The Origins of Agneshill, Resolis, the McLennan Crofts in Agneshill, and Kennuck the Deer

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated under each image

all archival references are to the National Records of Scotland unless otherwise stated

When you walk the paths in the forestry beyond Agneshill you pass by several ruins, the remains of crofthouses and steadings swallowed up in the afforestation of what is now known as the Mulbuie Forest. This is the story of one family who resided in one of those houses, the McLennan family whose gravestone stands to the north of the kirk buildings at Kirkmichael. However, at the same time, I delve into how the crofts of Agneshill came into existence in the first place, and I also provide several stories of one of the more famous residents of Agneshill, Kennuck the Deer.

McLennan_Agneshill_WesternCroft_20220727_6806_wide.jpg
once the home of the McLennan family in Agneshill; photo by Jim Mackay

 

The Origins of Agneshill

The higher ground of Agneshill and of the Black Isle generally had once been moorland, utilised by tenants from lower land for grazing cattle in the summer, or gathering peat and moss for fuel and roofing. The Commonty of the Mulbuie was a valuable resource to the ordinary folk of the Black Isle.

The Braelangwell Estate at the end of the 18th century had encouraged tenants to break in land at Agneshill and establish crofts. Perhaps in doing this the Urquharts of Braelangwell, like the Cromarty Estate with Colony a few miles away, had been attempting quietly to extend their land into the Commonty of Mulbuie. I shall come back to the crucial difference between the Agneshill crofts located to the north and those located to the south of the Allt Dubhach, the “blackish burn”, that many felt was the beginning of the common land.

Was Agneshill named after one of the Urquharts of Braelangwell, or some earlier Agnes, even perhaps St Agnes? A few miles to the west, on the 1816 Mulbuy Commonty plan (RHP4045), and in the associated evidence of several local inhabitants in the Commonty legal proceedings of 1816, is “St Patrick’s Hill”, shown on modern Ordnance Survey mapping as Cnoc Phadruig. There is therefore a precedent in naming a raised area in the Mulbuie after a saint.

The Reverend Robert Arthur of Resolis actually challenged Braelangwell in 1810, complaining to the Presbytery (see the Presbytery of Chanonry minutes) that Urquhart:

had settled a number of Mealers or Cotters on the nearest and best part of the Common called the Mulbuy, to the south side of the Burn called Aultdouack [Allt Dubhach], and had, with Mackenzie [of Newhall], carried out very extensive fir plantations on the Common, thereby preventing the obtaining of pasturage and fuel, and had shut up two Public Roads…

Arthur does not name the area as Agneshill, but you can see how Braelangwell had been actively exploiting the Commonty south of the Allt Dubhach.

The earliest reference I have found to Agneshill is in 1811, in the Resolis Kirk Register, although I presume it existed long before this. The 1812 Braelangwell Estate plan, which may be found in the Highland Archive Centre, prepared at the time of the sale of the estate, refers to “the improvements of Agnes hill” and from the number of homesteads shown on that plan that improving process had been going on for some time. The plan shows many small areas of cultivated land scattered within the overall rough moorland. I have rotated the plan to be roughly comparable to present-day mapping, highlighted the line of the Allt Dubhach with blue dots, and shown with a pink ellipse where the McLennan home appproximately was in the 1900s. You will note that the name “Agnesshill” stretches down across the Allt Dubhach at right angles for quite a distance.

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Agneshill in 1812

 

Evidence presented in 1816 in the Mulbuie Commonty case, when the estates had their way and had the commonty land divided up between themselves, points to the Agneshill crofts being established by Braelangwell about 1780. Two witnesses agreed on this, with one providing some detail:

JOHN MACLEAN, tenant at Brae, aged 61, who being solemnly sworn, &c. depones, That he has been on the estate of Braelangwell all his life, and concurs with the preceding witness as to the proprietors and tenants of that estate having exercised the use of the commonty of Milbuy beyond the years of prescription. … Being interrogated by the common agent, When the crofts and houses at Agnes Hill were first placed? depones, That it was about thirty years and more, but not forty, and as he believes by the late Mr Urquhart. … Being interrogated by the common agent, What was the occupation of the ground at Agnes Hill before the crofts and houses were placed there? depones, That it was used for pasture by the tenants of Brae for their cattle, and he has seen Mr Barclay’s [Alexander Barkly’s] cattle from Kirktown of Newhall there, when Mr Barclay was tacksman, but never saw the cattle from any other estate there. All which is truth, &c.

