St ternan’s episcopal church, banchory 1851 2001


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An Historical Profile by Prof. John Hargreaves
This profile was originally produced in booklet form. We are grateful to the author for updating the full text in 2011 for use on the St Ternan’s website. Notes on the history of the church from 2001 onwards will be added soon.
It ought not to be difficult to write the history of a church founded only 150 years ago. So far, St Ternan’s has had a relatively short life (less than twice my own) and some might expect that memories across the generations could easily be bridged. Remarkably, two faithful individuals have served as Verger over two-thirds of our congregational life: John Laird from the late 1850s until 1913, Bill Moir from 1958 until 1985 – continuing thereafter to perform some of the duties, voluntarily, into the new millennium. But in reality most human memories are short and fallible; the very name of our founder seems unknown in Banchory today, and even recent testimonies often disagree.

Because historians know this from experience, they prefer to work with documentary evidence. Yet the records of a church, even more than those of other human institutions, provide only pale and distorted shadows of the activities of their members – above all of their spiritual life. You cannot hear the music through the accounts of the Choir and Organ Fund, nor feel the quality of prayer in the texts of successive liturgies. Although the Holy Spirit has certainly been at work in St Ternan’s, historians cannot presume to plot its operation, only to trace the deeds of the humans who make up the visible church. So I regard this account as an historical profile. I have rarely felt able to penetrate beneath the surface of congregational life, and at some points I have had to rely on historical imagination.

Basically, the minute-books record how small groups of devout persons worked to maintain an Episcopal church in Banchory and to resolve recurrent crises over money or (less frequently) modes of worship. Absorbed in the details of this story, it is easy to lose sight of the plot. Historic changes in the secular world, in and beyond Scotland, and also in the wider Christian community, were not always apparent to those struggling to control the damp on the vestry wall. In my chapter headings I have tried to indicate, perhaps over-dramatically, some of the wider challenges which were facing the church beyond – and even within – the comfortable confines of Banchory.
Even such records as we have are patchy and incomplete. In the Church Hall there are some small cash books relating to the building of the church, and some very uneven notes, in the hands of successive Rectors, of Sacraments administered during our first fifty years. After 1902 there are the accounts and minute-books of the Vestry (and its predecessor, the Board of Lay Managers). The volume for 1902-30 has been deposited in Aberdeen University Library; later ones are still in our own custody. How informative such documents are depends on the expansiveness of successive secretaries; conciseness, a virtue in the conduct of business, may disappoint historians. But at best the Vestry minutes touch only parts of congregational life. There are passing references to the Choir, the Sunday School, Guilds, but these bodies have left few records of their own. Some important information is recorded in the Year Books and reports of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and in notes supplied to the Aberdeen and Buchan Churchman, which may be consulted in the Diocesan Library.

For the last third of the period it has been possible to derive much information and insight from the memories of living persons. I have interviewed a few of these, talked informally to many more, and from 1977 have my own imperfect memories to draw on. I am grateful to those who responded to an article in the Piper with information or photographs. As some of my informants prefer not to be named, I shall name none of them. But I thank them all, most warmly. They have added much colour and interest to the second part of this profile. Some of them would tell the story of recent years with different emphasis. But, as throughout, responsibility for errors, distortions and false assumptions is mine alone.

During the eventful years since 2001 there have been debates within the Anglican Communion, and beyond. Christian thinking and praying now has to take into account new issues about sex and gender, about ecumenical relationships and dialogue with other faiths, about responsibilities for wars and peace, and for the relief of poverty and destitution in many places. These have led to changes in liturgies, modes of prayer, governance, finance and use of buildings, many of which have been reflected in our own congregational practice. One of our earliest responses was the connection with Nadaikavoo School for Dalit children in South India, established after a brief residence here by Rev Christopher Salvomony in 2001; the portrait in the Hall of Jesus as an Indian, commissioned by Christopher after his visit is a continuing reminder.
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I wish to thank Ross Royden for suggesting I undertake this work, the Vestry for their support, and Sue Roberts for assistance during work on the records. Lisa Eunson has provided renewed encouragement in this, as in other work. Michael Price and Jeff Rogers in turn have patiently addressed my difficulties with cyber-technology. Dr Sandy Waugh provided a helpful preview of his thesis on ‘The Disruption of a Parish’.
I am also grateful to staff in the Diocesan Centre, in the Special Collections of Aberdeen University Library; and in Grampian Regional Archives. David Irvine facilitated access to the Drum archives. Commander J P P Michell provided advice on his family history, and the archivists of North Yorkshire County Record Office, the Lambeth Palace Archives and Edinburgh University responded helpfully to postal enquiries. Muriel Clark and Michael Zappert gave useful advice about the windows. Warm thanks to them all.
John Hargreaves


