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Everything in Kennethmont goes in pairs.

Everything in Kennethmont seems to go in twos. There are two explanations of the name itself, and two spellings of it, handed down for centuries. Besides it is really a "double" parish, having absorbed about 1630 the ancient parish of Rathmuriel or Christ's Kirk, which lay on the southern half of the watershed facing Bennachie. Christ's Kirk today has almost vanished from human ken. The foundations of the church itself, along with two eighteenth century inscribed tombstones, are hidden away in a copse of trees high up on the right of the road from Insch to Duncanstone, just off the accommodation road leading to the farm of Old Flinder.

Sleepy Market
Yet Christ's Kirk on the Green was to the middle ages a centre of great importance, and down to the middle of the eighteenth century there was held there Christ's Fair or Sleepy Market, so called because it began at sunset and continued throughout the night, the farm folk going straight from it to their morning work without a night's rest. Near it today is the farm of Sleepytown, still commemorating in its name this picturesque old custom. Christ's Kirk was dedicated to St Muriel, a mysterious saint almost all that is known of whom is that she was a widow! The word Rath. in the alternative name of the parish, Rathmuriel, does indicate great antiquity since it means a Pictish fort.
Was Christ's Kirk also the scene of the revelry described in King James the First's famous poem "Christ's Kirk on the Green?"


Was never in Scotland heard nor seen
Such dancing nor deray,
Neither at Falkland on the green
Or Peeblis at the Play
As was-of wowarls as I ween-
At Christ's Kirk on a day.

 

This is still a debated question. James Grant Wilson, in his collection of "The Poets and Poetry of Scotland" concludes that King James's Christ's Kirk was the old kirk town of Leslie in Fife, but the protagonists of the Garioch's claim still hold that our Christ's Kirk, with its Sleepy Market was the very place.
In 1746 the local laird changed the time of Sleepy Market from nighttime to daytime, and from that day on it failed to attract the people, and soon faded away all together. Kennethmont, too, had its fair, Trewel Fair, held at Kirkhill, and taking its name from St Rule, the patron saint of the parish.
And long before the days of Christianity religious rites of a more primitive kind must have been celebrated on the Hill of Ardlair, on the summit of which stands one of Kennethmont's two stone circles, dating back to the Bronze Age.
This ancient centre of pagan ritual may have undergone a Christian transformation in the Celtic era in the eighth or ninth century, for among the stones in the Ardlair circle was found the Ardlair Stone, a Pictish sculptured stone bearing the "elephant" symbol, the "mirror" and an emblem like a tuning fork.

'Kinalchmund'
Our derivation of the name Kennethmont links it with the burial place of Kenneth, one of he early Scottish kings, but this theory has largely been abandoned in favour of a Gaelic derivation from the two words leaning "head" and "moss."
In that case Kinnethmont, as the name was still spelt in the Registrar -General's returns as late as 1950 was probably the original form. It appears as "Kinalchmund" in a document of 1285. The old kirk ruins still stand in the old churchyard, and include the burial aisles of the Leslies and Gordons of Wardhouse, was probably this building's successor. Long and narrow, it survived until replaced by the present church in the village in 1812.
It is about the middle of the seventeenth century that we begin to see the outlines of Kennethmont's history emerging clear and plain from the mists of antiquity.

Leith Hall
His successor Robert Cheyne who survived the long agony of the Civil War was convicted by the Presbytery of having employed people to cut corn on Sunday and made public confession of his sin in this matter. It was during his ministry that James Leith, of New Leslie, the second Leith laird of the lands of Peill, built in 1650 the original tower or house of Leith Hall thus initiating the saga that was to link the Leiths and Leith-Hays with Kennethmont for the next 300 years.
The tower which James built is still the core of the lovely old ancestral home of Leith Hall, now one of the handsomest show places in the care of the National Trust, and still happily the residence of

Mrs C. E. N. Leith-Hay.

It was in 1689 that James of New Leslie presented a bell to the church of Kennethmont. It is this bell which is still preserved in the vestry of the modern church, having been removed thither after the old kirk was abandoned in 1812. The minister by that time was William Garrioch (born in 1649) inducted to Kennethmont in 1687, who when he died in January 1738 after a ministry of over 50 years was Father of the Church of Scotland. He was the first of the long-serving ministers of the parish.
There were to be several more in the succeeding centuries culminating in the record of Dr Thomas Burnett, minister from February 1870 to November 1923, a span of over 53 years. Dr Burnett died in May 1926 at the age of 85. He had the distinction of being the last minister the of Church of Scotland to be appointed by patronage, the patron being the then laird of Leith Hall, the famous soldier Col. Alexander Sebastian Leith-Hay of Rannes.
But we are anticipating. When he wrote the First Statistical Account of the parish in 1793 the Rev. George Donaldson commented on this line of long-lived ministers.

 

Free of 'Flu
"From the high situation of Kennethmont, he wrote "it it natural to conclude that the air is good and the climate healthy: and experience confirms the conclusion. In winter the air is frequently piercing, and the snow sometimes deep, but in winter as well as in summer the people in general enjoy good health and many attain to old age. They are not subject to epidemic diseases. The influenza, which not many years ago prevailed over the greater part of Britain, was unknown here. And equally fortunate have they been in escaping putrid sore throats and dangerous fevers which broke out in the neighbourhood and proved fatal to many."
"Messrs Garrioch and Gordon, my predecessors, both died of old age. The former officiated ten years at Forbes and fifty at Kennethmont and the latter seven years at Cabrach and forty at Kennethmont." This seems a good augury for the present minister Mr T. McAuslane who also came from the Cabrach, being inducted to the linked charge of Kennethmont and Gartly in March,1956.
It was in the middle years of the eighteenth century that John Leith, the "Luckless Laird " of Leith Hall, who was shot in a brawl outside a tavern in Castle Street Aberdeen, added to the original tower of Leith Hall a low building to form three sides of a square, with the corner. When he married he carved a marriage lintel with his own name and that of his wife Harriot Stuart of Auchluncart, and a design of true lovers' knots.

The house thus took the ground plan it retains today, while the upper storey has since been altered and heightened and the large front hall abutting from the east wing added by Mr C. E. N.Leith-Hay in the present century completed what well deserves to be described as a symphony in stone.

Meanwhile the village that is still known as Kirkhill of Kennethmont was taking shape. About 1777 the heritors of the parish built a schoolhouse -perhaps the very same building that is now used as a woodshed behind the present Kennethmont School.
The dominie was given a salary of 5/11/1 per annum. The rest of his income was made up of an annual grant of 1/16/8 for acting as session clerk,1/1p for registering marriages, sixpence for each baptism, threepence for every birth certificate and the school fees, which in those days amounted to 1/6 for teaching English, 2/6 for arithmetic and 2/6 for Latin.

 

Transformation
We learn that in 1792 here were in the parish four shopkeepers, three blacksmiths, two masons, five tailors, four carpenters, four weavers, four wheelwrights, three millers and one dyer. This at a time when in the whole parish there were only 800 cattle -but 202 horses. There was an Agricultural revolution in the next half century. The old outfield and infield system gave way to the rotation of crops. Between 1750 and 1830 the population rose from 791 to 1131 and the Rev. William Minty, who had become assistant and successor to his father George in 1831, reported that there had been an improvement in climate, housing, the mode of living of the people and their general habits of temperance and cleanliness.

Said Mr Minty: "Several hundred acres of marshy ground have been completely drained and now produce weighty crops. Many acres of moorland, upon which the appearance of ridges was still visible, showing that they had at

one time been cultivated, have again been brought under the plough, and a very considerable extent, of land has been trenched.
Many of the houses of the farmers are now built of stone and lime instead of turf and covered with slates instead of straw. They have generally one apartment at least floored with wood, and the walls and roof neatly celled and plastered."

Golden Age
Mr Minty went on to add: "The more extensive farmers now use machinery in the threshing of their grain, and in the harvest the scythe has universally supplanted the use of the sickle. By that time the parish had two private schools as well as the parish school, and said Mr Minty "It is very rare indeed to find a child eight or nine years of age that cannot pretty distinctly read the Bible and repeat the Assembly's Shorter Catechism."
In 1834 the great northern turnpike road was cut through the parish. Two stage coaches per day ran on it and the farmers were now sending their grain or meal along it to Inverurie.Kennethmont by that time had a library and a savings bank. Despite the difficulty of water supply, which was not solved until Kirkhill got its piped water from a spring on the farm of Earlsfield in 1895, the mid-Victorian era was the parish's golden age. The Population reached its peak of 1187 in 1866.
Despite the coming of the railway in that decade and the opening of the distillery in 1898 numbers declined steadily from that time onwards and after 1880 never again rose above the thousand mark.
With the coming of the School Board and compulsory education there was, of course a boom in education. By 1890 there were 137 pupils at Kennethmont School and 63 at the Oldtown School (closed down several years ago). By 1900 the figure at Kennethmont had risen to 142. Today, consequent on the closure of the secondary department, Kennethmont, now the only school in the parish, has a roll of 58.

But the wellbeing of a community is not to be judged soley by a counting of heads. The milestones like the opening of the Kirkhill water supply in 1895, since transformed and modernised by the County Council, the coming of the Ardmore Distillery in 1898 and the building and opening of the Rannes Hall in 1909 were great and permanent advances.

It is interesting to recall that while the distillery was abuilding Mr Adam Teacher, who was to have supervised it died, and from the nearbv Glendronach Distillery Mr James Innes came to carry on the work. He came and he stayed on as manager until 1923. As one of history's significant coincidences Mr R. Mackie the present superintendent at Ardmore has now also oversight at Glendronach.

 

Modernisation
As I have already explained very great expansion and modernisation has taken place at Ardmore. Besides the introduction of Saladin malting equipment, by which 100 quarters of barley are germinated in a single box at one time, and such devices as automatic stoking under the stillroom. An entirely new plant for the disposal of effluent was installed only the other year.
The twin villages of Kennethmont are the centre of a flourishing social and sporting life. The annual Kennethmont Sports which had their origin in the Highland Games accompanying the cattle show in the old days are meantime in abeyance, but there is a very lively Badminton Club which has produced players of Crombie Cup standard and has won many trophies in the local leagues. There has been a Bridge Club too since 1930 and Kennethmont mans a Royal Observer Corps post.
It has a flourishing WRI and a well attended Church Woman's Guild, it cares for its Old Age Pensioners in a big way and organises an annual school picnic.
Among the many successes of the WRI Drama Club was the winning in 1934 of the Anstruther Gray Cup with "Visitors at Birkenbrae" the original play by Margaret Watt of the Oldtown School. Mr Adam McGillivray, local shoemaker and registrar and Mr James Dow-who now plays a leading part in the Kennethmont Loons and Quines concert party-were among the members of that winning team.
Kennethmont may have lost much in numbers in recent decades but it remains-on its bracing upland site-one of the liveliest little communities in the North East.

Taken from a "This is my Country" article by Cuthbert Graham

The Press and Journal 

29/2/1964

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This site is dedicated to the memory of the men of the Parish of Kinnethmont who died in both World Wars
It was first posted on Armistice Day 2000
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