 

John McLennan and Mary Gordon of Contin and Agneshill

One of the early families to settle in Agneshill was that of John McLennan and Mary Gordon from the Parish of Contin. Their family remained in Agneshill for more than a century. John had been a tenant in Achire in Contin, married Mary Gordon in 1790, but at some point had moved east to the Parish of Resolis to take up a small tenancy in Agneshill.

He and his wife were named in 1829 as witnesses in an unsavoury crime committed in December 1828 by blind cottar Alexander Munro of Agneshill, for which Munro was transported to Australia for seven years (AD14/29/345). That is the first definite recording of John McLennan and Mary Gordon at Agneshill and John is described as “mealor Agneshill”, a mealer or mailer being a small sub-tenant.. However, there are earlier references to one John McLennan Agneshill whom I presume is the same man.

Thus we see “John McLennan Agneshill” mentioned within the Braelangwell Accounts (CS96/4500–4513) for 1810/11, and I think that will be the first solid record of the family in Agneshill. There are many other references to a John McLennan carrying out day work for Braelangwell in the estate accounts, the earliest being in 1808 (“John Mclenen”) – but there is no guarantee this is John McLennan in Agneshill.

The land of Agneshill moved from the Estate of Braelangwell to the Estate of Newhall, and in the Newhall records we see that John McLennan paid annual rent of £2.2s for his small tenancy in Agneshill. The first record I see of him in this context is in 1816, the year of the first Newhall rental of this period which I have found (Highland Archives D32/J2b). He continues in subsequent rentals, the final one in which he appears being for 1830 (Highland Archives D32/J1b and D32/J1c).

The next rental I have come across is from 1842 (within the will of Colin MacKenzie of Newhall SC25/44/3 Dingwall Sheriff Court) and the record (still for £2.2s) has become “Widow John McLennan Agneshill” indicating that he had passed away between 1830 and 1842. We can narrow this down further using the Poor’s Roll, on which she first appears in 1838, and I think it likely that her husband had died not long before this.

1838 Parish of Resolis Kirk Session Records
Widow McLennan Agnes Hill 4/.

And it is as “Widow McLennan” that she appears in the 1841 census:

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Agneshill
Widow McLennan 60
Elizabeth McLennan 30 [we shall return to daughter Eppy or Elizabeth, who was to die in 1878]

Widow McLennan continued on the Poor’s Roll through to 1845, when, following the split between the Established Church of Scotland and the new Free Church of Scotland in 1843, the support of the poor became the duty of the parochial boards. She crops up in the first record of the Resolis Parochial Board, and clearly she had moved out of Agneshill but frustratingly it doesn’t say where to:

Parish of Resolis Parochial records, Meeting 24 April 1846
Widow MacLennan residing lately at Agneshill added to Permanent Roll.

Age and ill health were catching up with her, resulting in her allowance being increased:

Parish of Resolis Parochial records, Meeting 20 February 1849
Widow MacLennan, late at Agneshill, from age & Infirmities [allowance increased]

I do not see any more references to Widow MacLennan, or Mary Gordon, thereafter, so I assume that she herself now must have passed away.

 

Kenneth McLennan and Jane Matheson of Agneshill

By 1851, the son of John McLennan and Mary Gordon, Kenneth McLennan, was also established as a crofter at Agneshill. In his younger days he had worked as an agricultural labourer at various farms around the Black Isle. When he married Jane Matheson in Avoch in 1830, he was working at Davidston in the Parish of Cromarty, and was still there when daughter Elizabeth was born in 1832. But by 1834, when son John was born, he was labouring at Easter Raddery in the Parish of Rosemarkie. Raddery is only a mile or so to Agneshill, and John had made the transition from agricultural labourer to crofter in returning to Agneshill. There were to be only two children, John and Elizabeth, and both worked on the small family croft.

By 1851, the number of households in Agneshill had grown to such an extent that it warranted a separate District in the Census. The McLennan holding was at this time very small scale.

1851 Census Return, parish of Resolis – Agneshill
Kenneth Maclennan head married 58 crofter of 5 acres employing 3 labourers, born Contin
Jane Maclennan wife married 56 born Avoch
John Maclennan son unmarried 15 born Rosemarkie
Betsie Maclennan daughter unmarried 17 born Cromarty
John McDonald servant 11 born Resolis

 

The Agneshill Whisky Still Case (JC26/1851/10 and AD14/51/238)

The previous year Agneshill had became notorious due to a fracas between its inhabitants and the Excise who had confiscated a barrel of whisky from a hut containing an illicit still on the moor at Agneshill. The barrel contained six and a half gallons of whisky. A group of Agneshill men, armed with staves, set off after the Excise men to recover their liquor, catching up with them in a farmhouse at Auchterflow, and the battle commenced. Although many locals are named in the subsequent legal proceedings, surprisingly neither Kenneth nor John McLennan became involved.

It was 1851 before any of the offenders could be caught and brought to court. The case against one of the culprits was summarised by the John O’Groat Journal of Friday, 2 May 1851:

ASSAULT.
George Maclean surrendered to take his trial on a charge of having, on the 30th of March 1850, at or near a house situated at Bog of Auchterfloe, in the parish of Avoch, while in company with some other labourers, attacked and assaulted Mr Colin Munro, riding officer of inland revenue, and William Robertson and William Paterson, cuttermen, while in the execution of their duty by guarding a quantity of smuggled spirits, beating the said parties with his fists, or sticks, or a barrel stave, and forcibly taking from them the spirits. The panel was outlawed in September last for non-appearance to answer to the charge, but had been subsequently apprehended. He now pled guilty to the charge with some modifications. The public prosecutor declined to accept the plea, however. A jury was therefore empanelled, and the case went to proof.
From the evidence adduced, it appeared that the party of revenue officers had had their attention drawn to some illicit distilling operations which were being conducted at the muir of Agnes Hill. They made a seizure at a bothy there, and removed the spirits they had captured to a farmhouse at the Bog of Achterfloe, where they had not long been till a party consisting of some eight or nine persons, armed with sticks cut from a wood, and barrel staves, appeared to make a rescue. The panel was one of the party. An affray took place which lasted about half-an-hour, in the course of which several injuries were inflicted on the officers, and Maclean distinguished himself by the active part he took. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty, and sentence of imprisonment for nine months was pronounced.

There is much more of interest in the case, but as the McLennan family were not directly implicated I have just given a flavour of it as indicative of the culture at the time up in Agneshill. Many of the accused were never caught as officers could be seen coming up the moor and would disperse to hide out with other families until the authorities gave up.

The farmhouse at the Bog of Auchterflow where the Excise men took refuge was that of Alexander Jack. His servant, his grandson James Jack, gave evidence thus:

James Jack, son of John Jack deceased , and presently servant to the said Alexander Jack farmer Auchterfloe, aged about 16 years. Declares The said Alexander Jack is my grandfather. I remember sometime before spring last year of a man coming to our house asking a horse and cart. I knew him to be an Excise man and his name I believe is Munro. I went into the stable to feed the horse. When I was there six persons came past the stable door and went on to the house. I did not come out at first as I was afraid, but after a little I ventured out. Four of the six men came close up to the door and two stood at a distance. Those near the house door wanted to get into the house for a drink of water, and said the Officers had no business to keep them out. These men had sticks and staves. They said they wanted the whisky which had been taken from them. I saw one of the men strike the Excisemen with either a stick or a stave. I was in Dingwall Jail today, and was shown a man who said his name was George MacLean. I know this person as being one of those who followed the Excise and was at our house. It was him who struck the Excise, and was otherwise very active. It was one of the men who struck first and the Excisemen struck in return. Both parties then began fighting, and continued for some time, less than half an hour I think. I saw one of the men put his stave round Munro’s waist, and attempt to put him down. The Excise beat off the men, but I saw they had several wounds about their faces and hands. I afterwards drove the horse and cart with the whisky to Kessock ferry.

I give James Jack’s evidence for a very personal reason. His parents, John Jack and Cursty Nichol of Toberchurn, were my own great grand-parents!

