Cluny Cottages  
Built in the early 1830’s, the cottages, formerly the Preventive Houses where the King’s Men, the forerunners of the customs and excise men lived, are now called Cluny Cottages. Built with stones from the local quarry, the red granite lintels came from nearby Stirling Hill.

Slates for the roofs were shipped in by schooner from Wales and carried up from the shore by the women of the village in creels strapped to their backs. Each of the seven single storey cottages originally consisted of two rooms and an outside toilet. A staircase separated the two rooms and led to a loft.

The two storey house at the east end of the row is reputed to have been the Collieston home of Thomas Blake Glover, the 'Scottish Samurai', whose father was head of the Coastguard Station in Collieston from 1847 to 1849.
At the fishing
Towards the end of the 19th Century Collieston was one of the most prosperous fishing communities on the NE coast of Scotland. About 50 open decked yawls, manned by some 200 fishermen, were fishing out of the village. “The Lang Lines” is a video reconstruction of aspects of this period.

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  George Ritchie's boat sinks  
In the summer of 1890. George Ritchie, John Walker Ritchie his son, and 15-year-old Alexander Stott drowned when their boat sank near the entrance to Collieston harbour.

The boat was spotted by the crew of two yawls sailing along with full sail set, about half a mile off Collieston, heading for shore. Suddenly the boat disappeared and the fishermen quickly manned their boats and set off to the spot where the craft had gone down but there was no sign of survivors or wreckage.

The fruitless search continued all day but it was not until two days later that the body of John Walker Ritchie was recovered from the sea. He was subsequently laid to rest in the churchyard at Slains. The bodies of George Ritchie and Alexander Stott were never found.

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Pier construction
The concrete 'hut' is a reminder of the construction of the Pier, which was built in 1894. Still standing at a slant at the top of the Brae on the south side of Perthudden, this curious structure was built to house the explosives used in the Pier work.
For safety’s sake the explosives were transported to the site by boat from Perthudden rather than being carted through the village. Looking at the Brae on the north of Perthudden, Slains Lodge the former Whiteness Hotel is clearly visible.
To the right of Slains Lodge is a white washed cottage facing out to sea, formerly the lookout post of the Collieston Auxiliary Coastguard Company.
Looking from the high ground above the quarry in Cransdale, towards the north side of Collieston Pier whilst it was under construction.

The North and South entrances where the fishing boats entered or left before the Pier was completed are visible as are the rock formations on which the Pier was built. A crane, used in the construction, can be seen on the right of the picture.

In the foreground fish, probably cod or ling, are drying on racks. Beyond the Pier Slains Lodge, formerly known as Whiteness Hotel, is clearly identifiable on the cliff top.

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Collieston map  
A map of Collieston in 1870. The quarry overlooks Tarness Haven, now known as Cransdale. The houses in the Low Town area are indicated nestling round the rocky foreshore and natural harbour. Clearly visible is the harbour’s north entrance, through the Black Rig, which was later blocked by the construction of the Pier in 1894.

In the High Town area of the village the houses, including the Post Office, are huddled together on the cliff top overlooking the harbour. On the perimeter of the High Town stands the Whiteness Inn (Hotel) while to the south, situated on the eastern side of the Sand Loch is the Coastguard Station with its Watch House and Boat House indicated on the nearby cliffs.

Various caves, rocks, inlets and bays along the coast are clearly identified from Hell’s Lum in the north to Perthudden in the south.

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It was in 1801 that Malcolm Gillespie, a zealous customs officer. was appointed to Collieston. He later died on the gallows after being found guilty of forgery and in an effort to save his life, his friends published an account of his exploits against the smugglers in the vain hope that it would gain him clemency. This account shows that when Malcolm Gillespie was posted to Collieston, upwards of 1000 ankers of holland gin were landed at Collieston every month. The account states, ‘the illicit trade was carried on by people of considerable stock and influence and it required great resolution and exertion to attack and suppress such a formidable and powerful company’.

Malcolm Gillespie left Collieston in 1807 believing that he had conquered the smugglers but as can be seen from Geordie Sangster’s account of a landing in 1814 this was not the case.