Although in full communion with the Church of England, the Episcopal Church of Scotland is historically quite distinct. After the Reformation it retained its own bishops within the Apostolic Succession, and disputed the Presbyterian claim to be the historic Church of Scotland. But after the exile of the Stuarts in 1689 it became a persecuted minority, barely tolerated by the reconstituted British state. Although the severity with which the penal laws were applied varied according to the perceived danger of Jacobitism, its property reverted to the Church of Scotland, and those of its clergy who refused to swear loyalty to the Hanoverians were forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, or to preach to gatherings of more than four people. Even those ‘qualified’ congregations which were willing to conform were obliged to seek authority from English or Irish bishops. In Aberdeenshire, however, loyalties to the historic church survived, usually under the patronage and protection of some faithful landowner. Through much of the North East the influence of Bishop Elphinstone and the University he had founded remained strong. For the most part, the Covenanting strain of Presbyterianism was less evident, and eirenical co-existence among Christians more common, than further south. The devotional teaching of seventeenth-century ‘Aberdeen Doctors’ like John Forbes of Corse, was still cherished in many hearts. The English Prayer Book of 1662 was used in most congregations, sometime supplemented by ‘wee bookies’ reprinting the 1637 liturgy, which had so outraged the Covenanters. In 1764 the bishops agreed the text of a Communion Office closer to Catholic and Orthodox tradition, which included the Epiklesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the sacramental elements of bread and wine.

As the Jacobite threat receded, tolerant co-existence became more normal. When the penal laws were finally repealed in 1739 the Scottish Episcopal Church had forty clergy, three bishops, and considerable lay support in Aberdeen, around Stonehaven, and in many parts of Buchan. But there is little record of such enduring communities on Deeside, apart from three members of the ‘English Episcopal Church’ in Banchory parish. In 1842 the Presbyterian ministers who compiled the New Statistical Account gave fuller figures of religious allegiance. In Banchory parish, where the population had risen to 2,944 since the bridging of the Dee in 1798, five out of 535 families were said to be Episcopalian. There were a further two families in Strachan parish, Campbells of Blackhall and Lumsdens of Invery; but none were recorded for Durris, Echt, Kincardine O’Neil, or Aboyne. In Birse there was Peter Gordon of Chapelstrife croft, and his son, immigrants from Buchan and pupils of the great Bishop Jolly. In Drumoak Episcopalians were a little stronger; in February 1840 the parish minister counted two families and nine individuals, though he reduced these figures before publication in 1842. Nevertheless by May 1848 a small congregation had begun to gather in an independent chapel on Mount Street (later the Masonic Hall), which was also the meeting-house of some thirty Presbyterian dissenters. For the next two years a young chaplain from Glencorse Barracks, Robert Bruce, acted as priest-in-charge.

During the 1840s the religious map of Scotland was changing. In 1843 the established church split over the rights of congregations to choose their ministers; and during the following years its public responsibilities for poor relief, and later for education, were gradually taken over by the state. Hitherto most landowners had attended the parish church, not least because, as ‘heritors’, they were committed to support it financially; now they felt freer to choose their place of worship. Few had felt attracted to the small congregations of enthusiastic dissenters; but now that two Presbyterian churches were disputing the spiritual leadership of Scotland, Episcopalianism offered many an attractive alternative. As the Union of 1707 became more widely accepted, its beliefs and liturgies moved closer to those of mainstream Anglicanism, especially in the southern cities. In 1806 its Bishops accepted the 39 Articles; and many Scots with family or educational links across the border came to treasure the English Prayer Book.

