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

The Peddieston connection: Patrick Fraser and Anne McLeod, Donald Ross and Catherine Fraser, and the Morayshire Brick and Tile Works

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


Kirkmichael is one of the most crowded of the old kirkyards of the Black Isle. In some parts you can’t find a space between the burial slabs. And yet the areas north and east of the kirk buildings hold relatively few gravestones. We have never gotten to the bottom of this. But in consequence the two sandstone headstones tucked in closely beside each other against the east wall of the Lady Ardoch Tomb you would assume belonged to the same family. Stones placed together like that usually share a connection.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

At first reading, the inscriptions provide little to go on. The stone on the right is an attractively designed memorial, with a lovely stone flower at the head. The inscription runs:

This stone is plesed / here by HECTOR ROSS / in memory of his / mother CATHRINE / FRASER who departed / this life May 1st 1819 / Also his father DON / ROSS he departed this / life 6th October 1835

That shows the limitations of the standard way of recording inscriptions. It might be better represented thus:

THIS • LIFE • MAY • 1ST • 1819
[LIFE] • 6TH • OCTOBER • 1835

photo by Jim Mackay

This first inscription at least gives clues to track down the family, and the couple emerge finally with confirmation as agricultural labourer Donald Ross and Catherine Fraser. They lived at Peddieston, Cromarty, married in 1779 and in 1796 had Hector, he who erected the headstone. They had five children in all, two of whom moved to Elgin.

The second inscription is more challenging. It has to be seen to be appreciated. It reads more like a wobbly chemical formula:

P + f + A MCCLD

photo by Andrew Dowsett

The “+” is often used on our stones as a simple tie between two initials or as a link between husband and wife. Sometimes, though, it just signifies there is text missing – just a couple of yards away you can see an example of this:

example of a “+” used to indicate missing text; photo by Jim Mackay

So with “ P + f + A MCCLD” the P and the f (despite at least the latter being lower case) probably represented simply the first and second names of the husband of “A MCCLD”. That would be the simplest and most rational solution of this curious lay-out. I imagine that the lady died first, and the well-cut A MCCLD was carved on the right hand side as usual, but the carver didn’t leave much space on the left. When the husband died, another carver put in P+ f+ as the best he could do in the limited space allowed to him. So we are looking for an A MCCLD (almost certainly an Anne McLeod) and a gentleman with the uncommon combination of initials P and F.

And rather surprisingly there was a family in the area which fits these criteria – and again the location was Peddieston! There is only one record, and that a baptism. Despite living in the parish of Cromarty, the baptism is registered in the united parish of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, commonly known as Resolis, so a local connection is established:

Baptisms Parish of Resolis
10 July 1772 Patrick Fraser servant in Peddistown & Ann McLeod – Hector

There were very few Patrick or Peter (they are equivalent) Frasers or Hector Frasers around in the Black Isle and Easter Ross in this period so it may be possible to track the family further. For instance, I see a Tarbat wright named Hector Fraser marrying a Fearn Janet Ross in 1803 and having children in the parishes of Tarbat, Resolis and Nigg thereafter. Their first recorded son was called … Peter. And their second recorded daughter was called … Ann. Both are in strict accordance with the Scottish family naming pattern, if this Hector’s parents were indeed Peter Fraser and Ann McLeod, so it is all very suggestive. But we simply cannot say for sure if this is the Hector born in Peddieston in 1772. Similarities may just be sheer coincidence. So for now, we will have to leave that inscription.

Peddieston of course is in a different parish to Kirkmichael, but it is surprising how many families who lived and worked on the farms and mills to the west of Cromarty like Udale, Ardeville, Farness and Peddieston are buried in Kirkmichael. The tacksmen have their tablestones (Here lys the / body of GEORGE / THOMSON some / time tacksman / in Peddieston) and the less affluent had their markers (Erected / in loving / memory of our parents / ROBERT and JANET MORRISON / who died at Shore / Mills, Cromarty) but it sheds a revealing light on burial practice in the area.

Returning to the “This stone is plesed / here by HECTOR ROSS / in memory of his / mother CATHRINE / FRASER who departed / this life May 1st 1819 / Also his father DON / ROSS he departed this / life 6th October 1835” headstone, we have always been intrigued by the variable “S”s on this inscription. There are three variants displayed here: the upright conventional letter, a forward sloping letter and a reversed letter! On the first line we have three uprights and one reversed (in the unusual spelling of “PLESED”). On the second and third lines we have another three reversed “S”s. On the fifth line, for “FRASER” we have a conventional upright, but on the next two lines we have two forward sloping versions then a reversion to the upright. I think the dedication to Hector’s father was carved at the same time despite his parents dying in 1819 and 1835 respectively. But why was the mason so variable in his treatment of the “S”?

the three styles of “S” used by the stone carver on the Ross of Peddieston headstone

Putting carving idiosyncracies to one side, is there a family locally which can be fitted to the inscription? There most certainly is. Here are the marriage and baptism records for the appropriate family in Cromarty:

Cromarty Marriage Register
Contracted and Married within the Limited Time … 1779 … May 24th. Donald Ross and Katharine Fraser

Cromarty Baptism Register
1780 … April 3d. Janet LD to Donald Ross & Katharine Fraser in Davistown
1782 … August 30 Angus L.S. to Donald Ross & Kat: Fraser Davidstown
1786 … John LS to Donald Ross & Katharine Fraser in Peddistown
Ann Lawful Daugt. to Donald Ross & Ketteren Fraser in Pedstoun was Baptized the 9 Septr. 1788
1796 … June 16th. Donald Ross Labourer at Peddistown had by his spouse Catharine Fraser a child baptised named Hector

It is a good fit with the headstone, but again it could just be coincidence. There were plenty of folk around called Donald Ross and Katharine Fraser, after all! But fortunately we have a clinching piece of information. A record of deaths and burials for Cromarty has survived for a period including that within which Donald died. So it was with great pleasure that the following was found:

Cromarty Burials Register
1835 … Oct. 6 Dond. Ross (Peddiston) buried in Resolis

The headstone reads: “Also his father DON / ROSS he departed this / life 6th October 1835”. Well, you couldn’t ask for anything better in terms of confirmation. The Peddieston area was once well populated. When Cromarty School and Peddieston School were erected over 1875 and 1876 under the Education Act, Cromarty was designed for 300 pupils but rural Peddieston for 120. Peddieston School is now a private residence, Peddieston House.

the marvellous vista experienced as you come down from Peddieston to Farness; image courtesy of G. O’Ogle

With the family firmly identified, we are thus on safe grounds to explore their descendants a little. The five children were Janet (1780), Angus (1782), John (1786), Ann (1788) and Hector (1796). I have been unable to make any headway with Janet, John and Ann Ross. However, I was more successful with Angus and Hector Ross.


Angus Ross (1782–1864)

Angus was the eldest brother and settled in Morayshire. He is variously described as an agricultural labourer or road worker, although he ended his days as a pauper. His son Hector does not seem to have been short of cash, so it seems strange that his father was a registered pauper.

Angus married a Janet Robertson, from Auldearn. I have not located the marriage record but it must have been about 1812. They had children Isabella (1813), Janet (1816), Ann (1820), Margaret (1826) and Hector (1830). The parish of birth in each case was New Spynie, that part of Elgin in which Bishopmill is located.

The family can be seen at various addresses in Bishopmill in 1841 (Front Street), 1851 (Bridge Street) and 1861 (West High Street). The couple both died in the 1860s, each having achieved a respectable age.

Elgin deaths
Angus Ross pauper formerly a labourer (married to Janet Robertson) died 25 February 1864 at 6 West High St., Bishopmill, Elgin age 81 parents Donald Ross labourer (d) Catherine Ross ms Fraser (d) informant Hector Ross son 14 West Back Street Bishopmill (present)

Janet died just a couple of years later, and, surprisingly for the time, her death was reported in the press; very unusual for the widow of a labourer. I presume son Hector would have been responsible for the announcement.

Elgin Courier 8 June 1866
At 12 West Back Street, Bishopmill, on the 3d inst, JANET ROSS, widow of Mr Angus Ross, labourer, aged 80 years.

The family are commemorated on a gravestone in Spynie kirkyard, Elgin.

I shall not follow the children in detail, but son Hector is of interest. He became a tilemaker with the famous Morayshire Brick and Tile Works. They had a sizeable works at Lochside at Elgin, and their tiles helped to drain much farmland in the North of Scotland. For the history of the site, see this page on the wonderful “Scottish Brick History” brick and tile heritage website (motto: “I get my kicks out of bricks!”). I note that this website was a “Heritage Angels” winner, an accolade which the Kirkmichael Project has also achieved.

The works outside Elgin, with its kilns, chimneys, great excavations where suitable clay had been extracted. The Spynie Canal takes a dogleg around the site. Source: Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile mapping, surveyed 1870

An advertisement from the Elgin Courant and Morayshire Advertiser of 30 January 1863 to find contractors to infill the spent excavations. At least one tragic drowning accident occurred involving those clay pits.

I don’t know quite what his role at the Works was, but Hector seems to have been financially sound. The births of Hector’s children were announced in the local press and he owned several small properties in Elgin and let them out. Unfortunately, his son-in-law proved to be rather a liability. The marriage was announced in the press:

Northern Scot and Moray & Nairn Express 20 December 1884
At 6, West Back Street, Bishopmill, Elgin, on the 18th inst., by the Rev. Adam Lind, D.D., Moss Street, U.P. Church, George Russell, carpenter, to Jessie, only surviving daughter of Hector Ross, tilemaker, &c., Morayshire Tileworks.

