11. George Keir Sr. (1705-1788) (Part III) – A return to Scottish roots

Welcome to the 11th Blog entry in this current series of articles looking at the Keir family from Aberdalgie (and Kirkliston). Recalling from part II (Blog #9) we are tracing George Keir Senior (the 3rd son of Rodger Keir and Isabel Armour) & family’s journey through-out Great Britain (from his birth in Scotland to Yorkshire and now back again).

The year is 1762 or thereabouts and George Keir Sr. has quit Horsforth in Yorkshire to return to his native Scotland at the behest of his patron and new employer, Thomas Hay, the 9th Lord Kinnoull (see note 1). We can only imagine the trials and tribulations such a move North would entail in the mid-Eighteenth century, a period before the advent of a major road system and the private automobile travel that we enjoy today.

To quote authors Colin Pooley and Jean Turnbull from their book ‘Migration and Mobility in Britain since the Eighteenth Century’† (see also note 2):

“In the mid-eighteenth century, before widespread turnpiking of major roads, coach travel was slow, hazardous and expensive. Average journey times from London to Manchester were four and a half days in the 1750s: this was clearly a journey that was not undertaken lightly and one which was only available to the wealthy. For most people the majority of journeys were undertaken on foot…”

The journey from York to Perth (some 250 miles) is almost identical in distance as London to Manchester and would have taken the better part of 10 days travel on foot through the notoriously lawless Border region and lowlands of Scotland. With a wife and 5 year old daughter, Catherine (and perhaps three boys barely in their teens) it seems likely that George hired a horse or two and just maybe (fanciful thought that it is) he bought the precursor to the ubiquitous late 18th century English Phaéton  from Edward Hinchcliffe, master coach builder of Leeds (and father of Catherine’s future husband, John Hinchcliffe).

Romantic daydreaming aside, what we can be sure of is the substantial and documented evidence for George Keir (Sr.)’s twenty plus years back in Aberdalgie (and Dupplin).

Factor to the Earl of Kinoull

Can we be certain exactly when George Keir (Sr.) takes up his post as factor to the Earl in Duplin? No, not exactly has to be the honest answer. Our ‘best estimate’ however is between March 1762 and the 6 July 1763. On the later date the Caledonian Mercury (newspaper) runs an advertisement essentially stating [paraphrased, see note 3]:

Five-Sixths parts of the town and lands of Muirtown (500 acres of remarkably fine ground), part of the barony of Balhousie , Perth (now divided ready for inclosing) is offered for rent. “Any person inclining to treat for any of the said farms may enquire for further particulars of Mr. George Keir at Duplin-house.”

Prior to this, on the 9th, 16th and 23rd of March, 1762, the Leeds Intelligencer newspaper contained a duplicated pair of advertisements advising potential buyers that [again paraphrased for brevity – also see note 4]:

A quantity of Spring Wood of 40 years growth (from Kexby, East-Riding) and also a parcel of Oak & Ash wood in Horsforth are to be sold. – “For the Particulars whereof enquire of John Stanhope, Esq; of George Keir [at the same place], who will shew the same to any Person who shall be desirous to purchase.”

Interestingly, the above advertisement mirrors one published the following year – indicating the equivalence between the roles of ‘gardener’ at Low Hall, Horsforth and ‘factor’ to the Earl; of Kinnoull, Duplin, Perthshire, Scotland. In the Caledonian Mercury; dated October 1764, we find (transcribed verbatim):

“To be sold, in the Parks of Dupplin-House, near Perth , on the fifteenth of November next, either wholesale or retail, a quantity of Oak, Ash, Elm, Plane and Beech timber, growing upon the banks of the river Earn, nigh to where the river is navigable. For further particulars, enquire of Mr. George Keir at Dupplin aforesaid. N.B. This advertisement not to be repeated.”

Also in Nov. 1764 George is involved in the letting of “one or two farms” (of about 300 acres) at the “west-end of the town of Kildinnie, lying in the parish of Forteviot, within four miles [south] of Perth”. [Source: Caledonian Mercury, November 1764.]

Next we skip ahead to 1773 when the Library of Innerpeffray’s borrowing book records two transactions for George Keir Senior, Duppline on the 25th of February.

