Howe History – Laurencekirk
The parish of Laurencekirk stretches from the Burn of Lippie, Fordoun in the North to the Gauger’s Burn in the South, and from Haulkerton to the summit of the Garvock Hill. Originally named Conveth – a reference to either tax payments or alternatively a place to retire to for food and entertainment after hunting – its location on a main road and its rich red clay soil ensured its survival over eight centuries.
Early records state that the Lands and Manor of Conveth were given to Humphrey de Berkeley, the progenitor of the Scottish Barclay family in the late 12th Century. An early church dedicated to St Laurence of Canterbury and visited by Queen Margaret (St Margaret) as part of her mission to reconnect the Celtic Church to Rome, may have stood at Chapel Knap to the east of Scotston Farm.
The village of Conveth was part of the Haulkerton Estate whose family, the Falconers, had been given rights to the land as falconers to the monarch while the king visited his residence at Kincardine Castle.
Johnston Estate, lands originally held by the Barclays, eventually changed hands and at this period acquired most of the Kirkton of Conveth. By the 1700s the name of Laurencekirk had been adopted and when Francis Garden, Lord Gardenston enacted his plans to develop the village and elevated it to a Burgh of Barony in 1779, the name was fixed.
The post’ 45 era included occupation by the Hanoverian Army, the forfeiture of Jacobite lands and the arrival of the Agricultural Revolution to Scotland. Communities then were largely self-sufficient with a full range of artisans and tradesmen.
Lord Gardenston succeeded in attracting artisans like Charles Stiven, the boxmaker from Glenbervie. He also arranged for Jacquard looms to be imported from the Low Countries. This move to produce a high quality double damask linen survived in the area until the last loom stopped production in Luthermuir about fifty years ago.
Laurencekirk also benefited from building projects led by its laird. The Boar’s Head Inn, at a site opposite the parish Church, had a neoclassical library built adjoining this coaching stop. A town hall, masonic lodge and market muir were created and the Episcopal chapel burned by Cumberland’s troops was replaced.
Being on the main road to Aberdeen the town received many notable visitors including Dr Samuel Johnson, his companion James Boswell and later, in 1787, Robert Burns called on his way to visit the land of his forefathers and the relatives who remained in the area.
In 1849 the railway reached the town and connected it to the outside world in a dramatic fashion. The arrival of products from the industrial south, coal in place of peat and the first step on the road to the empire for the surplus workforce of the time.
The population of the parish had peaked around 1840 and the progress in farming, especially the drainage of the valley improved productivity dramatically. Surpluses found a ready market in the industrial belt and the role of the area was established.
The improvements of mechanisation after the Great War resulted in a steady reduction of both small farms and of the labour force so that by the 1970’s there were plenty of vacant rural homes.
Temporary use was made by the U.S. Navy which had a base at Edzell Aerodrome from 1960 to 1997.
Meanwhile the oil industry had arrived in the North Sea and after an initial period when workers were obliged to live within twenty minutes of the heliport, there was a repopulation of rural Aberdeenshire with a population embracing the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of country and village life.
Within twenty years the population of Laurencekirk has doubled and the priority now is to ensure that, using the “in” word, we will have a sustainable community for the following generations.