The initiative in providing a place of Anglican worship in Banchory was taken by John Michell, heir to a family who owned an estate in Forcett Park, near Darlington. His father, also John, had been a student at Marischal College between 1806 and 1809. During these years the Rectorship of the College was rotating between three lower-Deeside lairds – Alexander Forbes Irvine, 19th laird of Drum, Sir Robert Burnett of Leys, and Alexander Baxter of Glassel. The young student seems to have been welcomed into this country elite, and in 1816 married Catherine Niven of Thornton, a relative of the Baxters. But he died in 1822, aged 34, leaving his four-year-old son John to be brought up by his mother. In time John junior married successively into two north-eastern families: Farquhar of Carlogie and Farquharson of Haughton. In 1841 he succeeded his grandfather at Forcett, and during the later 1840s he also inherited the Glassel estate through his mother’s family.

We know little of John Michell as a person, though since he sponsored a special Eucharist, with five clergy, to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation in 1851, we may assume that he was influenced by the Tractarian movement. But he was clearly determined that the Banchory congregation should have a worthy church building, and in October 1850 he bought, for £300, an irregular quadrilateral of land, extending northwards from the Deeside turnpike, as site ‘for a Church, Parsonage, Schoolhouse and Garden’. Its narrow frontage restricted the size of any church with an eastern orientation; but an Aberdeen architect, William Ramage, prepared plans with a seating capacity of 166. On 29th October 1851 what is in essentials the present building was dedicated to Saint Ternan, the Celtic missionary believed to have brought Christianity to Banchory between the fifth and seventh centuries. The chestnut tree which still shades the porch was also planted at this time. In March 1852 the whole property was conveyed to William Skinner, Bishop of Aberdeen.

Michell’s generosity was remarkable. According to the rather scrappy cash-books which survive, the total cost of the new church (including the land, and £37 10s 0d for altar plate) was £1,191 7s 10d. A subscription list, opened by donations of £50 by Michell, and ten guineas from his wife, eventually raised £447 12s 6d. Much of this sum came in gifts of five or ten pounds from sympathetic landed families (including W E Gladstone), some of whom may have subscribed out of neighbourly solidarity rather than theological conviction. But about twenty donations of three shillings or less suggest that Episcopalianism also had support among less wealthy folk. The remaining deficit appears to have been paid off by Michell himself, making his total contribution about £800. In addition he continued, until 1855, to provide about half the Rector’s annual stipend of £60 (since congregational offerings averaged little more than £20).

Smaller contributions to this deficit, combined with faithful support for the work of the church, were made by Alexander Forbes Irvine and his son, who succeeded as twentieth laird of Drum in 1861. Both men were lawyers, struggling to restore family fortunes depleted by civil war and consequent litigation. The family’s initial contribution to the building fund was a modest £1 10s 0d, augmented at Christmas by an additional £14 0s 0d. But thereafter the younger Irvine assisted with the augmentation of stipend, acted as Treasurer, and accepted appointment as Trustee, along with Michell and the incumbent Rector. The Irvines were an old Episcopalian family, who had embraced the teaching of the Oxford Tractarians as a renewal of their heritage. In 1857 Alexander the younger began to restore the chapel in the castle grounds in memory of an infant son, with an Anglo-Catholic fervour which still impresses visitors. But next year he became Chancellor of the diocese of Brechin, where Bishop Alexander Penrose Forbes’ Puseyite doctrine of the Eucharist was arousing fierce controversy. The voluminous correspondence about the theological and legal issues involved, which fills twenty-five bundles of papers in the Drum archives, must have prevented Irvine from maintaining his activity in St Ternan’s. After the consecration of St Devenick’s, Bieldside in 1894, many Irvines resumed their allegiance to the Aberdeen diocese; both the Cross (1894) the Lectern and the pulpit (1900) are gifts to St Ternan’s in memory of family members.


