Thursday 11 September 2014

Francis Sandison (1839 - 1901), Alexander Sandison (1875 - 1926) and the Huntly Arms Hotel, Aboyne

The most imposing building in the centre of the Aberdeenshire village of Aboyne is the Huntly Arms Hotel, built out of local granite in several phases mostly during the 19th century.  During the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries this building also dominated the commercial, social and political life of the village and much of its development and prominence was due to two landlords, father and son, Francis and Alexander Sandison.  In spite of hailing from generations of sheep farmers and enjoying only a local education, Francis Sandison proved to be a natural entrepreneur who seized his chance when it came.  Alexander Sandison picked up the baton on the death of Francis and proved to be at least as adept and astute as his father had been, eventually becoming the hotel’s proprietor.  The Sandisons were remarkably successful in developing the commercial potential of the hotel but were also stalwarts of village life, as sportsmen, farmers, churchmen and community leaders. 
“Sandison”, “Sanderson”, “Sandeson” and similar variants are derived from the patronymic, “Alexanderson” – son of Alexander.  However, the spelling variants show remarkably different geographical distributions.  In the 1881 Census, “Sanderson” had a predominantly North of England distribution, while “Sandison” was almost exclusively Scottish.  This latter variant had its highest concentration in Shetland, followed by Orkney, Caithness and Banff, tailing off into Moray and Aberdeenshire.

Francis Sandison and Tomnakeist
Francis Sandison was born in 1839, the son of a sheep farmer on the farm of Tomnakeist, east of Ballater in the Parish of Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn.  The farm is located on the north side of the River Dee and behind the farm the land rises in a north westerly direction to the 2,861 ft high mountain, Morven, on the slopes of which the Sandisons ran their sheep.  At the time, they were tenants of the Aboyne branch of the Gordon family and a continuous line of Sandisons went back well over 400 years on the farm.  In 1680 the Gordons had a “Sandison” tenant in the area whose rent was “15 merks, half a wedder, half a lamb, 7 poultry and a half, a capon and a half, one dozen eggs, six feet of peats, two bolls of lime.”
The Sandisons at Tomnakiest seem to have been a particularly long-lived family.  Charles Sandison, who was Francis Sandison’s grandfather, was born at the farm about 1759 and died there in 1861.  His great grandfather and great, great grandfather had a joint age of 170 years and his cousin Alexander Sandison, who was born at the same farm, died in 1843 at the age of 101.  Sadly, the move into the licenced trade may have been detrimental to the longevity of both Francis and Alexander Sandison who died at the relatively young ages of 62 and 51 respectively.
Francis (Francie) Sandison became the tenant at Tomnakiest on the death of his father about 1869.  According to the 11th Marquis of Huntly, who was 22 at the time and had just taken control of the Aboyne estates, Francis had been left in somewhat straightened circumstances.  He explained his position openly to Charles Gordon, Marquis of Huntly, which was appreciated by the landlord and led to a lifelong, cordial friendship.  Indeed, in later years Charles Gordon came to rely on Francis Sandison as a dependable pair of hands who could substitute for him.  Francis proved to be a competent farmer and soon escaped from impoverishment by greatly improving his grazing with surface drains and fencing, to which Lord Huntly contributed and by stocking with Cheviots, a better sheep breed.  At the 1871 Census, Francis Sandison was described as a farmer of 1120 acres of which 67 were arable.  He employed one woman and one boy.  In subsequent years his sheep always commanded high prices when offered for sale at Aboyne and other markets.

The Marriage of Francis Sandison to Mary McHardy
In 1872, at the age of 33, Francis Sandison married Mary Gordon McHardy, the 18-year old daughter of another local farmer.  It appears that Francis had delayed marriage, as often happened at the time, in order to consolidate his financial position.  Charles Gordon tells a fascinating tale about the wedding.  He was out fishing on the Dee at Cambus O’May with his ghillie, Sandy Grant, in the spring of 1872, when they heard what appeared to be gunfire to the north.  He enquired of the ghillie if he had heard the shooting.  “I ken weel what it be”, was the reply, “it is Francie Sandison’s wedding and I wish I were there!”  The opportunity of joining in the conviviality of a “Hielan” wedding was too good to pass by and the two of them left the river and travelled to Tomnakeist.  Guests were firing guns and exploding homemade bombs manufactured from old cartwheel bosses and there was food, drink and dancing to pipers and fiddlers.  All this fun continued to nightfall after which local loons periodically disturbed the couple’s conjugal bliss by firing guns, hammering at the door and singing loudly.

The Huntly Arms, Aboyne  
There has been a coaching inn on the site of the present Huntly Arms since 1432, though the current building appears to have originated in the 18th century.  It was owned until the late 19th century by the Aboyne branch of the Gordons.  Before 1838 the hotel was called the Aboyne Arms, named after the Earls of Aboyne.  In 1836, the most senior member of the Gordon Clan was the 5th Duke of Gordon, also the 8th Marquis of Huntly.  He had no direct male heir and the title of Marquis of Huntly passed to his relative, the 5th Earl of Aboyne, whose accession to the marquisate was acknowledged by the House of Lords in 1838.  This stimulated a change of name for the hotel to the “Huntly Arms”.

Charles Cook and the Huntly Arms  
Before the coming of the railway to Aberdeen in 1850, the 9th Marquis of Huntly was a frequent user of the “Defiance” stage coach between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, as a result of which he got to know Charles Cook, one of the chief whips.  George Gordon, the 9th Marquis must have been impressed by Cook because in 1848 he appointed him as landlord of the Huntly Arms, a sensible move, since the hotel in Aboyne had large stables and derived much of its business from commercial and tourist traffic arriving and leaving by coach.  Cook proved to be a competent landlord and very adept at spotting opportunities to extend the Hotel’s coaching business.  Charles Cook also seems to have been the person who changed the name of the establishment from “Inn” to “Hotel”.  In 1853 the Deeside Railway reached Banchory and in 1859 it was extended to Aboyne, attaining its final terminus at Ballater in 1866.  During the period when Aboyne was the terminus, Queen Victoria and her party would travel by coach from the railway station behind the Huntly Arms onwards to Balmoral.  The 10th Marquis of Huntly would walk down from Aboyne Castle to the station to greet the royal party while everyone was settling in their coaches drawn up in front of the hotel.  Charles Cook was in charge of the posting arrangements for the royal party and practised walking backwards so as to remain respectfully facing the Monarch.  On one occasion he tripped and fell and, in this instance, Queen Victoria was amused!
Charles Cook was landlord of the Huntly Arms from 1848 to 1868, when he retired due to ill-health, dying shortly afterwards.  This was a period of substantial growth for Scottish tourism, since Highland dress and culture had become modish.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited Balmoral, a few miles west of Aboyne, in 1848.   They fell in love with the place, bought the estate and built a new castle, which was finished in 1856.  In 1859 the Deeside Railway reached Aboyne and in 1867 the Aboyne Highland Games were inaugurated.  Many wealthy tourists arrived to stay at the Huntly Arms while fishing the Dee for salmon.  Also, some well-to-do Aberdonians spent the summer in lodgings in Aboyne.  As the coaching business declined for Charles Cook, so the hotel trade increased and in 1860 substantial alterations and additions were made to the hotel.  Charles Cook also leased the Haugh Farm and Dee salmon fishings from the Marquis of Huntly and in 1860 he also gained a licence for the Refreshment Rooms at Aboyne station.

William Johnstone and the Huntly Arms
In 1868, the 11th Marquis of Huntly reached his majority and took control of the family estates.  He was thus rather young, inexperienced and in trepidation at the responsibilities which had been thrust upon his shoulders.  One of his simpler tasks was to find a replacement for Charles Cook as landlord of the Huntly Arms.  At this stage the hotel consisted of 2 public rooms, taprooms, 5 parlours, 20 bedrooms, kitchen, servants’ accommodation and posting accommodation.  In the short term the management of the hotel was in the hands of Charles Cook’s widow and his 2 sons, Charles junior and Thomas.  The hotel was advertised as being available for let from Whitsunday 1871, but no new landlord was found.  It was advertised again from Whitsunday 1872 and on this latter date William Johnstone became the lessee.  Prior to Johnstone taking up his lease, the Cooks held a displenish sale, the items relating to posting and coaching giving a good idea of the scale of the operation at the hotel, namely, 25 useful horses, single and double harness, riding saddles, one omnibus to carry 14, one stage coach to carry 20, one open carriage, three barouches, one wagonette, one large brake, one 4-wheeled dog cart, one 2-wheeled dog cart, one spring cart and a large omnibus to carry 40.  
A welcome dinner for William Johnstone was held at the hotel, which was attended by the movers and shakers of Aboyne and chaired by William Milne, Factor to the Marquis of Huntly.  The band of the Aboyne Highland Volunteers in their neat Highland garb played outside the hotel.  Mr Cameron, the Marquis’ piper entered and played after each toast.  The dining room was decorated by Mr Hurry, the Marquis’ gardener and colleagues and Francis Sandison proposed a toast to the Marquis and Marchioness.   Sadly, this promising start was not sustained.  According to Charles Gordon, the choice of Johnstone as landlord was a mistake.  Although he was a well-meaning man, he was always at loggerheads with his staff and this had unfortunate consequences when two of the Marquis’ cousins were guests at the Huntly Arms and held a dinner party.  The soup was late in arriving and had an unsavoury smell.  The Marquis’ cousin said “I don’t know what this soup is composed of but it appears to be flavoured with mice.  Will anyone have some?”  No one had the soup.  It appears that Johnstone had been upbraiding his cook and she, being resentful of her treatment, took revenge on the hapless Johnstone by throwing a dead mouse into the soup.  This incident probably sealed his fate and he was gone within three years of starting.

William Barclay and the Huntly Arms
The next landlord, from Whitsuntide 1875, was William Barclay who, for 17 years, had been the tenant of the Gordon Arms at neighbouring Kincardine O’Neil.  Some renovation and repairs were carried out immediately, which resulted in the development of a Commercial Room, for the exclusive use of “Commercial Gentlemen” and the laying out of the Pleasure Grounds to the south of the hotel “furnished with Arbours, Couches and every other provision for the ease and enjoyment of visitors”.  As was the tradition on Deeside, the new lessee of the hotel was entertained at a welcome dinner in July 1875, which was held in the Masonic Hall due to the ongoing work at the hotel.  A pleasant evening of toasts and song was much enjoyed.  Sadly for William Barclay, like his predecessor, he did not last long.  Although in his autobiography “Milestones” the Marquis of Huntly did not say anything on the negative side about Barclay, equally he did not say anything positive in his support “he soon gave it up”.  However, the Marquis did not clearly remember the events, since he reversed the order of Barclay’s and Johnstone’s residencies in his account.

