Kenn Stonework was established in 1980, soon after the final salmon fishing season and the closure of the bothy. My father, John, was no stranger to building projects and had already been involved in a variety of building work as he continued with his main employment as a salmon fishing skipper. Initially he was building walls around the house at 43 Portlethen Village and these efforts drew admiring and positive attention from passers-by, so much so that he was asked to do “commissions” for some local people who wanted more of the same. It was this sort of encouragement that made him decide that he might be able to make a living out of doing building work.
I recall one of the first “building” jobs that he was involved in, that took place about 1970 or 1971. There was nothing intricate or fancy about this job at all however to me this was a landmark job, in that the work he completed then has stood the test of time remarkably well despite suffering from general wear and tear from agricultural machinery, livestock, the perils of the local weather and poor drainage.
Many of you reading this will have taken the walk over the “back road” from Old Portlethen to Downies Village and wondered about the farm tracks that run between England Farm and Wairds Farm. These tracks were hand laid by John in the early 1970’s and are standing the test of time of time very well despite the forces of man, beast and nature that I listed in the previous paragraph. Prior to the building of these concrete tracks the road was little more than a rough farm track. Today it is possible to enjoy a nice walk with beautiful views of the local villages and surrounding coast although the walk is best completed over the drier months since wet weather combined with poor drainage can make the walk seem like an obstacle course during winter.
John’s change of career wasn’t a solo venture and when he started in the building business he was accompanied and partnered by my younger brother, Ron, who was 18 at the time. Ron was also employed as a salmon fishing crew member working for Joseph Johnston & Sons, spending one season at Newtonhill and the final season at Portlethen. He suffered the same fate as my father when Joseph Johnston closed down their salmon fishing operations in the north of Kincardineshire and, he too, found himself out of work not long after leaving school.
Ron, like John, had a talent and an aptitude for working with stone and had already been assisting his father on some of the early building projects, even whilst still attending school. As a result it was a natural progression for them to set up their own business and work together. The family team was completed, two years later, when my sister, Patricia, joined forces with her father and brother and brought her own intricate and artistic touch to the business.
Kenn Stonework were in demand and as their reputation grew it was rare for them to have a quiet spell without work, in fact, at times, there was more work than they could cope with and one of their main problems was the northeast weather which stymied them and halted progress on exterior work on many occasions. However as the years progressed they moved from building all types of dykes and walls to interior work and the construction of fireplaces became something of a speciality and a sought after commodity. In addition to this the company took on a franchise for fibreglass roof repairs which added to their building portfolio and ensured that work for them never dried up.
Although the company accepted jobs from around Aberdeen and beyond, they did often do local work too. The evidence of this work is all around us today and if you look around the villages of Old Portlethen, Findon and Downies and the environs of new Portlethen you can clearly see the dykes and walls that will be there for many years to come. Perhaps their most obvious work can be found in their home village of Old Portlethen where practically all of the natural dykes and walls that you see there were constructed by the Kenn family.
John retired on his 65th birthday in 1996, although that is a very loose term because he continues to build and work with stone today. It would be more accurate to say that Kenn Stonework ceased trading on John’s retirement. Often today you will encounter John reconstructing some of the fallen dykes on the road between new and old Portlethen, or he might be working on a project at Mains of Portlethen initiated by the owner Graham Shand. If he’s not there and the weather is fine the chances are he has reverted to being a fisherman and will be found out at sea, hauling creels or line fishing, at the back of Craigmarroin.
Ron continues to build and work with stone today and works freelance in the local area where his work is much admired for the fine detail that he applies. When I look at a stone I see a stone, when Ron looks at a stone he sees its qualities, its pitfalls and whether it will fit with his current project. For a good example of the quality of work that Ron does then look no further than the natural stone bridges that are in place at Portlethen Golf Course – Ron was their architect and artisan.
Patricia changed careers before Kenn Stonework ceased trading; embarking on a series of travels that allowed her to explore many faraway countries which included the continents of Africa, North America and the islands of the South Pacific. She returned home to hone her artistic talents which ultimately resulted in her getting a degree in Fine Arts at Robert Gordon’s University in Aberdeen. Patricia is now married to Neil and they live in the picturesque coastal village of Johnshaven, south of Stonehaven.