The Crooked Hythe
The small beach near the cottage is known as the Crooked Hythe. Forever immortalised on canvas by James Clarke Hook in 1880, the painting ‘Home with the Tide’ currently hangs in the Tate Gallery.
The life of a fisherman’s wife was a hard one. She would carry her husband out to the boat after it was launched, so he could start off his fishing trip dry. She would gather bait, bait the hooks and mend his nets. She was also the fish seller, sometimes carrying a heavy creel inland to her customers. As well as all the normal household chores and looking after the children!
In 1900, Thomas Mackenzie, a ships carpenter from Dumbarton, whilst on holiday in Findochty, realised the Crooked Hythe would be a perfect place to build boats, it was a perfect natural harbour with shelter from the wind and easy access to the sea.
He returned in 1903, with two family members and began the back-breaking work to construct a slipway. By the end of 1903 the slipway was complete and W & J Herd & Mackenzie shipyard was ready for business. Many skippers were initially reluctant to attempt entering the Crooked Hythe, it took a skilled sailor to navigate its awkward bend. James Mair, a skipper from nearby Portknockie was the first to successfully sail his Zulu Valkyrie (BF1947) through the channel, to have repair work undertaken at the new shipyard.
The first order to build a steam drifter came in 1905. The boat builders worked out in the open air, with no shelter from the elements. This first boat was named Bloomfield (BF218) and cost £915 to make. She was completed and launched in early 1906. After this success the orders flowed in regularly and the shipyard made on average three boats a year. When the ‘new’ harbour was built in Buckie, Herd & Mackenzie were able to secure a site there.
A much larger area, able to accommodate four boats at a time, instead of just one at Findochty. Whilst both sites operated for a time, the last steam drifter to be built here was Courage (BCK134) in 1932. During its time the Crooked Hythe saw 36 vessels made and launched here. If you look carefully the remains of the slipway can still be seen – the ship yard was an important part of Findochty’s local fishing heritage and the start of one of the most successful shipyards in Scotland; Herd & Mackenzie.
The cottage dates back to around 1870. Back then there were no street names and it was simply known as 140 Findochty, this was when it was also part of the house next door. It was home to the Flett’s and their 5 children, Alexander Flett was a fisherman. In the 1881 census the house becomes 141 and 141½ – showing that it had then become two houses. In 1920 Findochty was allocated street names and it then became 4 Duke Street.
The Flett’s owned the house right up to 1987, when a William Reid became resident. Locally he was known as BeanBe, and by all accounts was quite a character! A local Findochty resident remembers coming to the house as a child where the wifie who lived there (possibly Jeannie Flett) would cook and sell fish and chips from the building in the garden, and you could sit on benches on what is now the top terrace to eat them. Happy memories!
Whilst renovating the house we have discovered hidden treasures that give small clues to the history of the house and its residents. We uncovered many, many types of different wall paper and detailed stencilling beneath the wall paper. Two bottles (unfortunately without labels) and a small tin of paint tucked away on a small ledge behind one of the walls and an empty packet of Capstan cigarettes.
It’s been a fascinating project and we have really enjoyed finding out about the history of the cottage and who once called it their home.