Francis Sandison becomes the landlord of the Huntly Arms   
May 1879 saw yet another displenish sale at the Huntly Arms as William Barclay prepared to leave.  The Marquis of Huntly’s thoughts then turned to Francis Sandison for the tenancy of the hotel “as I had in several ways become aware of his ability, shrewdness, and straightforwardness.”  By the Marquis’ own assessment Francis Sandison was an instant success in his new role and never looked back.
At the age of 40 and a sheep farmer, albeit a successful one, Francis Sandison embarked on a new career.  But what was particularly remarkable was the fact that, not only did he keep on the tenancy of his ancestral farm, Tomnakeist, in addition to the tenancy of the Huntly Arms, he also took on the tenancy of the Haugh Farm, the Boat (later Bridgend) hotel (both Aboyne), the public house at Aboyne station and he leased substantial fishings on the Dee from the Marquis of Huntly.  By 1894 he was also leasing the Upper Dess waters from Mr Davidson.  Francis Sandison was smart enough to know that he could not be in several places at once and he used a strategy of entrusting different ventures under his control to relatives and employees.  His wife, Mary took control of the kitchen, his sons worked on the farm and in the hotels, his friend William Anderson, an experienced businessman in his own right, was grieve at the hotel farm and his brother-in-law James McHardy became licensee of the Boat Hotel.  In 1884 Mrs Sandison became the lessee of the farm at Aboyne mill.
It was not long before Francis Sandison started to receive plaudits in press reports for the quality of his food, organisation and service.  In August 1879 Aberdeen City Council paid a visit to their water works at Invercannie and afterwards dined at the Huntly Arms “by Mr Sandison in first class style”.  Similarly, in September 1880, the Aboyne Highland Games Committee met at the Huntly Arms and afterwards “sat down to an excellent dinner purveyed in Mr Sandison’s best style.”  Similar descriptions appeared consistently throughout his tenure and in 1893, the local newspaper described a meeting as being held in “Sandison’s Hotel, Aboyne”, such was the strength of the association between Francis Sandison and the Huntly Arms.  Other evidence of his growing status could be seen in repeat business.  In 1879, when William Cunliffe Brooks remarried, Francis Sandison was entrusted with the catering and subsequently was engaged by WCB on a regular basis to serve meals for the large annual gatherings of the Deeside Habitation of the Primrose League, which were usually held at his home in Glentanar.  The local newspaper report on the 1888 meeting of the  League recorded an amusing encounter between a self-important young attendee and Francis Sandison, who was clearly under pressure to cater for the 300 guests.  Sandison had introduced what would today be called a “standing buffet” in a marquee, in order to feed all the attendees.  There were four large tables for the food but no seats.  “One young leaguer not seeing the force of the arrangement asked for a seat, when “mine host” of the Huntly Arms brusquely reminded him that a “standing sack filled best,” and that it might be to his advantage to try the experiment on the present occasion else he could “gang teem””!

The Hotel business expands
Previous landlords at the Huntly Arms had derived significant business from posting and staging but that began to decline once the railway was extended beyond Aboyne to Ballater in 1866.  However, Francis Sandison proved to be adept at seeking out new business uses for the hotel and its facilities.  Many organisations began to dine at the hotel at the close of a meeting and some of those organisations also held their meetings within the hotel.  These included the Presbytery of Kincardine O’Neil (but not the Free Presbytery which was staunchly teetotal), the Deeside District Committee of Aberdeen County Council (after its genesis in 1890), Aboyne Freemason Lodge 281, Aboyne Town Council, Aboyne Curling Club, Aboyne Highland Games Committee and Aboyne Flower Show Judges.  Organisations from Aberdeen, such as the Aberdeen Society of Chemists and Druggists and the Cairngorm Club, often made their annual outings to Aboyne to enjoy the countryside, frequently ending with dinner in Mr Sandison’s esteemed establishment.  In August 1881 the local newspaper commented that “In the Huntly Hotel every corner is occupied besides the many spare beds that Mr Sandison has secured in the village.”  Further expansion of the hotel was needed and this eventually arrived in 1892.  A large new wing was added to the building on the south side, which today is easily recognised by its crenellated frontage.  It contained a drawing room, smoking room, bathroom, lavatory and 12 bedrooms and was finished about the end of June.  At that time the Aberdeen Journal described the hotel as being “under the efficient management of the much-respected landlord, Mr F Sandison.”

Francis Sandison the farmer
Francis Sandison already had an established reputation as a sheep farmer when he became landlord of the Huntly Arms and his interests in raising sheep continued, there being regular reports in the local papers of his sheep being offered for sale and gaining high prices at Ballater, Aboyne and the Aberdeen marts.  He was also recognised as being a leader of the local agricultural community.  For example, in 1881 at a meeting of landlords, tenants and others at Aboyne concerning the agricultural depression, he took the chair on the motion of Dr Farquharson, the local MP.  After he became tenant of the Haugh Farm in Aboyne, which was largely arable, his interests extended to the cultivation of root crops and cereals.  He became a regular exhibitor and prize winner at local agricultural shows, such as Tarland, with different varieties of potatoes, barley and oats.   In June 1886 the Aberdeen Journal commented as follows in a piece on the state of local agriculture.  “On Mr Sandison’s farm near the railway, the fields are as far advanced as anywhere in the county.  The land is undoubtedly good, but Mr Sandison farms well and the liberal treatment of the soil gives a quick response” and again in 1896 it referred to “…Mr Sandison’s finely cultivated farm.”  He was also keen on agricultural innovation, often allowing the Haugh Farm to be used as a demonstration site for new equipment, such as a patent prairie plough in 1886 and the use of mechanical binders in 1892.  He was admitted as a member of the Royal Northern Agricultural Society in 1886.
The 11th Marquis of Huntly, owner of the Huntly Arms, was a passionate breeder of polled black cattle (Aberdeen-Angus), known locally as “Doddies”.  However, his chronic financial difficulties led to regular disposals of stock from 1878 until the final dispersal of the residue of the herd after the Marquis’ bankruptcy in 1899.  Ironically, just as the Marquis was suffering a forced disposal of cattle, Francis Sandison, at least from 1885, started to build up a herd of Aberdeen-Angus, making regular acquisitions, for example on the dispersal of the Auchlossan herd belonging to Mr Barclay, MP, in 1887 and on dispersal of the Marquis’ Aboyne herd in 1899.  Cattle sales were held in early December each year at local agricultural marts to supply the London Christmas market and Sandison regularly sold his cattle by this route.

Francis Sandison's sporting pursuits
Francis Sandison was a keen and, in local terms, successful sportsman and being landlord of a hotel probably allowed him to partake of sports which would have been barely attainable as a sheep farmer at Tomnakeist, due both to lack of time and opportunity.  His principal sporting pursuits were Curling, Golf and Billiards.  The Aboyne Curling Club was already in existence in 1879 when Francis Sandison arrived at the Huntly Arms and by 1882 he was a skip and regularly winning matches.  He continued to be elected as a skip throughout his life and latterly served on the Representative Council of the club.  In the late 19th century winters were severe in Aboyne and several locations were used for the sport, including a curling pond at Bellwade, the artificial lake at Glentanar and the Loch of Aboyne to the east of the castle.  In January 1893 the Aboyne curlers competed for a broom, donated by Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, on the ice at Glentanar.  On this occasion the prize was won by John Davidson, the village baker but Francis Sandison was chosen as the representative of the club to respond to Sir William’s speech.  Sandison took the opportunity to butter up both Sir William and his wife for their hospitality on the day and to recall their financial generosity to the club when it happened on hard times in the past.  The North East of Scotland Curling Association held an annual Bonspiel, where representative teams from the north and the south of the area competed against each other.  The competition was often held at Aboyne, for example in 1892, usually on the Loch of Aboyne.  Francis Sandison was involved in the organisation of this event and it ended with the consumption of Irish stew provided by the kitchen of the Huntly Arms.
Golf has been played regularly in Aboyne since at least 1874.  The Aboyne Golf Club was formed in 1883, largely on the initiative of Mr WE Nichol, the proprietor of the Ballogie estate and the club’s first captain.  The game was played over 9 holes on the Green in the middle of the village until the club moved to its present site near to the Loch of Aboyne in 1905.  Francis Sandison quickly mastered the game and in 1883 he played off against Rev Andrew Gray, the village schoolmaster, for the Nichol Challenge Cup, Sandison being victorious.  Francis Sandison was a frequent winner of competitions and captain of teams on numerous occasions.  He was elected president of the club in 1894 and retained that position until his death in 1901.  
In the 1890s the Public Hall in Aboyne had a billiards room and the game became popular in the village.  Both Francis Sandison and his eldest son Alexander were keen players of the game, perhaps aided by the presence of a billiards table in the hotel.  Competitions were played between married and single men in Aboyne, between Aboyne and other villages, such as Ballater and between individuals in handicapped competitions, for example, in 1894 when both Alexander (then aged 19) and Francis were scratch players in such an event.  The prizes were a gold medal donated by Sandison senior and a silver medal donated by Andrew Gray.  However, billiards never attained the level of interest that those Scottish staples, curling and golf, achieved.

Francis Sandison was also a supporter of a number of other hobby and cultural organisations in Aboyne and the surrounding area, his sponsorship being expressed by donating prize money, medals, or prizes, or by providing support in kind.  It is not clear if this was a calculated business strategy or if it was simply a reflection of his outgoing personality and generosity.  Either way, the effect was that his standing in the Aboyne community, at all levels, became very high and he was widely acknowledged as a pillar of society.  His status probably contributed to the popularity of the Huntly Arms.

Aboyne Highland Games
Highland Games became fashionable along with the establishment of all aspects of Highland culture during the 19th century, as being an expression of Scottishness.  The Braemar Gathering was instigated in 1832 and patronised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they became regular visitors to Deeside after 1848.  Ballater, the next village westwards from Aboyne established its Highland Games in 1864 but Aboyne was a bit tardy, not initiating its Games until 1867.  However, this event rapidly attracted patronage and by the turn of the century it was second only to Braemar in size and importance.  When Francis Sandison arrived at the Huntly Arms in 1879 he must have quickly realised that this annual September event, on the Green across Charleston Road from his hotel, represented a major business opportunity.  In 1881 he had a large marquee erected on the Green to supply refreshments to the visitors and this provision was repeated in future years.  For the upper classes Highland Games were to be enjoyed for the spectacle  but, more importantly, they were events at which to meet and greet those of a similar level in society: to see and to be seen.  The primacy of this societal role of Highland Games can be deduced from newspaper reports of the time, where the list of important attendees was longer and had precedence over the list of prize winners!  Francis Sandison and his family quickly achieved this mark of status and his presence was reported at such events up and down the Dee valley.

Aboyne Horticultural Society
Curling and golf were complementary to each other in being played respectively in winter and summer.  In other ways they were closely similar in that the players were drawn from the landed and trading classes, who could get away to indulge their sports during daytime of the working week.  On the other hand, Aboyne Horticultural Society was one of the few cultural organisations in the village which seemed to encompass all strata of society.  It held an annual show each year at the same time as the Aboyne Highland Games and was usually divided into two sections, for professionals such as the gardeners employed by the landed proprietors and amateurs from all parts of the village and its surrounds.  The show was often opened by Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, who took great enjoyment from lecturing the crowd on horticultural matters.  In 1885 Mr WE Nichol of Ballogie was president, William Milne, Factor on the Aboyne estate was Vice President and Francis Sandison was Chairman, a role he retained for the rest of his days.

