The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

The Urquhart Family: Blacksmiths of Raddery

or, The Kirkmichael Trust to the Rescue!   text: Jim Mackay   photography: Jim Mackay unless otherwise mentioned

This is the story of the Urquhart family who were Blacksmiths at Easter Raddery in the Parish of Rosemarkie for over 70 years. They were in Kirkmichael before that, and as was often the case continued to be buried in their family plot long after they had moved away.

It is also the story of a rescue. There could never have been a tablestone so precariously propped up on odd half bricks and stones, threatening to collapse at the first knock, ready to drop half a ton of weight on any visitor. The Kirkmichael Trust volunteers took pre-emptive action on 23 December 2017 to fix it.

The precariously balanced west side of the tablestone.

The east side was even worse.

The three Urquhart stones here at the far west side of the old kirkyard, right at the top of the steep slope from the new ground, cover the spectrum of stones found in Highland graveyards. First there is a plain slab, with just initials and a date. Then there is a substantial tablestone signifying that the family were now more substantial members of society. And finally there is a headstone, sitting on the former bank of the old graveyard, the last stone to be placed by this Urquhart family at Kirkmichael. There may be an even earlier stone – a simple, rough grave marker, now practically all below ground, sits in the same line just beside the slab, but without any inscription no linkage can be made. The locations of all four stones are spotted in red in this shot looking out across Udale Bay to the Sutors and Jemimaville.

Let's look at the slab first. It reads "1796 / I U / I MD". It may well have been a re-used stone as it seems more worn than the date would suggest. The first two initials are the husband's, the second two are the wife's, and the date at the top could be anything – when the lair was purchased, or when one of the pair died, or when the stone was obtained. From the family grouping of the stones, and the fact that the parents of the first Blacksmith of Raddery were John Urquhart and Isobel McDonald, we can take it that this stone commemorates the parents.

The descendants always had a hard time with Isobel McDonald's name, and the stone carver here had as well. Her first initial carved into the rock was later carefully chiseled out and the correct one inserted beside it. We can't make out what the original mistaken initial inside the incised rectangle was – perhaps an A. Her grandson John was to give poor Isobel two wrong Christian names to the Registrar on later certificates – "Margaret" on one and "Ann" on another – and he didn't even attempt to guess at her maiden surname in one case! It all suggests she may have died quite early in life and passed out of the memory of the family, and hence the "1796" might be when the stone was erected on the death of John Urquhart. However, this last is mere conjecture.

The tablestone inscription had been picked out in white at some time, as the remnants of white paint can still be seen in the base of many of the incised letters. And the small headstone beside it is in white marble or a similar rock. The two together read:

[Tablestone.] Erected / by / GEORGE URQUHART / Blacksmith in Raddery / to the memory of his spouse / MARGARET Mc:GILLEV / RAY who departed this life / the 16th day of April 1835 / aged 41 years justly and / deeply regretted. GEORGE / URQUHART died 21 June 1857 / aged 60 years. / Also their son / JOHN URQUHART, / Blacksmith, / who died at Raddery, / 11 Feby 1893 aged 62 years.

[Small, white headstone, triple curved top.] Erected / by / JOHN URQUHART, / blacksmith in Raddery, / to the memory of / his children, / GEORGE, / who died 2nd January 1865 / aged 1 year & 8 months. / MARGARET, / who died 14th April 1866 / aged 6 years & 9 months.

Remnants of white paint in incised letters. Photo by Davine Sutherland.

Out of context of neighbouring stones, the initials on this slab would be more difficult to attribute. Photo by Andrew Dowsett.

The excised letter. Photo by Andrew Dowsett.

The white headstone erected by John Urquhart, Blacksmith in Raddery, in memory of his children who had died in infancy.

The tablestone sits on a steep slope, and its supports (its "legs") had settled into the soil at different angles, so the table slab had been slipping downhill. In order to keep the table slab approximately level, bricks and stones had been inserted in the gaps, and close inspection revealed that the slab could with one knock have come sliding over with potentially lethal consequences.

