This is Keith, then, a town full of welcome and neighbourly kindness, yet of solid character, amply illustrating its motto Fortiter et Suaviter - translated as The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove.
Early Keith was a nodal centre, a crossing place of the river from East to West, and a gathering place for cattle being driven South to the great Markets. Not surprisingly, it became itself a considerable market centre for cattle, a trade only recently lost.
Small though it was, however, the Old Town was distinguished by the Great Fair of Simmareve, held in mid-September each year, and lasting for a week or more. J.ES. Gordon relates: "To it the whole Merchants of Aberdeen, leaving their shops almost empty, with all their goods repaired, and very little unsold was carried back... All the Carriers and many smaller farmers in the vicinity of Aberdeen were employed for ten or twelve days before the Market; they travelled in caravans, from a dozen to forty together. Numbers of Trading people and Manufacturers from Glasgow, Perth, Dundee and other towns in the South, were met by all the Merchants of the Western Highlands and Northerly parts of the Kingdom, from the distance even of Kirkwall and the Orknev Isles... with all the black cattle and horses, several thousand of each, from all the country far and wide around." How could so small a town accommodate such a concourse? Apparently the visitors were well content to "lie together in scores and dozens upon straw.. in all the pantries, barns and kilns of the Town and Farms for miles around."
With the advent of the New Town, the Fair moved to the Square there, and gave place eventually to its successor, the Great Keith Show, run annually by the Central Banffshire Farmers Club. This takes place a short distance away, in Seafield Park, while the Square now accommodates amusements.' Once hailed as "the largest One- Day Show in Scotland", it was traditionally held on the second Tuesday in August, when the Town was crammed with visitors. It was blessed with extraordinarily good weather. Indeed for over forty years, it never rained during the Show. This was credited to two 'worthies' who held their Annual Day of Prayer pleading for good weather for the show. Their prayers were answered in life, and when they were finally called to their Maker, they were even better placed. But times change and the growing expense of staging the show made it impossible for one day to cover costs. Monday was added, and Sunday became a 'Free' day. It proved so popular that Monday was virtually dead. Tuesday was dropped, and the show covered Sunday and Monday. Since then, the weather has not conformed, but the sale of umbrellas and wellingtons has increased.
In contrast to John Ogilvie's fate, the religious history of Keith has always been one of tolerance. All faiths respect each other, now as in the past. Four churches remain, the UP Church built in 1852 having been demolished in 1925. St. Rufus, the Parish Church, is a fine Gothic building dating from 1816, while the North Church, formerly Free Church, is of Elizabethan design. The Episcopal community, no longer 'Established' after 1688, built a Church in Mid Street, now part of Annand's Ironmongers, before moving to Holy Trinity in Seafield Avenue. There, pride of place is given to the Seabury Chair, where the first Bishop was consecrated for the Church in America. The Roman Catholics had from 1783 a chapel and cottage at Kempcairn, but Father Low raised funds for the present St. Thomas, Chapel Street, opened in 1832, and extended with its copper dome in 1916. Its treasured possession is a painting by Francois Dubois of 'The Incredulitv of St. Thomas', commissioned and presented by King Charles X of France and lately restored. Here, in 1976, the BBC presented 'Scots Praise', specially noteworthy for its joint blessing by all Keith's clergy together, symbolic of the accord that still exists.
No history of Keith, however, would be complete without mention of James Ferguson, James Gordon Bennet, and John Ogilvie.
Ferguson, born in 1710, early exhibited an interest in the stars coupled with an aptitude for mathematics and mechanics. With the help of various patrons, notably the butler at Auchoynanie, his still in designint! and building complex astronomical machines like Orreries, brought him nation-wide recognition, an annuity from King George III and a Fellowship of the Royal Society. One Orrery remains in Keith Grammar School.
James Gordon Bennet, born in Enzie, but educated in Keith, emigrated to America in 1819, eventually reaching Boston without a penny in his pocket. Here he found work in a printing office, and moving to New York, succeeded after two failures in launching the New York Herald, a paper dedicated to 'facts in a brief and agreeable form'. This enterprise made him two million pounds. His son, of the same name, earned undying fame by sending a reporter, Henry Morton Stanley, to Africa, with the terse command, 'Find Livingstone.' He did.
John Ogilvie, son of Walter Ogilvie of Drum, was born in 1579 of a Calvinist Family. He was sent to Europe for his education, and in 1596 entered the Scots College of Douai, and later the Jesuit College at Olmutz in Bavaria. Here he became a Catholic and, in 1610, a priest. He returned to Scotland to work in Glasgow. He was betrayed, and for six months subjected to unremitting torture for refusing to admit the King's Authority in matters of religion, a crime termed 'Constructive Treason'. He was finally hanged in 1615, beatified in 1929 and canonised in 1976. Present in Rome was a large party from Keith, and the Ogilvies were represented by Mr Angus Ogilvie and his wife, Princess Alexandra.