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

Lance Corporal James Williams Young (1898–1917)
the Youngs of Muryden, Jemimaville, Upperwood, Poyntzfield, and Balliskelly

text: Jim Mackay   good photography: Andrew Dowsett   other photography: Jim Mackay

A sign on the gate of Kirkmichael informs visitors that they are entering a Commonwealth war grave site. However, the family tragedy of young men falling in battle on behalf of their country and the Commonwealth is brought home only by the commemorative stones themselves.

The stone in this case is a red granite headstone to the east of the path in Kirkmichael which reads:

In / loving memory of / GEORGE YOUNG / who died 24th April 1931 / and of JAMES, his son / who was killed at Arras, / 9th April 1917. / Also CATHERINE FRASER / wife of the said GEORGE YOUNG, / who died 1st February 1948 / THOMAS HUGH / third son of above / who died 7th Nov. 1974.

James Young was the fourth son of the Youngs of Upperwood, the farm above Poyntzfield Mills, close to the boundary of the parish of Resolis, with only Upperwood Croft between it and the parish of Cromarty.

The Young family headstone

From the Ross-shire Journal notice

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Young is not a common name on the Black Isle, and many of the Youngs in the area were in fact descended from the same branch. Their story takes in a good proportion of the farms of the Black Isle as the family moved around as agricultural labourers, farmers and merchants. It is extremely representative of the very mobile agricultural worker community.

There is sometimes the perception that there was little movement with families in rural communities and the history of this family shows just how wrong this can be. We see here in the direct male line of four generations the family Young residing in turn at Easter Kessock, Dunbar, Ryflat, Muryden, Whitebog, Colony, Upperwood, Poyntzfield Mains, Balliskelly, Jemimaville and Upperwood again.

William Young (1793–1860) and Jessie Thompson (1795–1874)

James’ great grand father was Muryden farmer William Young.

Born in 1793 to the ferrier at North Kessock, William Young, (later ferryman at the Chanonry of Ness), and his wife Elspeth ("Elspet", "Alspet") Grigor, the young William, I believe, became first a soldier. I think this is so because we know his wife was one Jessie Thompson, and the only marriage in this era to a couple of that name was in Dunbar in 1814, between William Young Gunner of the Royal Artillery and Jessie Thompson. They had one child, Agnes, in Dunbar, in 1814 whilst he was still with the Royal Artillery but she does not reappear in this story.

I assume this was the correct couple, and having served his time with the Royal Artillery William Young returned to the north, as we can trace his progress with certainty thereafter from the baptism records of his children and the Census returns. He was farm servant at Ryflat (parish of Rosemarkie) when young William was born in 1819, but was given as labourer or farmer at Muryden (again, parish of Rosemarkie), from the baptism of his son Kenneth, born 1822, and for subsequent children. In 1841 he was given as farmer, but in the 1851 census for Muryden in Raddery he was given as "General Dealer". His business on his 1860 death certificate reverted to "Farmer". It is clear that he was mingling his farming activities with dealing, presumably in stock. His farm of Muryden lies adjacent to the farm of Cloy, where my great grandfather Charles Ferguson was farming in 1841 and 1851, so it is no surprise that William Young’s grandson George was to be found in 1861 as a farm worker employed by Charles Ferguson following Ferguson’s move to Ardoch in Resolis.

William Young’s wife Janet or Jessie Thom(p)son was born in 1795 to the tenant in Corrachy, parish of Avoch, Kenneth Thomson, and his spouse Catherine Grigor. Some of the Young children continued in Muryden right through to the 1900s.

We know from his death certificate that William Young and presumably Jessie are buried in Rosemarkie churchyard, but there is no stone. They must have intended to commemorate a child as in Rosemarkie churchyard there is, under a holly tree, a tablestone with an uncompleted inscription:

Erected by William Young, farmer in Muryden, in memory of . . . .

