Memories of Aikey Brae

A busy Aikey Fair in its hey-day as a horse trading market
A busy Aikey Fair in its hey-day as a horse trading market

There is a romantic tale that tells of a packman who was calling on people door-to-door with drapery, with a pack on his back, when he fell in the river while trying to cross it.

Being a fine day, he spread out all of his wares to dry on the heather of Aikey Brae and, low and behold, when the folk of the area came to look at what he had he landed up selling everything.

Horse trading was particulary popular with Aikey a leading horse fair in the area.

Horse trading was particulary popular with Aikey a leading horse fair in the area.

From that day he vowed to come back the following year at the same time and sell again. And that, according to some, is how the annual Aikey Fair originated.

However, for those of a less romantic disposition, Aikey Fair was first mooted in the List of Markets and Fairs prepared for the Royal Commissioners of Market Rights and Tolls by Sir James David Marwick, the then town clerk of Glasgow.

It records that Aikey Fair was held on the first Wednesday after July 19, and was a large horse market and also a feeing market for harvest engagements and a money term for the settlement of contrary accounts.

Whichever version you prefer to adopt, Aikey Fair has fond memories for many folk in Buchan, and played a major role in the trade of horses up until the last foal was sold in 1952. One of the most renowned horse dealers, and a legend in his own time, was John Hay from North Well, Rothie. He had the contract to supply the Army with horses during the First World War.

The Army set a price for the horse and that might have been at times treble what John Hay paid for them. He was also an agent to supply horses for the two largest hauliers in the North-east - Woodies of Aberdeen and Mutterhouse of Aberdeen.

Dealers were often called 'coupers' because they turned over livestock. They often booked their stances at the fair well in advance and were charged half a crown and all others five bob, depending on the size of their string of horses.

Dealing wasn't done as we see today at the likes of Thainstone at Inverurie. If you fancied a horse you approached the owner, asked the price, and if it was within reason, you could ask the horse to be run out (trotted 20 to 30 yards in front of you and back again). The scarcity of vets in those days forced people to rely on their own judgement and experience.

No alcohol was sold at Aikey, although in latter years James Mitchell from the New Mill Brewery and Strichen supplied ale White Cow Wood en route to Aikey. Whites the bakers of Longside also used to sell small currant loaves for a penny each at the fair.

Aikey, as folk know it, died out in the war year 1942-43 but a revival was attempted in 1947. In 1950 there ere just 100 horses at the fair and a year later that number had dwindled to 60. By 1952 only one piebald pony represented Aikey Fair, which was that year held on Wednesday, July 23.

Aikey still has fond memories for many folk today - but in a different form to that of the horse fair. Latterly the fair was mainly made up of side shows which had been set up in the quarry and which attracted thousands each year from Friday through to Sunday.

Sadly, the tradition of Aikey has faded, with problems over land and money leading to its demise. But the memories will remain, with the horse fair even immortalised in its very own song 'Aikey Brae'.