Aside: Two of the Keir Collaborators (Anne & Rachel) have (separately) visited the magnificent Library of Innerpeffray (see note 5), in recent years, spoken with the friendly librarian/curator and seen George Keir’s signature with their own eyes.

The books that George Keir borrowed in 1773? They were the massive, 4 volume “Parliamentary History of England” published in 1647 by English Renaissance poet, dramatist and historian, Thomas May and George Lord Lyttleton’s, recent “History of King Henry II”,  published the year before (1772).


That George Keir (senior) was indeed the primary factor for Thomas Hay, the 9th Earl of Kinnoull, is confirmed by George Penny in his book, Traditions of Perth: Containing Sketches of the Manners and Customs of the inhabitants and notices of public occurrences, during the last century, published in 1836.

Penny writes (pages 174-175): “Old Earl Thomas [Hay] of Kinnoul was the first who set the example of improving the houses of his tenantry… he retired in old age to Dupplin… His only care being not to run into debt… On one occasion, when settling the year’s accounts with Mr Keir, his factor, there was a balance in his favour of four-pence half-penny; on which the Earl facetiously observed, ‘Eh! George, if we go on at this rate we’ll save money!’ This old nobleman exhibited many fine traits of generosity…”

Whilst George and Earl Thomas generally got on well together – the Earl often taking his factors advice on farming matters – not every interaction went in the factor’s favour as in this following example, also related by Penny. [The passage is undated, but from other evidence in the book, probably occurred in about 1780 – Editor.]

“On one occasion, at rent day, the widow of one of his tenants sent her son to pay the rent of the farm and mill which her late husband had possessed. The factor [George Keir Senior] having represented to his Lordship that the widow was unable to manage the farm and mill had got a three-nineteen years’ lease made out in his own behalf. The Earl, on seeing the youth, inquired of the factor who that fine young man was? This was a thrust for which the factor was not prepared. ‘Heigh! George’, exclaimed the Earl. ‘I did not know that Mrs ____ had a son come this length; he’s a fine young man that, we must not let him go, he must have his father’s farm.’ A new lease was accordingly granted to the son, for behoof of his mother, to the great mortification of the factor.”

Later life (in Scotland)

Not all was “beer and skittles” for George Keir (Sr.), however it is clear that he made a “good fist of his life”. Now in his seventies, he spent an inordinate amount of time writing letters to various people, on various matters of daily & national import – mainly to settle debts and exercise (or not) his unusual “discretionary powers” as factor to the Earl of Kinnoull (see note 6). George was also not afraid to ‘speak his mind’. At some point he rented from the Earl a “nice little” farm at Goodlyburn (located at the western edge of the city of Perth) where Catharine Hinscliff, his wife, died in 1783. George soon followed and on the 15th of May, 1788 he also was buried at Goodlyburn. It is difficult to say exactly when he retired as factor to the Earl of Kinnoull as his eldest son (with the same name), George Keir (Jr.) (1737-1804) takes up this position at some time. [We might assume that it was some years before 1788, with the elder George, ‘mentoring’ his son in the role?]

The Children of George & Catharine

We have seen that George Keir (Jr.) became a factor, following in his father’s foot-steps, but what of the other surviving children of George Keir (Sr.) (1705-1788) and Catharine Hinscliff (1713-1783) – how did they fare? Pretty well would have to be the conclusion – by the standards of the day; which defined success as:  long and fruitful careers for the boys and ‘good marriages’ for the girls (sexist as that may seem today).

Indeed all of George Keir (Sr.) surviving sons: George (Jr.) (1737-1804); Thomas (1740-1821); William (1746-1814) and John (1749-1830) gained positions of ‘factor’ to Earls and Dukes who owned great estates in Scotland.

Aside: The role of ‘factor’ was changing in Scotland, as indeed was the entire agricultural ‘scene’. The mid-1750’s was a golden age in Scotland – the very start of the ‘Enlightenment’ – when the scientific method was just starting to get a foothold and ‘improvement’ was the watch word on everybody’s tongues. Dr. Ian Adams in his introduction (pages xvi-xvii) to the Scottish History Soc.’s work on Peter May (the famous ‘land surveyor’ and Enlightenment-age ‘improver’)writes:

