Today there are four pubs in Portlethen and the immediate surrounding areas. We have the Leathan Arms, The Paddock, Mains of Balquharn, and The Neuk in Old Portlethen. You could make a case for a fifth licensed establishment in the area if you consider the clubhouse at Portlethen Golf Club.
These pubs vary in nature and tend to have different types of customers. The Leathan Arms markets itself as a community pub although their customers include many of the younger people of Portlethen, particularly at the weekends. The Paddock has had a chequered history since it first opened in the 1980’s and is currently closed. The Mains of Balquharn isn’t really a pub at all but a “Brewer’s Fayre” family restaurant with a separate bar area. Next door to this pub/restaurant is a Premier Inn and as a result their customer base is likely to be more transient. The Neuk is the oldest of all the Portlethen pubs and appeals to local regulars as well as a young crowd and, in essence, probably has the most diverse group of customers of all the pubs. The Golf Club appeals to golfers, social members and their friends.
Basically this is the state of play today in respect to licensed premises in the vicinity of Portlethen however in days of old there appears to have been an even larger choice in respect to the amount drinking establishments available to the local community.
With respect to the Parish of Banchory Devenick, the Reverend George Morison wrote a passage about public houses in this area within The New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1845. His take on matters can be summed up in the paragraph he wrote.
“Notwithstanding every endeavour on the part of the minister, and of the most influential heritors of the parish, to get rid of the nuisance of public-houses, we still have eight in the parish, none of which can be said to be necessary, but the one at Bourtrybush, the halfway-house between Stonehaven and Aberdeen. There are indeed two others, one in each of the great fishing villages of Findon and Portlethen, for which, being situated on a rocky coast where wrecks sometimes occur, there is a plausible pretext”.
From this we can sense a reluctant acceptance that it was necessary to have a pub on the main road midway between two major towns and maybe, just maybe, there was some justification for having a pub in two of the fishing villages so that some form of sustenance was at hand for any shipwrecked mariners being washed ashore in the area. There is no doubt, however, that in Rev Morison’s mind that all other drinking establishments in the area were superfluous to the community’s needs.
What do we know about these three public houses that were to be found in the Portlethen area? There is very little in the way of history in respect to the premises that were located at Bourtreebush, other than to make a somewhat safe assumption that this establishment would have been one of many coaching inns which were a common sight at the roadsides in this period of history. The inn at Bourtreebush was a different inn than the one located at Cammachmore about a mile and a half further south (which is still there today under the name of “Cammies”) because Cammachmore was in the parish of Fetteresso and wasn’t included in Rev Morison’s count of eight.
The Old Inn at Findon continued to operate as a licensed establishment until around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. It hasn’t been possible to find an exact date when this inn closed down but by 1911 there were plans for additions and extensions to the original building that would suggest that by that date the building may have already changed use from being licensed premises to that of a private dwelling. Today the old inn is still in use as a private dwelling and the street in Findon where it is located is named after it – Old Inn Road.
The third public house that was in use in 1845 is still here today, and still being used as licensed premises although it would have looked a lot different then from the version you can see today. This is the Neuk in Old Portlethen which is located at the head of the village.
Until 1978 the Neuk was a “Porter and Ale” house which meant that you were only able to purchase bottled beer and stouts there. I believe that, at that time, the Neuk was one of only three establishments in the country that carried that type of license. When Bill Main became the owner of the pub in 1978 this changed shortly afterwards and the Neuk became a fully fledged pub selling draught beer, wines and spirits and that’s when pub slowly and surely became part of the 20th century.
Prior to Bill Main’s tenancy of the Neuk it was owned and ran by his parents, Wullie and Elsie. Back in their time, and probably long before they became owners, the Neuk also doubled as a General Merchant’s shop selling a variety of merchandise such as shoe polish, soap, bread and everything in between. The “shop” part of the Neuk was housed in a separate room that ran perpendicularly to the area that was the bar. For those that are familiar with the Neuk today, the shop part was situated where the toilets and the eastern portion of the lounge is located today. The bar is still in the same place today as it has always been but back in those old days there was no such thing as a foyer or even toilets. Toilets, were in fact introduced around 1980 and before that date there was a wooden hut known as the thunderbox that served as an area of relief – not that it was any relief for women (no facilities at all for them) or even men on a cold dark, winters night (no light, no lock, no anything apart from a limed trough against an existing dyke).
Before the Main family came into ownership of the pub in the 1930's it had been owned by Mrs Mary Thom (or Bisset) from 1926. Before this date the pub was occupied by John Wood Junior although it is not known if he owned or leased it. All other references to the Neuk date back to it being part of the estate of Portlethen owned by Rosa Ann Taylor. The earliest reference in any document referring to the Neuk is 27th November 1889, although it is fairly safe to say that the pub was in existence for at least 45 years before this date.
The next section entitled Pub Pics and News relates to photographs and press cuttings of our local pubs. I must apologise in advance to the Leathan Arms and the others that I have little in the way of information or photographs on these pubs and most items are directed towards the Neuk which has a bit more in the way of history and information relating to it.