Aboyne Ploughing Association
The Aboyne Ploughing Association also received the support of Francis Sandison but, unlike most other organisations that he patronised, this one was firmly grounded in the farming community.  The association held an annual ploughing match, typically in January or February and often in a field made available by him at the Hotel farm.  The entrants were almost all farmers and farm servants.  Indeed, ploughmen from Sandison’s own farm were frequently prize winners.  Prize money and prizes in the competitions were mostly donated by local traders, such as Francis Sandison, who  undoubtedly benefitted from the custom of the ploughing contestants.

Deeside Highland Volunteers

In May 1859 a military Volunteer Force, organised at County level, was established in Great Britain.  Its purpose was national defence in case of invasion.  H Company of the Deeside Highland Volunteers recruited in Aboyne and the surrounding area.  With the exception of its officers, recruits were working men, who were attracted to military activities, such as shooting rifles for prize money and attending annual camps.  Francis Sandison was a supporter, again providing competition prizes on a number of occasions.  In 1883 the Deeside Highlanders held a camp on the Home Farm at Aboyne on a site provided by Sandison.  According to the Aberdeen Journal, Francis Sandison “has taken a warm personal interest in the success of the meeting.”

Public representation

Outwith leisure, sport and culture, Francis Sandison played a full and popular role as a leader of the community in representative organisations within the growing democracy of the times.  When  Sandison assumed the role of landlord at the Huntly Arms in 1879, toll roads trusts had been abolished and a single county authority, supported by district surveyors and roads trustees was in existence.  At least in the period 1885 – 1887 Francis Sandison was a trustee of the 4th Kincardine O’Neil Road District of Aberdeenshire, interestingly as a parish representative for Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn, the parish of his birth, not Aboyne.  In 1886 and 1887 the Kincardine O’Neil Road Trustees held their AGM in the Huntly Hotel.  Kincardine O’Neil, having been by-passed by the Deeside Railway, had ceded its former role as the main town in mid-Deeside to Aboyne.
The 1872 Education (Scotland) Act introduced a system of state schools, which were largely free and where attendance was compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13.  They were managed by local school boards, with members being popularly elected.  School boards had responsibility for educational standards, appointment of staff and all financial matters.  In 1882, Francis Sandison stood for election to the Board of the Aboyne Public School for the first time and came top of the poll with 140 votes cast for him. 
A major source of income for the local public schools was the Milne Bequest.  Dr Milne had left a £50,000 legacy for the benefit of school teachers and the education of poor children in Aberdeenshire (plus the parish of Banchory-Devenick).  However, with primary education becoming essentially free, it was felt that the Milne money could be used differently but this raised alarm amongst both teachers and parents of children benefitting from, or hoping to benefit from, the Milne Bequest.  A public meeting, with Francis Sandison in the chair, was held in Aboyne to protest at the proposed changes to the Milne Bequest. He summarised the situation for the audience of 50.  At that time about 72 schools and 2,000 children (40 in Aboyne) benefitted from the Bequest. However, if the money were to be redirected to help the universities, as was being proposed, he estimated that the number of children benefitting would drop to about 200 and the widespread benefit to the children of the poor would be lost.  Eventually the meeting passed 2 resolutions, the first stating that the proposed changes were contrary to the intentions of Dr Milne and the second appointing a committee to draw up a petition against the changes.  However, Francis Sandison’s careful conduct of the proceedings was hijacked by a totally unanticipated tiff between Mr MacKenzie and Mr Moir, the Church of Scotland and Free Church ministers respectively.  Mr MacKenzie claimed it was out of order for Moir to speak because he lived in Birse, a different parish.  Sandison tried to find the middle ground by saying it was a meeting to protest against the proposed changes and that he had no objection to hearing what Moir had to say.  However, Moir had by this time gone into a huff and refused to speak, even though invited to do so.  Francis Sandison must have been glad to close the meeting and get back to his hotel that evening!
After his initial election to the School Board, Francis Sandison was re-elected at each subsequent triennial election until his death in 1901.  In 1885 he was elected chairman of the School Board by his peers and was re-elected every subsequent year.  It was his duty as Chairman to liaise with Sir William Cunliffe Brooks over the Brooks donation of a new school at Glentanar and to preside at the opening ceremony.  It was also the duty of Francis Sandison to make the presentation to his friend and golfing companion, Rev Andrew Gray on the retirement of the latter from the role of headmaster of the Aboyne Public School in 1900, after 44 years of service.
The latter half of the 19th century saw the emergence of democratic organisations such as the school boards, the county councils and their district committees, which gradually eroded the power and influence of the landed proprietors.  However, Aboyne, being a borough of barony, had elected a Town Council, headed by the Provost (mayor) since before 1800.  Many of the functions of the provost and baillies were ceremonial, but the provost was a traditional leader of the village community and presided on many occasions.  There was an annual election to the Town Council but only one third of the officials retired each year, thus each served a 3 year term.  Retiring members were also eligible to stand for re-election.  One of the traditions of the Town Council was that after each election, the provost and council retired to the Huntly Arms to participate in a tripe supper (in 1898 it was a tripe and haggis supper “and with toast and song a lively and pleasant evening was spent”.)

Aboyne Town Council

Francis Sandison was first elected to Aboyne Town Council in 1880 and was continuously a member until 1901.  In 1887 the Town Council organised local events to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and as part of the celebrations Sandison gave a treat to the poor of the parish.  After the January 1889 Town Council election, the Aberdeen Journal described the situation as follows.  “The Aboyne Town Council have now got fairly into working order, and the offices at the disposal of the Council Board have been most judiciously filled up.  The right men have been most happily found for the leading places, and what with Provost Anderson (the local Bank Agent) supported by such a good man and true as mine host of the Huntly Arms, Baillie Sandison, the work of the Council will undoubtedly be most assiduously and successfully prosecuted.”   Francis Sandison twice served a 3 year stint as Provost, from 1892-1895 and from 1898 – 1901.  His friend John Troup, the village butcher, was Provost in the intervening 3-year period.
In 1890 the Town Council, led at the time by Provost Anderson, revived the ancient custom of Riding the Marches of Aboyne, which had last been observed in 1877.  At 3pm on 31st January 3 large brakes, provided by First Baillie Sandison, set off from the Huntly Arms on the first leg of the journey to Dess where the “Doupin” (dipping) Stone was situated.  This stone had a hole into which a pole was inserted and was formerly used to dip any malefactor who had displeased the Provost of the barony into the river as a punishment.  On reaching the stone a ceremony was held celebrating this ancient practice.  The baillies took “a little Highland refreshment” and were then lifted off their feet and duly “doupit”.  The party then retraced its route back to Aboyne and on to Dinnet, making a short stop at the Temperance Hotel to toast the lodgers!  The party continued on over Dinnet Brig and back to Glentanar where they were met by Sir William Cunliffe Brooks and provided with refreshments.  The Town Council finally returned to Aboyne at 6pm where they were entertained at the Huntly Arms to a cake and wine banquet.  Provost Anderson gave a speech and toasted Baillie Sandison, speaking of the great trouble he had taken to make the day’s proceedings a success.
It fell to the Provost of Aboyne to take the lead in organising and officiating at events of significance to the village.  In his time as Provost, Francis Sandison was called upon to deal with several such events and showed by his speeches that he was indeed a consummate leader with a finely developed ability to catch the mood of the moment.  In April 1894, Sir William and Lady Brooks returned to Aboyne after a long absence on holiday in the West Indies.  Work on many building projects on Sir William’s estates had dried up during his absence and there was a great sense of relief when the travellers returned.  Also, Sir William had recently consented to provide a fresh, piped drinking water supply to the village, at his own expense, from burns at Glentanar.  Provost Sandison headed the party that greeted Sir William and his lady wife at Aboyne station.  After a gushing eulogy, Provost Sandison presented the ever-preening Sir William with an illuminated address and Lady Brooks with bouquets of flowers.  The large crowd cheered them enthusiastically on their way back to Glentanar House.
In 1900 Provost Sandison was prominent in organising and leading public celebrations to mark significant victories in South Africa where the British Army was in the middle of the Second Boer War.  Celebrations were held on the Green in May, when news of the relief of Mafeking reached Aboyne  and again in June on the relief of Pretoria.  After the latter event Provost Sandison received a telegram from the Queen’s secretary “Balmoral.  To The Provost, Aboyne. – The Queen thanks you and the inhabitants of Aboyne for your loyal congratulations on occupation of Pretoria. – A Bigge.”
The second half of the 19th century saw the progressive evolution of local democratic structures.  Commissioners of Supply were originally established in 1667 to collect land tax in each county for the financial needs of the monarch.  Some members were ex officio but most were appointed from the ranks of the major landowners.  Progressively, additional functions were allotted to the Commissioners.  In 1718 they were given responsibility, along with JPs, for the maintenance of roads and bridges in each county and in 1857 they were required to establish county police forces.
Up to 1845 parishes were ecclesiastical entities but in that year the concept of the civilian parish was established to administer the Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845.  Under this Act, Parochial Boards were appointed each year to administer the poor law.  Later civil parishes were also made responsible for registering births, marriages and deaths.  In 1894, Parochial Boards were replaced by more democratically elected Parish Councils, though their roles did not change.  Parish councillors were elected for 3 years at a time.

Aberdeen County Council and the Deeside District Committee

Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889, partly-elected and partly-appointed county councils were established.  The first county council election was held the following year.  Virtually all the functions of the Commissioners of Supply were handed over to the new county councils.  Counties were in turn organised into districts and each district had its own committee, which was largely independent of the parent county council.  Aberdeenshire was divided into 8 districts, one of which was Deeside and the Deeside District Committee held its meetings in the Huntly Arms Hotel.  
In 1894 Francis Sandison was elected to the Aboyne Parish Council and was then appointed, in room of Lt Col Innes, to serve as their representative on the Deeside District Committee of the County Council.  He remained as an active member of the Deeside District Committee for the rest of his life.  Francis Sandison was now regularly rubbing shoulders with the most powerful men on Deeside, most of whom also sported big personalities.  One of them, Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, was his present landlord and another, Charles Gordon, 11th Marquis of Huntly, was his sponsor and former landlord.  When a serious disagreement broke out between the Deeside District Committee and Sir William over the siting of the proposed Aboyne Isolation Hospital, Francis Sandison found himself in a very uncomfortable place.