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John Young (1827–1896) and Ann Jack Cameron (1838–1884)

His grandfather was John Young (1827–1896), born in Muryden, and still residing there in 1851. By the time of his marriage in 1856, however, he had set up business as a butcher a short distance away at the farm of Whitebog, just inside the parish of Cromarty. He married at Davidston, above Cromarty, Ann Cameron. Ann could not write, and the witnesses to her mark were well-known farmer George Middleton and the Free Church Minister Duncan Stewart McEachran, later to become a famous minister at the Gaelic Church in Victoria, Australia.

Ann Cameron’s parents were William Cameron ploughman or farm servant and Margaret Sharp. His life as a ploughman saw him reside all across the region – he appears over the years in Moray, Alness, Kiltearn (Ann was born in Evanton there), Cromarty for a long spell, including residing at Achnagary in 1851, before returning to Moray. No doubt it was during the Camerons’ residence in the parish of Cromarty that John Young met the young Ann, who at the time of her marriage gave her residence as the nearby Farness.

John Young himself never moved far in his agricultural work. He must have given up his trade as a butcher at Whitebog, crofted at the nearby Colony in the parish of Cromarty for a period (George his son was born there in 1860) and in 1871 was residing with his family at Upperwood, although working as a cattleman at Poyntzfield Mains, a job he was employed in throughout the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. He was residing at a farm servant’s house in Poyntzfield in 1881 and 1891.

Curiously, he named one of his children "James Williams Young" – the same spelling as would be given to Lance Corporal James Williams Young a generation later. There were clearly several members of the family named "William" but why two children should be given the middle name of "Williams" is a mystery yet to be solved. He ended his days in Balliskelly, along the track west from the Mains of Poyntzfield where he had worked so long. The Youngs maintained their links with Ballyskelly as in 1901 I see John Young’s son, James Williams Young, residing at Ballyskelly House as a shepherd, in the company of two sisters.

Family historians should be alert to the dangers of relying on a single piece of documentary evidence. Many researchers of the Young story will have come up against a dead end when trying to "push back" beyond John Young, because his death certificate while correctly giving his mother as Jessie Thompson incorrectly states his father was Donald Young. The informant was his own son George, so it is likely the registrar became confused rather than George, but nevertheless the "Donald" was incorrect. You might look for a long time for a Donald Young and Jessie Thompson couple.

Fortunately, John Young’s marriage certificate from 1856 – just scraping into the civil registration period – confirms that his parents were in fact William Young and Jessie Thompson, and there is much confirmatory evidence to be found when this is known.

We do not know where John Young and Ann Cameron are buried, but we would assume they are together in an unmarked grave in Kirkmichael.

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George Young (1860–1931) and Catherine Fraser (c.1860–1948)

His father was George Young (1860–1931), who had been born in the Colony, parish of Cromarty, in 1860, although as a boy he lived at Upperwood and Poyntzfield with his parents. He initially worked as an agricultural labourer, including, for a time, according to the 1881 Census, for my great grandfather Charles Ferguson at Ardoch! His father had been a butcher for some time, and he too became a butcher.

We thus see him in family certificates and census returns as a butcher in Jemimaville in the 1890s (he was living at "5 High Street" in Jemimaville in the 1891 Census and all the children were born in Jemimaville) before returning to his old homeground to farm at Upperwood.

His mother, Catherine Fraser, had been born in Bona, by Dores, to crofter John Fraser and his spouse Catherine McDonald, although I have not located her birth certificate.

She married George Young at Blackfold, Dochgarroch, in 1889, and I note that George described himself as "Grocer (master)" at the time (and made himself a couple of years younger too). Catherine was at this time a laundrymaid at the great Rosehaugh House in Avoch.

Their home at Upperwood was definitely not as grand as Rosehaugh! It was described in the survey of properties carried out for the Infernal Revenue under an Act of 1910 as still a thatched property, and while the house itself was in fair condition the steading, which was tiled, was very dilapidated:

Property: Upperwood. / farm 144 acres Owner: Munro, GMG, Lt Col (late), trustees for creditors
Tenant/occupier: Young, George
House materials: stone     Roof material: thatch
House description: kitchen, room, bedroom, 2 attic bedroom     House condition: fair
Agricultural buildings: stone, red tile roof: steading.       Very dilapidated.