As a matter of emergency health and safety the Kirkmichael volunteers moved rapidly into action. Two days before Christmas, 2017, they deployed the Kirkmichael Gantry. This now well-used item was created by George from the legs of an agricultural shed sold at Hamilton's Auction Mart in Dingwall! It was dropped over the slab which was then winched up and swung 90 degrees around and lowered back on the ground between the two supports. This gave safe and easy access to excavate the legs and the two slabs buried underneath on which the legs rested. These two slabs were relatively small and rough – too small to carry the massive weight of the tablestone on subsiding earth.

The Kirkmichael Gantry to the Rescue! Photo by Davine Sutherland.

Positioned centrally, with planks below the legs to protect other stones. Photo by Andrew Dowsett.

Up comes the stone, and the bricks and stones tumble over. Photo by Davine Sutherland.

Undertakers recommend leaving the erection of memorial stones as long as possible after a burial to give time for the ground to "stabilise" but clearly a burial area used many times over will take decades to stabilise, and at this location in Kirkmichael the stones have a steep slope to contend with as well. It is no wonder that the tablestone had ended up in such a dangerous condition.

The volunteers set the foundation slabs flat once more, setting the one at the head of the slab a little higher than the one at the foot to ensure that rainwater would run off easily. The legs were lifted back into position and finally the table slab was winched up again, rotated back to its original direction and set back down evenly on its supports. An accident waiting to happen had been successfully averted!

The uneven foundation slabs both upright – they carried no inscription (we always check). Photo by Davine Sutherland.

The south foundation slab is set 4 cm lower than the north one to let rain run off. Photo by Davine Sutherland.

The tablestone safe, secure and looking good thanks to the Trust. Photo by Andrew Dowsett.

What were the origins of the family? Given how many John Urquharts there were in the area, the family is best tracked through John's daughter Grissel or Grace, a "harmless lunatic" who moved from Gordon's Mills in 1840 and ended up living with her blacksmith brother George at Raddery. She was born in Resolis:

Resolis 1794 … September 18th 1794 John Urquhart shepherd at Newhall & Isobel McDonald his spouse had a daughter baptized named Grissel

Grissel appears in the Kirk Session records on the poor's roll:

At the School House of Resolis the 9th day of December 1834 years … They also resolved in consideration of their poverty to add the following persons for the first time to the poors roll viz … in Gordons Mills, Grizel Urquhart there

At the Church of Resolis the 13th day of December 1836 … They resolve also in consideration of their increasing poverty to transfer the following individuals from the second to the first Class. viz. … Grizzel Urquhart Gordons Mills

At the Church of Resolis the 21st day of December 1840 years … The Meeting then proceeded to inspect and readjust the poors Roll of last year and find that during the currency of the year … That … Grace Urquhart Gordons Mills left the parish, and their names were therefore struck off the Roll

I don't know where Grissel next went to live, presumably with another relation, but in 1851 she appears in the Census returns with her brother George the blacksmith in Raddery:

Muir Den of Raddery 1851 Rosemarkie Census
George Urquhart head widr 63 Blacksmith Ross Resolis
Janet Urquhart daur u 24 out-door servant Ross Rosemarkie
Sarah Urquhart daur u 22 out-door servant Ross Rosemarkie
John Urquhart son u 20 agricl labourer Ross Rosemarkie
Grace Urquhart sister u 52 harmless lunatic & pauper Ross Resolis

Raddery Smithy was just a short distance from Raddery House and Raddery Mains. As usual we turn to the Ordnance Survey Namebook of the 1870s for a description of the home and workplace of the Blacksmiths of Raddery. The entry for some reason was crossed out but it is still perfectly legible:

Applies to a small dwelling house with Smithy attached, situated about one quarter mile west of Raddery House, it is one storey high thatched and in fair repair. H.M. Fowler Esqr. Proprietor.

Raddery Smiddy, close to Raddery House and the Mains. Following its life as a smiddy, it was used as a shed as part of the Raddery Sawmill complex, and then added to the Anderson home as an extension. It is great to see it still in use.

It retains its wonderful sandstone blocks and timber lintel, and outside are a metal strut used for bending metal and a large ring on the ground around which cartwheels were manufactured. The slit in the wall through which I'm sure belt-fed power was once passed is filled with two sandstone blocks and still visible.