The Aboyne Isolation Hospital

The Deeside District Committee had a responsibility for public health in its area and proposed the building of an isolation hospital at Aboyne.  The issue was first discussed in 1894 and the decision taken to build at Bellwood at the east end of the village in 1895, with the contract finally being signed and construction started late in 1896.  The land on which the hospital was to be sited was owned by the Marquis of Huntly.  All the proceedings to this point had been made in public and reported in the local press.  Sir William Cunliffe Brooks had been made aware of the proposals and had not offered a site for the hospital, nor objected to the proposal, but in June 1897 he suddenly decided that the hospital site posed a threat to his interests and presented a petition, opposing the hospital site, to a meeting of the Deeside District Committee.  The Committee operated under the authority of the Local Government Scotland) Act 1889.  It had taken its decision democratically, in accordance with the law and was simply not free to bow to Sir William’s will, powerful though he was.  It did offer to consider other sites if Sir William would indemnify it against all costs incurred but he doggedly refused to meet this unavoidable condition.  The result was a protracted and increasingly bitter dispute in which lies were told, fictitious supporters invented and insults traded, with Sir William being the prime mover.  Francis Sandison and the Marquis of Huntly were caught in an uncomfortable position.  Sandison was a tenant of Sir William and depended on him for much catering trade.  The Marquis was married to Sir William’s older daughter, Amy.  Also, the Marquis and his wife lived at Aboyne Castle, which was now owned by Sir William.  Both the Marquis and Sandison had been supporters of and had voted for the site that Sir William now opposed so vociferously and, in addition, the Marquis had innocently agreed to feu the land to the Deeside District Committee.
Sir William’s implacable hostility to the hospital site at Bellwood caused his tenant and his son-in-law to row back from their previous positions and seek to find a compromise solution, albeit at the cost of their own consistency and impartiality.  A letter appeared in the Aberdeen Journal in June 1897 from “Inhabitant” (probably Sir William writing under a pseudonym) quoting Francis Sandison saying that there was a growing desire that the hospital “should be erected a little farther away from the village.”  The next meeting of the Deeside District Committee was on 23 July.  It was called because Francis Sandison had written to Col Innes, the chairman, “You will see from the enclosed wire that Lord Huntly can attend a meeting on Saturday or any day after.  I enclose Sir William Cunliffe Brooks’ letter, and shall be glad if you will call a meeting to consider it.”  Clearly, Francis Sandison was acting as a messenger for both the Marquis and Sir William.  Part of Sir William’s letter read as follows, “Mr Sandison, - Sir, - Thanks for letter: but as you will see from enclosed, they ask so much it appears they make negotiations impossible!”  It was almost as though Sir William considered Sandison not to be part of “they”, ie the Deeside District Committee.
When the matter was discussed at the meeting, Francis Sandison, in effect, presented Sir William’s case, saying that the site was not far from the nearest house, the people of the village were unanimous that the hospital was too near and that the tourist trade of the village would be damaged.  He then urged the Committee to re-examine the matter and they agreed to set up a sub-committee for that purpose.  However, at the next Committee meeting in early November the offer of Sir William was put to a vote.  Four votes were cast for the motion to accept the Brooks offer (Francis Sandison, the Marquis of Huntly, Sir Alan Mackenzie and Mr AH Farquharson) but there were 8 votes against. Mr Nichol of Ballogie, who seconded the motion to reject the offer was brutal in exposing the shallowness of Francis Sandison’s position, “Six months ago there was not a single individual in Aboyne who objected to the present site.  They had their representative (Sandison) at the Parish Council and he did not object and they had their representative (Sandison) from Aboyne at the District Committee and he did not object (“He did object.”  “No”, and laughter).  Well, if he did object it did not come out (Laughter).” 
It must have been to the relief of both sides when the hospital was completed and Sir William’s objections were finally overcome.  The Deeside District Committee continued to meet at the Huntly Arms and Francis Sandison continued to play a full part in its work, as well as continuing to provide catering of a high order.  In August 1899, the Deeside landed proprietors gave their annual dinner to members of the DDC in the Huntly Arms Hotel.  “Mr Sandison, proprietor of the hotel had the tables tastefully decorated with flowers and purveyed an excellent dinner.”

Public leadership

Leadership and public speaking came naturally to Francis Sandison.  In addition to playing these roles in representative structures he was often called upon to represent the views of a gathering or of some section of the community.  In 1884 a proposal was made to build a railway from Strathspey to Strathdon and on to Deeside.  Francis Sandison was one of a small group of Deeside residents to travel down to London to give evidence in favour of the proposed railway.  Whenever tenants gathered to pour praise on their landlord it was usually Francis Sandison who stepped forward to give voice to the required sentiments.  For example, after the Morven Estate, on which Tomnakeist Farm lay, was sold to Mr John Keiller, the Dundee marmalade manufacture, the tenantry gathered to celebrate the birth of a son to Mrs Keiller.  Mr and Mrs Keiller were present and Sandison praised John Keiller as a model landlord who invested wisely in his property and who formed a partnership with his tenants.  Francis Sandison did not forget to mention Mrs Keiller, whom he said “had already by her liberality managed to gain many friends.”


Francis Sandison was frequently involved in charitable events to raise money for deserving causes.  Typically this involved the organisation of a concert in the public hall which was inevitably followed by clearing the floor for a riotous dance, usually “kept up until an early hour”.  On one such occasion in February 1894, Provost Sandison and the Town Council organised a concert and dance in support of a local man who had been in bad health.  In addition to the contributions of the attendees, Sir William Brooks sent £5.  Francis Sandison chaired the occasion and at the end of the evening the Church of Scotland minister, Rev James McKenzie proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman, remarking that Mr Sandison was always foremost in the promotion of any work for the public good, especially of a benevolent nature.

Disestablishment - a clash of faith and politics

Francis Sandison was a fervent supporter of the Church of Scotland and a regular worshipper.  He became a church elder while he was a resident of the parish of Glenmuick and attained the same status on his move to Aboyne.  In 1892 he presented a handsome plate to the Aboyne church for receiving donations at the church door.  Francis Sandison was also a Liberal by political persuasion and a member of the West Aberdeenshire Liberal Association.  Indeed, the West Aberdeenshire constituency consistently returned a Liberal member from its formation in 1868 until its demise in 1918.  Before the 1880 general election Sandison had proposed Dr Robert Farquharson (who ran the Finzean Estate with his brother Joseph, the painter) as a fit and proper person to represent the constituency in Parliament, but that support for Farquharson was soon to be tested.  He became MP for West Aberdeenshire at the 1880 general election and held the seat until he retired before the 1906 election.    In 1869 during Gladstone’s first administration the Anglican Church of Ireland had been disestablished as part of his attempt to pacify the Irish Nationalists. However, a similar proposal by the Liberals to disestablish the Presbyterian Church of Scotland provoked a violent debate which persisted over a 20 year period.  The Radical wing of the Liberal Party supported disestablishment in Scotland but this was opposed by the Whigs.  The Free Presbyterians and the United Presbyterians were supporters of disestablishment, as were many urban industrial voters but in the Aberdeenshire countryside the Church of Scotland held sway and was implacably opposed to any change in the status of the Church.  Ministers of the Church of Scotland were further concerned that disestablishment would also bring about disendowment and the loss of church property rights.  Liberal-supporting members of the Church of Scotland found themselves pulled in opposite directions by their competing loyalties.  This clash of politics and religion produced extreme turbulence and Francis Sandison found himself caught up in the storm.
As a result of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland discussing the issue of disestablishment and disendowment in 1885, a call went out to establish Church Defence Associations in local areas.  Such an association was set up in Aberdeen in November of that year to represent the congregations in the city and county.  This association sent a letter to all Parliamentary candidates in its area asking two questions, firstly would they oppose disestablishment and disendowment and secondly, did they agree that this matter should be considered at district level before being debated in Parliament.  The two candidates in the West Aberdeenshire constituency both replied.  Mr Irvine of Drum (Conservative) gave a positive and unambiguous reply to both questions but Dr Farquharson, the Liberal candidate and standing MP, was evasive and said he would explain his views shortly.  A church defence meeting was also held in Aboyne at about the same time to hear local views.  The first speaker was Lord Huntly who gave a hand-wringing justification for sitting on the fence (he was a Liberal and also worshipped in that church) before leaving the meeting to those who did not share in his agonised indecision.  Dr McKenzie, the Aboyne minister, was quite certain about where he stood.  He was implacably opposed to disestablishment and disendowment and urged all members to action.  It was resolved to form a committee with Francis Sandison presiding.  However, in spite of some haemorrhaging of his traditional support, Dr Farquharson was returned as the MP for West Aberdeenshire at the 1886 general election, though his majority was reduced to 80.
The issue then seems to have gone quiet in the period to 1890, when attention started to turn to the next general election.  The General Assembly recommended that a church defence organisation should be established in every parish.  A meeting was held in Aboyne in December at which Francis Sandison proposed the reorganisation of the Church Defence Association which had been established 4 years previously.  The motion was passed and Sandison was one of 3 delegates deputed to liaise with neighbouring associations and a meeting was held in Aberdeen the following month.  Pressure immediately started to mount on Dr Farquharson again.  Francis Sandison moved a resolution at a meeting of the West Aberdeenshire Church Defence Associations to canvass the electorate in each parish in order to gauge the voting power in favour of the church and John Henderson, the secretary of the Aberdeen association, wrote to Farquharson asking him to pledge himself not to support any movement in Parliament in favour of disestablishing and disendowing the church.  The canvass of congregations showed (on certain assumptions) that 63% of voters in West Aberdeenshire were in favour of retaining the Church of Scotland as the established church, while 37% were either in favour of disestablishment or were neutral.  The information was passed to Dr Farquharson.  In his reply to the Association, Dr Farquharson admitted the strength of feeling amongst the electorate but declined to pledge himself, since he had twice voted for disestablishment and he could not change his position and retain any credibility.  Francis Sandison successfully moved that this reply was unsatisfactory and remitting the matter to a committee of 25 to decide what action to take to defend the church at the next general election.
At a further meeting of the WACDA in October 1891 the committee presented its report which recognised that Sir Arthur Grant, the Conservative candidate, was sound on church matters but unlikely to carry the constituency and recommending that they should try to find a Liberal candidate who would support the status quo on the church.  However, the meeting was divided on whether to support Sir Arthur or to seek a new candidate, with Rev Mackie of Drumoak promoting the support of the Conservatives.  Francis Sandison moved the acceptance of the committee report and it was carried by 20 : 13.  Mackie then resigned from the committee, taking 3 others with him.  John Henderson then canvassed the parishes on a proposal to approach Mr Robert Cox of Gorgie, Edinburgh, to be the Liberal Church candidate in West Aberdeenshire and found that the parishes were overwhelmingly in favour.  The Rev Mackie was infuriated and raged in the press against the “absurd and ruinous policy” of John Henderson and Francis Sandison (not unexpected) and against the Marquis of Huntly (quite a surprise, since he had kept a low profile).  At this point the strategy of the WACDA fell apart.  After first agreeing to be their candidate, Robert Cox then dumped West Aberdeenshire in favour of an offer to represent the Conservatives and Unionists at Kirkaldy.  WACDA then had no alternative but to throw their support behind Sir Arthur Grant who duly lost to Dr Farquharson at the 1892 general election. 
In the run-up to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1894 the Kincardine O’Neil Presbytery sought 2 representatives to attend.  Francis Sandison and John Whyte, an Aberdeen advocate, were elected.  At the Assembly Lord Balfour of Burleigh presented a report to the Church Interests Committee on Disestablishment.  The motion to accept the report was proposed by Dr Marshall and seconded by Francis Sandison, who spoke in its support.  This enhancement of his profile led to Francis Sandison being lampooned by political opponents in Aberdeenshire.  At the end of August 1894 Dr Farquharson gave a speech at Bucksburn (then spelled Buxburn) and a Mr Macphail, clearly from the Radical wing of the Liberals, made a few digs at Francis Sandison.  “The oracle had spoken in regard to West Aberdeenshire – not in the constituency itself but in the historic Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  The oracle was the innkeeper of Aboyne, who, in seconding a motion against disestablishment, told the fathers and bretheren that Dr Farquharson narrowly escaped being turned out, and that at next election he would be swept completely from the field.  (Laughter)  Threatened men lived long.  On the day after he addressed the fathers and bretheren, Mr Sandison was canonised by being elected an office-bearer in the Publicans’ Defence Association.  (Laughter).”   
The issue of disestablishment was still alive the following year, in the run-up to the 1895 general election.  Dr Farquharson was not afraid to speak his mind after four successive general election victories and Sir Arthur Grant was his opponent again.  Farquharson held an election meeting at Aboyne, where Francis Sandison and Rev Andrew Gray were, predictably, in the audience and to the fore with their questioning of the candidate.  Dr Farquharson referred to a letter in the local paper from “A Crofter” and hinted that it might have been written by Sir Arthur.  For this he was hissed and called upon to retract. Mr Sandison then asked his opinion on the disestablishment of the Church and he replied that it was unchanged from 3 years ago, but he was not allowed to get away with this evasion.  Andrew Gray asked him to state his opinion to the meeting and he replied that he was in favour of disestablishment.  Rev Gray also asked if it was consistent to be advocating the abolition of the House of Lords while at the same time creating new peers.  Dr Farquharson replied that this was done to get the use of them while the House of Lords existed.  Gray then pressed him to say if he was in favour of a second chamber at all.  He replied that he was but in a very modified form.  Francis Sandison kept up the attack by asking if he was in favour of the Government giving contracts to foreign nations and so depriving British workmen of employment.  He replied that it was best to buy in the cheapest markets and certain kinds of work could not be done at home at all owing to being patented in other countries.  At the end of the meeting Dr Farquharson could have been in no doubt that the ill-will generated by his stance on disestablishment was still to the fore in Aboyne and this was confirmed at a Church Defence meeting held in the village a few days later.  Rev James McKenzie, the Aboyne Church of Scotland minister, said that in 15 years in Parliament he had not heard anything eloquent or practical from Dr Farquharson, surely an unfair characterisation of the MP by a minister whose blood was still running hot? 
However, after the general election of 1895, which was won by the Conservatives, the issue of disestablishment quickly lost its power to excite local passions in the North East as the Liberals’ enthusiasm for this radical policy cooled. Francis Sandison probably came out of the melee with his reputation enhanced.  He had held to his convictions and proved that he could be an effective operator not only on the local stage but also in the national arena.  But Robert Farquharson had also done well.  He had stuck to his position even though it was treated with hostility by many rural parishes and he had won yet another general election, perhaps judging that the Church of Scotland held less sway than its leading members thought.