Anyway, despite the lawlessness of Agneshill in this period, Kenneth McLennan and Jane Matheson and their small family seem to have prospered, as by 1861 they were now tenanting 12 acres instead of 5:

1861 Census Return, parish of Resolis – Agneshill, house with three rooms with one or more windows
Kenneth McLennan head married 60 farmer of 12 acres employing 4 labourers and a boy, born Contin
Jane McLennan wife married 55 born Avoch
Betsy McLennan daughter unmarried 26 farmers daughter born Cromarty [Peddistown deleted]
John McLennan son unmarried 24 farmer's son born Rosemarkie
Roderick Taylor herd unmarried 10 herd boy born Avoch

But alas, Kenneth was to die in 1866, of gastritis. We do not know where he is buried but we can assume it is within Kirkmichael.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Kenneth McLennan crofter (married to Jane Matheson) died 31 March 1866 Agnes-hill age 70 parents John McLennan crofter (d) Mary McLennan m.s. Gordon (d) informant John McLennan son (present)

John took over the family croft, and did well. By 1871, the size of the croft being managed by the family had further increased, now to 20 acres, almost double what it had been ten years earlier.

1871 Census Return, parish of Resolis – Agneshill, house with three rooms with one or more windows
John McLennan head 30 farmer of 20 acres employing 3 labourers, born Rosemarkie
Jane McLennan mother widow 76 do. mother born Resolis [this is Jane Matheson]
Jessie McKay servant unmarried 17 domestic servant born Resolis
Betsy Matheson visitor unmarried 32 born Knockbain

 

John McLennan and Christy Jack of Agneshill

Now well established on the family tenancy, John McLennan married, in 1874, his bride being Christina Jack from Wester Shoreton, just within the parish of Urquhart. My father used to say that the Jacks in Easter Shoreton and the Jacks in Wester Shoreton were not related and he should have known as his mother was a Jack from Easter Shoreton.

John was one of the three Agneshill tenants “Mr Roderick McKenzie Tenant / Mr John McLennan Tenant / Mr Donald McKay Tenant” who provided information to the Ordnance Survey mappers in the early 1870s, with the OS Namebook saying: “This name is applied to a small district consisting of several croft houses. They are all one storey in height, thatched and in tolerable repair. J.A.S. McKenzie of Newhall, By Invergordon N.B. Proprietor.”

With John McLennan and Christina Jack now in the crofthouse at Agneshill, John’s mother, Jane Matheson, moved out. Perhaps when the children started coming the crofthouse became too crowded. The children were Kenneth (1875–1886), Margaret (1876–), Jane or Jeannie (1879–1977), Annie (1880–1972) and John (1885–1947). Although Jane Matheson moved out, she did not go far – her one daughter Elizabeth had married another McLennan, a Hugh McLennan, unrelated as far as I know, who had moved from the gamekeeper’s lodge at Braelangwell into Agneshill, to a croft on the north side of the Allt Dubhach. It would have been only a few minutes walk between the two crofthouses, using the same crossing no doubt as is still used by hikers walking in from Agneshill.

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Son Gavin bravely crossing the Allt Dubhach on 23 December 2004; photo by Jim Mackay

And so, in 1881, we have John and Christina in the old family croft on the south side of the Allt Dubhach and John’s mother Jane Matheson in Hugh McLennan’s croft on the north side of the Allt Dubhach. We can see that John was continuing to farm successfully, with once more a greatly increased size of tenancy.

1881 Census Return, parish of Resolis – Agneshill, house with four rooms with one or more windows
John McLennan head married 40 farmer of 58 acres of which 26 are arable, born Rosemarkie, speaks G
Christina McLennan wife married 33 born Urquhart
Kenneth McLennan son 5 born Resolis Imbecile / Margaret McLennan daughter 4 born Resolis / Jane McLennan daughter 2 born Resolis / Annie McLennan daughter 5 months born Resolis
Isabella McKenzie servant 14 general servant born Resolis

Agneshill, house with 3 rooms with one or more windows
Hugh McLennan head married 56 farmer of 70 acres of which 24 are arable employing 1 boy, born Redcastle, speaks G
Elizabeth McLennan wife married 46 born Cromarty speaks G
Annie J. McLennan daughter 8 scholar born Resolis / Kenneth D. McLennan son 6 born Resolis / Bella J. McLennan daughter 4 born Resolis John Johnston servant 16 farm servant born Cromarty
Jean Matheson mother in law widow 86 born Avoch speaks G

Jane Matheson died just a couple of years later. The informant was her son John, who told the Registrar that the cause of death was “Old age” (there was no medical attendant) and the duration of this disease was surprisingly “1 week”.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Jane McLennan (widow of Kenneth McLennan, crofter) died 26 March 1883 Agneshill age 88 parents James Matheson crofter (d) Elizabeth Matheson ms McDonald (d) informant John Maclennan son (present)

At 88, Jane had achieved a good age. Now, from the 1881 Census Return set out above, her grandson, young Kenneth McLennan, can be seen to have had learning difficulties, and he died in 1886. The informant at the Registrar’s was his uncle, Hugh McLennan and I think the reason may have been that father John McLennan was himself seriously ill. I have a note from the Parochial Records for 2 March 1886 which states “Case of John MacLennan Agneshill As he is at present confined by illness and in…” – I was actually recording the case adjacent to his, and did not take a full record of what the problem was with John. However, it must have been serious as he died three years later:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
John McLennan crofter (married to Christina Jack) died 16 March 1889 at Agneshill age 52 parents Kenneth McLennan crofter (d) Jane McLennan ms Matheson (d) informant Hugh McLennan brother-in-law (not present) Agneshill

Like his son Kenneth’s death in 1886, the cause of death is given as “not known”, there being no medical attendant. Agneshill must have been a little remote for regular medical attendance.

Christina took over as farmer, and life must have been tough for a widow with several young children trying to look after a sizeable croft. She had relatives nearby, of course, but even so it must have been a struggle.

1891 Census Return, parish of Resolis – Agneshill, house with four rooms with one or more windows
Wdo. Christina McLennan head widow 41 farmer, born Urquhart, speaks GE
Margaret McLennan daughter 14 farmer’s daughter born Resolis speaks GE / Jane McLennan daughter 12 scholar born Resolis / Annie McLennan daughter 11 scholar born Resolis / Alex M. McLennan son 9 scholar born Resolis / John McLennan son 6 scholar born Resolis
Alexander Davidson servant single 50 farm servant born Avoch

The Valuation Roll for 1895 show “Christy Jack or Maclennan farmer” tenanting land of yearly rent or value of £10.3.0, and her brother-in-law Hugh McLennan with land of nearly equivalent yearly rent or value of £10.2.6 .

As the children grew older, they could help on the farm. The girls, however, soon went away to service. I shall just briefly summarise the lives of the children in due course, as we are nearing more modern times into which these stories do not usually intrude. To jump to the last census in which widow Christina appears:

1911 Census Return, parish of Resolis – Agneshill, house with three rooms with one or more windows
Christina McLennan head widow 63 farmer, born Urquhart, speaks G&E duration of marriage 36 years children born alive 6 children still living 5
Alexander McLennan son single 29 agricultural servant speaks E born Resolis / John McLennan son single 25 shepherd speaks E born Resolis / Ann McLennan daughter single 30 speaks E born Resolis
Maggie Ann Reid grandchild 4 born Inverness shire, Kirkhill

It was around this time that the Inland Revenue initiated their survey of property in Scotland. This survey, carried out in the early 19-teens, has proven incredibly useful in locating families because it links families to numbers on a geographical plan. In this case, the data show that the land at Agneshill was still owned by the Newhall Estate, despite much of the estate being sold just after the First World War. House and steadings were thatched.

Inland Revenue Survey, entry number 174
Property: Agnes Hill. / house and croft 75 acres Owner: JA Shaw Mackenzie of Newhall
Tenant/occupier: Jack or McLennan, Chris.
House materials: assume stone Roof material: thatch House description: kitchen, room, closet
Agricultural buildings: thatch: steading

McLennan_Agneshill_IR_plan_20201015_4524_Ellipsed.jpg
the area bounded by red and given the number of 174 is the croft of the McLennan family in Agneshill: photo by Jim Mackay

The croft itself had now grown to 75 acres, with many of the small holdings seen on the Braelangwell Estate plan from a century before, in 1812, amalgamated. On the 1911 Census returns, only a few families are recorded at Agneshill where once, you may remember, there were enough to form a District in the enumeration lists. The Inland Revenue plan shows that the croft lay on the south side of the Allt Dubhach, well into what was once moorland. The crofthouse and buildings lay at the east end of the holding, inside the pink ellipse, and a couple of older steadings within the modern farm area can be seen at the west end and in the north, within blue ellipses. The holding numbered 173 immediately to the east was occupied by Free Church Elder Roderick Mackenzie, who died in 1906 and is buried in Cullicudden.

