The following comes from an article written by Mrs E.D. Stewart on her memories of Kingston. It was passed to Robin Stewart, The Cross, Garmouth in 1979 and passed to the editor at a later date. The author is not responsible for the accuracy of the details in this piece.
In those far off days Kingston was a flourishing place with hundreds of men working in the shipyards. They came from surrounding villages and unemployment was virtually unknown. When a boy left school he was taken straight to the yards to train as a shipwright. There was no transport then and many weary men must have walked home at the end of a working day as there was little accommodation available here in the villages.
One large house, a Corff house, had an upper storey added (Dunfermline House) and was later divided into three sections, the Blue Anchor Ale house, A lodging house and the local lock-up. A Corff house was a building used for curing salmon, storing nets and other gear. Garmouth too, had a Corff house, later adapted as the Volunteer or Drill Hall and finally into the village hall where functions of all kinds were held.
The ships built were mainly merchant traders, sailing from the mouth of the Spey to all parts of the world and their names give clues to the time they were built, such as Balaclava and General Gordon. Many sported decorative figureheads.
At one end of the village a turf walk was made that led to the beach. At its end were iron seats, a shelter and a three-roomed cottage called ‘the hospital,’ built to provide an isolation house for any sailors coming into port who might be infected with Cholera. At the other end was a large stretch of water called ‘The Hole.’ It reached to where the Spey flowed into the sea. (further west than today)
A number of families had small boats and we children learned to row at an early age. On the far side of the river were the fisheries, but the salmon fishers worked at our side and as children we spent a great deal of time at the beach. When the boats went out to cast their nets they always took children with them, others patiently waiting their turn. We were allowed to take the Flukes (Flounders) home.
Kingston had three streets and three shops. One sold almost everything. It had two large containers, each with a tap, at the end of the counter. One held syrup, the other, treacle and we’d watch the grocer turn a tap and pour one or other into our jar. He knew the exact moment to turn off the tap and never spilled a drop.
Small places have their customs and we were no exception. On June 30th every house in both villages had salmon and new potatoes for dinner. This went far back to the large fair held on that date when neighbouring farmers came to ‘fee’ (hire) their men. For many years the fair was in abeyance, but was revived again at the beginning of the First World War when many hundreds of pounds were raised for the Red Cross. No Kingstonian, near or far, forgot that date and cheques and work came from all over. In my young days there were only two small stalls with candy and toys and no child forgot Maggie Fair.
When there was a wedding, whether at home or in some far off land, every house had a flag flying. Another custom, not such a happy one, was when there was a bereavement, the undertaker called at every house where there was a male member and bid him to the funeral. They would collect outside the bereaved house, ready to walk to Essil, the lovely little churchyard overlooking the Spey.
Garmouth had one church, doctor, school, railway station and Post Office and various other traders, but we at the shore had only our three shops.
The Spey is the most rapid flowing river of its size in Britain, unlike most that flow gently to the sea, the Spey always increased its pace towards the mouth and often burst its banks. The houses in the lower part of the village were frequently flooded and the inhabitants always kept a case packed.
Some mornings on the road to school we would find the way several inches deep in water. Depending on our mood we would either turn back, glad of an unexpected holiday, or take off our stockings and shoes and wade to school.
The three-roomed school sat in a prominent position. The headmaster wore a frock coat and we would start each morning with a short Bible reading and a prayer. Then, depending on the weather we might be taken out to study the clouds and learn their names. We had a thorough grounding in most things. We could draw maps by heart with all the rivers, mountains and principle towns with their exports and imports. We learned the towns of every European country by heart and after eighty years I could still recite them. We should all have been good writers as we had a short session every day with our copybooks.
Bible and Catachism were not forgotten. The day the school closed for the summer holidays was called the Bible Examination.
For days beforehand we went round the gardens begging flowers to decorate the school. Parents and friends were invited and both ministers, Parish and Free Kirk, came to examine us. We were so well grounded in both subjects we had no fear of disgracing our parents. But, we were not taught with much love and the ‘strap’ was often used, frequently the whole class being punished. Ours was really an exceptional village school. We were taught Latin and previously, Greek and Latin had been taught, and some pupils went straight to University to become doctors, ministers and lawyers.