Francis Sandison and the 11th Marquis of Huntly

The success of the Francis Sandison as a landlord of the Huntly Arms, Bridgend and the Haugh Farm must have convinced the Marquis of Huntly that he had made a good choice back in 1879.  Sandison was always careful to be respectful to the Marquis and his wife and to take every opportunity to butter them up.  Even so they clearly had respect for each other and the Marquis’ level of confidence extended to having Francis Sandison act as a substitute for him on a number of occasions.  In September 1884, Premier Gladstone called at Aboyne on his way from Ballater to Aberdeen.  For some reason Lord Huntly was unable to greet the prime minister, so he got Francis Sandison to attend at the station.  Sandison handed a telegram to the prime minister and expressed regret on the part of the Marquis of Huntly that his lordship had been unable to come to the station.  He further remarked that it was the desire of Lord Huntly that he should bid Mr Gladstone a hearty welcome to “our Highland hills” and assured him that the desire of the people might be expressed in the words “Haste ye back”.  
The Marquis of Huntly also turned to Francis Sandison for help and support in other circumstances.  In 1895 Francis Sandison and John Troup (the village butcher and another Huntly tenant) nominated the Marquis when he stood as a candidate for Aberdeen County Council.  The following year Francis Sandison played a leading role in promoting an auction mart at Aboyne, the company being chaired by Lord Huntly.  At one meeting Sandison said publically that they stood a good chance of getting a good site from Lord Huntly near the station, perhaps indicating that he had already discussed a site informally with the Marquis.  Francis Sandison also played a key role in trying to get Lord Huntly and Sir William Cunliffe Brooks off the hook when Brooks took exception to the siting of the Aboyne Isolation Hospital, after Lord Huntly had agreed to the siting and had feued the land for the building.  On that occasion Sandison was not successful and damaged his own reputation for consistency in the process.

Middle Class intermarriage

In rural areas in the late 19th century land ownership equated to power and influence and the major landed proprietors formed a top layer of society which visited each other, shot and fished together and intermarried.  Aboyne conformed to this structure.  But there was another layer of society below this which consisted of the major village traders, tenant farmers and professionals, who played sport together (such as golf and curling), were mostly members of the Freemasons and played leadership roles in village representative organisations.  In Aboyne Francis Sandison (Huntly Arms), John Troup (butcher), John Davidson (baker) and Andrew Gray (schoolmaster) were typical examples of this societal stratum.  They also intermarried.  Francis Sandison’s son, Alexander, married Maud Alexandra Troup, daughter of Alexander Troup, butcher in the next village, Ballater.  His brother, John, was the village butcher in Aboyne.  Alexander Troup married Susan Gray, sister of village schoolmaster, Andrew Gray.  Another sister, Martha Mary Gray, married John Davidson, the Aboyne village baker.

The Death and Funeral of Francis Sandison

About 17th June 1901, Francis Sandison suffered a serious stroke.  He lingered on for 7 days before dying at the Huntly Arms on 24th June.  The funeral took place 3 days later.  Such was the local regard for Francis that all local businesses were closed.  The service began in the parish church of Aboyne and was conducted partly by Rev James Mackenzie and partly by Rev Charles Dunn of Birse.  The tolling of the bell summoned mourners to the parish church at the west end of the Green.  Miss Club, daughter of the local saddler, was at the organ and played “I know that my redeemer liveth” as the prelude and the Dead March from “Saul” while the coffin was born from the church.  Francis Sandison had chosen to be buried at the old Tullich churchyard, near Tomnakeist, the farm of his ancestors.  The cortege which carried the coffin the 9 miles to Tullich was one of the largest ever seen in Aboyne. As the funeral procession neared Tomnakeist the farm servants, shepherds and other inhabitants of the neighbourhood began to fall into the ranks of the mourners.  A very large number of people from Ballater, Crathie and beyond Braemar had assembled at the gateway to the churchyard.  Rev Charles Dunn conducted the graveside service and the coffin was then lowered and covered by wreaths.  The following Sunday, Rev James Mackenzie spoke in his sermon of the personal qualities of Francis Sandison, describing him as kind and unobtrusive, a man who gave advice and served on public boards.  He had an equable temper, never ruffled, modest and never boasted about his ability or his deeds. So ended the life of a remarkable man, who rose from the obscurity of Easter Morven to become one of the best known and most respected citizens of Deeside.
Francis Sandison and his wife Mary had a family of 8 children, 4 of each gender.  Of the girls, Mary Jane married late, at the age of 42 to the headmaster of the Aboyne Public School, James Cruickshank, Catherine (Kate) also married late, aged 33, to William Proctor of Aboyne, Jessie appears never to have married and Margaret died tragically young at the age of 25.  The Aberdeen Journal said of Margaret :  “Her death removes one of the best known and most popular young ladies in the district.  Of a bright and thoughtful disposition, she was ever active in the promotion of good work and was always eager to help or comfort those in need.”  Of the boys, John died in infancy, Charles died of his wounds in Flanders in 1916, Francis emigrated to farm in Canada and Alexander stayed in Aboyne, progressively taking over the Sandison businesses.  He was the oldest son and 26 at the time of his father’s death in 1901.

Alexander Sandison and the Huntly Arms Hotel

It would be fair to say that Alexander Sandison, like his father Francis, was a natural businessman who seamlessly assumed the cloak of hotel keeper, farmer and local leader.  He had clearly observed his father’s modus operandi over a number of years and was smart enough to be able to apply the lessons learned when Sandison senior died unexpectedly.  Alex Sandison’s mother, Mary, successfully applied to have the certificate for the sale of excisable liquor transferred to her name and she retained control of hotel catering operations until 1916, when she retired.  The plaudits for catering quality at the Huntly Arms continued to flow, for example in 1903 a report in the Dundee Courier dealing with the Deeside tourist trade said “There is a very fine hotel, the Huntly Arms of which Mr(!) M Sandison is proprietor….It is undoubtedly one of the best hotels in Deeside” and at a wedding reception later the same year, the Aberdeen Journal reported “After the ceremony the company sat down to dinner, which was sumptuously prepared and elegantly served by Mrs Sandison and her assistants.”  Alex Sandison immediately took over responsibility for salmon fishing in the waters leased for the use of hotel guests and made a success of the venture.  In 1903 the Aberdeen Journal reported “On the Huntly Arms (angling waters) at Aboyne Mr Sandison has his compliment of rods well booked up.”

The Bridgend Inn

When his mother retired in 1916 Alex Sandison applied for the excisable liquor certificate for the Huntly Arms and his uncle, James McHardy applied for the certificate for the Sandison’s other Aboyne hotel, the Bridgend Inn, which had been formerly tenanted by Alex Sandison.  Inspector Dreghorn of Aboyne Police Station said that the Chief Constable had no objection to the certificates being granted and that Aboyne was fortunate to have such applicants.  Although both establishments appear to have been run responsibly there was inevitably a degree of drunkenness, often accompanied by petty violence, in and around both locations. 
In 1924 James McHardy died at Bridgend of a defective heart valve and chronic nephritis, which necessitated the identification of a new landlord.  Alex Sandison settled on Alex Thomson Adam.  By this time Alex Sandison was a powerful, wealthy and respected local business personality and it must have been a surprise to him when the application for a licence for the Bridgend Hotel met strong opposition in the form of a petition from some citizens.  The Deeside District Licensing Court met in the Public Hall, Aboyne and the protesters were legally represented by Mr Hector, advocate.  The conduct of the petition and its wording, however, were amateurish and the protesters were made to look as though they had reached their conclusion first and then cast around for evidence afterwards. 
The reasons for objection contained in the petition were as follows.  1. The licence was unnecessary as Aboyne already had an hotel with a drinking bar attached.  2. The Bridgend was in a purely residential district and the hotel caused drunkenness and rowdyism.  3. The licence-holder of the Huntly Arms (ie Alex Sandison) was also the principal tenant of the Bridgend, contrary to the spirit and intentions of the Licensing Acts. Mr George Wilson, the Aberdeen advocate representing Mr Sandison tore the objectors’ case to pieces.  The petition, he said, was a tissue of falsehoods so far as material or relevant facts were concerned.  It had been got up regardless of truth or statutory requirements.  He also criticised the way the petition had been conducted.  Most of the petitioners did not live close to the hotel, some had not been shown the wording of the petition and some had not indicated their support by signature.  One claim made by Mr Wilson was intriguing.  He said that “the petition had been got up through spite, jealousy and malice against a gentleman who had been successful in business, and who, because he had many irons in the fire, had trampled on some people’s toes.”
Mr Hector for the petitioners had a difficult time maintaining their case but in attempting to do so he made two challenging assertions concerning the hotel.  It was “a constant temptation to a certain class, about a score of whom might be seen any Saturday night squandering the first fruits of their weekly toil on drink.”  Also, “It is well-known that the police here have been very tolerant and generous.  In the opinion of many they have been far too tolerant, and many think that their administration has been far too slack.”  Without objective evidence to support these claims, Mr Hector could not have been surprised that his clients had their objection overruled.  Major Coltman of Blelack, president of the court, gave their decision. “While we do not approve of the principle of granting two licences to one party, we have decided unanimously – (a member of the Court – “By a majority”) – we have decided on the evidence before us, that the licence be granted for this year.”  So it appeared that the objectors had one supporter on the bench!