McLennan_Agneshill_WesternCroft_area_seen_on_N_side_of_path_wide_20220727_6811.jpg
the farmstead area of the McLennan family surrounded by trees in Agneshill: photo by Jim Mackay

The area of the farmstead is so overgrown that you do not appreciate how extensive the buildings were until you scramble through the remains.

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one corner of a building on the McLennan farmstead still stands: photo by Jim Mackay

Although I have not set out the story of Free Church Elder and crofter Roderick Mackenzie here, the ruins of his farmstead are the most visible ones to those walking in from the path by Agneshill. I include them for interest:

McLennan_Agneshill_Eastern_croft_Agneshill_Rod_Mackenzie_wide_20220727_6773.jpg
ruin of Roderick Mackenzie’s farmstead; photo by Jim Mackay

McLennan_Agneshill_Eastern_croft_Agneshill_Rod_Mackenzie_outbuilding_wide_20220727_6784.jpg
an outbuilding on the farmstead of Roderick Mackenzie; photo by Jim Mackay

Out of curiosity, in 2022, I searched out the location of one of those farmsteads that had been abandoned long before the Forestry Commission came on the scene, the lower location marked by a blue ellipse on the plan above, and shown on the photograph below by a yellow ellipse. This was included within the land farmed by John McLennan and Christy Jack.

McLennan_Agneshill_MostWesterlySmallBldgs_location_20220727_6828_marked_up.jpg
the yellow ellipse is where the remains may be found; the arrow bottom left is the footpath to Agneshill; the arrow pointing downwards to the right is the forestry track leading to Brae Farm; the arrow upwards is the forestry track leading to the Military Road over the Black Isle: photo by Jim Mackay

Underneath the grass, heather and moss, wallbases can still be made out. I think most of the old buildings within the forestry could still be traced out on the ground. It is pleasing that the Forestry Commission did not plough up and plant the former farmsteads themselves when the open farmland to the south of the Allt Dubhach was put down to plantation forestry.

McLennan_Agneshill_MostWesterlySmallBldgs_20220727_6822_wee.jpg
photo by Jim Mackay

Despite having farmed the croft at Agneshill for many decades, Christina did not die there. Her daughter Annie in 1913 had married Duncan Forbes of Greenleonachs, Parish of Urquhart. Christina joined them and died there later that year.

Parish of Urquhart Deaths
Christina MacLennan widow of John MacLennan crofter died 13 Nov 1913 at Greenleonachs age 67 parents Alexander Jack farmer (d) Margaret Jack ms MacKenzie (d) informant Alexander McLennan son Agneshill Balblair Invergordon

Sons Alexander and John continued to farm Agneshill, but then took up Sunnylea, at the east end of the Cullicudden Straight. Alexander died there in 1925, still a relatively young man, but John lived through to 1947, residing at Bunchrew as a retired farmer. Neither son married, and both are commemorated on the marble family headstone in Kirkmichael.

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photo by Jim Mackay

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photo by Andrew Dowsett

It reads:

M / In / loving memory / of / JOHN MACLENNAN / who died at Agnes Hill, / 16th March, 1889, aged 52. / Also his wife CHRISTINA JACK, / who died 13th. Nov. 1913, aged 65. / Also their sons, KENNETH, / who died 30th March, 1886, aged 10. / ALEXR., / who died 2nd April, 1925, aged 43. / JOHN, / who died 13th March, 1947, aged 60

Whilst the sons did not marry, at least two of the three daughters did.

Margaret, born in 1876, was at home in 1891, but presumably then moved away in service. I know she was alive in 1911, as the census return for her mother says that five of her six children were still alive, and we know the only one who had died was Kenneth. But I simply have not been able to trace Margaret McLennan.

Jane or Jeannie (1879–1977) married, in Resolis in 1904, Kirkhill crofter Roderick Reid (c1878–1950). She had become a domestic servant at Kirkhill. Roderick is buried in St Columba’s Petty.

