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Friday June 21 2019

Looking Back: The Benefactor of Boganlochy

In 1969 Jimmy Nicol, a successful cattle breeder from the north east, bought a landmark Stonehaven hotel and gifted it to the Church of Scotland as a home for the elderly. His story was told in June that year.

The benefactor of Boganlochy
by J. M. D. Smith

I took the wrong turning but a farm lad was quick to answer my plea. “Can you tell me where Boganlochy lies? I want to find Mr. James Nicol”.

“Oh, Jimmy Nicol. You’re the wrang side o’ the main road.” With the pointing of the finger and a wiggle of the arm he directed me with perfection.

Soon I was driving between “a farm and a steadin’”, and a couple of hundred yards further on came to the “crafthoose” of “Boganlochy” just north of Stonehaven.

Lying snugly in a bay sheltered by Downie Point, Stonehaven, the county town of Kincardineshire, has fully 4,000 inhabitants. Dominating this popular resort, and a symbol of its activity, is The Bay Hotel. Finely proportioned, massive, rising above every other building – that’s “The Bay”. Rather, that was The Bay. By the end of the year, it will be the Church of Scotland’s 39th Eventide Home, “Clashfarquhar”.

Success story

How this came about is a tale worth telling. Seeking the story of the generosity of a Scots laddie who is behind it and who began without a penny, we are travelling a few miles north to the parish of Portlethen.

After pushing aside an old coat which served as a draught excluder, a small-built man welcomed me into the house. Through the kitchen window I had already noted the gleam of a coal fire. Soon I was seated in front of it while friendly flames leapt up the lum. Their glow was reflected in the small aluminium teapot on the hearth – its warming brew ready at all times.

Mr. Nicol sat back in his armchair. Here was a man unspoilt by success: tartan shirt fastened at the neck by a button, a pair of working trousers with a wee darn, and fine strong galluses – the kind a farmer loves to grip as he surveys the perfect furrow or sweeps a critical eye across the waving corn.

How did he get the idea of giving a hotel to the Church of Scotland? Jimmy Nicol put it plainly: “I liked makin’ money and I’m enjoying spendin’ it.” Now in the late eighties, he has decided that something worthwhile for the living should take precedence over death duties. As he pointed out, a gift to the Kirk, after a year, does not suffer the same tax penalties.

That was decided. He had looked at a hotel in Stonehaven but it did not measure up to requirements. A casual conversation with a shareholder in “The Bay” indicated it could be bought – for £50,000.

That’s a lot of cash, and it began with an investment when Jimmy Nicol saved up the first £5 from his pittance as a World War I soldier. He went off to that war with nothing. But among his officers were “some bankers and fellows and that like” and he took note.

The first £5 was in War Loan. In later years he dabbled in stocks and shares. He showed me some of his early purchases, including a modest investment in Imperial Tobacco.

James Nicol began farming in the same modest way, ending up with a lot of land – land which was his native soil. “Boganlochy” is the last stage in that career. In a few months he will settle as a resident in the former “Bay”. Incidentally, the name “Clashfarquhar” now to be given to the eventide home comes from one of his farms.

Oil paintings of some of the animals he bred adorn the walls. Pointing to one, with obvious pleasure, he mentioned that “Alex Anderson o’ the Burnton said that was the finest beast he had ever seen.” A judgment which could hardly be contested and which is confirmed by numerous cups and medals, including a presentation by the Queen Mother herself.

Breeding of “black cattle” frequently took Mr. Nicol overseas. He knows Canada, especially around Montreal. Another expedition was to Russia. During a world trip he spent three months in New Zealand where “farming is a gentleman’s job compared to here.”

Often he thinks back to the early days. Holidays were confined to New Year’s Day and the feeing market. On Saturdays, after work was done, the loons caught the train from Portlethen to Aberdeen and travelled eight miles back home on foot. With authority he remarked “We were twenty times happier than now.” Walking was natural then. Animals did not go to market on floats – neither did men.

Leaving school at 13 he began his daily work at 6 a.m. and “lowsed” at 6 p.m. It was early to bed and up at 4.45 a.m. A boy was paid £5 for six months plus his food at the farmhouse. That was how life began for this successful and contented farmer. His career was broken only be war service in the Gordons, commemorated by a painting of himself on horseback.

This farmer had been interested not only in education, giving the local school its dux medal, but also in the affairs of the district generally, where his other benefactions are well known.

Early associations with the kirk are well remembered. He is in fact not exactly “kirk greedy” but “ready to give them a pound when necessary.”

As he spoke frankly of his career, Mr. Nicol sometimes eased himself in his chair. I discovered that he suffers a lot of pain, the result of a tractor running over his back. As he was then over 70 the doctor had said, “Well, that’ll stop you working.” It put the brakes on but you can’t stop a man of such energy.

A full life, indeed, but one more question. “Were you married, Mr. Nicol?”

“Married. Na. If I had had a wife I wouldna’ had a’ that siller.”

Blunt, straightforward, shrewd, hard-working, contented, known to everybody, unspoilt by success. All that rolled together  spells James Nicol – unique, a delightful character, whose success will be shared in the care and happiness which the new Kirk Home will provide.

Jimmy Nicol lived until his 100th year, dying in 1982.
Clashfarquhar House is still a care home, run by the Church through its social care operator, CrossReach.

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