Alexander Sandison and Farming

The role played by Mary Sandison, widow of Francis Sandison, in continuing to run the Huntly Arms allowed her son Alex to concentrate on farming matters and public affairs in the early years of the 20th century.  Over a period of 25 years, Alex Sandison continued the work of his father in building up a herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle, in particular buying stock from the Ballaterach herd, often for record prices.  His judgement seems to have been sound as the reputation of stock attained a high standing.  This was reflected in prizes won at agricultural shows and in prices gained for animals in the sale ring.  There was an annual show and sale of fatstock at the Aboyne Auction Mart in early December to catch the Christmas trade.  In December 1905 Alex Sandison secured the prize for the best butcher’s beast and the best fat cow.  His entries were 1st and 2nd for a pair of bullocks any age, in the single ox class he was 1st and 2nd and in the fat bull class he was 2nd.  Such success was repeated many times.
The other great agricultural interest of the Sandisons was the raising of (mostly) Cheviot sheep on the slopes of Morven.  These animals were typically sold at the Aberdeen auction marts at Belmont and Kittybrewster, where his offerings were frequently described as “superior”, or identified as being from his flock.  They invariably attracted high prices.  Unlike his father, Alex Sandison does not seem to have had much interest in arable farming, as he never seemed to enter his produce, such as oats or turnips, at local agricultural shows.  Similarly with horses, he would occasionally make entries in equine classes but the horse was in decline and his attention was soon attracted to the motor car.
Like his father, Alex Sandison was quickly accepted as a leader in the Deeside agricultural community, especially after he became a member of Aberdeen County Council in 1910 and was in a better position to exert influence.  He followed his father as a director of the Aboyne Auction Company whose mart displaced the tradition cattle market held on the Green.  It was eventually sold to Messers Reith and Anderson, owners of the Kittybrewster Auction Mart, Aberdeen, in 1911.  In 1912 the Government proposed under the Insurance Act to require farmers to collect contributions from their employees.  This caused uproar in the Deeside farming community.  Alex Sandison chaired the protest meeting held in Aboyne and outlined the implications of the Act.  A resolution was passed declining to act as tax collectors on behalf of the Government.  In 1914 Sandison presided at a meeting with Aboyne farmers where he explained that there was Government money available to deal with agricultural pests.  It was agreed that they would apply for that part of the grant available to Aboyne and Birse and a committee was formed to take the matter forward.  When agricultural issues arose at county level, Alexander Sandison was usually invited to become involved, for example in dealing with contagious abortion, sheep scab and the control of foxes.  In 1922 he was appointed to the committee of management of the Royal Northern Agricultural Society.

Leisure, Sporting and Charitable activities
Alex Sandison was active in support of leisure and sporting activities and charitable endeavours in and around Aboyne.  Like his father he supported the ploughing championship held early in the New Year by sponsorship or the provision of a venue on the Hotel Farm.  Not surprisingly, given his family’s long history of sheep farming, he was also an enthusiastic supporter of sheep dog trials, which were introduced to Aboyne in 1924.  He was Vice President of the North East Sheepdog Trials Society from 1924 until his death and was largely responsible for organising events held on land at Aboyne Castle. 
The Boys’ Brigade was the first uniformed youth organisation in the world, formed in 1883 in Glasgow by William Smith.  Smith came from a family background strongly influenced by the Army and the Church and he conceived the BBs as a way of harnessing the robust behaviour of boys on a Sunday, as an alternative to Sunday School.  It had the objective of instilling the virtues of Reverence, Discipline, Respect, Christian Manliness and Obedience amongst a clientel that was often deficient in these character traits.  The BBs quickly became popular in Scotland and Boys’ Brigade camps were regularly held at Aboyne from the early years of the 20th century.  Alex Sandison was a strong supporter and regularly provided camping ground, both for the Aboyne BBs and for those from elsewhere on Deeside.  The Sandison family regularly attended parades at the BB camps, along with other prominent locals and also provided a refreshment tent on the camp site.  John Davidson, the local baker and Provost of Aboyne for many years was another enthusiastic BB supporter.
The Sandison family were also dedicated fund-raisers for Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children, continuing a tradition established by Francis Sandison.  This charitable work was duly recognised in 1917 when Alex Sandison was admitted to the honorary position of Life Manager of the Infirmary.  The substantial equine resources of the Huntly Arms were also used to support good causes by in-kind contributions.  For example, in August 1909, a 40-strong party from Aboyne Parish Choir and Sunday School teachers were driven to the Forest of Birse, where they had a picnic, in 3 brakes provided by Alex Sandison and in July 1910, 230 pupils and adults from Tarland School were transported to Aberdeen beach in Huntly Arms vehicles.
The Aboyne Highland Games were established in 1867 and held annually in the first week of September.  Although Francis Sandison benefitted greatly from the Games, through the trade that it brought to the Huntly Arms, he appears never to have been a member of the organising committee.  His son Alex first joined the Games organising committee about 1908 and was a member at the time of his death in 1926, though it is not certain that his membership was continuous throughout this period.  He was also a subscriber to the Games on many occasions.  After the 1908 Games, the Chairman of the organising committee, Mr WE Nichol, entertained the members to dinner at the Huntly Arms in November.  As usual, the celebration graduated from eating to toast-making and on to song.  Alex Sandison, who was a fine singer, contributed “Over the sea to Skye”.  He made another musical offering at the same event in 1913, the last year the Games were held before being suspended for the duration of WW1.  Nineteen nineteen saw the resumption of the Aboyne Highland Games, with a large attendance of more than 15,000 spectators.  Upwards of 2,000 bicycles were used along with many motor vehicles to transport the public.  By 1922, when the attendance was over 16,000 and 700 motor conveyances were drawn up on the Green, the Aberdeen Journal employed the heading “Aboyne Gathering Surpasses all Previous Games” and went on to describe the event as “One of the first of the fashionable Scottish outdoor functions”.  The VIP list was long and impressive and included Sir Harry and Mrs Lauder and the 11th Marquis of Huntly, attending for the first time since his re-marriage.  Alex Sandison was also mentioned, as he had been since 1904, when present at  either the Braemar or Aboyne events.  He had quickly acquired the social status that his father, Francis, had achieved on Deeside.


Alex Sandison inherited his father’s love of golf.  At the time of Francis Sandison’s demise golf was played on a 9-hole course on the Green in the centre of Aboyne.  This was an inadequate arrangement, due to the short length of the course and the lack of hazards and in 1905 a new 9-hole course was created on land between the Castle and Aboyne Loch.  The course was formally opened in September of that year by Lord Aberdeen.  After Mrs Coates, wife of George Coats, laird of Glentanar, had driven off the first ball, a celebration match was played between the Royal Aberdeen club and Aboyne.  The Aberdeen club proved to be too strong for the locals.  Alex Sandison was in the Aboyne team but lost his game 4 and 3.  Because of the continuing growth in the popularity of the game among the middle and upper classes of Aboyne (residents and visitors), the Golf Club Committee took the decision in 1908 to extend the new course to 18 holes.  Ean Cecil, at that time the owner of Aboyne Castle, offered the land needed for the extension on generous terms.  The opening took place in September of that year, with a repetition of the line–up of Lord Aberdeen performing the opening and Mrs Coats driving off the first ball.  Alex Sandison backed up his enthusiasm for the game by donating the horsework required almost entirely free of cost.  He regularly played for the club in competitions and in 1910 became Vice-President, a position he retained for some years.

Tennis and Bowls
In the early 20th century, before the outbreak of WW1, Aboyne’s attractiveness to tourists grew rapidly.  The golf course was a significant attraction both for the locals and the visitors and there was great enthusiasm in the village to expand its sporting facilities further.  At a public meeting held in the village in August, 1909, it was proposed that a bowling green and tennis courts should be constructed.  Alex Sandison was present and proposed the formation of a small committee to develop the idea further.  The tennis courts were completed by May 1911, again backed enthusiastically by Ean Cecil, with the sporty Mrs Coats performed the opening ceremony.  Alex Sandison was one of many donors who provided the initial finance and at the opening ceremony he gave the vote of thanks to Mrs Coats and to Admiral Farquhar, who had acted as chairman.  Two of Alex Sandison’s sisters played in the initial mixed doubles games on courts 1 and 2.
Sadly, the Bowling club did not immediately get off the ground and WW1 prevented its development until after the end of hostilities.  However, in 1923 the idea of creating a Bowling Club, with a green and additional tennis courts, resurfaced.  In that year Ean Cecil sold Aboyne Castle and its small surrounding estate to Mr James Mearns, a successful Aberdeen businessman but before making that transaction he gifted a site next to the Victory Hall for the bowling green.  James Mearns subsequently agreed to make more ground available behind the bowling green for the additional tennis courts.  Fund-raising began in the village with much enthusiasm with the Sandisons, Provost and Mrs Davidson and Mr Smith, the Postmaster, strongly to the fore.  The Bowling Green was opened, with the usual attendance of VIPs, in July 1924.  Mrs Taylor threw the first jack and Mr Mearns the first bowl.  Alex Sandison, as usual, was on hand to propose the vote of thanks. The additional tennis courts, four in number, did not materialise until 1926, when they were formally opened in June of that year.  It was largely due to Alex Sandison’s efforts that these courts were opened free of debt.    Alex Sandison acted as Chairman at the opening and Mr Taylor formally opened the gates of the new courts.  Sadly, this was to be the last public appearance by Alex Sandison.

Alexander Sandison and Education
In 1899 on the retiral of Andrew Gray, who had been headmaster of Aboyne Public School for 44 years, James Cruickshank was appointed in his place.  He proved to be a competent teacher and joined in enthusiastically with village life.  It is perhaps surprising that it took him 16 years to find a bride in the village community – Mary Jane Sandison the eldest daughter of the late Francis Sandison, who was 42 at the time.  The Red Cross Society presented the pair with a handsome candelabra in recognition of their services as quartermasters to the Society, perhaps indicating how the two of them became enamoured.  Alex Sandison, Mary’s brother had become a member of the School Board for Aboyne and Glentanar some years earlier and at least by 1909, when he came second in the School Board poll.  He continued as a member of the board until it was abolished in 1919, though he appears not to have served as chairman, perhaps because he had higher aspirations.  However, his status was such that he often chaired meetings concerning the Aboyne Public School and frequently popped up at school functions to propose votes of thanks.  In 1918, from his position as Chairman of the Deeside District Committee of Aberdeenshire County Council, he was appointed a member of the Aberdeenshire Education Committee, though he continued as a member of the new Aboyne and Glentanar School Management Committee.
During the period of his association with Aboyne Public School, the most important development was the opening of an extension in 1911, by Lord Huntly, to house the Higher Grade Department.  The Sandisons were present en famille, with Alex Sandison proposing the vote of thanks.  Lady Glentanar also took a close interest in the welfare of the school, especially the celebration of Empire Day.  The idea of celebrating the British Empire on a particular day originated in Canada but was imported to Britain in 1904 “to nurture a sense of collective identity and imperial responsibility among young empire citizens”.  In 1921 Lady Glentanar gave an address to the pupils on “The Empire Movement” and then presented prizes to the winners of a competition for the best essays and drawings on the themes “Strikes” and “The Empire Movement”.  Sheila, the only child of Alex and Maud Sandison was one of the prize winners.

Aboyne Town Council and Aboyne Parish Council
Like his father, Alex Sandison was a member of the Town Council for some years though he appears to have served as Provost of Aboyne for only one period of 3 years about 1911.  Interestingly, his friend John Davidson, the village baker served as Provost from 1901 until the abolition of the post in 1929, except for the period when Alex Sandison was in office.  The Aboyne Parish Council was a different matter.  Unlike the Town Council, which was largely ceremonial, the Parish Council had real power and important functions to fulfil.  The exercise of power and influence, rather than status and ceremonial, was more Alex Sandison’s cup of tea.  He was first elected to the parish council at the age of 26 in 1901, immediately after his father’s death and became chairman in 1907, remained in that position for the rest of his life.  His friends and relatives John Davidson and John Troup were also members for most of the time that Alex Sandison served on the Parish Council.  This group formed a trading class coterie which was highly influential in village life for more than a quarter of a century.  For example, at the annual meeting of the Parish Council in December 1909 Alex Sandison was reappointed chairman on a motion by John Davidson, seconded by John Troup, John Davidson was appointed the Parish Council representative on the Deeside District Committee of the County Council and John Troup was appointed to the Managing sub-Committee for Special Districts.

Alexander Sandison and the Deeside District Committee
The 1889 Local Government (Scotland) Act created county councils and, under them, district committees.  Alex Sandison first became a member of the Deeside District Committee in 1908 and was appointed as its chairman in 1918 on the death of Mr Ranald Macdonald and was reappointed every year until his death.  From the time of its inception, the Deeside District Committee met in the Huntly Arms but in those days no one seemed to be concerned by a possible conflict of interest!  By 1909 Alex Sandison had become a car owner and quickly became an enthusiast for this mode of personal transport.  He took a particular interest in the District’s roads in his role as chairman of the  Committee and was credited with being largely responsible for improving road maintenance. 
During WW1 there was a considerable increase in heavy traffic on the roads of Deeside due to the increased extraction of timber.  In consequence the District Committee imposed restrictions on the movement of timber, which brought it into conflict with the Board of Agriculture for Scotland.  However, it proved to be difficult to get the contractors to pay for the damage they were causing.  In the aftermath of the War another problem arose as the economy picked up and tourists returned to Deeside in increased numbers, which in turn led to more commercial traffic.  In 1919 the proposal to build a light railway from Ballater to Braemar was revived as a means of relieving the pressure on the roads but the scheme again ran into the sands.  A related issue occurred in 1921 when Aberdeenshire County Council sought to ban motorbuses from using the picturesque Linn of Dee road to the west of Braemar on safety grounds, due to its narrowness and, in places, its exposure.  At the public inquiry Alex Sandison appeared as a witness and  defended the County’s position of wishing to ban buses carrying passengers while allowing heavy motorcars, such as Rolls-Royces and Daimlers of the same weight, to continue to use the road.  The examiner pointed out that he would have difficulty recommending any prohibition based on a criterion other than weight, leaving the impression that Alex Sandison’s evidence may have been partial.
In the early 1920s the increase in tourist traffic continued unabated.  In 1922 an average of 12 motor vehicles per hour passed Dess Corner, while in 1925 this rate had increased to 27/hour.  Half of the Deeside District road maintenance budget was now taken with maintaining only 40 miles of road on the principal tourist route.  The Deeside District Committee took its own action to mitigate the problem on the Linn of Dee road.  They opened negotiations with all contractors using heavy lorries on the route, suggesting to them that they should confine themselves to using the road only in the mornings.  All agreed except Mr McKenzie and, as a result, Alex Sandison instructed the clerk to write to McKenzie telling him that if he did not fall into line it was possible that the Ministry of Transport might close the road to all heavy traffic.  McKenzie acquiesced.

A tragic motor accident
In 1923 Alex Sandison’s enthusiasm for the motorcar received a severe jolt.  In April of that year he was travelling from Ballater with his shepherd, William Urquhart, east along the North Deeside Road.  At the crossroads opposite Dinnet Station he was in collision with a motorcycle driven by a South African medical student, Theodore Chanock, which was travelling in a northerly direction.  Chanock was killed almost immediately, due to a dislocated neck and Dr Dirk Tom, a compatriot whom he was carrying as his pillion passenger, suffered severe, but not life-threatening injuries.  At the subsequent inquiry before a sheriff and jury both Alex Sandison and Dirk Tom appeared as witnesses.  Tom had no recollection of events after the motorcycle had crossed the rails but he claimed that it was travelling at no more than 10mph.  Sandison gave a much fuller account of events from his point of view.  Before he entered Dinnet he slowed to about 20mph, sounded his electric siren and kept his finger on the button.  He slowed further to about 15mph and kept a sharp look-out but the motorcycle came out of Glentanar Road and hit the front right hand side of his car.  Alex Sandison’s car then carried on for about 130ft, with Tom sprawled on the bonnet, before stopping.  Sandison’s explanation for this distance was that he applied his footbreak but must have also pressed down on the accelerator.  There was no real evaluation of the collision as would happen today and it is impossible to say where the cause lay.  Alex Sandison privately expressed his profound sympathies to the relatives of the motorcyclists and his agent, Mr Wilson, repeated his sentiments in court.  Mr Chanock did not have a horn on his motorcycle, which was against the law and may have counted against him.  The Court then returned a formal verdict, with no blame being attached to Alex Sandison.  It was noticable that after this accident Alex Sandison took a great interest in the identification of traffic hazards and the installation of signposts, mirrors and the likes.

Alexander Sandison is elected to Aberdeen County Council   
County Council elections were held every 3 years and in the 1904 and 1907 elections Alex Sandison was a proposer of Mr W E Nichol, the proprietor of the Ballogie estate, which was located on the South Deeside Road, east of Aboyne.  However, at the 1910 election Nichol resigned but then became a proposer, with farmer, Peter Birse, of the candidacy of Alex Sandison.  Sandison was duly elected and served as county councillor for Aboyne and Birse for the rest of his life.  During his time as a county councillor he was involved in many committees and activities, particularly matters pertaining to agriculture.  He was appointed to the County Food Committee which operated during the latter part of WW1, he served on the Education Committee from 1918, the Standing Joint Committee of the County, the West Aberdeenshire Agricultural Executive Committee, the Joint Committee on Agricultural Pests, the County Road Board and the Executive Committee of the County Council.  In those days County Councillors were largely drawn from the ranks of the nobility and landed proprietors, indicating the status that he had achieved in Aberdeenshire society.  After Alex Sandison’s death Mr James Mearns, the owner of Aboyne Castle and Estate was elected in his place.

Aboyne and the War Effort
World War 1 began on 28th July 1914 and quickly spread from the Balkans to engulf the much of Europe and beyond.  One of the earliest events in Western Europe in the summer of that year was the German invasion of neutral Belgium and the advance on France, which was stopped by a combination of the French and British forces.  All this seemed to be happening a long way away from Aboyne in rural Aberdeenshire but the war almost immediately started to have effects on the life of the village.  At the end of August 1914 a public meeting was held in the village hall, with Alex Sandison occupying the chair to appoint a local administration committee in connection with the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund.  Inevitably, Sandison became the convener of that committee.
Charitable fundraising and donation became an almost constant theme of village life.  In November 1915 a concert was held under the auspices of the Aboyne Curling Club to raise money for the Belgian Fund and such concerts were repeated on several occasions in aid of Belgian homeless in 1916 and to send Christmas presents to “our boys” in 1917.  A private house belonging to Mr Milne, “Bona Vista”, was turned into a Red Cross hospital in November 1914.  Its first patients were wounded Belgians, though the first batch of 10 had been discharged by Christmas of that year.  The hospital remained empty for about a month before reopening at the end of January 1915 to receive 12 wounded British soldiers.  It continued to function until February 1915 when it was closed and was replaced by a new Red Cross hospital in Aboyne Castle, with a much greater capacity of 100 beds.  The new hospital remained open until February 1919.  The whole village, including the Sandison family, were active in donating to the two Red Cross hospitals throughout the period of hostilities.  Eggs, cream, plum pudding, apples, grapes, salmon, ham, ox tongue, potatoes, oatmeal, buns and cakes were typical donated food items.  Other items were donated which were more concerned with raising the spirits of the inmates, such as magazines, chocolates and large quantities of tobacco and cigarettes.  Events and activities were also laid on, including a weekly concert, whist drives and a pony and trap for the use of the soldiers.  Ean Cecil gave the trap, Margaret Davidson (daughter of the village baker) raised funds to buy the pony and Alex Sandison donated the harness.
There was also a darker, more contentious side to the support of the war effort on Deeside.  By November 1914 a recruiting campaign was underway on Deeside.  Provost John Davidson, who was a staunch supporter of the military and had had 5 sons on active service during the Second Boer War, presided at a meeting held in Aboyne.  The platform party included Alex Sandison.  Thirteen men enrolled at the meeting and volunteers continued to emerge in large numbers during the first year and a half of the war.  In 1916 a Military Recruiting Tribunal, under the Military Service Act, was established on Deeside to take decisions on men who had been called up but who wished to defer or avoid military service.  This tribunal often met at the Huntly Arms Hotel and Alex Sandison was a member.  In its early meetings, Sandison was not often to the fore in the discussions held at the Tribunal, perhaps because he felt sympathy with the appellants on occasions.  On the other hand some tribunal members saw it as their duty to overcome almost any argument deployed in support of deferral or avoidance.
A typical example occurred in April 1916 when Mrs Walker of Burnroot, Dinnet asked for exemption for her son James, who worked the family farm of 72 acres, half arable and half pasture.  She had 2 sons already serving in the army and another son who had offered to serve.  James was the only son remaining to work the farm.  The Chairman asked if James had recently worked as a ghillie and this was confirmed, to which the Chairman implied, in sneering terms, that he had only become a farm hand to avoid service.  Alex Sandison intervened to confirm that he was the only son left to work the farm but the Chairman was more concerned to recruit him for the army because of his fine physique.  Finally, another tribunal member, FN Innes, intervened and conditional exemption was finally granted.
Another matter which caused concern to the members of the Deeside Tribunal who came from a farming background was the Substitution Scheme.  An appeal to avoid military service could be overcome if a substitute for the man called up could be found.  Unfortunately some of these substitutes were unsuited to the positions allotted to them, causing anger in the farming community.  Alex Sandison sided with the farmers, telling the Chairman of the Tribunal that the War Office substitutions were causing chaos on the farms affected and that the Tribunal should put its foot down by rejecting unqualified substitutes.  By 1918 Alex Sandison had himself become Chairman of the Deeside Tribunal.
The most profound impact of the war became evident when the sons of Aboyne and wider Deeside started to appear in the ranks of the wounded and dead.  Charles, the younest brother of Alex Sandison, died of his wounds in a Flanders hospital on 2 June 1916.  He was attached to the Canadian Field Ambulance and was 32 years old.  Lance Corporal Donald Dawson, from Kinellar was also killed in action, in 1918.  He had enlisted in 1914 while he was employed on Alex Sandison’s Hotel Farm.  In August 1917 a service of commemmoration was held in the village for those from Aboyne and district killed in the war.  With the war over in November 1918, soldiers started to return to their homes and in May 1919 a Welcome Home was arranged in the form of a supper and dance in Aboyne.  Alex Sandison presided at that event.  In all, 171 parishioners had served and 36 had lost their lives.  Two had been awarded the DSO, one with Bar, two gained the MC, one the DCM,  five the MM and one the Croix de Guerre.  There were several Mentions in Dispatches.

