Parish land passed between various merchants and landholders. David Carnegie sold the lands of Menie to William Forbes or 'Danzig Willie', who had earned his money through successful trade exploits in the Baltic. Danzig Willie was still known as Forbes of Menie in 1617 even after the completion of his more famous castle at Craigievar. The claim that Forbes sold Menie to George Gordon of Gight is confirmed by the royal grant of James VI in July 1618. Menie then seems to have gone through a rapid turnover of landowners. Patrick Gordon of Nethermuir obtained a special warrant from George Gordon for Menie, including the mill, Leyton, Cothill, Cowhill and Alterseat, in 1623. Another source notes that in 1623 the half lands of Mains of Menie and the half lands of Hatterseat were renounced to George Gordon of Gight by the wife of the baillie and burgess of Aberdeen, Agnes Johnestoun. Six years later Gordon sold the lands and barony of Menie to William Seaton of Udny. Seaton held them until his creditor, Robert Graham of Morphie, was granted them in 1633. In 1659 Menie, Legtane, Cothill, Cowhill and Alterseat were mortgaged to Robert Kerr, burgess of Aberdeen, who held them in 'free blench farm' for the annual sum of one Scots penny. Mr John Reid of Birnes held a special warrandice of the lands of Menie in 1664. Robert Kerr passed them on to his brother Alexander in 1678. Alexander’s grandson, also named Alexander, certainly held the lands until 1696 when he was noted in the Poll Book, before they reverted to the Seatons.
The ownership of Blairton can be established with some certainty from the late 16th century. Thomas Gardyn was named of Blairton in 1572, and it remained with his family. John Leith, an Aberdeen commissioner, and his wife Catherine Gardyn had the rights to the lands of Blairton with all pertaining mills and ecclesiastical lands confirmed by James VI in 1615. Sometime after this date, the Innes family took over. Alexander Innes was noted as 'of Blairtown' in 1672, and Innes of Blairton was certainly a freeholder of the shire in 1690. However, in 1667, James Milne, burgess of Aberdeen, apparently bought Blairton which had previously belonged to Walter Stewart, and Milne was listed as proprietor in the Poll Book of 1696. In 1668 Reverend George Innes, who had previously served as the parish schoolmaster, and then the minister of Dipple and of Kinnornie, returned to Belhelvie as its minister. He bought Blairton, which provided a feu-duty for the minister, and he served there until his death in 1697.
At the opening of the seventeenth century, Colpnay was still in the possession of a branch of the Wood family. James VI confirmed John Wood of Fettercairn's rights to Over Blairton in 1616, which included Colpnay, Pettens and Westburn, to which Jean Lindsay had renounced her rights. However, in 1649, Gilian Wilkie, the wife of George Wood of Colpnay, appealed to the Scottish Parliament for financial support claiming that they had been ruined by 'the enemies of this kingdom' which at that point, ironically, most probably meant Stuart Royalists. By 1653 the Wood family no longer held Colpnay. Already in 1648 they had sold North Colpnay to Alexander Stewart, a commissioner for the collection of the poll tax, and the land was then valued at £214 and 13 shillings. His son Alexander succeeded him. Robert Burnett acquired Little Colpnay from Elphinstoun of Glack in the 1650s. Colpnay was only officially divided into North and South around 1696, when the first Poll Book was established. South Colpnay, valued at £300 in 1696, was in the hands of John Leslie who had sasine from 1660.
Pettens, with Westburn, had belonged to George Gordon of Cocklarachie, who sold them to George Davidson, a burgess of Aberdeen, in 1643 for 60,000 merks. Davidson mortified his lands of Bogfairlay, Pettens and Westburn in 1662 to provide a stipend for one of the ministers of St Nicholas Kirk, with any remaining funds to go to the Guild box of Aberdeen. He had not only had the Bridge of Inch repaired, but also caused the bridge at Bucksburn to be built, after seeing a man drown there. In addition he had the church at Newhills built and a wall around the churchyard at Footdee. The city of Aberdeen formally owned the lands and in 1696 there were some 10 different tenants.
In 1643 the concept of 'valued rent' was introduced in Scotland during the rule of the Covenanting Convention of Estates, a move which which severely raised taxes. By 1667 a new valuation was required and the Convention of Estates decided that £72,000 Scots was a realistic amount to provide funds for defence against foreign invasion. This probably came about in response to the British wars with the Dutch and the Danes at the time. The valuation was also applied to the general populace, and not just to heritors, so that gentlemen and their families were debited £6, tenants £4, tradesmen, cottars and servants all owed 20 shillings each, and all in Scots pounds. The 1696 Poll Book lists all the inhabitants of Belhelvie who paid tax. It shows that around this time about 84% of the adult population were below the rank of tenant. It was not unusual for tenants to have up to 6 farm labourers working for them in addition to several cottars working their land. The factor on the Earl of Panmure’s estate for example, Thomas Innes, listed himself as a gentleman in the 1696 Poll Book, and owned a sizeable farmstead with at least four rooms on the ground floor alone. On this land he employed both tenants and farm servants. Due to an apparent shortage of manpower, Innes was forced to poach tenants from nearby landowners, and some of these tenants were able to bargain profitably for lower rents.