Annie (1880–1972) married, in Dingwall in 1913, Duncan Forbes (c1882–1923), who farmed at Greenleonachs, parish of Urquhart. He died early of TB. I don’t usually mention later generations, but there is a special case here. Their son-in-law, the late Allan John Michael, carved for the Kirkmichael Trust a wooden representation of our “Kirkmichael Cross” logo which we have used at many public events

McLennan_Agneshill_Trust_wooden_carving_Resolis_Hall_wee_alt.jpg
photo by Andrew Dowsett

McLennan_Agneshill_Carved_Wooden_Logo_20220812_6880.jpg
photo by Jim Mackay

 

The Other Memorial in Kirkmichael

Returning to the first McLennan family in Agneshill, John McLennan and Mary Gordon, we have followed their son, Kenneth McLennan, who continued crofting at Agneshill. But there was a daughter residing there at least some of the time as well, Elizabeth or Eppy. We have seen her in Agneshill in the 1841 Census with Widow Kenneth McLennan, Mary Gordon:

1841 Census Return, Parish of Resolis – Agneshill
Widow McLennan 60
Elizabeth McLennan 30

I have been unable to discover much about the subsequent life of young Elizabeth McLennan, and the only other record I have found of her has been at her death:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Eppy McLennan pauper formerly outdoor labourer (single) died 9 December 1878 at Agneshill age 70 parents John McLennan crofter (d) Mary McLennan ms Gordon (d) informant Hugh McLennan niece’s husband (present)

From her age as given here she must have been born about 1808. Although she is given as a pauper, I cannot seem to find her in the Resolis Parochial Records, and I wonder if she was claiming relief from another parish, say Contin, where she was born.

As a pauper, you would not expect her to have a memorial at all, but in fact I believe she is commemorated by a small but distinctive headstone in Kirkmichael.

McLennan_Agneshill_stones_wide_20220728_6829.jpg
photo by Jim Mackay

There are few headstones to the north side of the church buildings in Kirkmichael, this side of Highland kirks always being an unpopular choice. And hence I am minded to think that the small headstone close to the McLennan family headstone there commemorates Eppy. It reads E : M and then what looks like a small c above an L. We tried reading it with light from many different angles under a black tarpaulin, a very reliable technique. It cannot be definitive but it is, I think, quite likely to be a memorial to Elizabeth McLennan.

McLennan_Agneshill_oblique_lighting_letter.jpg
photos by Andrew Dowsett and Jim Mackay

 

The McLennan Croft on the North Side of the Allt Dubhach, and Kennuck the Deer

We have mentioned that the second generation of McLennans in Agneshill, Kenneth McLennan and Jane Matheson, had two children, a boy and a girl. The boy, John McLennan, married Christina Jack and they continued to farm the croft at Agneshill. The girl, Elizabeth or Betsy McLennan (1832–1919), married in 1870 Braelangwell gamekeeper Hugh McLennan (1818–1907) as his second wife. Their only son, Kenneth Donald, became the well-known local character called Kennuck the Deer.

Hugh and Elizabeth moved from the Braelangwell gamekeeper’s lodge to take up a croft at Agneshill themselves, but on the north side of the Allt Dubhach. The croft was described thus in the Inland Revenue survey of the early 19teens:

Inland Revenue Survey, entry number 171
Property: Agnes Hill. / house and croft 25 acres Owner: JA Shaw Mackenzie of Newhall
Tenant/occupier: Maclennan, Hugh
House materials: assume stone Roof material: thatch
House description: kitchen, room, closet House condition: poor
Agricultural buildings: stone, wood: steading thatch: cartshed poor

I have drawn a red ellipse around the farmstead of Hugh McLennnan on the second edition OS eight inches to one mile map of the area. An identical ellipse over the exact overlay of a modern aerial photograph shows that the buildings have now disappeared. I have coloured in blue the Allt Dubhach and coloured in grey the Agneshill footpath. Back in the late 1800s I note (see within the yellow ellipse) there were both a footbridge (“F.B.”) and a ford across the burn.

McLennan_Agneshill_Hugh_McLennan_farmstead.jpg

Hugh himself was an incomer to the parish, having been born in Milltown of Redcastle in the Parish of Killearnan. He had become the gamekeeper in Braelangwell by at least 1851, and continued there until he took up the croft at Agneshill between 1873 and 1875. The couple had son Kenneth Donald, who himself became a gamekeeper, and two daughters.

Again, it is too recent to go into detail, but in summary:

1. Ann Jane (Annie J.) (1873–1935) went into service. She can be seen as a kitchenmaid in a large household in Largs in 1891 and then in London. Whilst in London, she married, in 1911, Francis Kenny, an Irish agricultural labourer and gardener. Following her husband’s death many years later, she came back north, to the Parish of Urquhart, where she died at Bogbuie, Duncanston, in 1935.

