Chairman’s Report 2011

 ‘The Friends of Bellie Churchyard’
Annual General Meeting
Sunday, 29 May 2011 at Baxter’s Highland Village
Chairman’s Report

The Friends of Bellie Churchyard are most grateful to Baxter’s Highland Village for providing the facilities for this AGM, and for the refreshments they have so kindly laid out for us. Thanks are also due to the musicians from Mosstodloch Primary, Milne’s Primary and Milne’s High School for the excellent entertainment they have given us.

The planting scheme developed by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh is now completed, and looking wonderful. The cost of this project was considerably more than the funds which the Friends of Bellie Churchyard had available, and our grateful thanks are also due to Mr and Mrs Gordon Baxter for their support in funding this planting project through The Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation.

In addition to the new plantings in the old part of Bellie Churchyard, the Friends have also been able to enhance the appearance of the new cemetery. An application to the Abbeyfield Fochabers Society Ltd for funding towards this project has been successful, and during this spring we have been able to plant several new, mature trees in the new cemetery. In future years these trees will grow and spread to form a very attractive addition to the cemetery, and provide some shade and shelter to visitors.  We are most grateful to the Abbeyfield Society for their kind support of this project.

Thanks are due to all of the volunteer gardeners who have put in so much effort as members of the ‘gardening parties’, and have kept the new plantings so neat and tidy. They are not just caring for the new beds, though, and the self-seeded ivy, sycamore and other growth which seeks to damage the tombstones is also being kept in check. This is especially important during these times of financial cutbacks, as Moray Council are having to limit the amount of work they can do it all of the many burial grounds across Moray. The planting of the trees in the new cemetery was a major effort, and the Committee would like to thank all of those who put in so much effort on the day, and are particularly grateful for the assistance provided by Community Services.

Bellie Churchyard and new cemetery has been visited by many people during the last year, and the ‘Friends’ have been contacted directly by numerous people tracing their ancestors, including one couple, all the way from Canada, who visited the grave of a relative who was a member of the crew of a Halifax bomber which crashed during the Second World War as it was returning to the airfield at Dallachy, killing all seven crewmen.

Lord Graham, the eldest son of the Marquis of Montrose, had, according to the old records, come with his father “with the bodie of his armie”, from Elgin on 4th March 1645 to the Bog o’ Gight (now Gordon Castle). While there, the son, “a proper youth about 16 yeiris old, and of singular expectatioune, takis seiknes, deis in the Bog in a few dayis, and is bureit in the kirk of Bellie, to his fatheris gryt grief. He was buried in Bellie Churchyard, probably within the old church, now long gone.

All attempts to find his grave have been unsuccessful, due to later interments in the area. On 29th March this yea, however, two representatives of the 1st Marquis of Montrose Society met some members of the Committee, and with the assistance of Moray Council and several other ‘strong bodies’, erected a memorial stone to mark the last resting place of this young man. There will be a brief official ceremony to formally unveil the plaque on 27th August, to which everyone is welcome.

The effort to recruit more members on an annual subscription basis, in order that there should be a regular cash flow into the ‘Friends’ funds, has proved very successful, and there have also been several other donations. Our thanks go out to all of those who have contributed to the financial welfare of our group.

The website is now well-established and is providing a useful source of information to people searching the web for information on our historic churchyard. The production of a leaflet to publicise the work of the group is now well under way.

During the past year it has become obvious that any proposed work on the entrance roadway and the associated parking area would fall outside the remit of the ‘Friends’. The Committee have agreed that main focus of the group must remain on the churchyard itself, and I am sure that you will all agree that the efforts we have made to conserve and beautify both parts of this historic site vindicate this decision.

The Friends of Bellie Churchyard, and all of the other bodies involved with graveyard research and conservation throughout the area, owe a large debt of gratitude to Mr Garry Morrison, the Moray Council Cemeteries Manager, who is now retiring. He has supported every effort we have made to conserve and improve out churchyard.   Thank you, Garry, and we wish you a long and happy retirement.

Sadly, this is my last day as Chairman, as work further south is taking up more and more of my time. I would like to thank the Committee for all the support they have given me during the past two years. It does not mean, though, that I will not continue to take an active interest in Bellie Churchyard, and as one of the 3511 burial grounds in Scotland it will still hold a special place in my heart.

But, as they say, (especially the vampires), it is time for new blood. Whoever takes over as the new Chairman can rest assured that they, as I have been, will be well supported by our enthusiastic committee members, and I will continue to give support as and when I can, albeit maybe from a distance.

Bruce B Bishop, Chairman, 21st May 2011