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Keith, Elginshire

Historical Description

KEITH, a parish, partly in the county of Elgin, but chiefly in that of Banff; containing, with the town of Keith, and the villages of Fife-Keith and Newmills, 4456 inhabitants, of whom 276 are in the county of Elgin, and 1804 are in the town, situated 10½ miles (N. W.) from Huntly, and 49 (N. W.) from Aberdeen. This place, the name of which is of uncertain derivation, is of very remote antiquity; the old town was for many years the principal seat of jurisdiction for the surrounding district, and had precedence of Fordyce, Cullen, and Banff, at that time the only other towns within the county. The ancient courts of regality held their sittings in the church, for the determination of all pleas, including even those of the crown, and for the trial of capital offences; the tower of the church was used for a prison, and the hill on which the new town is built was the place of execution for malefactors. In 1645, a skirmish occurred here, between the forces under the Marquess of Montrose and a party of the Covenanters led by General Baillie; and in 1667 the peasantry, headed by the Gordons of Auchinachy and Glengarrick, defeated the banditti of Patrick Roy MacGregor, and took their leader prisoner. The New Town of Keith is pleasantly situated on the acclivity of a gentle eminence, to the south-east of the Old Town, and consists of several spacious and well-formed streets, parallel with each other, and intersected at right angles by smaller streets and lanes. The houses are well built, and attached to each of them is a good garden. In the centre of the town is an ample market-place, 700 feet in length and 150 feet wide. Fife-Keith, on the north bank of the river Isla, was commenced by the Earl of Fife in 1816, and consists of regular streets of good houses, and a handsome square, crescent, and terrace. It is connected by two bridges with Old Keith; and as Old Keith communicates with New Keith by a street extending for 250 yards along the great north road, the three places may be considered as forming one town, about a mile in length. A public library, containing a good collection of volumes on history and general literature, is supported; and there are also a library connected with a literary association, and several congregational libraries.

The linen manufacture was formerly carried on here to a very considerable extent, but since the introduction of the cotton manufacture it has been discontinued. There are mills for carding and spinning wool, and homegrown flax; and also several corn and flour mills which supply the country with flour for many miles round. A distillery producing about 20,000 gallons of whisky annually, and a tobacco and snuff manufactory, are in active operation. There are also a tannery and a bleachfield, and many of the inhabitants are employed in the extensive lime-works in the parish, from which 40,000 bolls of lime are sent every year. The numerous handsome shops are amply stored with merchandise of every description; and branches of the Aberdeen, the Town and County, and the North of Scotland Banks, have been established in the town. A spacious and commodious inn and posting-house, at which the mail and another coach stop daily, was erected by the Earl of Seafield in 1823. A weekly market, for grain and provisions of all kinds, is held on Friday; and fairs, chiefly for cattle, horses, and sheep, are holden on the first Friday in January and March; the first Tuesday, O. S., in April and June, and the Friday before Huntly fair in July. Fairs, also, for the hiring of servants and for general business, are held on the Wednesday after the first Tuesday in September, and on the third Friday, O. S., in November. The September fair, called "Summer Eve fair", formerly continued for a fortnight, and was the great mart for the exchange of commodities between the north and south parts of Scotland; it was resorted to by crowds who, for want of accommodation, took up their lodgings in barns and outhouses, and it is still numerously attended. The post-office has three deliveries daily; and facility of communication is maintained by the great north road and several other turnpike-roads which pass through the parish. Though not a burgh of barony, yet, being within the barony of Keith or Ogilvie, courts may be held here by the baron-bailie of the Earl of Seafield. The sheriff's court for the recovery of small debts, and a justice-of-peace court, are also held in the town, the former six times in the year, and the latter on the first Wednesday in every month. A gaol has been erected within the last few years; but there being no town-hall in the burgh, the courts are held in the inn erected by the Earl of Seafield.

The PARISH, which is situated in the beautiful and fertile valley of the Isla, is of the form of an irregular square, about six miles in length and nearly of equal breadth, comprising an area of thirty-six square miles, one-half arable and one-half pasture and waste. Its surface rises gradually from the banks of the river Isla, towards the north-western and south-eastern confines of the parish, where there are hills of moderate elevation. The river Isla has its source in the adjoining parish of Botriphnie, and flows through this parish in a north-eastern direction, receiving several smaller streams in both parishes; it then runs into the parish of Grange, and eventually falls into the Doveron: the river abounds with trout of good quality, and, half a mile below Keith, forms a picturesque cascade. In general the soil is clay, alternated with loam, in some parts of great fertility, and in others poorer and of lighter quahty. The chief crops are oats and barley, with potatoes and turnips; flax is also raised on some lands, but little or no wheat is sown. The system of husbandry is improved, and a regular rotation duly observed; but the lands are not inclosed, and much yet remains to be done in the way of cultivation. The cattle are of the native breed, with a cross of the Teeswater, and great numbers are sent to London; the dairy-farms are well managed, and the butter and cheese, which are much esteemed, find a ready sale in the southern markets. The plantations formed by the Earl of Fife on such parts of the land as were incapable of cultivation are in a thriving state, and others have been added by the Earl of Seafield and the other proprietors. The principal substrata are limestone and slate; both these are quarried, and there are several lime-works in the parish, affording employment to a considerable number of persons. In the lime- works at Maisly a vein of antimony has been found, and fluor spar has also been discovered in some places. The only seat of a landed proprietor is Edintore, a handsome mansion lately erected. The annual value of real property in the parish is returned at £8001.

As to ECCLESIASTICAL affairs, the parish is in the presbytery of Strathbogie and synod of Moray. The minister's stipend is £222, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £50 per annum; patron, the Earl of Fife. Keith church, which is situated in the centre of the parish, is a very handsome structure in the later English style of architecture, with a square tower 120 feet high; it was built in 1816, and contains 1800 sittings. There are a well-built Free church, places of worship for members of the United Presbyterian Church and Independents, and an Episcopal, and a Roman Catholic chapel; the last mentioned is an elegant and much-admired edifice, containing a splendid picture, the gift of Charles X. of France, representing the incredulity of Thomas. Keith parochial school, for which a spacious building was erected in 1833, capable of receiving 260 children, is well attended and admirably taught. The master, who keeps an assistant, has a salary of £34, with an allowance of £10 for a house and garden: the fees average £80, and he receives a portion of Dick's bequest, with a fixed payment of £16. 13. 4. from the lands of Edendrach, which were bequeathed for the support of the school; and also the interest of £500 three per cent. consols, bequethed by Dr. Simson, of Worcester. There are likewise schools at Newmills and in other parts in the parish, to the number of seventeen. Chalybeate springs occur in several places; but they are not much used medicinally. About half a mile below the town are the ruins of an ancient castle, formerly the seat of the Oliphant family. Ferguson, the eminent astronomer. though not a native, was brought up from his infancy in the parish.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis