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Arbroath, Forfarshire

Historical Description

ARBROATH, or ABERBROTHOCK, a thriving seaport, a burgh, and parish, in the county of FORFAR, 15 miles (S. E. by E.) from Forfar, and 60 (N. N. E.) from Edinburgh; the parish containing, with the former quoad sacra parish of Abbey, and part of the quoad sacra parish of Ladyloan, 8707 inhabitants, of whom 7218 are in the burgh. Within the parliamentary boundary is a population of 14,591. This place derives its name (originally Aberbrothock, of which its present appellation is a contraction) from its situation at the mouth of the river Brothock, which falls into the German Ocean. An abbey was founded here in the year 1178, by William the Lion, King of Scotland, for monks of the Tyronensian order, brought from the abbey of Kelso, and was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, in honour of the Archbishop Thomas à Becket. This establishment was amply endowed by the founder and his successors, and its abbots had a seat in parliament. A general assembly of the estates of Scotland was held in the abbey in 1320, when a declaration was drawn up, in strong and emphatic terms, asserting the independence of the Scottish Church of the Roman see, and renouncing all subjection to the interference of the pope. In 1445, a battle took place here between the retainers of the families of Lindsay and Ogilvie, which originated in a contest concerning the election of a bailie of the burgh, and in which the chieftains on both sides were killed, with nearly 500 of their dependents. In the sixteenth century, the abbey was almost destroyed by Ochterlony, a chieftain in the neighbourhood, who, having quarrelled with the monks, set fire to the buildings; and at the Dissolution, which followed a few years afterwards, this once extensive pile was little more than a wide heap of scattered ruins. The revenues were returned at £2483. 5. in money, with about 340 chalders of grain, and the patronage of thirty-four parish churches; and the site and lands belonging to the abbey were, after its dissolution, erected into a temporal lordship, in favour of Claude Hamilton, third son of the Duke of Chatelherault, who was created Lord Aberbrothock, which still forms one of the inferior titles of the Duke of Hamilton. In 1781, the town was menaced by the commander of a French privateer, who approached the port, and commenced a brisk firing for a short time, which was succeeded by his sending a flag of truce, demanding from the magistrates and inhabitants the payment of £30,000 as a ransom for the town, which, on their refusal, he threatened to set on fire. The authorities of the place obtained by parley a short interval, in which having armed several of the inhabitants, they set him at defiance, and he left the coast, making prizes of some small craft that he met with in his retreat. A battery was soon afterwards erected in front of the harbour, to protect the town from similar insult, and was kept up till the termination of the last war, when it was dismantled.

The TOWN is situated at the mouth and on each side of the river Brothock, and from being a place of scanty population and inconsiderable trade has within the last half century become a thriving and populous burgh, the seat of extensive manufactures, and remarkable for the spirit and enterprise of its inhabitants. Its situation is irregular, but striking and picturesque. The High-street, reaching from the sea to beyond the abbey ruins, is spacious and handsome, especially at the market-place or cross, where the town-house, guildhall, trades-hall, and Commercial Bank are conspicuous objects. Parallel to it are other streets both to the east and west, which are intersected by minor streets extending over a large area, and running at several points into the parish of St. Vigean's, in which a considerable portion of the suburbs is situated. Fronting the harbour, on the west side of the Brothock, is a handsome range of houses, forming part of Ladyloan-street, which, stretching westward, is adorned on the north by Ladyloan church, a neat modern erection, and on the south or seaward side by the signal tower of the Bell-rock lighthouse, and the well-built station of the Dundee railway. Many of the private houses are elegant and substantial, and those in the suburbs, being embellished with gardens and shrubberies, produce a pleasing effect. All the houses are built of stone obtained from quarries in the neighbourhood, and the quarries are also celebrated for the production of a superior description of pavement, of which immense quantities are annually shipped for both home and foreign markets, under the well-known denomination of Arbroath pavement. The abundance of this article is visible in the excellent footways that are found here, even in the most obscure streets; the care of these and of all other police matters, being committed to a board elected by the £10 parliamentary voters. Arbroath is lighted with gas, manufactured by a jointstock company. Water is chiefly derived from an excellent spring in Boulzie hill, an eminence at the head of Hill-street, and from private wells: the supply is rather deficient, but as the town becomes larger, means will no doubt be taken for obtaining ampler supplies of this necessary of life. The town is clean, airy, and healthy, but cold in spring from the prevalence of easterly winds, which blow keenly from the sea.