Russell appears again in the press just a few years later in a more ignominious role – as a bankrupt baker! A wee bit of the testimony at the debtors’ court will tell the story:

Aberdeen Press and Journal 1 March 1889
Bankruptcy of an Elgin Baker
In the Elgin Bankruptcy Court yesterday – before Sheriff Rampini – George A. Russell, baker, Bishopmill, Elgin, was examined in an application for cession at the instance of A.R. Gray, flour merchant, Aberdeen. … He had no experience in the grocery business before that. He was a carpenter previously. He continued his carpentry business along with his grocery business until he started the baking. He had no previous experience in the baking business. … The van he used in the trade did not belong to him, but to his father in law, Hector Ross. All the bake-house tools and shop-fittings also belonged to Ross. The shop and house also belonged to him. He paid £50 rent for all these subjects. Ross gave him money to buy these articles when he commenced business as a baker. He thought it was over £30 he got. He paid Mr Ross £5 a year as a rental for the van and other things. Hector Ross had been helping him all along in the business, but he had not represented that to any of his creditors. They all knew that the van and utensils were not his own. The witness’s name was on the van. For the van, horse, biscuit machine, two baking tables, trough, horse harness, &c., he paid £36 odds, and he got all that money from his father-in-law. He was married four years ago, and at that time Hector Ross was a tilemaker, but he now kept cows. … Hector Ross had spent about £100 on his account. …

Hector had clearly wanted his son-in-law to do well, but had protected himself by keeping ownership of everything. He had to move fast later in the year as one of the creditors sought to sell all the kit, and he had to get a court interdict to prevent the sale. I see from Hector’s will that despite his failure in the baking business, he wanted to make his son-in-law one of his executors, but as the son-in-law was intending to go abroad, an alternative was put in place.

You’ll note from the newspaper account that when his daughter Jessie married Russell, “at that time Hector Ross was a tilemaker, but he now kept cows.” It was in 1885 that the Morayshire Brick and Tile Works was sold, and I imagine that that was the reason why Hector’s tilemaking days came to an end. It wasn’t the end of the Brick and Tile Works, of course, which was picked up by James Christie & Son and run successfully for many years thereafter.

The company seeking to branch out from bricks and tiles as advertised in the Elgin Courier of 11 March 1859

Advertisement for the sale of the works in 1885 from the Northern Scot and Moray & Nairn Express of 26 December 1885

So Hector retired from tile-making to keep cows. And, indeed, he is recorded as a crofter on his death certificate:

Elgin deaths
Hector Ross crofter married to 1st Jane Morrison 2nd Janet Maclean died 28 Dec 1908 at 6 West Back Street, Bishopmill, Elgin age 78 parents Angus Ross labourer (d) Janet Ross ms Robertson (d) informant Thomas Maclean nephew by marriage Grant Street Elgin


Hector Ross (1796–1882)

Hector the tilemaker of course would have been named after the young brother of Angus Ross, Hector, he who had erected the headstone to their parents back in Kirkmichael, and therefore is the key to this story. Born in Peddieston in 1796, he was the last child born to Donald Ross and Katharine Fraser.

Hector never married. He became an agricultural labourer and moved to Morayshire, like his elder brother Angus, but in Hector’s case he worked on a farm, or farms, near Forres. The locations are given as “Teary Farm” (1851), “Little Tearie” (1861) and “Tearie East” (1871). The farm called “Little Tearie” lies just to the south of Brodie Castle, the others are very close by. On his retirement, he moved east into Elgin to reside very close to his brother’s family. He lived to the good age of 85, and it was his nephew Hector who informed the registrar.

Little Tearie on the Muckle Burn, just south of Brodie Castle, near Forres. Source: Source: Ordnance Survey six inch to the mile mapping, surveyed 1868–1870

Elgin deaths
Hector Ross farm-servant (single) died 14 August 1882 at 27 West Back Street, Bishopmill, Elgin age 85 parents Donald Ross farm servant (d) Catherine Ross ms Fraser (d) informant Hector Ross nephew 6 West Back Street Bishopmill

I presume that Hector too, like his brother’s family, is buried in Spynie kirkyard. It is a long way from Peddieston where he had been born and Kirkmichael where his parents were laid to rest. But it is curious that the two brothers were both drawn to Moray.


Appendix: The link between the two Peddieston stones

photo by Andrew Dowsett

It seems likely that the families represented by the two adjacent headstones on the east wall of the Lady Ardoch Tomb were related. The most obvious connection is through the name of Fraser. One commemorates Patrick Fraser and Anne McLeod, and the other, Donald Ross and Catherine Fraser. Can we push these families back a generation to see if these Frasers were related?

I have seen one “family tree” on the web which gives as a proven fact that Catherine Fraser’s parents were Resolis couple William Fraser, ferryman in Easter Balblair, and Isobel Gollan, who had a daughter baptised named Catherine in Resolis in 1751. This is the usual nonsense you find on the web, where someone with the right name in the right period is appropriated without any substantiating evidence whatsoever. In fact, the evidence in this case points the other way. Following Scottish naming patterns, the first daughter is given the name of the wife’s mother, and the second son is given the name of the wife’s father. So you would expect, from the names of the children born to Donald Ross and Catherine Fraser of Peddieston (Janet, Angus, John, Ann, Hector), that Catherine’s parents would be named John and Janet Fraser not William and Isobel Fraser. So we need to cast the net wider.

Let us know if you have any information which can assist!


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