Chairman’s Report 2012

 ‘The Friends of Bellie Churchyard’
Annual General Meeting
Tuesday, 8 May 2012 at Baxter’s Highland Village
Chairman’s Report

The Friends of Bellie Churchyard have had another productive year, meeting with visitors researching their ancestry, answering queries from across the world about possible connections with Bellie Churchyard and, not least, undertaking a regular ground force routine to ensure that the garden areas now established are kept as tidy as possible.    I take this opportunity of thanking all our willing volunteer gardeners who have given up their time to go down to the Churchyard to do these gardening duties.

We now look forward to another season of gardening parties and welcome everyone who wishes to help out to come along.  Dates will be announced in the next edition of ‘The Fochaberian’ and in Church Notices, but provisional dates are Wednesday, 23 May 4-6 pm and Wednesday, 20 June 4-6 pm, Sunday, 1 July – afternoon – bring a friend along.  If anyone can manage a short spell of weeding outwith these times, this is also very helpful indeed.

The trees planted by our friends at the Community Services department in Elgin last spring are flourishing and are proving an attractive addition to the cemetery this year.  Once again, the Friends are grateful to the Abbeyfield Fochabers Society for their assistance with this project.

Last year a fine memorial stone was erected to the memory of Lord Graham, the eldest son of the 1st Marquis of Montrose.   He was buried in Bellie Churchyard in 1645, probably within the old church, now long gone.   All attempts to find his grave have been unsuccessful, due to later interments in the area.  In March last year, two representatives of the 1st Marquis of Montrose Society arrived with the stone and, with the assistance of Moray Council, it was erected in the vicinity of the old church to mark the last resting place of this young man.

In August, some 20 members of The 1st Marquis of Montrose Society, some from as far away as the south of England, travelled to the Churchyard and, together with a number of Friends, they held a brief but very fitting official unveiling ceremony, followed by a happy gathering at Baxters Highland Village for afternoon tea.  From here, the group travelled on to Alford where they were to visit a 1645 battle site between Covenanters and Royalists.

Not far from the memorial stone at Bellie Churchyard lies the flat grave stone of William Sanders (Saunders) who became minister at the Bellie Church in 1607.  It is reputed he was minister for 77 years so would certainly have had to deal with Lord Graham’s sudden death and speedy internment at the Churchyard.  With this connection in mind, Bruce Bishop, former Chairman and also member of the Moray Burial Ground Research Group, decided to ensure this stone was once again free of moss and lichen for our important visitors.

The Friends are now looking to try to prevent further undermining of the walls around the Churchyard.  The harling on parts of the walls dividing the churchyard from the new cemetery require attention; if no action taken, the soft red sandstone walls are in danger of crumbling further.  The Friends are currently waiting for guidance from Moray Council on this.

The vehicle turning point in the new cemetery area is proving difficult for the newer, larger hearses to manoeuvre round, sometimes damaging the grass at particular graves with distinct treadmarks.

After a site meeting, the Friends are now investigating the removal of a stretch of Berberis hedge, which has a girth of about 2 ½ – 3 feet and providing an interwoven willow fence break instead.

It was reported at last year’s AGM that the roadway entrance to the Churchyard was an area out-with the responsibility of the Friends.  However, the Friends are aware that the subject is again being investigated by various parties in the community and we look forward to hearing news in due course on how the roadway can be safeguarded from further damage and also be made more attractive to visitors and residents in the area.

The Family Heritage Open Day held at Baxters Highland Village in September was a success with the Friends being represented by members of the Fochabers Heritage Centre.   The FHC is currently working on enhancing their Fochabers Heritage Trail.  At one point, this will include information on the old Spey Bridge.  The ferryman, ferry stone etc will be mentioned which will link the Trail nicely to the Bellie Churchyard.  With this in mind, Friends intend investigating the design of a new ‘logo’ for the Friends, using the existing dove and perhaps the stone signage.   This is an opportunity to ‘rebrand’ the Friends for the Heritage Trail and also their proposed leaflet.

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 once again proved successful, and there have also been several other donations after our annual Christmas newsletter. Our thanks go out to all of those who have contributed to the financial welfare of our group.

The website continues to provide a useful source of information to people searching the web for information on our historic churchyard.   Many people who are making enquiries through the website have been assisted in their research projects.  The production of a leaflet to publicise the work of the group is also being worked on.

Finally, I have some thankyous to make – I would like to thank our Treasurer, James Smart, for his dedicated accounting services since the inaugural meeting of the Friends some 10 years ago.  James is resigning from this role, but we do hope he will continue to come along and contribute to our various projects.  Kay Griffin, who has played a key role in our group for many years, has sadly also decided it is time to step down.   On behalf of all the Friends, I take this opportunity of thanking both Kay and James for their special contribution to the many fine works achieved over the last decade.    It is reassuring to know that they will still be able to support us in some smaller way.  I believe a special thank you is due to Kay Jackson, our Secretary.  Without her assistance, efficiency and dedication, this group would slowly grind to a hatl.  When I accepted the role last year as Chairman, it was with the understanding that Kay would continue as Secretary.  I, and all the Friends, are indebted to Kay for all she does and it would simply be impossible for me to continue as Chairman without her support and valuable input.

Our thanks go too to Mr Gordon Baxter and his team at Baxters Highland Village for their continued support and hospitality in allowing the Friends to hold their meetings here.  It is hard to imagine a meeting of Friends without the famous pancakes.  Thank you to all the loyal Friends of Bellie Churchyard and to your commitment to serving on the committee and your vision for this historical treasure.

Rev Alison Mehigan, Chairman, 8 May 2012