Well maybe we did have a castle after all

This is a sort of retraction, but only a partial of retraction.

The whole Moncur Castle/Moncur placename thing has been gnawing away at me and I’ve been doing some more digging, and it turns out there was an aristocratic Moncur family in medieval Scotland who held land round about Inchture, but the line died out, and the land passed to the Kinnairds, who are probably the people who built the house known as Moncur castle, and which appears on one of the Pont maps of Renaissance Scotland as Montcurr castle.

So given the family died out, how did people end up with the Moncur surname?

There’s basically four ways this could have happened.

The most likely is that the name was adopted by one or more tenant farmers or other followers of the  Moncur lords – this would probably have happened sometime in the late fifteenth or early mid sixteenth century – ordinary people didn’t really do surnames in the Scots speaking areas before then (Surnames in the Gaelic speaking areas have a different history).

The implication of this is that not all Moncurs are related but that some of us at least were originally agricultural workers on lands held by the Moncur family. Given that there seems to be cluster in the eighteenth century of records, grave stones and so on in the Longforgan and Forfar areas that seems fairly tenable as an argument.

The other obvious suggestion is that the while the title to the Moncur lands may have expired, other quasi aristocratic Moncurs – the sons of younger sons etc, may have meant that the name lived on.

Given that some of the early Moncurs seem to have been ministers of religion or people of some education it’s possible that they had access to family wealth, however diminished, to fund their education, that seems a  plausible alternative.

The other two explanations are less likely. One is that the name has a Huguenot origin.

Having watched time and again the hotel clerks behind the reception desk in France take my passport, say Bonjour, Monsieur Montcour, and proceed to type my name that way, despite having my passport open in front of them, you can’t but believe in a French origin of the surname.

But Huguenot it is not.

Given that the Forfar area being known for linen waving from the eighteenth century onwards, and the well known Huguenot connection with the weaving industry, it at first might seem to be a tenable argument that the name was Huguenot in origin. (While the Spitalfields Huguenots in London were primarily silk weavers, there was a Huguenot community in Ireland associated with the linen industry, and some of them later moved to Scotland to work in the developing Scots linen industry.)

However, we can discount the suggestion of a Huguenot origin to the name. The various Huguenot societies maintain detailed lists of surnames they consider Huguenot in origin and their variants and Montcour/Moncoeur/Moncur is not on the list.

Incidentally, there is some evidence of an extended family of Huguenot weavers from Picardy being encouraged to settle in the Forfar area, but they had classic Huguenot names.

The fourth alternative is that the name is of Flemish origin – there was a fairly large Flemish settlement in the Dundee area in medieval times – and  despite the name sounding more Walloon than Flemish, it could be argued that the name came via Flemish settlement – except that recent research at St Andrews into the Flemish settlement does not identify the Moncur name as being associated with Flemish settlement.

So, the simplest answer is that one or more people living or working in the Moncur area adopted the name of the area as their surname when it became practical requirement.

Certainly the work I’ve done tracing my family line back seems to suggest a heritage of agricultural workers rather than that of the gentry.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Yesterday I came across an interesting early twentieth century package …


interesting because of the way the design was printed over the corner of the package, unlike most other packaging of the time where the individual faces of the box were simple standalone designs.

The product itself was Cinnak:


a product dating from the immediate pre world war I period  to provide relief from colds, whose great selling point was that it could be taken without the need for being mixed into a glass of water.

cinnak 2    cinnak 1

And who was Nellie Stewart ? Well wikipedia was my friend here. Nellie Stewart was an Australian actor and singer of the time who was known for her roles in light comedies and operettas – so an obvious choice for someone to endorse a cold cure …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Moncur castle (again)

While using the Statistical Account to try and find the locations of farms and properties mention in the servant tax records, I came across the following entry about Inchture from the 1799 appendix:

1799 statistical account of scotland

which sort of vaguely supports my guess about there having been a proprietor ( be they tenant or landowner) named Moncur sometime before the mid 1500’s when the Kinnairds assumed proprietorship …

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Not from St Cyrus after all …

More family history news:

The family history legend had been that we had been tenant farmers for a very long time. Obviously not every son got to be a farmer, so some had gone off to do other jobs.

So far so good.

Now I’d kind of assumed that all this had happened in the St Cyrus area as that’s where the immediate family connections were, and where I knew my great grandfather had had a farm.

Not a bit of it.

The 1871 census recorded place of birth as well as where people lived and my great grandfather’s place of birth was Forfar.

My great grandmother was listed as being born in Montrose.

My great grandfather was listed as being a crofter, so I’m guessing that sometime in the 1860’s he moved to the St Cyrus area to take up a tenancy.

Now obviously there’s a bit more work to do here, but I had a bit of luck.

I’ve been using a free account on one of these commercial ancestry sites, MyHeritage, as I find their family tree graphing tool fairly intuitive to use. and what’s more they allow you to export your data in Gedcom format, which most genealogical software can read.

Now, quite often they tell you about possible matches in an effort to get you to sign up, but this time they offered a free match to a family tree based on my great uncle, which took me back a generation, to 1814 no less, when my great great grandfather was born in Kinettles near Forfar.

The information is a bit sketchy – birth marriage and death records where not kept officially until 1854, and there are only partial census records before 1841 – so there’s going to have to be a bit of detective work to fill in the blanks.