In 25th August 1850 twenty-three members of the new congregation received Communion from the Reverend Philip Carlyon of Dundee, and from Christmas 1850 regular services seem to have started under the first incumbent, William T Grieve, a young alumnus of Edinburgh University. When the new building was consecrated on 29th October 1851 there were twenty-nine lay communicants (including Michell and the younger Irvine) and nine clergy, including the Primus, William Skinner. Thereafter the principal services were Matins and Evensong, according to the English Prayer Book. The Eucharist was celebrated more or less monthly, probably according to the Scottish liturgy; the average attendance was nine (including Grieve and his wife), rising to about twenty at Christmas and Easter. The most prominent members were local landowners, notably the Irvines and the Innes family of Raemoir; Michel himself was rarely present, probably because he was spending more time at the Forcett estate. Later the church attracted retired military officers from England, and Scots who had attended English public schools, thus creating perceptions of an ‘English church’. After the Deeside railway reached Banchory in 1853 professional men from Aberdeen came into residence, including T S Sinclair-Spark, a lawyer who was to give long service as Secretary and Treasurer not only of St Ternan’s but of the Diocese. But there were also less affluent members. Among the most regular communicants were Mrs Reid and Mrs Barr, both modest contributors to the building fund; the tailor John Laird, confirmed in 1857, was to serve as verger for more than half a century. And in February 1852 Grieve and his wife travelled to Birse to take communion to old Peter Gordon, dying at the age of 85.

In June 1858, a few months before leaving Banchory, Grieve summarised some fruits of his ministry. During the preceding year 331 Communions had been made by 78 persons, and there had been thirteen Confirmations, at two ceremonies. During his seven years Grieve conducted nineteen baptisms: six of these were of his own sons. Clearly he was establishing family roots in Banchory, and it is not clear why he left at this time. On appointment Grieve had built himself the handsome gothic villa of Dungeith, behind the church; as his family grew he may have realised that he had stretched himself financially, and tried unsuccessfully to sell Dungeith to the church as a permanent rectory. His next appointment recorded was not until 1861, as Curate of Clewer in Somerset. But there is no suggestion of ill-feeling; the congregation subscribed to buy a paten as a ‘token of love and gratitude’ for his ministry. Grieve died in 1882 from a chill caught while visiting in his London parish, leaving his wife and large family unprovided for. In 1947 ‘a small pocket font’ with which he had conducted baptisms in extremis was returned to St Ternan’s through a priest in Salisbury.

During the seventeen years after Grieve left, St Ternan’s had seven different incumbents. With one exception, all were graduates of Oxford, Cambridge or Durham who had been ordained in the Church of England, and returned to parishes there after a few years. The exception was George Sutherland from Pitsligo, who graduated from King’s College Aberdeen in 1856, trained at Glenalmond, and was inducted in Banchory in 1861. During his ministry plans were made to build Christ Church, Kincardine O’Neil, which was consecrated in 1866. Sutherland took some responsibility for what was called the ‘Kincardine Mission’; during 1862 he celebrated there twice, with a total of 17 communicants (compared to 68 in St Ternan’s). But in 1866 he moved to Tillymorgan, and visiting clergy celebrated until June 1867. The other clergy have left even fewer records. Christopher Tweddle (1868-71) used Scottish and English liturgies alternately; H A Noel (1872-75) baptised three of his own sons, and when he left the congregation presented him with a desk. But none of these priests seems to have left a lasting impression on the small congregation.

A possible reason for these short incumbencies was the absence of a parsonage; Grieve’s successors must have been housed in rented accommodation, or even as lodgers. Since the church was only gradually building financial reserves, the need could only be met by personal generosity. In 1874 Rosebank, in Watson Street, was bought with an interest-free mortgage for £390 in the name of four members of the congregation, including Sinclair-Spark. Three years later responsibility for the church finances was defined by the appointment of four additional Trustees: Newell Burnett of Kylachie (1803-78), a former Clerk of Supply for Aberdeenshire; John Michell the third (who died next year, at the age of 31); Major-General R W Disney-Leith, tenant of Glassel; and Sir Robert Burnett, eleventh baronet of Crathes. This began the close connection with St Ternan’s of the Burnetts of Crathes Castle, long pillars of the established Church of Scotland. Robert’s father, Sir James, and his stepmother, Lauderdale Ramsay, had been occasional communicants since 1860, perhaps encouraged by Lady Ramsay’s famous kinsman Dean Ramsay of Edinburgh, a frequent guest at Crathes. Robert, who inherited in 1876 after a successful business career in California, gave committed support until he was afflicted by a brain tumour (which on one occasion is said to have caused him to remove his clothes during worship).

The first and only occupant of the new Parsonage was James Chalmers Deane Fraser (1851-1906), an alumnus (though not apparently a graduate) of Edinburgh University. Fraser was a man of some literary gifts, who as a student won prizes for an essay and a poem, which he apparently published. In 1881 he also published four Easter sermons, all based on texts from the Book of Numbers, as panegyrics for the recently deceased Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield. After his arrival at St Ternan’s in 1875 Fraser appears to have addressed himself to the wider needs of the parish, including its poorer members, serving on the School Board, and as an elected member of the Burgh Council. His scrappy records note baptisms in private homes, including some in extremis for members of other churches, and one, in December 1895, for the infant daughter of an unmarried ‘pedlar’ and his ‘vagrant’ companion. During 1893 he conducted funerals for a medical student who had committed suicide on Scolty, and for an illegitimate baby. Possibly such compassionate outreach was not approved by all his flock; in 1890 he reported to the diocese only 35 communicants, and a total congregation of 55. By 1901 these numbers had more than doubled. But next year Fraser announced his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and departed to the Benedictine Abbey at Fort Augustus.

It was a stormy departure; forbidden to preach the farewell sermon he had planned, Fraser set out twelve complaints about the state of the Anglican Communion in a bitter pamphlet entitled From the Strife of Tongues. Fraser declared that he now felt more sympathy for the Presbyterianism of his youth than for a church which had neglected the cult of the Virgin, the sacrament of Extreme Unction, the practise of fasting: which sanctioned clerical marriage, and where congregational participation in the Chalice had become a source of ‘scandal and irreverence’. More broadly still, the ‘Higher Criticism’ was encouraging widespread scepticism: ‘no enthusiasm, no zeal’. As a final desecration, the crucifix which he had placed in St Ternan’s had been torn down, Fraser insinuated, to satisfy ‘lords and their ladies, and richly clothed men and women and their dependants.’

Undaunted, twelve members of the congregation met on 24th October 1902, with the Rector of Ballater as representative of the Bishop, to consider filling the charge. But when the Bishop nominated William Hawdon, Rector of Fyvie for the past seventeen years, they discovered a problem. Since all the lay Trustees appointed in 1877 had died, the incumbent had become solely responsible for financial business, and Fraser’s accounts required clarification. It was now realised that the congregation had no legal constitution; so who was to guarantee Hawdon’s stipend? Eventually the congregation offered a stipend of £170 (the same as Fraser had received); Sir Thomas Burnett and J T Hay of Blackhall (a retired jute merchant from Leith) each personally guaranteed 40% of this sum for five years, while Sinclair-Spark and Alex Murray guaranteed 10% each. In the event congregational giving was more than maintained, and these guarantees were never called on. The basic stipend was augmented by £60 from the Diocesan Clergy Sustentation Fund (to which St Ternan’s annual contribution was £62 10s 0d). At the same time a constitution was adopted, and Burnett, Hay, and J M Tracy were elected as a Committee of Lay Managers.

They still had to address the problem of a rectory. Fraser had clearly given little attention to the house and garden at Rosebank, which were judged to require repairs to the value of £250, and Hawdon was unwilling to live there. So Rosebank was sold for £335; Ellangowan, at the corner of Corsee Road, was rented from the builder, George Gordon; and in 1909, after some hard bargaining, it was bought from him for £800. The 1874 mortgage of £390 on Rosebank was cancelled by Sinclair-Spark, only surviving creditor, but the purchase price had to be made up by supplementing the money for Rosebank by £500 from Endowment Funds, which were thus reduced to £424. Hawdon agreed to pay interest on this £500 in addition to the rates and feu on Ellangowan – a total charge on his stipend of about £35. He thus began his ministry with the financial foundations of the church apparently assured by the generosity of its wealthier members. But during the next half-century the comfortable security of rural communities like Banchory, as throughout most of Europe, was to be seriously challenged.

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