The History of the Howe - Laurencekirk

It was the year 1701 before Laurencekirk was given the name it still bears today; prior to then the Parish, which was known as Conveth, consisted of two settlements, one at the Kirkton of Conveth at the North end of the village and the other near Haulkerton Castle, which was sited in the woods adjoining Mains and Mill of Haulkerton.

In pre-reformation days St. Laurence was a Patron Saint of the Catholic Church and it was his name which was chosen to head the Parish and townships.

In 1759 a Judicial Law Lord, Frances Garden of Troup, later Lord Gardenston, bought Johnston Estate which included part of the Garvoch Hill and Laurencekirk. He then set about planning an industrial village and introduced various home industries into the locality. Two of these, Linen Weaving and Boxmaking, were to have lasting qualities and even now the name of Laurencekirk is well known in collectors' circles as the home of plain and Jacard linen and snuff boxes.

The latter was probably Gardenston's greatest coup, brought about by his persuading a boxmaker named Charles Stiven to move from Glenbervie to Laurencekirk. So started what was to be a thriving family business and Stiven's boxes, with their unique concealed hinges, became best sellers with the snuff-taking fraternity.

At first the linen trade was a cottage industry and many in the community found work as spinners, weavers and bleachers. Later this was to change when flax spinning mills were built at Blackiemuir and Auchenblae. The raw materials then became more available which enabled the industry to expand and so weaving shops came into being.

The general structure of Laurencekirk was also the brainchild of Lord Gardenston. He laid down the plan of the High Street by selling one mile of feus whick linked the existing crofts and houses into a street formation. This also applied to the other streets of the village which under his patronage saw its population figures soar from a humble 54 to around 500 souls.

It was in 1779 that he succeeded in making the settlement a Burgh of Barony, entitling Laurencekirk to sport a Town Council, a weekly market and an annual fair.

The Burgh eventually had three churches and three Meeting Halls for other denominations. In time there were also two main Public Halls and a thriving Masonic Lodge. In addition there were five hostleries within the Burgh and in the late 18th century one received three very distinguised visitors.... In 1773 Dr. Samuel Johnson and his companion, James Boswell, stopped at the Boar's Head Inn, later the Gardenston Inn, and in 1787 Robert Burns did likewise during his visit to the Land of his Fathers. Earlier in the late 17th Century Thomas Ruddiman, who was to become the renowned grammarian, was a schoolmaster here in the Burgh.

Agriculture and its offshoots has always been one of the main means of employment here in the Howe o' the Mearns, with much of it centring around Laurencekirk. The coming of the Railway in 1849 certainly opened up the Howe and benefited many of the businesses and agriculture in particular.

By then Laurencekirk, or Lournie as it is affectionately known, could have been considered to be the commercial centre of the Howe. The first bank opened for business in 1854.

In the past Laurencekirk could boast among its many businesses a brewery, a lemonade factory, a creamery, gasworks, coal yards, a myriad shops of every description, and the firm of coachbuilders, Craigie and Mitchell, who were amongst the leading employers in the district earlier this Century.

Today the once beautiful railway station and its sideings stand virtually unused, many of the businesses have either disappeared or now have other uses made of what was their premises. One thing does remaint though from the very early years of this Century, and that is the local newspaper, the Kincardineshire Observer, which was first published in 1902.

In the past the Burgh had quite a reputation as a centre of learning, with several private schools in the vicinity as well as a Public and Episcopal school. The latter was eventually to become part of Laurencekirk Junior Secondary School which pupils from the rural feeder schools attended to gain secondary education. Today the Laurencekirk Primary and Nursery Schools and Mearns Academy are the largest educational establishments in the area.

To the long-time residents of the Burgh, Laurencekirk is looked on as the main township of the Mearns, althouigh there are those who would dispute this claim. However, sitting as it does at the heart of the Howe o' the Mearns, surrounded by smaller villages and "fermtoons", it does seem to be the logical centre! To prove the point, you can now take a circular tour of the Howe (just click the wee bus) .... starting off to the South with Marykirk.


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