The Legacy of New Pitsligo
Updated: May 16, 2020
To honor his family estate forfeited after the failed 1745 Jacobite Uprising, successful banker Sir William Forbes, 6th Baronet, Monymusk and Pitsligo, (1739–1806), developed New Pitsligo, the largest planned village in northeast Scotland.
The Pitsligo estate was originally granted to Sir William Forbes of Kinaldy, second son of Sir John Forbes of the Black Lip, in the 15th century. His descendent Alexander Forbes (1602 – 1636) was created the first Lord Pitsligo. The 4th and last Lord Pitsligo was Alexander Forbes (1658 – 1762.) He was an active supporter of Prince Charles (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) who was defeated in his battle to regain the British crown for the Stuart family. As a result, the crown seized the Pitsligo Estate and forfeited his title. Lord Pitsligo's only son, the Hon. John Forbes, later bought back the Pitsligo estates. He died in 1781 and the estates passed on to Sir William who was the grandson of John Forbes and Mary Forbes of Pitsligo, sister to Alexander, 4th Lord Pitsligo.
Fatherless and poor at the age of four, Sir William Forbes, 5th Baronet of Monymusk and Pitsligo (1739–1806) worked his way up from a being a bank apprentice and clerk to becoming one of Scotland’s greatest bankers and philanthropists of the 18th century. (See more about Sir William here.)
In 1787, Sir William founded the village of New Pitsligo on the site of the existing hamlet of Cyaak on Turlundie Hill. About 400 villages were built in Scotland at this time and New Pitsligo was the largest planned village in the whole of Scotland when the population reached 2,094 in 1871. The villages were founded during the first wave of the “Highland Clearances” in which hereditary tenants of landlords were evicted. Many landlords developed debts after the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 and shifted land management from traditional farming to sheep grazing.
Sir William offered land at a fixed leases, called “feus.” Each settler, or “Feuar,” received a plot with a street frontage of about fifteen metres and a length of approximately fifty-five metres. The leases extended for nine hundred and ninety-nine years and were renewable at the end of that time. The annual feu rent was five shillings and was waived for the first three years.
The total cost of a house was £30. However, this was just for the bare walls and thatched roof – without flooring or ceiling. Each feuar were allowed to enclose and cultivate open moor ground rent free for nineteen years. This offer was extended for another nineteen years or the person's own life, at a “fair rent.” This was particularly important for cutting peat for fuel.
As attractive as the offer was, Sir William attracted only about 12 feuars in the first nine years. He resorted to advertising the opportunity in the "Aberdeen Journal" in 1797 and 1803, and he distributed over 2,000 handbills throughout the area. These efforts resulted in a total of sixty settlers in the village. By that time, New Pitsligo boasted two churches, a school, and a sewing school for girls.e was £30. However, this was just for the bare walls and thatched roof – without flooring or ceiling. Each feuar were allowed to enclose and cultivate open moor ground rent free for nineteen years. This offer was extended for another nineteen years or the person's own life, at a “fair rent.” This was particularly important for cutting peat for fueel.
As attractive as the offer was, Sir William attracted only about 12 feuars in the first nine years. He advertised in the "Aberdeen Journal" in 1797 and 1803, and he distributed over 2,000 handbills throughout the area. These efforts resulted in a total of sixty settlers in the village. By that time, New Pitsligo boasted two churches, a school, and a sewing school for girls.
The major industries of the village were granite quarrying, peat cutting, and lace making. Five quarries were nearby and many quarriers were employed year-round. Local masons used the granite for building homes, halls, and bridges throughout the region. Many men were also involved in cutting the plentiful peat moss in the area between East of the village and Strichen.
The most famous product of the village was the fine New Pitsligo lace. In 1841, Sir William’s grandson, Sir John Stuart Hepburn-Forbes, 8th Baronet (1804 – 1866) appointed William Webster as Dean of the St. John the Evangelist Church. He discovered two residents who could weave bobbin lacework and encouraged Lady Harriet Forbes to bring lace workers from her Devon estates to coach the New Pitsligo ladies.
Through his promotion, New Pitsligo lace became fashionable throughout the world. Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter the Princess Royal Victoria (later German Empress and Queen of Prussia) wore a gown of the lace at the opening of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851 and Queen Ena of Spain used it in her trousseau.
By 1864, New Pitsligo included 250 feus and 450 lots of land. In 1895, a new Public Hall was formally opened by Lady Jane Trefusis, wife of Charles Trefusis (later Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton.) Robert Gordon Wilson (1844-1931) eminent Scottish church architect was born and raised in New Pitsligo. Today, the village has a population of 1,060 and its own website at http://www.newpitsligo.org. The New Pitsligo Facebook page has over a 1,000 members.
For more information, see the booklet New Pitsligo (Cyaak): A Glimpse into the Past in the Clan Forbes Reference Library, available to Active Members of the Clan Forbes Society.