Attached to most schools was an officer called the ‘Whipper-In.’ He called at the classroom from time to time to find out which pupils were absent without a note of excuse. Then he would call on the parents. With both headmaster and parents down on the culprit, he seldom absconded again.
To earn our Saturday penny we had to complete a task, like polishing all the brass doorknobs. Then, off to the shop to spend our hard earned reward. The housewife in those days had no gadgets of any kind, not even water in the house. It was carried from a pump in the street on a square frame with two buckets and it was easier to carry two than one. In the kitchen stood a large black range, which had to be black-leaded, and the snell round it polished. At one side was an oven, at the other a boiler, which heated a reasonable supply of water. A frame of two bars sat across the fire to hold the kettle and pots. They too had to be cleaned after being blackened with the smoke.
With no carpet sweeper, damp tealeaves were scattered over the carpet, left a while, and then swept off with a hard brush. This was supposed to lay the dust and revive the colours in the rug. Laundry was done in an outside washhouse where there were large wooden tubs on stands. Water was boiled in a pot hooked on the swey over the fire.
Most houses had a tank to catch rainwater and this was used for the laundry, as it was supposed to be softer. There were no wringers, but most families had a mangle.
The sheets were carefully folded and put through the mangle, so no ironing was necessary. Bed and table linen were spread over the stones on the beach to dry and bleach. Starched tablecloths and tea cloths were folded with care and also run through the mangle to make ironing easier. When spring-cleaning, blankets were tramped in the wash, and then spread out on the beach to dry.
No electric or gas irons, just a three-sided box iron. A three-sided stone heater was left in the fire until red –hot then slipped inside the iron and the little shutter closed.
If something needed ironed in a hurry then the flat iron was used, placed on the hot coals, then slipped into a shield to prevent dirtying the garment.
Paraffin lamps were filled each day, wicks trimmed and globes and glasses cleaned. A small hand lamp was kept in the kitchen, another on the stair and a third in the porch to welcome visitors. Candles were used in the bedrooms. Water was carried upstairs each morning to fill the ewers. In winter we washed with water from out stone ‘Pigs’ (hot-water-bottles). If not warm at least the chill was off it.
It was a happy day for the housewife when she gained a water tap, if not in the house, then at the back door.
A number of Evangelists visited us. We would hurry home from school, do our homework, have our tea and then away to the tent or hall with our Sankey Hymn books. All those good men took us as they found us, except one. He called at the first shop owned by a very deaf old lady. He repeated his question several times, ‘Are there many good Christians in the village?’ before being answered with, ‘No, they’re all Geddies and Duncans.’ The descendants of those two families are to be found in all parts of the world. The descendants of the shipbuilders always got ‘Boatie’ before their name, so known as Boatie Anderson, Boatie Duncan etc.
With no transistors, record players or T.V. we children had to make our own amusements. Skipping ropes, marbles and housies. The boys always managed to find a pitch for cricket or football. Then there were girds and stilts. We’d work the stilts in teams. The girds, large hoops of
Iron, run with a cleek, made a terrific noise, but we were never checked. Parents seemed to be very tolerant in those days. When wet, we would sit indoors-playing rummy, old maid, donkey and tiddly winks.
The highlight of the summer was the annual picnic. Farmers sent their haycarts, all washed and with a large cover on each where we would sit with our mugs hanging round our necks. For weeks beforehand we would practice all the races, egg & spoon, three-legged and double skipping rope. When we won a few pennies we thought we were rich.
The Sabbath was not really a day of rest. Every family pew was well filled with the head of the family carrying a supply of pan drops to pass along before the sermon began. After dinner we repeated our golden text and a few verses of a psalm we’d to learn, then off to Sunday school, the superintendent being our headmaster. There was a half-hour break before we then joined our parents again at the 4pm service. We had a good choir with a fine singer as Presentor, but the time came when it was thought an organ was needed. Being a Free Kirk, many were against it, but those in favour won the day. Our music leader was appointed organist and a boy chosen as the blower.
There are many places called Kingston around the world, but none I think like the little village at the mouth of the Spey. It has enjoyed the advent of many modern conveniences over the years, yet changed very little. With tennis, bowling, golf, swimming and riding, it is a favorite holiday place for young and old.
Mrs E.D. Stewart.
Edited by P Bingham
From the Garmouth & Kingston Newsletter June 2004