Nevertheless, the house at Upperwood was a reasonable size for the time. There were two homesteads at Upperwood, Upperwood Croft to the east, approached from the road through Udale, and the larger Upperwood itself to the west, approached by a track up from Poyntzfield Mills. George Young and family lived in the larger house, which, in the 1911 census, is recorded as having seven rooms with one or more windows.

Looking down on Udale Bay, Kirkmichael and Newhall Point from beside Upperwood Croft

George Young and Catherine Fraser are commemorated on the same stone in Kirkmichael as their son who died in battle.

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James Williams Young (1898–1917)

James Williams Young’s antecedents were very firmly rooted in the agricultural working community of the Black Isle, although his father at the time of his birth was the butcher in Jemimaville. He was born on 25 January 1898. We know little of his schooling or his youth, but we know from his obituary that he was a cheerful lad and was very interested in temperance work, being a member of the local Good Templar lodge. The International Organisation of Good Templars or IOGT, created in 1851, still actively promotes a lifestyle free of alcohol and other drugs.

The Good Templar lodge was involved in supporting the troops on the front. I see that the Ross-shire Journal of 22 January 1915 reported: "The Sisters of the I O.G.T. Lodge, "Star of Poyntzfield," Jemimaville, have presented each of the Resolis lads presently serving with the Lovat Scouts with a parcel containing 1 pair warmknitted socks, 2 handkerchiefs, a cake of soap and a box of cigarettes. This initiative and thoughtful kindness has earned the grateful thanks of the recipients and relatives."

James’s older brother John was serving with the Lovat Scouts so no doubt would have received such a parcel.

James followed his brother John into the Army in July 1916. The young James would have seen plenty of evidence of the war from Upperwood, as the Cromarty Firth was seething with activity from all the forces.

Fleet activity in the Cromarty Firth, seen from the Craggan, Chapelton Point

James thereafter trained at Newton Camp, Cromarty.

Soldiers at Cromarty

Training camps were established at Newton Farm and at Cromarty Mains on the South Sutor. During the war they were occupied by the 3rd (Reserve) Seaforth Highlanders. They were joined by battalions from the 10th (Reserve) Seaforth Highlanders, the 3rd (Reserve) Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). The camps were initially based in tents before a hutted camp was constructed.

Alas, the young Black Isle lad, S/15662, 6th Bn., Seaforth Highlanders, was to die at that major British offensive, the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917. From 9th April to 16th May 1917, troops from the four corners of the British Empire attacked trenches held by the army of Imperial Germany to the east of the French city of Arras. James Young fell at the very beginning of this campaign.

James Young was buried at the Highland Cemetery, Roclincourt. His family back in the Black Isle commemorated him on the family stone in Kirkmichael.

The Ross-shire Journal of 18 May 1917 contained the following notice.

Mr and Mrs Young, Upperwood Farm, Poyntzfield, have received intimation that their youngest son, Lce.-Cpl. James Young, Seaforths, has been killed in action. He was only 19 years of age, and joined the Army in July, 1916. He underwent training at Newton Camp, Cromarty, which he left for France only six weeks ago. Lce.-Cpl. Young was a soldier of great promise. A splendid shot, he also possessed many other qualities which would have won for him rapid promotion in the Army. As member of the local Good Templar lodge, he took a keen interest in temperance work, and his happy and cheerful disposition made him greatly loved by all who knew him.

His eldest brother, Lce.-Cpl. John Young, went through the Gallipoli campaign with the Scouts, and is now serving in France with the Camerons. The sympathy of the whole community is extended to Mr and Mrs Young and family in their great sorrow

James is commemorated in three locations: in Roclincourt, on his parents’ gravestone at Kirkmichael, and on the Resolis War Memorial at Resolis Crossroads, beside the modern primary school.

The oldest of the Young boys, John Young, as mentioned in the Ross-shire Journal notice, survived the war despite going through the Gallipoli campaign with the Lovat Scouts, and then serving in France with the Camerons, so that must have been a great comfort to the parents. He was a carpenter to trade, and lived at the Craggan near Chapelton Point and Balblair for many years. He and his wife are commemorated on a stone in the modern section of Kirkmichael.

The Commonwealth War Graves Sign at Kirkmichael

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