Westward of Arbroath is the spacious field forming the public common, accessible at all times to the citizens for pleasure and recreation: the national game of golf is occasionally played here, but not with the spirit observable in some of the other Scottish burghs, and cricket is unknown. This common, as well as all the low ground to the west, the site of part of the town itself, and to the east of it, has evidently been reclaimed from the sea; the rising ground all along the coast, at various distances from the present high-water mark, exhibiting clear indications of having at some remote period formed the boundary of the ocean. At the common this geological feature is distinctly perceptible, as an elevation varying from twenty to fifty feet gives to the spot the respective appellations of high common and low common. Along the ridge is a walk commanding a fine view of the bay, the Tay estuary, and the east coast of Fife. Eastward of the town, the Boulzie hill forms an attractive object, the view from it of the sea, the town, and neighbouring country, being of great interest and extent. A footpath leads thence along the edge of the cliffs to Seaton-den, a distance of half a mile, where the elevated ground assumes a bolder aspect, and, projecting further seaward, presents for miles a most striking and picturesque line of coast. Here the rocks, in many parts lofty and precipitous, assume strange and fantastic shapes; deep gullies and dark subterranean caves astonish the spectator, and such is the character of the coast for six miles, terminating in the bold promontory of Redhead, a rocky bulwark some hundreds of feet high. Redhead is in the parish of Inverkeillor, which is separated from that of Arbroath by St. Vigean's parish.

There is a public subscription library in the town, supported by a proprietary of £5 shareholders, in which is a collection of about 4000 volumes on subjects of general literature; and smaller libraries, of miscellaneous and theological works, are attached to the quoad sacra churches. A mechanics' library, now containing about 400 volumes, was established in 1824, and connected with it is a mechanics' institution, or school of arts, for which an appropriate building has been erected, containing a reading-room well supplied with periodicals and newspapers. Besides these institutions, there are two public reading-rooms, and one belonging to the shipping interest; also three masonic lodges, and a gardeners' society. A museum, likewise, has been established, which, though comparatively in its infancy, already boasts of a fair collection of the antiques and curiosities usual in such a repository.

Arbroath has long been famous for its hand-loom manufactures of canvas and linens, and in this respect it still retains its deservedly high character, these articles being still manufactured and exported to a large extent: a portion of the sailcloth required for the royal navy is annually supplied from this place. The spinning of flax and tow is also carried on largely; about 7000 tons of flax are on an average imported yearly from Riga, Petersburgh, Memel, and other ports in the Baltic; and this, with the supplies derived from other quarters, is hackled, and spun into yarns of various sizes from a pound and a half per spindle upwards. The number of spinning mills or factories in the town and suburbs is nineteen, driven by steam-engines of 350-horse power in the aggregate: nearly all of them are within the parish of St. Vigean's. These mills, with the bleaching, mill-washing, manufacturing, and other processes carried on, give employment to several thousand persons of both sexes, from thirteen years of age upwards. After supplying the demand on the spot, the surplus yarns are sent to the neighbouring towns of Forfar, Kirriemuir, and Brechin, where manufacturing is carried on to a large extent: a considerable quantity of linen yarns has also, of late years, been exported to France. Thus Arbroath may be considered, in reference to its size, as one of the most flourishing seats of the linen manufacture in Scotland; that manufacture, indeed, forming the staple trade of the place. There are also such works as cast-metal foundries, tan-works, bone-mills, rope-works, &c., largely carried on; and ship-building is pursued to a considerable extent. The Arbroath and Forfar railway, as originally constructed, was opened to the public in January 1839; the line is about fifteen miles in length, and the principal station is a handsome building with every requisite accommodation. The Dundee and Arbroath railway, along the coast, has also its terminal station here; it is about seventeen miles long, and is connected with the Arbroath and Forfar line. The market is on Saturday, and is supplied with grain of all kinds. Fairs are held on the last Saturday in January, the first Saturday after the old term of Whit-Sunday, on the 18th of July, and the first Saturday after Martinmas: the fair on the 18th of July is denominated St. Thomas's market, and on the day following is what is called the Old market, both having been holidays from time immemorial.