Whilst living with her brother at Raddery Smithy, Grace continued as a pauper, so further information about her movements may be found in the Rosemarkie Kirk Session records or the parish parochial relief records thereafter. She died at Raddery in 1860, and is buried in Kirkmichael but with no memorial. Her nephew John had forgotten who his own grandmother was and guessed at the name "Ann" and of course had no idea how old Grace was and gave her a good round age:

Grace Urquhart (pauper) (single) aged 60, died 10 Feb 1860 Raddery, parents John Urquhart tailor (d) Ann Urquhart ms [blank] Church Yard of Kirkmichael Resolis as certified by William Holm, Sexton. Informant John Urquhart, Nephew.

Of course, John's father George, who would have kept him right, had died a few years earlier, and John had made an equal hash then of mis-identifiying poor Isobel McDonald, his grandmother and George's mother:

George Urquhart blacksmith (master) (widower) 21 Jun 1857 Raddery 67 John Urquhart tailor (d) Margaret Urquhart ms McDonald (d) buried church yard of Kirkmichael, Resolis, as certified by William Holm, sexton. Informant John Urquhart, son.

The birth-year of George varies according to source: a) what son John told the registrar (died in 1857 aged 67), b) what son John had put on his father's gravestone (died in 1857 aged 60), and c) what is provided from Census returns (63 in 1851). I think the Census returns will be the most reliable, making his birth year c1788.

You may have noted that George's wife had not been identified on George's death certificate, son John providing the information only that George had been a widower. The gravestone and the Rosemarkie marriage and baptism records supply the missing information that "George Urquhart, Blacksmith at Raddery, and Margaret MacGillivray, parish of Ardersier were contracted in order to marriage, and, after having been regularly proclaimed, in the parish church of Rosemarkie, were married on the seventh day of July one thousand, eight hundred, and twenty one years." Children subsequently baptised were Anna (25 June 1822), Isabella (26 April 1824), Janet (26 May 1826), Sarah (15 May 1828) and John (12 March 1830).

The only boy, John, became the blacksmith at Raddery, marrying Helen Noble in 1857. Helen's parish of origin varies with several census returns although she was actually born in Knockbain. The growing family can be seen at Raddery Smithy in 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 but not 1901. John had died in 1893, and his son John, born in 1870, although the third generation blacksmith at Raddery, does not appear to have continued his trade there after his father's death

Can we push the family back beyond John Urquhart and Isobel McDonald? Well, the couple seem to have married in the adjacent parish of Cromarty in 1779 and moved around from Udale to Little Farnes before relocating a short distance to Resolis, so there may well be further information in the Cromarty records.

Cromarty marriages 1779 Novr 5th John Urquhart and Isabel McDonald
Cromarty … 1781 … 13 Febry Sarah ld to John Urquhart & Isabel McDonald Udoll
Cromarty … 1783 … April 3rd. Donald L.S. to John Urquhart & Isobel McDonald Little Farnes
Resolis 1794 … September 18th 1794 John Urquhart shepherd at Newhall & Isobel McDonald his spouse had a daughter baptized named Grissel

It cannot be assumed that the Cromarty couple and the Resolis couple are the same, but I would think it highly likely. Unfortunately it falls in the period when Reverend Robert Arthur shockingly allowed the upkeep of the registers in Resolis to go to ruin, allegedly because people couldn't afford them, and he destroyed all the Kirk Session records, allegedly because he did not want a record of people's sins going down to posterity. Nevertheless, the relatively unusual combination of names suggests the couples would be the same.

Those wishing to pursue the Blacksmiths of Raddery further could research the papers associated with the Fowler of Raddery family who owned the estate. It is they who would have rented the smiddy and any croft land associated with it to tenants and there may be some great stories within the records. Raddery House itself, home in this period to the Fowler family, was very close by and the Urquharts must have been familiar with the laird when in residence. The Fowlers were a well-established family in the area, and their fine memorials can be seen within Rosemarkie parish church. I'm sure all the laird's horses would have been shod at Raddery Smiddy, and any ironwork needing repair would have been fixed by the Urquharts.

There must be many descendants of the Urquharts, Blacksmiths at Raddery. We would love to hear from you!

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