Keith

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2021.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Keith, a post-town in Banffshire, near the centre of the parish described in the last article. It consists of the three divisions of Old and New Keith on the right bank of the Isla, and Fife-Keith on the left bank, but Old Keith to the NW has been swallowed up by its younger rival, and both are now collectively known as Keith. It is ¾ mile distant from the Keith station on the Highland and Great North of Scotland railways, and is by rail 12½ miles NW of Huntly, 18 ESE of N of Edinburgh. By road it is 9 miles SE of Fochabers, 10 NW of Huntly, and 12 SSW of Cullen. Notwithstanding the disadvantage of its distance from the station, it is a thriving place, the centre of traffic for middle Banffshire, and the centre of communication by road between the upper and lower districts of the county. Old Keith has a considerable antiquity, for it appears in the form of 'Geth' in a deed granted by William the Lyon, and in virtue of which the whole of Strathisla passed into the possession of the Abbey of Kinloss. The deed was granted at Elgin, but bears no date, though probably it was about 1177, a year established from other evidence as a time when William visited the North. It had a jurisdiction of regality, and in virtue of this and of its trade, it was, at an early period, superior in consequence to Banff, Cullen, or Fordyce, then the other towns in the county. The court of regality sat in the church and, treason excepted, judged all civil and criminal causes, even including the four Crown pleas. The panels were put for trial into a window called 'the Boss Window,' and were committed on conviction to the steeple which served as a jail. Those convicted on capital charges were executed on the hill where New Keith has since been built, the place of execution being in Mid Street, on ground now occupied by the stable-yard of the Seafield Arms Hotel. At the abolition of the regality jurisdictions in 1748 the value of this one was set down at £200. The old town seems to have extended some distance along the Isla, but being inconveniently situated it dwindled away. It used to be celebrated for the Summer Eve Fair, which was up to the beginning of the present century one of the most important fairs in Scotland. 'It lasted about a week, and was attended by people from all parts of Scotland. So great was the gathering that the town of Keith could not lodge the half of them, and they had to seek lodgings in country houses and small inns for several miles around.' It is still held, but is shorn of its former greatness. Old Keith has been the scene of several noteworthy events. On 30 June 1645, General Baillie here offered battle to Montrose, who, however, considered the position of the Covenanters too strong. Baillie seems to have been drawn up on the ground now occupied by the new town and along by Begg's Brae, while Montrose approached from Auchanacie. On this occasion Montrose was in the full flush of victory after the battle of Auldearn, but in 1650 he was destined to revisit Keith under different circumstances. He was then a captive unkempt and ragged. Keith was reached on a Sunday when for some unknown reason divine service was to be celebrated in the churchyard. The marquis was carried to the spot, and the minister of Keith-William Kininmonth, once chaplain to General David Leslie-preached at him from 1 Sam. xv. 33. Montrose ' perceiving the drift of the orator said "Rail on," and submitted in patience.' In 1667 a well-known freebooter of the day, Peter Roy Macgregor, made a descent on Old Keith, and a bloody encounter between his band and the inhabitants of the district took place in the old churchyard, with a result so little favourable to the 'caterans,' that Roy was taken prisoner and afterwards executed at Edinburgh. In 1745 Major Glasgow, an Irishman in the French service and acting with the forces of Prince Charles Edward, surprised a detachment of government troops here and carried off about eighty prisoners.

