Alvah and Forglen History

The two inland parishes that form the area served by the Alvah & Forglen Community Council lie along the west bank of the river Deveron from just south of Banff to just north of Turriff. They originally formed a single large parish. Then in the mid 17th century, they were split in two to form the Foreglen and the Backglen, which remained named Alvah.

They are a rich agricultural area that has never known industry – apart from the mills that ground the grain and the occasional illicit still. There were also many smithies, now long gone, that shoed the horses and serviced the farm machinery.

People have lived in this area for millennia. There are ancient burial mounds on the Hill of Alvah and one of those mysterious carved granite balls was found at the farm of Auchenbadie on an artificial mound above the river. There were kist graves and stone circles in both Alvah and Forglen but they were mostly removed when the modern fields were created in the 18th and 19th centuries. People have probably been growing crops and raising animals on these lands beside the river ever since farming first arrived in the area.

The modern parishes are unusual because neither has a working church or a school, a shop, a post office or a public house. The only public buildings now are the two parish halls.

In the past it was very different.

There had been places of worship in Alvah and Forglen for over 1000 years. But both of the “modern” churches, which once held congregations of up to 500 people, are now disused.

The existing church at Forglen was built in 1806, replacing an ancient church dedicated to a Celtic saint. The famous Monymusk Reliquary, a carved bronze box which contained the relics, possibly some of the bones, of St Columba, was kept for many years at Forglen old church. Robert the Bruce summoned it from there to be carried before the army at the battle of Bannockburn, for luck. It is now in the National Museum in Edinburgh.

The kirk at Alvah was originally dedicated to St Colm, possibly Columcille – St Columba – himself. The current kirk was rebuilt in 1792 on the site of an older church and the old bell and belfry, which was dated 1645, were reused.

In Forglen in 1836 there were two schools. The parish school taught boys English, Geography, Mathematics, Latin, Writing and book-keeping and, occasionally, Greek and French. The female school taught girls sewing. There were also one or two schools taught by females where the instruction was “very elementary”.

But despite having to pay, Forglen folk apparently set a high value on education and only one family in the parish was unable to read and write.

In Alvah, there were three parish schools: at Kirkton of Alvah, where the minister was usually the teacher, at Linhead, and over the river Deveron at Dunlugas, which was then part of the parish. There were also a couple of dame schools, teaching scripture and reading to the younger, poorer children.

These have all gradually been closed. Now local children are taken by bus to primary schools in Banff, Turriff or Aberchirder and then they go on to the academies in Banff or Turriff.

There used to be a number of small shops, operated from private dwellings and each parish had a post office. Both of these have now been converted into private houses. The one at Forglen is named “The Last Post”.

There was once an illicit still making whisky at the Mill of Auchenbadie. Forglen had a short-lived legal distillery but never a public house, as the proprietors objected to the idea. Alvah, however, was home to the renowned Mountblairy Arms, which is now derelict.

One thing that really has not changed is the state of the local roads. In 1951, the Alvah schoolmaster complained bitterly that there were many miles of “absolutely shocking road surface in the parish” and the road to the kirk at times resembled the bed of a stream rather than a public thoroughfare. The road leading up the Hill Of Alvah had received no real attention for over 30 years, “apart from a cursory throwing in of chips to the larger pot holes and a smearing of tar” every few years.