“…the existing structure of estate management in Scotland was very different from that in England. In the typical large Scottish estate in the mid-eighteenth century the rents were collected by a local factor, giving part-time attendance only to his duties. On a number of estates, for instance those of the Duke of Buccleuch, such officials were known not as factors, but as ‘chamberlains’. Remittances might be made by these factors directly to the owner, who would also audit their accounts, but more commonly they passed to his Edinburgh-based doer or  law-agent. In some estates the factor with responsibility for the area surrounding the principal mansion house also acted as the general receiver, taking remittances from the other factors and acting as primus inter pares. Where a proprietor was abroad or in minority, overall supervision was often exercised by commissioners,  appointed from among the relations, friends and advisors of the owner; though sometimes commissioners were appointed for more limited purposes, such as set (lease) of a part of the estates… Lower down the scale were the clerk, ground officer, land surveyor, farm grieve, forester, gardener, as well as the household staff. Duties could be combined and designations of various posts were by no means consistent. However, there existed a structure which was to evolve into a modem system of estate management that ultimately outshone many an English great estate.”

George Keir (Sr.)’s (four) male children (some of them personally trained by Peter May himself) were to be at the forefront of this revolution and take up positions as a new kind of ‘Estate factor’ in Scotland – a role combining many of the tasks mentioned above.

The public record

References abound in the documented Scottish Public Records referencing the deeds of the four ‘Keir-factors’ through-out the second half of the 18th century (and into the early 19th.) As these will each be subjects of their own future blogs in this series, it suffices here to record chronologically and in summary form:

1762-1763: Thomas Keir (1740-1821) ‘of Fintalich’ is appointed factor to the low-land districts of the Forfeited Estates of Perth by the Commissioners (who included Lords Milton & Kames.)

1772: William Keir (1746-1814) ‘of Milnholm’ who in 1768 worked with Thomas Keir (above) and the aforementioned Peter May, was appointed as “Overseer of Woods and Director of Improvements” [effectively factor & chamberlain] of the Duke of Buccleuch’s Lanarkshire estates.

c.1778: George Keir (Jr.) (1737-1804) ‘of Duppline’ takes over from his father at Dupplin Castle as factor to the Earl of Kinnoull.

c.1785: John Keir (1749-1830) ‘of Philpstoun’ is employed as factor on the Hopetoun Estate (having earlier turned down a more lucrative offer by the Earl of Elgin to run his limeworks at Charleston, a position he had temporally held in the early 1770’s.) [See note 7.]

As for George Keir’s two surviving girls, they both married in Scotland but returned with their husbands to England:

1777: Mary Keir (1739-1803) married Mr. Samuel Marshall (1727-1809). The Leeds Intelligencer for Tuesday, 23rd of  September, 1777 reported:

“A few days ago was married Longham [Langholm] in Scotland, Mr Samuel Marshall, an eminent Clothier at Horsforth, to Miss Keir, daughter Mr Keir, agent to the Right Hon. the Earl of Kinoull [Kinnoull].”

As was the usual case in Scotland, this marriage is documented twice in two different parish accounts: 7 Sep 1777, Tibbermore, Perthshire (local parish of Mary’s father, George Keir) and 12 Sep 1777, Langholm, Dumfriesshire (where Mary’s brother William was living).

Samuel & Mary had issue: Catherine Marshall (1779-1810) and Elizabeth Marshall (1784-1792).

1791: As previously mentioned George Keir (Sr.)’s youngest child, Catherine Keir (1757-1795) married John Hinchcliffe (1756-1821). Again, the Leeds Intelligencer reported the wedding (in the 26th of  July 1791 edition):

“Monday last [18 Jul 1791] was married, Mr. Hinchcliff [Hinchcliffe], coach-maker, in this town [Leeds], to Miss Keer [Keir], of Milnholm, near Glasgow.”

Just returning to Yorkshire for a moment, there is evidence that not all of George Keir senior’s family left Yorkshire with him, or as shown above, there was certain ‘toing & froing’ between Aberdalgie (Perth) and places within Yorkshire during the ensuing years; this in spite of the arduous and dangerous road travel.

Yorkshire Ties?