Patrick Maule of Panmure in Forfar, who became the Earl of Panmure, came to hold a significant portion of land in Aberdeenshire in the seventeenth century. He enjoyed royal favour, was made a Gentleman of the Chamber and joined James VI in England after the Union of Crowns in 1603. Maule was also rewarded with several land donations, including Belhelvie (Mundurno, Kingseat and Balmedie) for his loyalty. Both of Maule's sons remained Royalists throughout the troubles of the 1640s and 1650s. The Earl himself stayed with Charles during his imprisonment. In reward for his service, Charles I created Maule the Earl of Panmure and Baron of Brechin in 1647. This was a creation particularly relevant to the time and often involved the extension of existing land rights well beyond the original holdings. Patrick Maule's sons, George and Henry, both commanded regiments at the battle of Dunbar, a disastrous defeat by Oliver Cromwell against Scotland in September 1650. Yet they do not appear to have been forfeited during the English occupation. Maule's granddaughter, Elizabeth, married John, Earl of Kinghorne and heir to the lands and barony of Belhelvie. Their son, Patrick, Earl of Kinghorne, not only inherited his father’s lands, but also obtained lands in Belhelvie from his uncle, George, 2nd Earl of Panmure, by a contract dated 1653, well into the period of the 'Cromwellian Userpation'. The lands had briefly been held in blench by James Butter, who was a depute clerk of Edinburgh earlier that year. However, George held bonds over the estates and became the proprietor of Belhelvie in 1663. The barony of Belhelvie was finally separated from the barony of Glamis in 1667 when George was granted a charter of the lands.
In 1671 sources reveal the first hint of dispute between Thomas Innes, Panmure's factor at Belhelvie, and the locals of the parish. Innes was forced to patrol the peat mosses on the estate to prevent their destruction by burning. This custom of 'burntland', where burning and sowing peat moss provided very healthy yields, was in common usage. It also proved particularly destructive in that the underlying peat was rapidly burnt away. Another dispute between the parishioners of Belhelvie church and Innes occurred in July 1685. Innes obtained permission from the Minister and Session to take over seats in the church for Panmure’s tenants from locals who already held those seats. These were on the west side of the church next to the pulpit. Those who were evicted from their seats took great offence at this as they had paid their dues ('the mail') for the whole year, and thus either wanted their money refunded or some other form of accommodation. Unfortunately the source does not reveal what happened, but it can easily be imagined that this behaviour won Innes no new friends in Belhelvie.
Belhelvie in the 18th and 19th centuries:
James Maule, 4th Earl of Panmure granted the lands of Little Colpnay, Shiels and Greenden to Thomas Leslie in 1701. His brother, Walter, took over the lease in 1713. Panmure let the neighbouring lands of North Colpnay to Mr. Alexander Mitchell, the minister of Belhelvie, in 1708. At that time North Colpnay comprised the Mains farm, Greenden, Mains of Shiels, Howlands and the Anchorum moss. One of Reverend Mitchell’s sons, also named Alexander, was a merchant in Aberdeen and had married the daughter of the minister of Fintray, Ann Osborne. Apparently he was an Aberdeen councillor who also happened to be responsible for kidnapping and transporting young boys in his own ships to be sold as slaves in the plantations of America. Many years later Peter Williamson, one of these boys, aired his grievance at the Court of Session but no further action appears to have been taken. After the forfeiture of the Panmure Estate, the York Building’s Company owned much of Belhelvie. During the second half of the 18th century they began to parcel out the various plots of land. In 1756 a portion of the lands of Bogfairlay, Pettens and Westburn were feued out and the rest sold. Muirton was sold to Francis Logie, an Aberdeen merchant sometime around 1769/70. George Still, another merchant of Aberdeen, acquired Millden in 1788. Provost George Fordyce obtained a lease of Eggie from the York Building's Company in 1721. The Society of Advocates in Aberdeen had a lot of dealings with Belhelvie: John French, amongst other things the Procurator Fiscal of Aberdeenshire in 1748, became the Baron-Baillie of Belhelvie. Arthur Dingwall Fordyce, another member of the society, bought Eggie and Balmedie in 1783 although he never actually lived there. In 1834, Arthur's son Alexander emigrated to Canada and the Fordyce lands passed into new hands. Harry Lumsden, advocate of Aberdeen, bought what became known as Belhelvie Lodge in 1780 from the York Building’s Company and it remained in his family for several generations. When his grandson Sir Harry Lumsden inherited Belhelvie Lodge in 1873, he had special sheds constructed in the garden through his personal interest in hawking and these could still be seen over a hundred years later. A further interesting feature in the grounds is the Belhelvie gas works, a building dating from 1850, which supplied power for the lodge and surrounding homes. In 1935 Colonel Duguid bought the house, which during the Second World War was used by the Navy and allowed to fall into disrepair. It has since been renovated.
In 1824 the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen bought the 14th lot of Belhelvie. The York Building’s Company sold another lot, Potterton, to James Harvey, brother of Peter Harvey of Ardo. It remained in his family until his grandson left it to his wife, who then sold it to Mr. Thomas Clapperton of Fochabers. One of his descendants, James, an advocate in Aberdeen, improved the mansion and farm buildings on the estate. It has since been sold and broken up into separate holdings and for a time Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir (she was the MP for South Aberdeen) lived in the Potterton mansion.
William Mowat, an Aberdeen merchant and Provost of the city held Colpnay during the 1750s. A friend of his, John Duncan, served as Provost of Aberdeen from 1758-59. In addition to holding the lands of Blairton and Hopeshill, he also had a residence on Mowat's land at Drumside, now Drumhead opposite Belhelvie kirk. The origin of the name Provie Road, which runs past the church, probably derives from the residence of these gentlemen. However Mowat sold up soon after and both North and South Colpnay came into the possession of the Orrok family, originally from Fife, who then renamed the area Orrok. The Orroks sold their barony in Fife and bought the Aberdeenshire land. The first representative of this family was John Orrok, already mentioned above. In 1780 Orrok married Sarah Dingwall of Rainieston, a daughter of the magistrate John Dingwall of Rainieston, who served as a Provost from 1799-1800 and had acquired Ardo in 1756. The Orroks had Orrok House built, one of the few listed buildings, along with Belhelvie Lodge, in the parish. Although the first official mention of the house dates from 1781 the house could have been built before that date. The construction must have cost Orrok a fair sum as he was noted as 'not rich' on a list of Scotland’s voters in 1788. Of course, Orrok might just have easily declared his finances this way as some kind of tax dodge. In any case, within eight years, John Orrok died on 16th November 1796. He was followed to the grave eight months later by his infant son, James John.
Walter Orrok inherited the family estate and kept it for 14 years, but was reported lost on a passage from India on 9th May 1810. He in turn was succeeded by John Orrok, junior, who enjoyed a few more years of his inheritance of the Orrok lands than his brother had. However this John died at the age of 40 barely two months after his marriage to Mary Cockburn, of a 'rupture of the blood vessel in the head' according to his memorial tablet in old Belhelvie kirk. This was apparently sustained from falling from a second-floor window of the house, but it is unknown whether it was an accidental fall or an intentional one. It was this event that gave rise to the myth of the Orrok ghost. Wemyss Orrok, who was John junior's brother, inherited the land in 1824, and only three years later the Orrok lands were up for sale. Eventually Robert Stewart Walker obtained the estate in 1880. The house passed onto the Baird's Estates trustees and has changed hands several times since.
Elsewhere, property transactions were more straightforward and less traumatic than for the Orroks. George Turner, sheriff-clerk of Aberdeenshire and son of Turner of Turnerhall, came into the lands of Menie in the early eighteenth century, and passed them onto his son, Robert. His son George inherited Menie and eventually passed it onto his daughters, Helen Catharine and Robina Rachel. James Reid, who became the royal physician to Queen Victoria, held Muirton until the property passed to Alexander Sim in 1877. Whitecairns came into the family of Sir Charles Stewart Forbes, 4th Baronet of Newe and Edinglassie in the nineteenth century. Just as with the Turner, Lumsden and Orrok families, these Forbes’ had made their money in the Indies. Sir Charles’ father, 3rd Baronet of Newe, was born in Bombay in 1803, but had returned to Scotland at a young age. He invested his money in 'the building of schools, kirks and houses, as well as bridges and roads' on his Scottish estates. His son’s acquisition of Whitecairns ensured that Belhelvie benefited indirectly from some of his fortune. Alexander Dingwall, postmaster of Aberdeen sold Ardo in 1849 to Mr Peter Harvey, a farmer of Danestone, Oldmachar. Alexander Harvey was the last holder of the estate and then trustees held the land for a time. In 1948 John Harvey Loutit sold off Ardo in separate lots to tenant farmers. The Department of Agriculture for Scotland had purchased Keir and Eggie Farms and these were divided into 36 smallholdings, from 4 to 20 acres in size.
Although it has not been possible to detail the histories of all the properties in Belhelvie parish, this brief investigation has established the background of local land transactions. It has also facilitated future research into more modern property developments.
Menie Estate Picnic, date unknown