New Keith or Keith proper was first laid out about 1750 by the then Earl of Findlater. It adjoins Old Keith on the SE, and occupies the eastern slope of what was formerly but a barren moor. It is built on a regular plan, there being a central square of large size, and three principal streets running parallel to one another in a N and S direction with cross lancs. The feus measure 15 yds. by 60, so that a large garden is provided for each. The principal inn was built in 1823 by the Earl of Seafield (the present superior), and contains a large hall in which the district courts were formerly held. The public hall, presented to the town by the late Mr William Longmore, banker and distiller, is at the N end of the town. It is a plain, neat building, erected in 1872-73 at a cost of £2000. It contains a portrait of Mr Longmore, presented to him in acknowledgment of his gift. The ground belonging to the hall at the W end was also laid out by Mr Longmore at his own expense, and presented by him to the town to be used as a public bowling green. To the W of New Keith and S of Old Keith, and close to the feus of the latter, is a cottage hospital named the Turner Memorial Hospital in remembrance of the late Dr Turner, Keith, who was (in conjunction with Mr Longmore) its chief promoter, though he did not live to see it finished. It is a plain building erected in 1880 at a cost of £1200, and contains 17 beds, including 1 for incurables. The endowment fund amounts to about £4000, of which £3000 were derived from the residue of the estate of the late Dr Taylor, Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets-a native of Keith-who founded the Greenskares Bursaries at the University of Aberdeen. Other support is derived from church collections and voluntary subscriptions. There is in the town an abundant water supply introduced in 1879 at a cost of £5000. The source of supply is 3½ miles distant. The question of improved drainage is at present (1883) being agitated. The lighting is carried out by a private gas company, whose works are to the W of the Longmore Hall. The parish church, still farther to the W, is a handsome building with a square pinnacled tower 120 feet high, with clock and bell. It was erected in 1816-19 at a cost of £6220, and was repainted in 1874, while gas was introduced in 1880. There are 1661 sittings. The Free church is a plain building of Disruption date, with 700 sittings. The United Presbyterian church near the square is a plain Gothic building dating from 1853. The walls were heightened, and the interior was greatly improved in 1876. It contains 500 sittings. The Episcopal church (Trinity) was formerly a very small and plain building, built in 1808, but has been replaced (1882-83) by a fine new Geometric Gothic building, erected at a cost of £2200, to the NE of the Established church. There will be accommodation for 300 persons. The Roman Catholic church (St Thomas) in the square, with 450 sittings, was erected in 1831. It is said to be modelled after the church of St Maria-de-Vittoria at Rome, and has two gigantic statues of St Peter and St Paul at the SE and NE corners respectively. There is a fine altar-piece, illustrating the incredulity of St Thomas, presented to the church by Charles X. of France. There are three buildings used as schools, with total accommodation for 781 pupils. The three constitute the Keith combined public school working on the graded system. There are also an endowed ladies, school, with accommodation for 50, and a school in connection with the Roman Catholic Church, with accommodation for 100 pupils. In the town or its immediate neighbourbood there are a distillery, a carding mill for the manufacture of blankets, etc., a tweed manufactory, a brewery, a manure work, an agricultural implement manufactory, and grain and flour mills, and there is also a large trade in dead meat. There is a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments. There are branches of the Union, Town and County, and North of Scotland Banks, and agencies of 25 insurance offices. There is a very large market stance at the S end of the town, and cattle markets are held on the first Friday of every month, except in June when the market is held on the first Wednesday o. s., and in September (Summer Eve Fair) when it is on the Wednesday after the first Tuesday o. s. There is a feeing market for married servants on the first Friday of March, and for others on the Friday before 26 May, on the second Friday of July (for harvest), and on the Friday before 22 Nov. There is a weekly market every Saturday. Sheriff and ordinary small debt circuit courts are held in Longmore Hall on the third Saturday of every month, and justice of peace courts when required. An effort is at present being made to organise a small provincial museum in connection with the active field club of the district. There are 5 inns, a public reading-room and library, an agricultural society, holding a spring and a summer show, a property investment company, an auxiliary to the Bible Society, and a lodge of oddfellows (Strathisla). Pop. of New Keith and Old Keith (1841) 1804, (1851) 2101, (1861) 2648, (1871) 3602, (1881) 4329. Fife-Keith is to the W of Keith, and is separated from it by the Isla. The river is crossed by two bridges, one now disused, except by pedestrians, built in 1609, and the other at present in use, built in 1770. A stone in the old bridge bears the inscription 'Thomas Murray. Janet Lindsay, 1609,' the names being traditionally those of a worthy couple who lived close to the ford that formerly existed, and who were so distressed by the cries of persons in danger, that they devoted their savings to the erection of a stone bridge. Close by is the churchyard with a fragment of the old church, the rest having been removed in 1819. The new bridge has a stone with the inscription 'G. III. R. R. S. 1770.' Immediately below is the pool called 'Gaun's Pot,' where witches were drowned, and into which they were thrown from a rocky bank on the S side. The village itself has a central square with a main street passing E and W, and others diverging in different directions. The Earl of Fife is superior. It was founded in 1817, and has of late years been making more rapid progress than of yore. The rate of feu-duty is £9 per acre. Pop. (1861) 897, (1871) 945, (1881) 1196. See also Souter's Agriculture of the County of Banff (1812); Sim's Legends of Strathisla (1st ed., Keith, 1849; 2d, Keith, 1851; 3d, Elgin, 1862); A Walk from Keith to Rothiemay (Elgin, 1862); Sim's Old Keith and I a Stroll to Cairnie (Keith, 1865); and Gordon's The Book of the Chronicles of Keith, Grange, etc. (Glasg. 1880).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better