Malcolm Gillespie’s list of the seizures which he made during the 6 years he was in Collieston indicates by the number of stills seized that the people of Collieston were distilling their own spirits as well as importing them. The horse and carts seized suggests that the country folk as well as the fishers were involved in the smuggling trade. The likely set up would be that the fishers brought the contraband ashore and possibly stored it whilst the farmers with their contacts in the hinterland would market and distribute it.

Geordie Sangster’s tale as told to James Dalgarno in 1842 is a very good illustration of how smuggling was a joint enterprise within the community.

This is his story.

‘The largest consignment of gin on record was in the fall of the year 1814. The Dutchmen made a landing at the shore of Collieston, Cransdale, Port Thuddan and Old Slains Castle. The more daring of the Dutch crews jumped on shore armed with cutlasses, pistols and some with boat guns to protect the villagers and others of the landward parts in hiding away the ankers in the various concealments by sea and land. While the remaining crews filled the creels and sacks of formidable men and women from the boats. Andrew King, skipper of the boat Nancy of Collieston took one of the armed desperados aside and told him that ha and his crew had a dread of being watched in carrying off the prize to the concealment at Whiteness being aware that there was one, if not more, gaugers at the Inn. On giving them instructions to do their duty without fear, the Dutchman took a cask below his arm, went to the Inn, and placing it on the floor took a hatchet which he had hooked on to his leather belt, broke open the head of the cask, and taking it by the chime between his finger and thumb he placed it on the kitchen dresser with the same apparent ease as a common mortal would have lifted the empty cask. The inmates were awe struck at the process of only a few minutes. The chief addressing himself to the landlord, Baron Bailie, of the village said that he had brought a gift for the good of the house, and filling a horn drank to the host and hostess. While doing these honours the gaugers moved out by stealth, but were immediately followed by the mysterious stranger who had made up his mind to keep them prisoners until the traffic was over. A smart altercation being heard on the ‘toon loan’ the Bailie rushed out to prevent blood shed if that was possible, but found only one of the two that went out. The Dutch chief told the Bailie that he came to protect the villagers, and that the one under his charge, he would lock up in the Inn for the night and would like the ‘bird’ that had flown under his protection also. The gauger taken in charge seeing the folly of wrestling with a fearless Dutchman bristling with armour calmly submitted to the ordeal and on being marched in was locked up, the chief taking good care that the window of the cell was properly secured. The landlord seeing that the chief really meant what he said took him aside and handed him the key as a guarantee that no one could release the exciseman but himself. It was soon spread abroad in the village that one of the Excisemen had fled and no one seemed to know where he had gone. The chief with the aid of one of his crew searched every house and bed above and below to the terror of the wives and children of the fishermen but without any result. As a last recourse they went to the links adjoining to the Sandloch and over the site where the Preventive Station now stands, shouting and threatening all the way, but were only responded to by the plaintive cries of the curlew and plover frightened from their marshy lair. The chief and his assistant on returning at an early hour in the morning found that the gin had been nearly secured and that they would soon be ready to embark, made a farewell and a business visit to the Baillie and James Dickie, the accountant.

“Nae man can tether time nor tide”

A weird shout from the Dutchman reverberating from the shores of Cransdale and Porthudden answered by another from the shore of Colllieston, told that it was time for every one belonging to the craft to be on board. Plying their oars with great verve and using nautical terms long since obsolete, they were soon out of site and hearing. An over supply of traffic caused the holders to store it away in turnip and potato furrows while Mr Gray of Knaps Leask put a large supply of his own and others into a large feal dyke being built.

But on the whole the work was accomplished, the morning was far advanced, the ploughman was too late for his routine of morning labour, and the fisherman had lost a tide. Acting on the advice of the Dutch Captain the Bailie released the Exciseman in excellent time for breakfast, but his guest seemed ill at ease after the severe ordeal and the more so that his friend and companion in business had not turned up. “Earth has its angels too”. The sympathy and hospitality of the lady of the house, however was the means of softening his heart and in some measure made him forget the degradation. The village was quiet. The men who had done duty the night before were in bed and some of the lads and mothers were engaged in baiting the lines, while old Jamie Buthly was leaning on the gable of his house. with his hands deep into his trouser pockets taking weather observations. Seeing a smart looking young man suddenly leaving the house of a neighbour he became curious to know who he was and why such haste. On making enquiry he found that it was the missing Exciseman who had fled from justice the night before and put himself under the protection of Jenny Ritchie who in haste, but with great presence of mind placed him on a pile of dried fish, and covering him over with a large tarpauline told him not to stir without her leave if he valued his life. Jenny said that she “wus fleyt for the ruffin mischiven the bonny young lad, he was some mither’s bairn."