2. Kenneth Donald (1875–1954) did not marry. He became a gamekeeper and crofter at Agneshill, and as “Kennuck the Deer” his exploits were locally celebrated.

3. Isabella (Bella) Elizabeth (1876–1941) was also in service, as a housekeeper. She married in Dingwall in 1913 carpenter Kenneth Munro (c1861–1926) from Duncanston in the Parish of Urquhart. Kenneth died relatively young from TB, but she continued to reside in their home at Beehive Cottage, Duncanston, until her death.

Kennuck the Deer (1875–1954)

Several of these stories have been told before. One that everybody knew was when he fell out with the postman. As usual, Kennuck devised a plan for retaliation. His house was at the top of a very long, steep upward slog, starting at the bridge beside the Free Church Manse, up past Springfield and up onto the plateau at Agneshill. It is a challenge for a keen cyclist with modern gearing on his bike. What did Kennuck do but order a daily newspaper by post. The poor postman had to cycle up the brae to Kennuck’s house in Agneshill every day. And to add insult to injury, one day when the postie peered in through the letterbox he saw a pile of unopened rolls of newspapers just lying in the corner. Kennuck wasn’t even reading them!

While he was living up in Agneshill as a gamekeeper, Kennuck was asked to put down an old horse. He was taking his time getting around to it. One day as he was coming down the hill with a paying customer, he suddenly turned around and shot the horse – as if it had just occurred to him. He continued on his way to the astonishment of the visitor, who, of course, would not have known that Kennuck had been requested to end the poor horse’s life.

It didn’t always go the way of Kennuck the Deer, though. He was proud of his beautiful waxed moustaches. Alistair Matheson, Wester Bog of Cullicudden, told me of one story he heard. During one drunken episode when all the usual worthies were present, and Kennuck was deep in sleep, some miscreant cut half the moustache off. When he realised, Kennuck was greatly wroth and for years afterwards was trying to find out who had done the dastardly deed. But despite every effort, the culprit could not be identified. Apparently, at a funeral many years later, long after Kennuck had passed on, one of the fraternity, Captain Paddy (a sea captain) confessed that he had done it. But given the reputation that Kennuck had for wreaking vengeance, it is as well it was not revealed earlier.

Curiously, when Kennuck died at Agneshill in 1954 the informant at the Registrar’s (grand-niece Anne Reid) became confused and gave as his parents John McLennan and Christina Jack, who were in fact his uncle and aunt, and who are commemorated on the granite headstone in Kirkmichael. His real parents were Hugh McLennan and Elizabeth McLennan. Anyone searching for Kennuck’s family origins would have been drawn down the wrong track. I suspect that this would have been one last twist that would have amused Kennuck the Deer.

 

Purchase by the Forestry Commission

Following the First World War, the Forestry Commission was given the mission of vastly increasing afforestation within Britain. The higher ground within the Black Isle, which comprised either woodland or more marginal farming, was one area they soon identified as ideal for their purpose. During the period between the wars, agriculture was severely depressed, with many of the smaller farmers in the area giving up to emigrate or move to the cities. Afforestation moved in. In the 1930s, Agneshill was still owned by Shaw Mackenzie of Newhall, and from the Valuation Rolls the only tenant was Kenneth McLennan. And then much of it, as across the Black Isle, was sold to the Forestry Commission. The press reported:

Dundee Evening Telegraph 18 March 1938
Scottish Forestry Commissioners have purchased, in connection with their afforestation schemes in the Highlands, more than 5000 acres of land in the Black Isle district of Ross-shire. About 300 acres have already been ploughed, and by the end of spring 500 acres will be planted with conifers.

At Agneshill, the old division formed by the Allt Dubhach once again applied, with forestry plantations swallowing up the crofts to the south of the Allt Dubhach, although some of the land to the north of the Allt Dubhach continued to be crofted. Nowadays that land continues to be grazed or cropped.

McLennan_Agneshill_end_of_the_public_road.jpg
Modern day Agneshill, to the north of the Allt Dubhach, with forestry stretching to the south; photo courtesy of G. o’Ogle

Forestry was to provide many new jobs, both at the nurseries established in the area and in planting and managing the new forests. Homes were provided at Mount High for some workers, including several of the last islanders to leave St Kilda. And for that story, you can now read the tale of St Kilda and Kirkmichael here

 


 

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