Johny Gentle and his Silver Beetles


Spent a wet Sunday afternoon trying to decide whether to start building an ark or to read the paper. The paper won which meant a three mile car journey to the local Tesco where in addition I bought an indoor TV ariel which has increased my viewing choice from seven channels which I cannot really watch due to fluctuating signal issues, to ninety three channels which I cannot really watch due to fluctuating signal issues.

ImageOn the way home I stopped to admire the commemorative plaque on the local St Thomas’ Hall. Seemingly Johnny Gentle and his group The Silver Beetles appeared there on 25th May 1960. The Fab Four were then the Fab Six seemingly and the line up was Johnny Gentle, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Tommy Moore and Stuart Sutcliffe.

Just up the road from the hall sits this rather splendid Catholic church which seemingly was built in 1830-31 as a successor to a very modest cottage and chapel which had been erected in 1785 at Kempcairn, about one kilometre outside the town.

ImageSituated on the Cuth Hill, or Cuthil, the highest part of the town. Saint Thomas’, which at the time had only a nave and sanctuary, is recorded as being “plain inside, with a Roman Doric exterior and a belfry”. Money was raised from the UK, Ireland and France and it was opened on August 7, 1831 by Bishop James Kyle and for 85 years this church served the needs of an increasing Catholic congregation of Keith.

Stone statues of Saints Peter and Paul were added in 1837, as was the present chapel house. In 1905 Canon John Paul felt the need to enlarge the building, which then seated 300. His successor, Monsignor Charles McDonald, was an energetic and forceful character, and upon his appointment in 1907 he embarked upon an ambitious plan to alter the church to the designs of Glasgow architect Mr Charles Ménart.
A transept was to be built, interior decoration enhanced and the whole building to be surmounted by an imposing copper-clad dome topped by a cross. The official re-opening of the church by the then Bishop of Aberdeen, the Right Reverend Aeneas Chisholm, was on September 13, 1916.

Four further stained glass windows were installed in the 1970s through the generosity of other benefactors. These depict Our Lady of Aberdeen, Saint Margaret of Scotland, Saint Andrew and Saint John Ogilvie, whose canonisation was by then imminent. These windows were designed and made by the Benedictine monk Ninian Sloane in the workshops at Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin.

If I can get hold of a wide angle lense, I intend documenting the building from the inside at some point later in the year.


About Duncan Harley

Author, photographer and feature writer.
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