At a pretty early hour of the day a confidential messenger was sent by Provost Chalmers, Ellon to inform James Dickie that a spy and an informant, under pay from his quarter had been in Ellon and was on the way to Oldmeldrum, the headquarters of the Excise. It was the nature of James Dickie to take a calm and deliberate view of things in every day life. He called on the Baillie and after consulting together, they came to the conclusion that they should have a full meeting of the holder of gin and that notice should immediately be given to the traders in the landwards parts of the parish. Messengers were forthwith sent to the respective parties with instructions to attend a meeting that evening on urgent business. Prior to the arrival of John Anderson, Kirkton, John Henderson, Crawlay and George Gray, Knaps Leask , James and the Bailie had thought it over and wrought out a scheme which they were in hopes would meet with the approval of their landward friends viz to find out some active and willing party who would undertake to way lay the Excisemen on the following morning on the road from Ellon with casks of gin. Better they thought to lose a few casks than a whole store. The brethren met at the hour appointed and in partaking of the hospitality of the Bailie it was agreed to follow out the proposal indicated and a deputation was chosen there and then to wait on a likely party to carry out the business. Early on the following morning George Hardy, Knapperna, light of heart and foot, put his trusty mare into harness and four casks of gin into corn sacks packed with straw and was on the road with the merchant goods, purporting to be for Provost Chalmers, Ellon, before his neighbours were astir. George said his mare was slow but sure, and by the time that he got to the Brig o’ Forvie the morning sky was reflecting on the river Ythan. On reaching the policies of Bilba Park, Logie Buchan he rested his mare before venturing on Carr’s Brae. Twas a moment of suspense to George when he saw two Excisemen approaching with determined steps on the route as he thought to Collieston. Looking suspicious at the contents of the cart., they asked him where he was bound for but without exchanging a word he jumped the stone wall and bounded off like a stag through the plantations leaving the gentlemen in charge of the mare and booty. In the belief that they were giving chase he ran on a straight line over hedges and ditches till he came to the boat house at Logie. Knocking at the door and calling on the boatman for immediate action he was soon floated beyond the reach of the Government Officials and had the protection, if need were of the flowing tide.. George seeing no one in pursuit on either side of the river made up his mind to take an easy walk and a rest at the boat house of Newburgh till the tide receded. The news of the capture had not been heard of on the Foveran side of the river and George was anything but communicative on private business.

‘Nae man can tether time nor tide
The hour approaches Tam maun ride’

At low water George joined the busy mussel bait gatherers from Collieston on their way home through the Links of Forvie with heavy laden creels. On reaching Whiteness he was received with open arms by the Bailie and Jeems Dickie, and was thanked very cordially for carrying out the scheme to the very letter. On taking leave of his friends he was rewarded and the promise of a more substantial payment after a full meeting of traders. The talk of the day was of the missing mare. George however was reticent. But when a Messenger at Arms appeared on the ground bristling with authority and a warrant from the Sheriff of Aberdeenshire to dispose of the confiscated property on the square of Ellon, giving day and date, all doubts were dispelled. On the following Sunday after sermon the sale was ‘skried’ at the bell doors of the Kirks of Ellon, Logie and Slains to wondering audiences. The day of the sale came with but few bidders. The property was knocked out at the first bid and at a low figure and by a deft process the mare with harness and cart was restored to the owner that night none the worse for changing hands.

With the forming of the Coast Guard in 1822 and the government substantially reducing the duty on imported goods, smuggling became more difficult and less attractive so the illicit trade gradually died out and had ceased altogether by the middle of the 19th century.'

Reprinted by kind permission of the University of Aberdeen

Malcolm Gillespie’s seizure list for Collieston 1801-07

Foreign Seizures while stationed at Collieston.
Seized 10,000 gallons
  15 horses
  15 carts
Destroyed 1.000 gallons

British Seizures while stationed at Collieston.
Seized 300 gallons
  7 horses
  4 carts
Destroyed 17 stills 20 gallons aqua 900 gallons wash

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....copyright collieston's century 2003