Aden Estate Story
Most of the Aden estate in the late 1930s was composed of tenant farms. One of these 52 farms was Thistliehillock, known locally as “Thristlies”.
The Birnie Family took over this 40 acre “placie” from Whitsunday 1925, at a rent of £1 an acre. Mr and Mrs Birnie had about £500 between them and this was considered by the lairds of the time as justifying the grant of a tenancy. The rule of thumb adopted was to match every acre with a ten pound note so the Birnies had a reserve of £100. This was just as well because they “went in dear” to Thristlies and the agricultural slump struck in 1926; with oats selling at well below £1 per quarter (150kgs) and a store stirk for £13, it took the Birnies until the mid-1930s to recover.
It was then that Mr Birnie went up to the Big Hoose to appeal foe a reduction in rent. Reverend Charles Birnie recalled that his father was received by Sidney Russell, who made the point that everybody was hard-up. “However, Dad stood his ground. ‘Div ye ken this,’ he said, ‘I hinna haen a new suit since my mairriage.’ ‘Oh well, d-n it Birnie, I’m not as bad as that,’ conceded the Laird. The rent was reduced to £30 a year or 75p per acre!”
Rent was payable twice yearly to a factor at the estate office. A bottle of whiskey with an inverted glass round its neck stood on the table, however, as Mr Birnie remembered, “Maist folk were ower blate (timid) tae help themselves, bit ony forward kin’ o’ lad took twa!”
Eventually the Birnies’ hard work at Thristlies enabled the family to flit, in 1943, to a much larger holding of 130 acres that merited the term “ferm”.
The Gamekeeper ensured that there were game birds to shoot by killing competing wild animals, considered ‘vermin’, and rearing from eggs, game birds such as pheasants.
James Hepburn began a long career as Headkeeper at Aden in 1929. He was responsible for the grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting.
During the 1920s 750 pheasant were reared every year and the 8,000 acres of shooting were let at £750; this included use of the mansion house and 1,000 acres of grouse moor and the tenant also had to pay the keeper’s wage and keep the estate Labradors.
Sidney Russell was apparently judged to be more of “akeen than successful shot!”.
In the Garden
The Gardener supplied the mansion house with vegetables and fruit, maintained the grounds, house flower beds and lower gardens.
In October 1930 George Birnie was promoted to Head Gardner. His was a 9hour day beginning at 7.00am when the Cook placed her order for vegetables. These grew in the walled garden as did the peaches, grapes, pears, tomatoes and ferns which flourished in the lean-to glasshouses on its north wall – but only if the furnace was stoked 7 days a week.
The Gardner also cared for the herbaceous borders in the lower gardens and the annual borders around the mansion house.
Ponies wearing padded hoof slippers were used to cut the grass but in George Birnie’s time a new petrol mower was purchased not only to mow the lawns but for the cricket pitch too!
The Horseman’s Day
The Horseman’s main task was to cultivate the arable land on the home farm but had other duties including threshing straw, catching rats, mowing lawns and clearing snow.
Between 1919 and 1922 the Thomson family lived in the Horseman’s House (situated in the end building on the right-hand-side of the Farming Museum). Jimmy Thomson began his day at 5.00pm feeding and grooming the horses before the first yoking (6.00am – 11.00am). Then the horses were rested for 2 hours before the second yoking (1.00pm – 6.00pm).
During winter ploughing Jimmy and the horses walked about 12 miles to plough one acre per day. At 9.00pm he gave the horses their final feed.
The ‘Big House’
The number of House staff declined after the death of General Russell but increased again as the new Russell family grew.
The House staff included:
- • Mrs Bannerman – Housekeeper & Cook
- • Miss Jean Gauld – Kitchenmaid
- • Miss Elizabeth Davidson – Parlourmaid
- • Miss Marjory Fraser – Housemaid
- • Miss Elsie Rennie – Nurserymaid
- • Miss Ogg – Nanny
- • Miss Cowper & Miss MacLennan – Governesses
Working hours were long, often from 6.30am to 10.00pm every day with only a half day off each week. For the maids there was usually 2 weeks annual holiday.
After the First World War life on Aden changed as taxes rose and old mortgages took their toll. When Sidney Russell inherited, on his brother Drostan’s death in 1915, he was serving in the trenches with the 3rd Cameron Highlanders, and then later with the Scots Guards. In his absence his mother helped to run Aden and, indeed, continued to do so after he returned in 1919.
The Last Laird
Sidney Russell after unexpectedly succeeded to the estate in 1919 and became the 8th and last Russell to be laird.
Sidney married Meriel Fetherstonhaugh on 19th April 1922. Their homecoming was marked with a garden party for more than 300 people which proved to be one of the last great soc ial occasions held at Aden. As part of the celebrations the estate tenants presented the couple with a mahogany cased clock and platinum pearl broach. Besides managing the estate, Sidney enjoyed comic playwriting, shooting and family holidays with the four children.
The Demise of Aden
The wedding which was had heralded a new era at Aden was also the beginning of the end. During the 1930s financial problems overwhelmed the estate and Sidney Russell was obliged to sell Aden in 1937.
By 1937 only a quarter of the estate remained but this still amounted to 5,000 acres and included the mansion house, home farm and 52 tenant farms and most of the village of Old Deer.
The family moved south to Thistlegate, Charnmouth in Dorest at a time which must have been particularly sad coming soon after the death, from illness, of their eldest son, Cumine.
After a successful career as one of the first country librarians Sidney, the 8th laird and last Russell of Aden, died on 18th January 1965.