Arbroath was formerly a creek to the port of Montrose, but in consequence of its growing importance as a maritime town, and its increasing manufactures, the lords of the treasury were lately pleased to entertain a representation made by the citizens, and raise the place to the status of an independent port. There is now a regular establishment of officers, consisting of a collector, comptroller, and the requisite complement of subordinates. The principal imports, besides flax, are hides, bark, bones, timber, hemp, and occasionally grain, to which was latterly added guano direct from Ichoboe. A large coasting-trade is also carried on. In the London trade alone three first-rate clippers are employed; with Newcastle a large intercourse is constantly kept up in coal and goods, and there are regular traders also to Leith and Glasgow, besides which a number of small craft are employed in bringing coal, lime, and other articles, and in carrying away agricultural produce, pavement, &c. There are at present registered as belonging to the port 106 vessels of the aggregate burthen of 10,898 tons. In a recent year, the number of ships reported inwards from foreign parts was 101; the amount of duties was £8725.

The HARBOUR appears to have been first constructed in 1394, by the inhabitants, in conjunction with the abbot, who contributed the greater portion of the expense, in consideration of a certain duty to be paid annually from the lands of the burgh. A pier of wood was erected at the extremity of the High-street, which, being found ill-adapted to the purpose, was abandoned in 1725, and the harbour removed to the western side of the river, where a basin faced with stone was constructed, 124 yards in length and eighty yards in breadth, and a substantial pier of stone built. Great as this improvement was, however, it was found in the course of another century to afford very inadequate accommodation to the trade and shipping of the place; and the inhabitants, alive to the necessity of removing so serious a drawback to the prosperity of the town, obtained an act of parliament in 1839 for enlarging and improving the harbour. A spacious new tidal harbour was accordingly formed, to the south and east of the old one, at an expense exceeding £50,000. A sea-wall of great length and solidity, constructed of ponderous blocks of hewn stone tremailed together, defends the harbour from the German Ocean, which in easterly gales drives ashore with much violence. At the western extremity, or return-head, as it is called, of this mural bulwark, is a lighthouse of the improved construction for directing vessels into the harbour at night, a signalpost with balls and flag serving the same purpose during the day. On the opposite side is a breakwater composed of the same massive materials, and between this and the return-head is the entrance to the harbour, which is calculated to admit ships of from ten to fifteen feet draught of water, according to the state of the tides. The bar, which consists of silt and soft sandstone, is not considered as a formidable obstacle to the entrance of ships. On each side of it is a range of low rocks, in the direction of which some succeeding generation will doubtless erect another sea-wall and breakwater, thus annihilating the bar. The harbour is under the management of a board of trustees elected annually under the provisions of the above-mentioned act of parliament. The revenue in 1844 amounted to upwards of £3000, shewing a vast increase in the trade of the port, the amount in 1819 having been only £679. In connexion with the harbour, and under the same management, is a patent-slip, well adapted for the repairing of vessels.

At a distance of twelve miles from the shore, but opposite to the harbour, is the Bell Rock Lighthouse, erected under an act of parliament obtained in 1806, and completed in 1811. It is built upon a rock about 427 feet in length, and 230 feet in breadth, at low water, and rising to an average height of about four feet from the sea. The lighthouse is of circular form. The two lower courses of masonry, all of which are dove-tailed, are sunk into the rock. The diameter at the base is forty-two feet, gradually diminishing to the floor of the light room, which is thirteen feet in diameter. From the foundation the elevation is solid to the entrance, which is at a height of thirty feet, and is attained by a ladder of ropes with steps of wood; the walls here are seven feet in thickness, and gradually decrease to one foot at the lantern, which has an elevation of 100 feet from the base, and is fifteen feet in height, and of octagonal form. The lantern contains a light of Argand burners with powerful reflectors, revolving round its axis in six minutes, and in each revolution displaying alternately a bright and a deep red light, which in clear weather may be plainly seen at a distance of eighteen miles. Two large bells connected with the lighthouse are tolled by the machinery which moves the lights, when the weather is foggy; and on the harbour of Arbroath a building has been erected for the accommodation of the keepers, three of whom are constantly at the lighthouse for six weeks, when they are relieved, and spend two weeks on shore. Attached to this building is a signal tower, fifty feet high, by means of which the keepers on the shore communicate with those on the rock. The whole expense of the lighthouse, which is of such important benefit to the navigation of this part of the coast, did not exceed £60,000.

