From Tackety Boots to Aeroplanes: Transport in the Garioch

If you had lived in the 1800s your main mode of getting about would undoubtedly have been on foot! Unless you were rich enough to own a horse or a horse and gig. People walked everywhere and as a result, often lived and died within 20 miles of their birthplace. A farm worker would seldom take a fee further away than he could carry his kist.

Occasionally it was necessary to travel further distances and so a traveller would have to take the mail coach or one of the local coaches running through the district into Aberdeen. The roads were very rough and the camber was steep to allow the rain water to run off at the sides. Most were toll roads and so it could be an expensive trip, not taken too often.

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A cart with a rather dapper driver at the Lorne Hotel c 1900

By 1830, however, the Garioch could boast of one of the finest coach services in the British Isles. In that year the famous athlete, Captain Barclay of Ury, started operating the noted stage coach, Defiance. Barclay never did things by halves. His coach, carrying four passengers, two coachmen and a guard, made light of the road, streaking through the countryside at an average of little short of 11 mph! The Defiance came down from Huntly and stopped at the New Inn in the High Street in Inverurie to allow the passengers to get a meal before setting off on the two hour journey to the city. The coach terminus was at the Royal Hotel.

1 1G f4 Snow Clearing in Market Place 1940Other local coaches included the Banks of Ury which was owned and driven by Geordie Gray. Geordie was partial to a dram or two and could be quite a cantankerous person. If he took a dislike to a potential passenger he would often refuse to let him onto the coach! He would drive with his back to the horses conversing to the passengers on top of the coach. Luckily the horses were so familiar with the route that they knew where to go . All the coaches changed horses at Blackburn before tackling the ascent over the Tyrebagger hill and on the return journey they changed at Woodside. Geordie eventually sold his coach to  John Annand the owner of the New Inn at 82 High Street and later, host at the Kintore Arms Hotel. Annand later served as Provost of the Burgh of Inverurie.

In 1805 the Inverurie to Aberdeen canal was opened with the canal basin at Port Elphinstone fed by a stream off the River Don.

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Inverurie Canal Plan

The Port was named after Lord Elphinstone who was the largest shareholder in the Canal company along. Other stakeholders were the Earl Of Kintore, the Aberdeen City Council and some local businessmen.  The idea of forming a canal was first suggested by Sir Arthur Grant of Monymusk who put forward a scheme to join Alford and Insch to Inverurie and Aberdeen using the waters of the Rivers Don and Ury but this was voted as being too impractical and too costly. However, the scheme to form the Inverurie to Aberdeen canal was given parliamentary approval. It certainly proved beneficial to the traders and farmers of the Garioch area. Now, the granite from the local quarries, the slate from Foundland, meat and carcases from the slaughter houses and farm produce could be sent south to the cities. At first the canal only went as far as Woodside a suburb of Aberdeen using 3 locks but by the addition of 14 locks in 1807 each ten feet deep it reached down to the harbour. The barges not only exported goods from the Garioch but on the return journey carried back fertilizer for the farms, coal and goods for local businesses. This all lead to the rapid population growth and wealth of Inverurie.

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Passenger Boat Sign, Carnegie Museum

Passenger boats also ran on the canal. They were known as fly boats. A cabin passenger was charged sixpence more than a deck passenger and as they barges were licensed to sell beverages, they were very popular for boozy outings. Such was the traffic to the Port that the Ship Inn at the canal basin was reputed to use 84 dozen eggs per day to feed the carters. At times the line of carts bringing goods to the canal stretched more than a mile up the road. The Ship Inn was also licensed so quite a few gallons of ale would also have eased thirsty throats.

Thomas Tait built a meal mill at the side of the canal as well as a snuff mill and other companies soon followed building warehouses for storing fertilizer , seeds, timber , cement and coal. Tait built a tunnel from the basin into his mill so that the barges could be towed into a loading dock for filling.


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Tait’s Paper Mill 1938


The granite arch at the entry to the tunnel has been reconstructed at the foot of Shunnery Brae in memory of the canal.

