THE BUILDER DEC 2 1865.
About sixteen miles north of Aberdeen, and on the immediate line of the Great North of Scotland Railway, stands the village of Kemnay, famous for its granite quarries.
Kemnay enjoys a delightful situation on the slope of the valley of the River Don, which murmurs quietly and dreamily at its foot. Overlooking the river towards the north, you have Bennochie, rising majestically to a height of 1,440 ft., and inclosing a landscape which might have charmed the soul of Claude or Turner. Little more than half-a-dozen years ago, Kemnay was a rude, insignificant hamlet, containing only a few scattered cottages, and a purely agricultural population. Its post-town was Kintore, four miles distant, and, we believe, it could boast of neither a grocer, a baker, nor a butcher’s shop. To quote a common Scottish saying, "There was really nothing doing in the place." It must indeed have been a stagnant locality, if we may credit the following anecdote which is related of it: - A tourist, struck with the woebegone aspect of the village, halted at the ‘smiddy’ (blacksmith’s shop), and put this question to the smith, -- “My good man, this is a confoundedly slow spot; do you ever by any chance see anybody here at all?” “Weel” replied the rustic Vulcan, “it is nae sae dull after a’. There was a horse an’ cart passed about an hour ago, and we had twa o' them yesterday." Now, however, Kemnay is one of the most flourishing, as it is one of the most picturesque villages in Aberdeenshire. Not only can it boast of having its baker, its grocer, its butcher, and its postmaster, it may be said to have reached the period of ease and luxury, if the presence of a doctor, a chemist, a watchmaker, a stationmaster, and a village librarian within its borders, may warrant the term. Indeed, the ambition of the inhabitants will be satisfied with nothing short of streets, which, we are told, already exist on paper. The first thing that strikes the visitor to Kemnay is its bran-new appearance. There is not an old erection to be seen, much less a dilapidated one. The "auld clay biggins" have all disappeared, and in their stead have sprung up, and are fast springing up, modern cottages of tasteful design, and semi detached two-storied houses of commodious and substantial structure. It was satisfactory to learn, that many of the quarrymen of Kemnay are taking advantage of the immense facilities: which the district offers for building, with the best possible material at the lowest possible price, and are building their own houses. The house accommodation is at present infinitely insufficient for the requirements of the place, numbers of the workmen having to walk several miles to their homes; but as every inducement is held out to the men, by Mr. Fyfe, their employer, as well as by the proprietor, to build, this inconvenience is only temporary. The houses, which are, of course, built of granite, present a remarkably fresh and cheery appearance, each with its white "harled" walls, blue-tiled roof, and small garden plot.
All these changes, as we have said, have taken place during the last six years, and are due to the opening of the quarries in the neighbourhood.[i] The principal quarries in the vicinity of Aberdeen were, until recently, the Rubislaw and, the Dancing Cairns. Both, however, are now pretty well exhausted; and the Kemnay Quarries may be considered amongst the largest and most important of the Aberdeen granite quarries. They have this other important advantage, that while the stone found here is equal in grain and durability to any other granite, it can be laid down at Aberdeen at a lower cost than either the Rubislaw or the Dancing Cairns stone, though the latter place is but four miles, and the former only two miles from the Granite City. This is owing, we believe, to the very favourable terms on which the quarries have been leased. The quarries are situated on an elevation known as Paradise Hill, about half a mile north of the village, and occupy several acres of ground. At present they employ two hundred men as quarriers and masons, but this number will be increased as the works progress. The hill has been opened in two separate places, forming a larger and a smaller quarry. The one has 40 ft. of a working face, the other 70 ft. These cuttings are being worked into one another, and will ultimately have a working face of 100 ft. There are five steam cranes continually in operation, each capable of lifting ten tons weight; and it may be mentioned as a proof of the quality of the rock here, that blocks of granite, measuring 30 ft. in length, and weighing 100 tons, are occasionally met with. Twelve hundred tons of granite, principally for the London market, leave the quarries every month. The stones consist of curb and paving stones, and building stones. We were informed that at this and other quarries in the district, as many as 700 hands are regularly employed in making stones for the streets of London alone. We were also shown a number of beautifully finished pieces of coping and pillar work, intended for the balustrade of the Thames Embankment. It may be added that Mr. Fyfe has expended many thousands of pounds on his machinery and plant, which seem to be in excellent condition, and that the supply of stone can be exhausted only by future generations.
We cannot take our leave of the pleasant little village of Kemnay, without remarking that it is a singular exception to every other village of' similar size in Scotland, inasmuch as it contains neither inn nor public-house. "Whiskey, whiskey everywhere, and not a drop to drink at Kemnay. When we consider the general character of the class which forms the staple of its population, as well as the nature of their occupation, the circumstance is indeed a singular one. Thirsty souls, who may be inclined to fuddle, must go four or five miles to find the waiter; and it might be questioned if even a Scotsman's proverbial preference for a dram be sufficiently ardent to induce him to undertake such a journey for such an object. But be this as it may, so far as we could learn, a fondness for ‘Kissing the Baby,’ as the Americans say, is far from being a national vice in Kemnay. The quarrymen, as a class, are as sober as they are industrious. If they be not all teetotallers - which it would probably be too much to assert- they certainly must, like the Baron of Bradwardine, carry their drink discreetly. However, we understand that the true cause of the absence of a public-house in the village is a disinclination on the part of the laird to sanction one. If those specially interested do not feel aggrieved, it is not for anybody else to quarrel with the arrangements; quite the reverse. All we shall say is, may Kemnay continue to flourish after her own fashion.
 We except Kemnay House itself, -- a grim old mansion, which has been the family residence of the Burnetts of Kemnay for three or four centuries. The grounds surrounding the house appeared to us to be in a very neglected state; but the front approach to the mansion lies through a magnificent avenue of elm trees,
“whose boughs are mossed with age,
“And high tops bald with dry antiquity.”
This is said to be one of the finest avenues in Scotland.
[i] Kemnay has undergone changes in more directions than one. The new Established Church is a very fair edifice, as far as country churches go in Scotland. The former building, however, for a long time was in a most wretched condition; a fact which, perhaps, could not be better illustrated than by the following incident. The swallows, as in the days of the psalmist, therein did build their nests, and were in the habit of making their entrance and exit through the roof. One Sunday the minister (the late Dr Mitchell) was much annoyed by the snoring of a country fellow who had fallen asleep in a pew directly opposite the pulpit; his head had fallen back, and his open mouth was directed upwards. The annoyance had continued some time, when a swallow, in leaving her nest, loosened part of the clay, which dropped into the open mouth of the sleeper, who started up ‘wi a snocher,’ much to his own consternation and the congregation’s amusement.
[The Builder was a journal of architecture published in the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Publication History. The Builder began publication in 1843. It absorbed another journal titled "Architecture". No issue or contribution copyright renewals were found for this serial. In 1966, the journal ceased publication, and was continued by a journal named "Building".]