The town was made a royal burgh by charter of James VI., in 1599, reciting that the original charters, with the title-deeds of the town, and other documents, were taken from the abbey, where they had been deposited for security, and destroyed by George, Bishop of Moray. The inhabitants appear to have been before incorporated by the abbots, who reserved to themselves the nomination of one of the bailies by whom the town was governed. By King James's confirmatory charter of all previous rights and privileges, the burgh and harbour were made free, and the lands called the common muir were conveyed to the burgesses, with power to levy anchorage customs and shore dues, and to apply the produce to the maintenance of the harbour. Under this charter, and the recent Municipal Reform act, the government is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, and treasurer, and twelve councillors, all chosen subject to the provisions of the Municipal Reform act. There are seven incorporated trades, the whole of which have the exclusive right of carrying on their trades within the burgh, with the exception of the weavers; the dean of guild also grants temporary license to trade, to traders who decline entering with the guild corporation. The magistrates possess all the jurisdiction appendant to royal burghs, and hold courts of pleas in civil actions weekly to an unlimited extent, and also criminal courts, in which, though by the charter they have full jurisdiction in capital cases, they confine themselves to the trial of petty offences, the town-clerk acting as assessor. The magistrates have power by the charter to hang and drown, and to replevy any action whatever against an inhabitant of the burgh, from all judges in the kingdom, upon giving security for administering justice within the term of law. The dean of guild likewise holds a court for deciding on cases of disputed marches within the burgh, and for enforcing compliance with the acts of parliament regulating weights and measures; in which he is assisted by a clerk and procurator-fiscal. Previously to the union of the two kingdoms, the burgh sent a member to the Scottish parliament, but after that event was associated with Montrose, Brechin, Bervie, and Aberdeen in returning a representative to the imperial parliament; and the only change in this respect, under the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., is the substitution of Forfar in lieu of Aberdeen, and the extension of the elective franchise to £10 householders. The provost is the returning officer. The guildhall is a neat plain edifice, adapted for the business of the guild corporation; and the trades'-hall, erected in 1814, is a handsome building. The town-house, erected in 1806, is a spacious and elegant structure, comprising a great hall, and offices for the town-clerk and others, with apartments for the meetings of the council, and for holding courts: the upper part, formerly used as the burgh gaol, has been fitted up as commodious committee-rooms, and for other public purposes. At a short distance behind the town-house stand the new gaol, the gaoler's house, and the police-office, the whole forming a neat building, with very little appearance externally of the purposes to which it is devoted. The cells are constructed on the modern principle, properly ventilated, and well arranged for the health and classification of prisoners. In the police department is a small but commodious court-room, where the burgh magistrates sit every Monday for the summary disposal of petty delinquencies.

Arbroath parish is about three miles in length, and of very irregular form, varying from little more than 200 yards to a mile and a quarter in breadth. It comprises 820 acres of arable land, and twenty-six of common land in pasture. The surface is comparatively level, rising by a gradual ascent from the shore till, at the opposite extremity, it attains an elevation of 150 feet above the sea. The only river is the Brothock, which rises in the adjoining parish of St. Vigean's, and after a course of five or six miles, flows through this parish for about a quarter of a mile, and falls into the sea at the harbour. A small stream which in its course gives motion to several spinning-mills, forms a tributary to the Brothock; but unless swollen with incessant rains, it is comparatively a shallow stream. The scenery is pleasingly varied; and the town, as seen from the sea, is an interesting feature, seated in the curve of a range of small hills, which rise behind it. These hills command an extensive prospect of the Lothians, the eastern portion of the coast of Fife, and the estuaries of the Forth and Tay, towards the south; the view terminating, towards the north, in the range of the Grampian hills. Near the town the soil is a rich black loam; in the higher lands, thin, resting upon a retentive clay, which renders it scarcely susceptible of improvement; and along the coast, light and sandy. The chief crops are grain of all kinds, potatoes, and turnips; bone-dust and guano are used for manure, and the farms are in general well arranged and skilfully managed. The annual value of real property in the parish is £17,314. A fishery is carried on with considerable success: cod, haddock, and flounders are taken in abundance off the coast, with herrings and mackerel, in their season; lobsters, crabs, and various kinds of shell-fish are found in great plenty, and attempts have been made to procure a supply of salmon by putting down stake-nets, but hitherto without much success.

