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Priest George Gordon.

Extract from "The Life and Times of William Marshall"

@ Moyra Cowie

George Gordon was born in Fochabers on the 27th. March 1776 and later in life he became a close friend of William Marshall.

Scalan, Glenlivet.

"The boys wore Highland dress of black and blue tartan and home made brogues." (Ref Inera’an, A Strathspey parish by Dunnett.)

At the age of nine George was sent to the seminary of Scalan in Glenlivet, Banffshire. This was a college for the education of Roman Catholic priests which was in existence between the years 1717 - 1799. The name Scalan originated from the Gaelic; sgalain, meaning turf roofed sheilings which were erected as temporary dwelling in the summer months when families moved up the braes with their cattle in order to find fresh pasture. This was the custom in the 18th. century in Scotland and this tradition persists today in the Alpine districts of Europe.

Today Scalan is being gradually restored to its former self. Tucked away on the Braes of Livet in a lovely setting by the Crombie Burn and it is definitely worth a visit. In October 1998 my cousin, Kay, and I visited this long two storey house which has seen a troubled past. Scalan was raided by Hanoverian soldiers in 1726 and 1728 and later burnt to the ground after Culloden and rebuilt in 1767 by the Rev. John Geddes.

On our visit, we met Mr. Sandy Mathieson, who lives close to the old seminary and we a had a fine blether with him and he kindly gave me two of his own information sheets, about the College. My young daughter drank water from the Bishop’s Well and enjoyed playing with Moss, the sheep dog!

Scalan fell into disrepair in the early 19th century as the college was moved to Aquhorties near Inverurie, in 1799, but became a home again in the l920s for a brief period.

The Royal Scots college Valladolid, in Spain was the next step in George’s career and on the 23rd. September he was ordained by the Bishop, Don Emanuel Joachim Moron. After a time in Valladolid, Edinburgh and Aquhorities, Aberdeenshire he was appointed parish priest at Foggielawn in 1799. In 1805 he was transferred to


Scalan by the Crombie Water, Glenlivet.


Blairs and in 1809 he moved to Keithac Farm on the estate of Auchindoune. It was fortunate that the priest had come to Auchindoune as later he proved to be of great help to Marshall.

Keithac, is a farm situated close to Marshall’s farm of Keithmore. The buildings at Upper Keithac and Lower Keithac, are now mere shells.

After the 1715 rising and later the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, culminating in the last battle fought on British soil at Culloden, near Inverness, Catholics, Episcopalians and those teaching Catholic doctrines, were perceived as having Jacobite sympathies and hence it was fortunate Scalan was tucked away in a discreet corner of Glenlivet. Likewise Catholic priests kept a low profile and George Gordon moved in to a small croft house with living accommodation on the ground floor and in all probability the upper floor was used as a makeshift chapel where services were held. The Chapel and priest’s house of the Cabrach were burned after Culloden and mass was said for thirty years in a barn and I expect Chapel Keithac suffered a similar fate.

View to Keithac from Achindoun Castle


Chapel Keithac was in existence in the 17th century and was probably a small chapel where the Duff family of Keithmore worshipped. Another theory is that it may have been linked to the Castle of Auchindoune where a branch of the Gordon family lived. Marshall became a good friend of George Gordon as they had much in common. Not only were they Fochabers loons, but they were both educated men who shared an interest in music, architecture and farming. Priest Gordon published two volumes entitled "Sacred Music" for the use of small choirs. He assisted William Marshall prior to the publication of his 1S22 edition of "Scottish Airs, Melodies, Strathspeys and Reels." History reports, Marshall was not familiar with musical notation and therefore found the scribing onto manuscript difficult. George Gordon, helped Marshall prepare his music edition of 1822 and they must have spent many a sociable evening at Keithmore or Keithac, with Marshall playing the fiddle while the good priest wrote down the music.(at this time priests were not refered to as Father)

Marshall dedicated the tune Chapel Keithac to his good friend.


Architecture at Tombae.

Priest George Gordon redesigned the Church of the Incarnation at Tombae after the muckle spate of 1829 (there was tremendous flooding of all rivers in the north east of Scotland in August 1829). The church and graveyard sit in a wooded area at the foot of Cairn Muldonich overlooking the River Livet.

In 1817, the town of Dufftown was planned and as part of this initiative, George Gordon saw to the building of the Catholic Chapel of St. Mary of the Assumption. Architecturally similar to the church at Tombae except for the old leaded windows, which are evident at the Church of the Incarnation.

The proceeds from the sale of his "Sacred Music for the use of small choirs" went towards his chapel fund.

By this time, Catholic persecution had come to an end, although the Catholic Emancipation Act did not occur until 1829 and George Gordon moved to the chapel house in Duiftown. He spent much of his time when not attending to the needs of his parishioners in his much admired garden. During his time at Scalan all the pupils had to tend the vegetable garden and he may have learned his gardening skills on the remote Braes of Livet.