The canal traded until 1852 greatly benefitting the folk of the Garioch area but strangely never making much profit for its original investors. In 1847, when the GNS Railway was looking to expand north from Aberdeen, they offered to buy the Canal Company and their offer was readily accepted. The first turfs of the line were cut at Oyne in May, 1852 and the first train steamed into Huntly in September, 1854. The Loco Works opened in 1904 and employed many Garioch men until it finally closed its doors on 31st September 1969.

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The Loco Works in 1962

The first airfields in the Garioch were at Cairnhall , Kintore and Dyce. The landing strip at Kintore was for services to Inverness, Wick and Orkney using a De Havilland Rapide plane piloted by Captain Eric Freeson. Dyce established by Gander Dower was taken over by the RAF during World War 2 but post war became the centre of travel for the north-east and is still expanding under BAA who hope to make it a base for trans-atlantic flights in the future.

That’s a journey from tackety boots to aeroplanes! – Jack

Victoria Cinema: The Silver Screen comes to town

The silver screen first came to Inverurie in the 1920s when Alfred Young started a cinema in the Town Hall . In 1934, on hearing that another exhibitor was interested in building a rival cinema in the town he purchased a block of old houses and land at the top of West High Street on which to build a cinema. He employed Thomas Scott Sutherland who had just completed the Astoria Cinema in Kittybrewster, a suburb of Aberdeen, to design a 750 seat cinema. The architect reported that the site was not large enough for this size of a building so the plans were scaled down to a 500 seater.

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A view of inside the cinema

The construction was started but was only half built when Mr Young reported that he had run out of money. A group of local investors (the Inverurie Cinema Company) was formed to finance the completion of the building with Scott Sutherland being the largest shareholder. This proved to be a profitable project as the shareholders were repaid in five years from the opening date in 1935. The minor shareholders were bought out and the cinema was such a success that it was soon once again wholly owned by the Young family. Stephen Young succeeded his father as manager. In 1936 another son Albert (Bert) Young a talented musician took the tenancy of the shop which was part of the complex selling confectionery, tobacco and musical instruments.

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Victoria Cinema in the 1930s, showing Bert Young’s sweet shop

During the war years of the Forties the queues to see the pictures stretched up Victoria Street with two performances per night Monday to Saturday with a matinee on Saturday afternoons. Another son Freddie who had a shop in North Street became the chief projectionist .In the pre-war days the admission was 4pence for the matinee which featured the Pathé news followed by a short comedy film probably the Three Stooges or a Laurel and Hardy and then the main picture a cowboy drama or a crime film with dramatic chases and fights which sent us home chasing each other and shouting “ bang , bang you’re deid.”

A Pathé news broadcast

On maturity the double seats in the back row of the balcony at two shillings each became very popular with the more romantic customers. The ticket ladies or ushers changed to ice cream and confectionery sellers at half time. Because there were two continuous houses if you were late in going into the first house it was possible to stay on to watch the programme twice.

Victoria cinema was popular with young couples

Stephen Young retired in 1956 and the cinema was sold to Messers Donald of Aberdeen, to add to their cinema and theatre empire . Richard Jessiman who had taken over as the projectionist was appointed manager. With the advent of T.V , attendances dwindled and the cinema was turned into a Bingo Hall with occasional screening of films at the week ends.

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Mr Jessiman, manager, with one of the cinema’s projectors

The shop was turned into “The Auld Vic” a licenced bar to cater for the drouthy bingo customers. As the bingo craze diminished, the internal building, an art-deco masterpiece was reconstructed to become “Oscars” a themed night club before eventually being sold to Wetherspoons. The bar was renamed “The Gordon Highlander” in memory of the well- loved steam powered engine which over the years was serviced at the Inverurie Locomotive Works.

The Victoria Cinema on opening day in 1934

Garioch Heritage: Then and Now

The Garioch Heritage Society was founded in 1987 by a group of people noticing that the social history of the Garioch area of the north-east of Scotland was in danger of being forgotten. The thriving oil industry had led to an influx of people from all over the world and this meant a dilution of native born Inverurie residents. In an effort to save and record the history of the Garioch, the society met and began to gather objects and memories from local people. 

The first meetings of the group were held in the Gordon Arms Hotel, now renamed Edwards, where it was decided to hold a public meeting in the Market Place School to gauge the enthusiasm to form a Garioch Heritage Society. The meeting was well attended and it was agreed to form a Society and to draw up a constitution and apply for charity status.

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The Gordon Arms is now Edwards Bar

Alex Malley was appointed as the first chairman with William Maitland as the secretary along with a committee of eight . The first meetings were held in the Market Place school but later moved to an upper room in the Town Hall as the attendance grew.  Later, because some members were finding difficulty in climbing the stair to the room we moved to the Masonic Hall which afforded easier access .  The Society now held monthly meetings for the members and friends with a different speaker on a local subject on the first Wednesday of the month and committee meetings on the last Wednesday . We were then offered a base to display our artefacts , books and folios in the Visit Scotland shop at 18 High Street , Inverurie on a fifty –fifty basis where we supplied 2 volunteers on a rota basis from 10 am to 4.30 pm. This proved to be a valuable exercise in training the members to take over a future base. We also held exhibitions in the Town Hall , the Wyness Hall and the Community Centre. During this time we were looking for a permanent base in an industrial unit or a small cottage .

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An earlier exhibition put on by Garioch Heritage Society

Our dreams came true when Malcolm Allan offered us the occupation of a huge area at Inverurie Loco Works. The old carriage works had been vacated by Cruickshank & Partners when they moved to Kintore and was now to provide a home for our collection. Unfortunately, the building was set on fire and the roof beams were badly twisted .  The developer managed to salvage enough beams from the rest of the site to replace the damage and the roof was rebuilt. However, shortly after, vandals set fire to the tractors and forklifts being stored in the building and the underside of the new roof ended up with a black tarry residue. It took weeks to clean off. After the building was cleaned and restored, Malcolm Allan paid for the installation of the mezzanine floor, giving us twice the floor area. Andersons, the House Furnishers laid the carpet tiles and vinyl flooring as a donation to the Society, and supplied tables and chairs for the cafeteria . We were also were gifted crockery and cutlery by David Barrack from the Strathburn Hotel. Now we just needed to set up our displays.

A view from the upper gallery which is now open to the public

Volunteers started the work of erecting the booths and display areas, and cataloguing the artefacts brought in from storage areas round the town and district. The Society then employed the services of Ergadia to help us to arrange the exhibits to their best advantage, and also purchased museum quality glass cases for some of the more vulnerable and special exhibits. We appointed Nicola McHendry as our museum officer and this gave us the impetus to push towards an opening date.  Thomas and Sheila Tait assembled their display of Paper Mill memorabilia, and Charlie and Heather Milne completed their magnificent scale model of the Locomotive Works site.

Charlie Milne talks a visitor through his magnificent model of Inverurie Loco Works

Artefacts were being delivered daily to enlarge our collection and many of them were cleaned and professionally displayed. We decided to open Phase One of the Centre in October 2017. Phase One consists of the Conference Suite , the Cafeteria , the Geoffrey Gill Research and Library area, the Storage Area, and the Offices on the ground floor. We opened the upper gallery to an invited audience of members on the evening of the 16th October and to the general public at 10am on the 17th.

Visitors were treated to a sneak peak of our exhibits on Monday 16th October

We would like to thank you for your continued support. If you haven’t been to visit yet, we do hope to see you soon. Work on Phase 2 will now continue with a view to opening the whole of the Centre by Easter 2018 so stay tuned!

Welcome to GHC’s Blog with Jack Hendry

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Garioch Heritage Centre’s new Blog brought to you by Jack Hendry. Jack is a treasure trove of information, having lived in the Garioch for all of his 92 years. His knowledge of the area is unsurpassed and his sense of humour brings every story to life. He will be posting updates every few weeks with his memories of growing up in the Garioch. Each post will have a different subject, beginning this week with Garioch Heritage: Then and Now. Jack will occasionally bring on special guests to help him reminisce. Do let us know what you’d like to see next!

Jack opening Garioch Heritage Centre, 17th October 2017