Tribute to a common man

Kemnay’s Carrier

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James Mitchell

Entering the village of Kemnay from the west you pass a substantial granite monument topped by a modest-looking figure in working clothes. This is no glorified general eyeing up the enemy or a haughty royal staring over the heads of us little people but an unassuming-looking man contemplating – his next job? the journey home? what to make for his supper? He looks like one of us. His wears a modest working jacket. His knee-breeks laced over his stockings are creased. His short boots are ordinary working boots with the good thick soles of a man who’s on his feet a lot. On his head he wears a traditional Scottish bonnet which would have been made from blue wool, over a shoulder hangs a bag for carrying letters and in his hand the badge of his trade, a coiled rope used to secure items to his cart.

Meet James Mitchell, Jamie. He was born in 1773 in Kemnay, a village some sixteen miles west of Aberdeen. He never learned to read or write but his exceptional memory served him well in his job and so here he is over 200 years after his birth still remembered by his community. It was said of Jamie Mitchell that despite his lack of formal education it was he who became virtually the only link between the parish of Kemnay and the outside world.

Jamie was a carrier. In the days before DPD there was Royal Mail parcel delivery and before Royal Mail parcel delivery there was Jamie Mitchell. Up on his box cart he was a familiar presence in the area – calling in at cottages, farmhouses, manses and mansions collecting and delivering items – and no doubt snippets of news he picked up on his travels. His pickups and deliveries often took him into Aberdeen where he might stay overnight at lodgings in Harriet Street. He was the mail man – see the bag over his shoulder on the statue – as well as a carrier of messages and goods; anything he was commissioned to transport.

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James Mitchell’s trade kept him out in all weathers but it did him little harm for he lived to the ripe old age of 84. Appropriate with his occupation his memorial incorporated a water fountain to quench the thirst of wayfarers and seats to take their rest.

The memorial was provided by Joseph Annand, a retired businessman who had shops in both Udny and Holburn Street in Aberdeen, who as a child was often given a hurl in his grandfather’s cart. I don’t know if the reference meant Mitchell was Annand’s grandfather or only that his grandfather had his own cart. Whatever, Annand should be commended for recognising the importance of the role Jamie Mitchell provided for Kemnay and district.

In 1936 Colonel George Milne of Logie had only just unveiled the memorial in front of a large crowd when Joseph Annand remarked, “Aye, that’s just like him.”

How was it that so long after his death time the sculptor captured a close likeness? It appears that one day a local church minister sent Jamie on an errand to an Aberdeen photographic company and unknown to Jamie he was photographed as he stood waiting for the reply. When Jamie died the minister gave the photograph of him to Annand’s mother and the photo was copied to make an oil painting from which the statue was modelled.

Grey Kemnay granite was used for the statue and main structure which incorporates a well, urn, statue and fountain of Peterhead marble. An inscription on the fountain reads:

In memory of James Mitchell, Carrier 1773 – 1857/ All ye who thirst come drink from this flow of pure water which springs at Dalfling in the Shadow of Benachie. Regrettably someone took the decision to turn off the flow of pure water and so the fountain is now dry. Now when you pass by you’ll know who the mannie is and wherever you’re headed or come from he probably covered the same ground many times over. 

The waggoner of Kemany





One Comment to “Tribute to a common man”

  1. Your blog is exceptional and I appreciate this kind of posts very much. It is very rare to see and read stories/excerpts that most consider mundane.

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