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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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.
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.