Baron Court Book of Delgatie Discovered

Following a busy summer season, the Turriff and District Heritage Museum is now winding down towards the winter and will close its doors at the end of the month, to re-open in May 2020.  Staff and volunteers are looking forward to a busy period cataloguing and conserving a growing collection which relates to the area within a 10-mile radius of the town.

The Clan Hay Centre at Delgatie Castle is situated close by the town and much of the museum's contents relate to the Hay family and the lands they controlled.  Recently, a member of the museum's volunteer staff donated a particularly interesting artefact in a transcription of the Baron Court Book of Delgatie between approximately 1731 until the winding up of the Baron Courts following their abolition in 1747.

The donor is the daughter of the man who looked after the castle when it was owned by the Ainslie family and has fascinating recollections of the estate during the 1930s and '40s, its acquisition by the Countess of Erroll in 1948, and the arrival of Captain Hay of Hayfield in 1950, who would devote the rest of his long life to the castle's preservation.  The transcription of the Court Book is contained in a very ordinary notebook and was made by local farmer Duncan Morrison, it is believed during the 1890s.

The Court sat in Turriff rather than at the castle and it seems likely it met at the Erroll Lodging in the town's High Street, a historically significant building which was shamefully demolished in the 1970s and which stood on the site of the present-day Tesco supermarket.  The feudal superior of the time was the formidable Mary, 14th Countess of Erroll, who succeeded to the title in her own right in 1717 and whose reign lasted until her death in 1758.  The earlier entries refer to Alexander Hay of Delgaty, the Countess's husband.  He was originally Alexander Falconer who conformed to the old custom that men married to a Clan Chief would take their wives' name.  The Countess enfeoffed him in the lands and barony of Delgatie on their marriage and the property reverted to her on his death in 1745.

It paints a fascinating picture of the work of the Baron Court in its declining years.  Like most such courts, it is overwhelmingly concerned with the day-to-day business of Lady Erroll's estate, dealing with matters of rent arrears, boundaries, leases and commercial disputes among tenants and their suppliers.  However there are also interesting glimpses of the population of the time in that the court also dealt with minor offending, matters of debt and other assorted local issues.

The court was presided over by John Henderson, Lady Erroll's Chamberlain of Delgaty, who also functioned as her Baron Baillie.  He was assisted by Sylvester Keith, a lawyer and notary public, George Urquhart, Procurator Fiscal for the court, and John Bagray, the Dempster, or court officer, who would have the job of enforcing the baillie's decisions.

This is just one of the many hundreds of exhibits on display at the local heritage museum, so if you are planning a visit to Delgatie Castle next year in pursuit of your Hay heritage, please make a point of taking in the museum too.