The village of Newtonhill lies about five miles north of Stonehaven and ten miles south of Aberdeen. There is a lively community, based largely around the school, church, Skateraw Hall and Bettridge Centre. The centre is based on the redeveloped community hall. There are two pubs, a bakery, library and post office, but the village shop – which long traded gossip as much as groceries – is now part of a chain of convenience stores.
Sheila Henderson’s 1986 book “What’s in a Name” records an interview with Johnny and Mary Masson from Skateraw Road, the oldest road in the village. The outside world is clearly wrong, they say – the village is called Skateraw! “Newtonhill is on the other side of the railway line,” declared Mary. When they were married in the 1930s, there were only three houses west of the railway. There are hundreds now, and the prospect of more shops at the flyover. Will the development never stop?
The pier at the bottom of the cliffs as long since disappeared, but the winches used to haul the boats ashore can still be seen. Great quantities of haddock, cod and ling were landed in the mid 1800s, with haddock being sold fresh, dried in the sun (spelding), or smoked. But the birthplace of the “Finnan Haddie” is of course at Findon, just a few miles away to the North of Portlethen.
The local men often fished through the night. Each line was divided into 8 or 10 strings, each with more that 100 baited hooks. The women collected some mussels and limpets, and baited the hooks. Other mussels may have come from the Montrose basin, or from as far away as Morecambe Bay. With large families and subsistence wages, education was not a high priority. Girls gathered bait from age 10, and boys were at sea by age 12. Many babies and toddlers died from household accidents, having been left in the care of older brothers and sisters.
By 1855, Episcopal Church schools had been established in Muchalls and Newtonhill. The diocese inspection reported “The school which merited most praise was that conducted by the schoolmistress at Skateraw.” An appeal for funds issued at that time includes these lines: “Skaterow … contains a population of about 300 souls, all, without exception, members of the Scottish Episcopal Church. … All along the North-East coast of Scotland, the fishermen of Skaterow are noted for their integrity, habits of sobriety, and regular attendance at church…” Not to mention the local lads habit of driving away the evangelists from Aberdeen by throwing clods at them!
In the 1880s, there were 60 fishermen putting to sea in little boats, and over 150 employed in other fish-related activity. The fish houses were along the top of the cliffs, and the wives had to carry their heavy creels up the steep path, and once a week walk the 12 miles to The Green in Aberdeen to sell their smokies.
The railway station in Newtonhill opened in 1852, and the change of village name may be blamed on the railway. There are hopes that the station may be rebuilt to encourage use of the commute rail links. The arrival of the steam trawler in the 1880s meant an exodus of jobs to Torry and to Stonehaven, with holiday houses and then daily commuters overwhelming village life.←Back