It’s also complicated because the land tenure system was such that most of the farms were let to tenants, and the tenant farmers would in turn hire – fee in Scots – farm workers – who were termed farm servants – and other sorts domestic servants for a fixed term – often six months, sometimes a year.

The consequence was that people did move about in their area between fees and tenancies.

But what we do have is the Horse Tax and Male and Female servant tax records, organised by parish, from the 1790’s.

A quick and dirty search shows a number of Moncurs – both male and female employed as servants in the area, and at least one man, Peter Moncur of Kirkton by Tealing, who had to pay the horse tax, and who I might guess to be a tenant farmer.

However more work, much more work, is required …

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

No castle, but an island …

Back on the family history front again …

A few days ago I received an email from another Moncur – actually a Moncure – who’d found my blog posts and wondered if we might be related.

The answer, of course, is possibly, but how close is difficult to say – I’m still working on my father’s chain of descent to see who is connected to whom and who the various siblings were.

But one question that came up was whether the Moncur Castle by Inchture was anything to do with us.

Surprisingly, the answer is probably not.

Now I’ve driven past Inchture innumerable times and there used to be a sign for Moncur Pigs, and given our family’s farming connections in the area I kind of assumed we must have some vague connection to a pig farming business in the area.

What I didn’t know as there was actually a castle – or more accurately a ruined renaissance period tower house – called Moncur Castle.

A quick search of the web suggests however that the name is coincidental – the 1860 large scale Ordnance Survey map shows the area quite clearly:

moncur castle 1867 survey map

there’s a farmstead called Moncur, a Moncur burn and a ruined castle Moncur  – all of which kind of suggests that it’s the location that is called Moncur – perhaps after some previous leaseholder who’s dropped out of the historical record. It also means that the pig farm was named after the location and not the owner, and most probably has no family connection.

The Historic Scotland record is quite clear that the house and the land was in the hands of the Kinnaird family, which was still the case in the 1820’s as in this 1819 gazetteer entry for Inchture:

1819 gazateer for Inchture

But there is a Moncur island – actually two islands, East and West Moncoeur Island, first recorded by Lieutenant James Grant of the Royal Navy in 1800.

In his account of the voyage, he is quite clear that he named it for Captain John Moncur of the Royal Navy:

moncur's island

According to the New Jamaica Almancack of 1801, there’s only one John Moncur, listed as a serving naval officer, so I’m guessing that’s our guy.

Irritatingly John Moncur does not turn up in the Royal Navy Service Records held by the UK National Archives, most likely due to the fact that records before 1840 were not maintained systematically, but he has left a long enough tail behind him in other sources to get the rough shape of his career, as well as some evidence he shows up on the various genealogy websites, but if he is a relative, I can say we have an island or two …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My very short career as a re-enactor

A week or so before Christmas I posted the following tweet:

Annotation 2020-01-10 144707

of me looking vaguely Dickensian.

At the time it probably looked like a bit of festive fun – which it was.

Recently they have restored the Victorian Fountains in Town Hall Gardens, and one of our friends who is a stringer for the local paper, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, had the idea of recreating this photograph of the fountain from the 1880’s to coincide with the official event commemorating its restoration:

beechworth fountain original

Well it didn’t happen. The day was over 40C and the photoshoot was postponed, but the day before New Year’s Eve, we all dressed up to have our picture taken as Victorian gentelmen.

another reenactment picture b w

My inspiration was the famous photograph of I.K. Brunel standing in baggy pants and muddy boots at the launch of the Great Eastern:


but for some reason this time  I looked more like the Cat in the Hat than a nineteenth century speculator, but hey the show must go on.

fountain article

As it was, the article only came out in this week’s edition, but I think it works, even though we look rather more like local worthies than the council grounds staff who featured in the original picture.

Just for fun, I used pixlr to antique the photograph, and I think we look pretty good

fountain restoration sepia

even though the image doesn’t have quite the softness of some early glass plate photographs …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Goosefoot and ground elder

Earlier today I posted the following tweet:

Annotation 2019-12-26 154232

in response to an article on Phys.org that suggested that goosefoot could form an important food source.

Well, if you’ve had amaranth in an Indian meal, or eaten quinoa, you’ve eaten Chenopodium. Goosefoot is not these, but a wild form that used to be foraged by early farmers in Europe.

We know they ate it because we’ve found the seed in their cess pits, mixed in storge pits and even preserved in the stomachs of bog bodies.

It’s not really on the menu these days, but about thirty years ago in a moment of archeobotanical experimentation a former girlfriend cooked some up much as you would use amaranth.

Let’s simply say it was uncompromisingly strong flavoured. You would eat it if you have to, but I wouldn’t cross the street for it. Spinach is definitely nicer.

On the subject of spinach, the same girlfriend also experimented on me by using ground elder in place of spinach.

Certainly it was nicer than goosefoot, but still pretty tough and chewy compared to the spinach you either grow at home or buy from the supermarket.

And I think that tells us something – there are a lot of foods out there which are good and nutritious, but need special handling, perhaps because like goosefoot and warrigal greens, they are high in oxalates, or other toxins, or like groundelder, simply havn’t been bred to be the most palatable, which means picking an processing them takes work.

Much much easier to get a bag of prewashed spinach from the supermarket …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment