Kirkstyle, Kemnay – lying in the pleasant rural landscape of Aberdeenshire under the shadow of Bennachie – has been the home of the Downie family since 1898.

James Downie took a lease of the croft and the carpenter's business following the deaths of Charles Leys and his sister Ann whose family had held the lease for some 97 years.

The Kirktown of Kemnay, of which Kirkstyle is a part, was at that time outwith the village area and consisted of the parish church, the Manse – the home of the minister, the home and workplace of both the blacksmith and joiner, and some 200 yards distant, the farm of Kirkstyle.

By the time James Downie arrived on the scene, the village had been in existence for only forty years, having come into existence following the commencement of granite quarrying operations on nearby Paradise Hill by John Fyfe in 1858.

Amongst these idyllic surroundings three generations of the Downie family have served the local community for over a century in a variety of ways.

James styled himself as "Carpenter, Cartwright and Funeral Undertaker" and much of the workload consisted of repairs to farm equipment – repairs to carts and wheels, repairs to water pumps, and repairs to houses in the village.

It is interesting to note that the first name to appear in his ledger was Mr W. Andrew, Wellbush – the family firm of his descendents (Andrew's Fireplaces) having closed in May 2018. The work carried out for Mr Andrew over the first six months included: turnip machine repaired; 2 springs for mill; 2 chairs repaired and the supply of a barrow – all which work coming to the princely sum of £1, and was paid on 23 November 1898

Wedding bells rang in July of 1901, when James married Margaret Nicol, the forester's daughter from Cluny.

An integral part of the work of the country joiner was that of funeral undertaker, an aspect of the business which has changed immensely over the years. Most deaths then happened at home and the coffins were all made at time of need from sawn boards and covered in cloth (black for an adult and white for a child). They were embellished with what was called 'lead lace' which was ornamentation that was glued on around the top and bottom of the coffin. By the early 1920s, the use of polished coffins began to increase and these were obtained from undertakers in Aberdeen. Eventually, by the 1940s, the use of cloth covered coffins was discontinued.

As the horse gradually disappeared from the countryside, the farmer became less dependent on the joiner for his needs. For the same reason too, the work of the blacksmith changed over the years as work with horses eventually disappeared. The blacksmith found work in converting horse implements to work with tractors and in making new implements specifically designed for use with the tractor. Sadly, the smiddy at Kemnay closed in 1962 when the blacksmith, John S. Duncan, had to retire due to ill health.

James' son Grant started work in the business around 1917 and the pair worked together until James retired from the business in 1947, although he carried on working until into his eighties. He died in 1955 aged 84 years.

Grant in turn was joined by his son Duncan in 1957 by which time the work had become more domestic-related.

By the 1960s the government was providing grants to enable houses to be updated and provided with kitchens and bathrooms thus giving work to the whole construction industry right up to the end of the 1970s.

In 1973 Aberdeen County Council purchased the 100-acre farm of Alehousewells lying between Aquithie Road and the River Don and proceeded to build around 600 wooden houses imported from Scandinavia to house, not only the children of the baby-boomer generation which followed the Second World War but also the many expected people of the then infant offshore oil industry. In time, maintenance of these properties provided employment for several different trades in the building industry, all of which came to a somewhat sudden end in the late 1980s when the local authority decided that instead of employing contractors as needed by means of works orders, all maintenance works would be carried out on an all-trades basis and allocated by competitive tender.

This came as quite a blow to a number of smaller businesses in the area who had become increasingly dependent on the local authority for their livelihood.

A combination of ill-health and old-age had brought Grant's working life to an end in 1984 and, following the demise of local authority work, Duncan took stock and decided to diversify somewhat.

It was decided to make the funeral undertaking side of the business the main priority, with joinery work being more or less concentrated in the workshop rather than on-site. Along with his wife Alice they served the needs of the community at their times of bereavement for more than twenty five years before retiring in May 2018.

From quite a young age, Duncan has had an interest in the history of the local area and over time he has built up a considerable knowledge of the area and the people who stayed there.

During the 1990s he was involved with Donald M. Morrison and Anna M. Muirhead, both then members of staff at Kemnay Academy, in researching education in the area over the years. This resulted in the publication of 'Tales o' the Maisters' in 1995 which followed the growth of education in the area from 1820 to 1948 and gave in depth studies of the four headmasters who taught at the local school during that period.

Over the years he has met up with visitors from abroad returning to their roots and quite often he has been able to put them in contact with their relatives in this area.

Duncan has had an interest in printing stretching back more than fifty years and in 1998 he purchased a Risograph printer to continue producing, amongst other things, Kemnay Newsletter. Twenty years on and after several upgrades in equipment, the Newsletter, which was started in 1976, still flourishes.

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