couple 6 together, and in the hilly parts, (or as they are called provincially the braes,) where the farms are small and the tenants poor, the yoke is frequently composed of two cows, and two horses to lead.

Occupations, etc.

Spinning flax is the greatest occupation of the females, most of which they raise at home, and make into sheeting, diaper, and sackcloth; for little of the native growth is good enough for shirting. Many of the poorer class, too, support themselves by spinning to yarn-merchants, who allow them from 10d. to 1s. per spindle.
Of handicraftmen weavers are the most numerous class, amounting to 16 or 17, including journeymen and apprentices. There are 4 tailors; 3 blacksmiths; 3 millers; 5 joiners, and some of the farmers work in wood and make their own ploughs, harrows, carts, and other implements of husbandary.


All the parishioners, (excepting two or three families, who belong to the Seccession), profess the Established Religion, and are very punctual in their attendance at church. Viewed in this light, they appear, upon the whole, a sensible, decent, and serious people. In former times, indeed, the high and mystical doctrines of Calvanism being universally taught, and admired as the only system of orthodox belief, had disseminated among the ignorant a spirit of wildness and bigotry; but this, for more than half a century past, has been gradually subsiding; and it is humbly hoped, that the rigid and fallible dogmas of men will no longer be substituted for the pure and rational truths of the gospel. On the other hand, as no earthly community is perfect, the most prevalent vices I have had occasion to remark in this, are falsehood, intemperance, sesnsuality, and petty thefts; these perhaps will be found most congenial to mild and temperate climates.

Heritors, etc.

The heritors are the Earl of Moray, proprietor of Tarras and Cluny; the Honourable Lewis Duff of Blervie; Alexander Penrose Cumming of Altyre, and Joseph Dunbar of Grange, Esquires. The valued rent of the parish amounts to L.2612:18:10 Scots; and the annual rent, of which a great part is victual, may be estimated, communibus annis, about L.1600 Sterling.

Estates, etc.

The Earl of Moray, though he has no family seat, holds some of the finest lands in the parish; his people, too, surpass most of their neighbours in the decent appearanceof their houses, and the order in which they keep their grounds.
In Tarras they raise plentiful crops of wheat, barley, oats, pease, beans, - flax and potatoes; these last are found a useful means of improvement. The mode of preparation is this: An exhausted field is let out in parcels, rent free, to poor people in the neighbourhood, who on their part furnish the manure, labour the ground by trenching it with the spade, plant and reap the crop. In this manner, the bottom soil, which is a strong clay, being exposesd and meliorated, aquires a degree of fertility which it does not lose for years after. The oats produced here are of a superior kind, and highly esteemed for sowing.
The lands of Cluny, situated in the hilly part of the parish, are somewhat cold and backward; the soil, however, is powerful, and the corn pretty good of its quality, and the whole estate is accommodated with abundance of fuel and pasturage. Here is the slate-quarry formerly mentioned, which is rented from the proprietor by thetacksman of the farm wherein it lies, and by him let out to the quarriers, at the rate of 40s. per 1000 rough slates.

The barony of Blervie is a valuable estate, comprehending large and fertile fields of corn, which produce grain of an excellent quality, especially barley, oats, and rye. There are considerable tracts of moorish and hilly ground upon it, where the pasture in general is very dry and salubrious. It is also well supplied with fuel; for though in some places, by the abuse of those who have long had servitudes upon them, the peat-mosses have suffered dilapidation, yet in others they still remain unbroken; and where the proprietors’s people find a deficiency of peat, they have recourse upon the moors, which furnish them with turf sufficient to make up their annual complement.
Mr Duff has built a very neat modern house, which he has greatly ornamented, by planting the adjoining hills, improving his farm, and laying out his fields to advantage. The ancient family seat belonging to the Dunbars, is mostly demolished; all that remains of it being a high tower, which, standing on elevated ground, commands an immenses prospect, including almost the whole Moray Frith, with a great part of the counties of Elgin, Nairn, Inverness, Cromarty, Ross, Sutherland and Caithness.

Eastward from this about two miles, stands the castle Burgee, the seat of Dunbar of Grange. It is a large and beautiful fabric, consisting of a square tower of six storeys, built in 1602, and an adjoining mansion founded about a century later. The gardens occupy several acres, contain a variety of fruit trees, and are skirted with double rows of fine spreading beeches. In approaching this place, which is very conspicious, the mind is powerfully impressed with an idea of ancient magnificence.Here is the freestone quarry alluded to earlier, from which though great quantities of material are constantly taaken, the proprietor derives almost no pecuniary advantage.
It is further remarkable, that though Mr Dunbar’s rental has sustained little or no alteration for more than 80 years; though the whole of his lands are very improved, and abound with every needful accommodation; yet his people are not affluent, their farms are poorlu cultivated, and their houses mean. These defects must doubtless in some measure be attributed to want of leases, which, on account of certain family embarrassments, that gentlemen is not disposed to grant them. Being restricted, too, from cutting peat in the mosses of Burgie, they consume a great part of the summer in providing their fuel, which they must bring from the mosses of Altyre in the opposite extremity of the parish, where Grange has a servitude. This inconvenience still further aggravates the want of agricultural improvement in his estate.

Altyre was formerly a distinct parish, belonging to the parsonage of Dallas, and was annexed to Rafford by Act of Parliament 1661. The walls of the old church remain entire, which till of late, that Mr Cumming erected a new tomb, had been the burialplace of his ancestors time out of mind. The Cummings of Logie, who are a branch of this family, and most of the ancient residenters, still continue to bury here.
The soil of Altyre is generally thin, but sharp and productive. It commands a prodigious extent of hill and pasturage, and the peat-mosses are inexhaustible. The present proprietor has brought his farm into the highest order, and observes a judicious rotation of green and corn crops, which seldom fail to be rich and abundant. He has planted about 1000 acres, with fir and other timber, which are advancing rapidly and decorating the place. The family seat is an old plain building, with two neat modern wings, and though well fitted up and commodious, is not suitable to that style displayed by its ingenious owner everywhere around it.
Of late, however, he has adopted the idea of building a new mansion, on a very superb and elegant plan. Here is a spacious garden, abounding with a variety of excellent fruit and culinary stuffs. On the north and east it is inclosed with a high wall, which is covered with anumber of fine espaliers, consisting of apples, pears, cherries, plumbs, apricots, nectarines, peaches, etc. all of the rarest kinds, and most exquisite flavour. For some time Colonel Cumming has resided, with his family, in Tarres, where he has a fine house and a considerable property.

Church, Stipend, etc.

The church is nearly centrical, being situated about 3 miles south-east from Rarres; it was rebuilt in 1754; and the manse in 1746. In the times of Diocesan Episcopacy, this was the seat of the subcharter of Moray. Miss Brodie of Lethen is patron. The stipend, by decreet in 1752, is 76 bolls 3 firlots of barley, and L.349:13:4 Scots, including 100 merks for communion-elements. A process of augmentation is now depending before the Court of Teinds. - The salary of the school is 16 bolls of bear; it has long been in a flourishing state. But his unremitting attention to the morals as well as proficiency of his pupils, during a period of more than 40 years, the present teacher has acquired a just degree of celebrity. Many characters now respectable in the literary, the commercial, the civil, and military departments, among others the learned Rector of the High School of Edinburgh, who is a native, received their classical education here.


The only place of antiquity worthy of remark, is the standing pillar near Tarres, commonly called Sueno’s Stone. It is allowed by all journalists who have viewed it, to surpass, in elegance and grandeur, all the other obelisks in Scotland, and is said to be the finest monument of the Gothic kind to be seen in Europe. Some time ago, when it was like to fall, Lady Anne Campbell, late Countess of Moray, caused it to be set upright, and supported with several steps of freestone. The height of this stone cannot now be easily ascertained; it rises about 23 feet above ground, and is said to be 12 under it. Its breadth is about 4 feet. What is above the ground is visibly divided, on the east side, into seven parts, containing a variety of military sculptures. The greatest part of the other side is occupiesd by a sumptious cross, under which are two august personages in an attitude of reconciliation.
The Reverend Mr Cordiner of Banff, in his letters to Mr Pennat on the antiquities and scenery of the north of Scotland, has exhibited a fine drawing of this momument, and his remarks on it appear to be more satisfactory than any I have read. He supposes it to have been erected in memory of the peace concluded between Malcolm and Canute, upon the final retreat of the Danes from the kingdom. This event is said to have happened about the year 1012.
But to whatever transaction it may allude, it can hardly be imagined, that in so early an age of the arts in Scotland as it must have been raissed, so elaborate a performance would have been undertaken but in consequence of an event of the most general importance. It is therefore surprising, that no more distinct traditions of it reached to the aera when letters were known.

Forres OSA