War Memorial
A grateful nation began the process of remembering the innumerable sacrifices made by citizens and their families, through a multitude of local initiatives.  In March 1920 a meeting was held in Aboyne’s Public Hall under the chairmanship of Lord Glentanar to consider what form of memorial should be erected in Aboyne.  Plans were laid at that meeting for a Victory Hall, with associated memorial building and a shrine to the fallen.  The well-known Aberdeen architect, Marshall McKenzie was commissioned to design the structures.  Substantial contributions to the costs had already been made and Lord Glentanar generously offered to defay the whole cost of the Victory Hall, so that the other contributions could be devoted to the rest of the project.  Ean Cecil at Aboyne Castle came forward with a gift of a site on the north side of the North Deeside Road, near to the Castle entrance and the Huntly Arms and Lady Glentanar undertook to organise a Bazaar to raise further funding.  Alex Sandison donated £50 to the project and the Sandison ladies were to the fore in helping at the Bazaar.  The foundation stone, with a record casket underneath, was laid by Margaret Glentanar in May 1921 and she was presented with a silver trowel by Lady Brooks, the widow of Sir William Cunliffe Brooks and an indefatigable fund-raiser.  Provost Davidson moved a vote of thanks to Lady Glentanar, Lady Brooks and Alex Sandison for the part they had played in realising the project.
The buildings were completed and dedicated in November 1921, the cost being £14,000.  Alex Sandison was allotted the role of accepting the gift of the Victory Hall by Lord Glentanar and behalf of the community, which he did with a long speech full of praise and gratitude for Lord Glenanar’s generosity.  The nation was war-weary and the following year a meeting was held in the Victory Hall to form a local branch of the League of Nations.  This international organisation dedicated to the maintenance of peace was formed in 1920.  Sadly, during the 1930s it proved to be ineffective and the idealism of many around the world, including  Aboyne’s civic leaders, foundered.
After the death of Alex Sandison in 1926 it came to light that he had provided finance in his will for the addition of stained glass windows to the three granite arches of the Memorial Shrine at the Victory Hall.  The windows were designed by Dudley Forsyth, who had recently been responsible for a window in the nave of Westminster Abbey.  The figures in the Aboyne window represented Valour, Patriotism, Victory, Peace, Freedom and Justice.  Alex Sandison must have been moved by his own experiences during WW1, when his brother Charles was killed and he was himself involved in decisions which sent local men to war, some of whom did not come back.  The window was unveiled and dedicated in May 1927.  Maud Alexandra, the wife of Alex Sandison was present but, curiously, appeared to play no direct part in the proceedings.

Post-War recovery
The end of the Great War also saw a return to the fun of pre-war days, at least for the middle and upper classes.  The Aboyne Games restarted and Alex Sandison was a member of the Games Committee.  Tourism was again in the ascendancy.  Concerts and dances occurred regularly in the Public Hall in Aboyne and, after its opening in 1921, the Victory Hall.  An Aboyne Jazz Troop was born and entertained enthusiastically and a local branch of the Women’s Rural Institute thrived in Dess.  The Sandison ladies were ever to be seen at such events and clearly had a lot of fun.  Some newspaper articles covering these events, no doubt reflecting the then world view of Aboyne folk, would nowadays be seen as patronising and even racist, but they did not appear to cause offence at the time.  The Aberdeen Journal reporting on a gay scene at a Masquerade Dance held in the Victory Hall in 1922 wrote “Slick Chinamen, woolly niggers, feathered Indians, languid Italians, lively Frenchmen and natives of other distant lands were represented.” The Sandison ladies took less contentious subjects for their sartorial inspiration.  Mrs Sandison, the widow of Francis Sandison, now living at “Bona Vista”, the former Red Cross hospital, went as a powder puff, her daughter Jessie dressed as a Quaker Girl and Sheila, daughter of Alex Sandison, was attired as a bat!

Time is called on Alex Sandison's life
But time was running out for Alex Sandison.  He had lived a hectic life as a hotelier, farmer, civic leader and sportsman, probably regularly lubricated with that elixir of camaraderie, alcohol.  In 1926 his health gave cause for concern to his family and he decided to go to Harrogate in Yorkshire to receive treatment.  Harrogate had been a spa town since Georgian times and was frequented by the unhealthy wealthy taking the waters in vain search of a cure.  It is known that Ean Cecil had lived in the town and Alex Sandison may have gone there on his recommendation.  On the day after the arrival of the Sandisons, Alex became seriously ill and died a few days later with his wife Maud Alexandra at his side.  His body was taken back to Aboyne and his funeral was held on 1st July 1926 from his home “Eredene” to the parish church.  The pall-bearers represented his interests and achievements in life, the wider Sandison family, business, commerce, farming and public life.  The obituary in the local newspaper described him as tactful, able, courteous and considerate.  His achievements were many but, if he achieved much, it was at least partly because he had stood on the shoulders of a giant, his father Francis who, through his diligence and acumen had laid the foundation for the Sandison family wealth.

Sandison family wealth
The inventory of Francis Sandison’s heritable and moveable estate, published in 1902, amounted to £4,962 gross.  This would have been equivalent to £532,519 in 2014, calculated on an RPI basis, a remarkable achievement for a man born on a sheep farm who was in financial difficulties at the start of his career.  Francis died without leaving a will which must have caused the division of his estate to be decided by the Law of Scotland, where both a surviving spouse and surviving children had defined rights.  Thus Alexander Sandison started his business life not only with a substantial financial cushion but also with a series of successful ongoing businesses in his control.  On his death in 1926, his heritable and moveable estate amounted to £103,649 gross.  In today’s money that would be the equivalent of £5,494,485, another remarkable Sandison family achievement!

Francis and Alexander Sandison compared
It is tempting to see Alex Sandison as essentially a clone of his father Francis, since both were successful farmers, both were successful hotel keepers, both were heavily involved in public affairs, both were keen sportsmen and both were based in Aboyne for most of their lives.  But there were differences between them, which hint at subtle divergences in their personal make-up.
Aboyne Lodge 281 of the Freemasons was a natural meeting ground for the trading classes of Aboyne, of which Sandison pere et fils were prominent members.  However, it appears that Francis Sandison was never a member of the Lodge, even though many of his close associates, such as Charles and John Troup, John Davidson and Andrew Gray were not only members but frequent office-holders.  The true reason for Francis Sandison’s self-exclusion from this bastion of the Aboyne middle classes is not known.  It could hardly have been a dislike of ceremonial since the Aboyne Town Council (he twice served as Provost) displayed plenty of that.  It may have been related to the stance taken on Freemasonry by his some-time mentor, the 11th Marquis of Huntly.  The 9th and 10th Marquises had been prominent Freemasons and held high office in masonic organisations both locally and beyond Aboyne, but the 11th Marquis showed no interest in joining the Aboyne Lodge, even though the members at the time would have welcomed his involvement.  Was Francis Sandison simply mimicking the personal preferences of his noble friend?  In contrast, Alex Sandison did not share his father’s stance.  The younger Sandison was a long-standing member of Lodge 281, though he confined his office-holding role within the organisation to acting as Auditor for both the Craft and Royal Arch branches.  It was almost as though he was only a token member filling a technical role but not prominent in the ceremonial.
Francis Sandison was a prominent member of the Church of Scotland and a zealous defender of his Church when it was threatened by disestablishment and disendowment.  This principled stance clashed uncomfortably with his Liberal political outlook, when he was involved in the recruitment of an acceptable anti-disestablishment candidate to stand against the incumbent Liberal, only to have to turn to the Conservative candidate when the new candidate defected.  The Conservative promptly lost.  Alex Sandison must have seen at first hand how politics and religion have the potential to form a toxic mixture.  Perhaps for this reason, Sandison junior, while a member of the congregation of the local Church of Scotland, where his wife was an active social member, was not to be found in the limelight when contentious religious issues arose.  Similarly with politics, he occasionally attended meetings being addressed by political heavyweights but did not wear his political colours on his sleeve was not an active political campaigner.
It also seems to have been the case that Alex Sandison devoted his time to organisations that wielded real power and presented opportunities to deal effectively with both village and wider County matters.  The Aboyne and Glentanar School Board, the Aboyne Highland Games Committee, the Deeside District Committee of the County Council and the County Council itself enjoyed his attention for many years and all could be described as executive organisations responsible for significant issues.
In summary, while both father and son were successful businessmen and both devoted significant amounts of time to public office, Alex was probably the more successful and achieved more in his commercial life.  In public life Francis seems to have become involved in anything that attracted his interest, while Alexander was more pragmatic, making strategic decisions with regard to the promotion of his various businesses and the apportionment of his time to the public good.

The Sandisons leave the Huntly Arms
After the death of Alex Sandison, his widow, Maude Alexandra, then aged 40, became proprietor of the Huntly Arms, having been involved in its running for many years.  She was of considerable standing in the community and had no difficulty having the Liquor licence transferred to her name.  However, she did not continue for long in this role.  Alex and Maude only had one child, Sheila who was born in 1909 and had gone off to Aberdeen University to read for an MA degree.  She appeared not to have any interest in continuing in the family tradition by becoming involved in the management of the Huntly Arms.  In 1933 she married John Andrew Lewis, a marine engineer and son of Sir Andrew Lewis, an Aberdeen trawler owner and sometime Lord Provost of the City.  In 1927 the Huntly Arms acquired a new proprietor, Robert Smith, an Aboyne butcher new to the licenced trade but described as “a man of shrewd business capacity and endowed with plenty of good common sense”.  Thus the Huntly Arms, which by this time boasted in its advertisements of “salmon fishing, garage, electric light”, lost its connection with the Sandisons, who had nurtured this prestigious business for the previous 47 years.  During this time it had been host to major personalities from Deeside and beyond and witness to many decisions concerning the development of Deeside and its communities.  Francis and Alexander Sandison deserve to be remembered as sons of Deeside who achieved much in their lives and who were largely responsible for making the Hotel the fine structure it is today.

Don Fox

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic amount of research. I am John Sandison and I believe I am a great great nephew of a Francis Sandison. My great grandfather was Charles Sandison who I suspect was Francis's brother. Charles had 11 children. Are you related to the Sandisons?