Downies is a typical, cliff-top village, and its harbour very small. It proved difficult to link both Downies and Portlethen to the mains water and sewage systems. The local residents of both villages demanded them, and both won their case.
A Downies boat, the “Isabella” was swamped in the great storm of 1880. The entire crew of Moses Wood, his sons James and Moses (both unmarried), his nephews James Wood (unmarried) and George Wood (leaving a wife and 10 children), John Wood, another George Wood (married only a fortnight) and another James Wood (married with a family of seven) all perished. The bodies were never recovered. A relief fund was launched for the victims and for other losses from Skateraw (the extended Christie family suffering similar tragic losses, including two fathers and their sons) and a boat from Footdee.
Portlethen is now largely a dormitory town for Aberdeen, but there has been a settlement here for over 200 years. The name is reputed to be derived from “Port Leviathan” because of the whales that were beached there from time to time.
The local church history is interesting. William Law was born in 1797, the son of a Kincardine O’Neil farmer. After graduating from Marischal College, he was schoolmaster at Maryculter for 25 years. Appointed “missionary” at Portlethen in 1827 on a salary of £30 per annum, he was presented with a pony for travel to work! It was not until 1840 that he moved to the manse at Portlethen, where he lived until his death in 1870, aged 73. His wife Isabella died on their 31 wedding anniversary. The minister’s daybook provides a fascinating insight into parish life. He was present at the opening of the new, wider Bridge of Dee in 1842. He records that 90,000 were present when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert passed through Aberdeen in 1848. And in 1866 there was “a grievous plague (Rinderpest) amongst the cattle which no precautions of efforts or human skill have been able greatly to mitigate.”
The 1 April 1861 census states that 1,688 people lived in the Parish of Portlethen, in 333 inhabited houses. There were 280 children at school, and the villages’ population were Portlethen 291, Findon 253 and Downies 180.
To the east of the dual carriageway lies the Portlethen retail park, now with Asda, Homebase, and Matalan. In 2004 more shops were opened to supplement those at The Green. There are two primary schools and a couple of pubs. A major extension to the Academy is underway, and that might help develop the “heart” which the community dearly needs. To the west lies Badentoy Industrial Estate, the local base of international oil companies. The green belt to the North and South is doing a little to prevent coalescence with other communities, but the growth of new housing, already evident to the west of the A90 in Hillside , is bound to follow a final decision on the siting of the Aberdeen “ Western Peripheral Route ” designed to bypass the town traffic problems.