Did the Keir family of Aberdalgie & Dupplin (Scotland) keep in touch with the folk they left behind in Horsforth and Leeds, Yorkshire? We can answer this with an emphatic yes; we know of many cases where this can be proven to be true – suggesting that regular contact was both possible and a fact. Some of the selected, more obvious and well-documented cases are:

  • Marriage 12 Oct 1767 at Rothwell Holy Trinity, Leeds, Yorkshire between Thomas Keir of Fintalich (1740–1821) and Ann Waugh of Oulton (1727-1799); The witnesses were a George Kitching and Thomas’ sister, Mary Keir. Ann died at Fintalich farmstead, Muthill, Dunblane, Perthshire, Scotland but her will was executed 26 Jul 1799 in Leeds; Signed and sealed by Thomas Keir [spouse & sole executor] and witnessed by Michael Speight [an attorney & perhaps relative] and John Hinchcliffe [Ann’s brother-in-law].
  • Catherine Keir & John Hinchcliffe lived in Leeds where John owned his coaching business. The couple celebrated the birth of their first daughter, Catherine Hinchcliffe (1794–1829) on the 2nd of January, 1794 at Burley Barr, Leeds, (West Riding), Yorkshire; however Catherine Hinchcliffe nee Keir then died on the 4th of June, 1795 also at Burley Barr, Leeds, aged 38. Perhaps this death was due to problems encountered in childbirth, having their second child? She was buried on the 7th of  June, 1795 in the St. John the Evangelist churchyard,  Leeds.
  • Mary Marshall nee Keir was buried on the 29 Apr 1803 at St Margaret’s chapel, Horsforth, Yorkshire, England.
  • The children of John Keir (Sr.) [who died at the Fintalich farmstead of his ‘relative’, Thomas Keir, Scotland in 1818], are all mention as working and residing in Yorkshire. [cf. John Keir (Sr.)’s will and also Thomas Keir’s 1821 Testament Dative.]
  • Catherine Hinchcliffe (1794-1829) married solicitor John Fawcett at Philpstoun House, Abercorn, Scotland [the residence of Catherine’s uncle, John Keir] in 1825, but the Fawcetts returned to Yorkshire to reside at Carlisle, Cumberland.

Notes & sources:

1998 Pooley, C. and Turnbull, J. ‘Migration and Mobility in Britain since the Eighteenth Century’,  UCL Press, London [ISBN 0-203-97654-1]

1979  Scottish History Society (4th Series) Volume 15, ‘Papers on Peter May, Land Surveyor (1749-1793)’ Edited by Ian H. Adams Ph.D., Printed by T.&A. Constable LTD., Edinburgh, Great Britain. [ISBN 0-906245-05-2]

1. Some references number Thomas as the 8th Earl of Kinnoull.

2. The stagecoach wasn’t introduced in Britain until 1784.

3. In all honesty we should point out that it does not say that George Keir is factor to the Earl of Kinnoull, but this is a mute point. Duplin-House is the traditional home of the factor and the duties being performed are those expected of the factor. We can only assume that William Rankine (Ranken), the factor to George Henry Hay, the old Earl, who died in 1758 (and incidentally the purchaser of Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire – see the previous blog #10), has himself either retired or passed away by 1763.

4. Again we cannot be certain that the George Keir spoken of in this (1762) advertisement is indeed George Keir (Sr.) factor to ‘Lawyer’ John Stanhope of Low Hall, Horsforth (it could be for instance referring to George Keir (Jr.)) Nor can we know for sure that George Keir (Sr.) is still in that position – the advertisement could have been placed the previous year? However, taken at face value, it would appear that George Keir (Sr) [& family] remained in Yorkshire until mid to late-1762.

5. This institution is Scotland oldest  free, public lending library, school & museum (incidentally founded by David Drummond, the 3rd Lord Madertie, in around 1680 and inherited in 1739 by Robert Hay Drummond {the Earl of Kinnoull’s brother and destined to be Archbishop of York as per blog #9}. Hay-Drummond raised the funds and commissioned architect Charles Freebairn to design and build a new Georgian Library building immediately adjacent to the Chapel – the structure which still stands today.) The Library of Innerpeffray has its own website which is worthwhile visiting: http://www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk/

6. Some of these letters (especially those dated from 1780) are held with the National Records of Scotland’s Earls of Seafield (1215-1939) collection – catalogue number GD248 / Inventories and miscellaneous papers; reference: https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/private-papers

7. Private correspondence (with the current heir apparent to the Earl of Elgin). Note also: In 1781, James Hope-Johnstone became the 3rd Earl of Hopetoun (at age 40) and was to be John Keir’s new employer.


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