This parish is the seat of the presbytery of Arbroath, in the synod of Angus and Mearns; patron, the Crown: the minister's stipend averages about £210, with a glebe valued at £4. 8. 11. There is also an assistant minister, appointed by the Kirk Session, whose emoluments, including the session clerkship, average about £85. The church, which was enlarged in 1764, and to which an elegant spire was added in 1831, at an expense of £1300, raised mostly by subscription, is a plain cruciform structure, situated nearly in the centre of the town, and adapted for 1390 persons. A chapel of ease was erected in 1797, on the grounds of the ancient abbey, and is thence called the Abbey chapel; it is a neat edifice for a congregation of about 1280, and a quoad sacra district was annexed to it, comprising a population of 2289: income of the minister, about £100. Another chapel of ease was erected in 1829, for the accommodation of the inhabitants of that portion of the suburbs within the parish of St. Vigean's; it is a neat structure, and contains 1080 sittings, from the rents of which the minister derives an income of £150: a quoad sacra district named Inverbrothock has been attached to it, containing 5195 persons. A few years ago another chapel of ease was erected, for the accommodation of the inhabitants on the west side of the Brothock: it has a district assigned it for quoad sacra purposes, containing a population of 2116, partly in St. Vigean's parish. There are places of worship for the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Synod, Episcopalians, Original Seceders, Independents, Baptists, Bereans, Glassites, and Wesleyans.

The burgh school, and also the parochial school, have merged into an institution of more recent establishment, called the Academy, for which a handsome and appropriate building was erected in 1821, at an expense of £1600, raised chiefly by subscription. This institution is under the control of a rector, appointed by the corporation, and three masters, chosen by the directors; to each of these a distinct department is assigned, and there are consequently four separate schools. The classical and mathematical school is under the superintendence of the rector, whose salary is £34 per annum, which, augmented with an allowance of £6. 10. for house-rent, and the proceeds of a bequest by Mr. John Colvill for the gratuitous instruction of five children, amounts to £60 per annum: the commercial, English, and general schools are under the three masters, who have a salary of £25 each. These salaries are paid from the various funds constituting the endowment of the schools, and are exclusive of school-fees. The Sabbath-evening School Society, which has been established for more than thirty years, comprehends the whole of the town and suburbs; and connected with the schools under its superintendence is a library of more than 1100 volumes, containing many standard and valuable works, in addition to such as are requisite for the children attending school. On the high common is an infirmary, a building of elegant design: it cost about £1500, defrayed by subscription, and Lord Panmure presented £1000 towards the endowment. Mr. Carmichael, in 1733, bequeathed £600 and some rent-charges for the benefit of seven widows of ship-masters, producing at present about £130 per annum; and the above-mentioned Mr. John Colvill, late town-clerk, in 1811 left £10 per annum to the minister of the Episcopal chapel, £10 per annum to the poor of the parish, and a sum for the assistance of twenty householders, which now produces to each £3. 10. annually.

The chief relics of antiquity connected with Arbroath are the remains of its venerable abbey. This ancient building was one of those which suffered most from popular violence at the Reformation, the whole being then burned, and reduced to ruin. The north wall, in particular, of the nave and transept, was completely thrown down, so as to leave the interior open on that side to the adjacent cemetery; soil collected, and trees grew up, among the broken fragments, and in course of time the traces of the north wall were entirely obliterated, and graves were gradually extended into the area of the church itself. After the destruction of the abbey, no attention appears to have been paid to its preservation. On the contrary, it was subject to constant dilapidation, not only from the ravages of time, but from the frequent and extensive demolition of the ruins in order to furnish the citizens with materials for building. Accordingly, traces of the carved stones of the abbey are to be found in many old houses in the town. About the year 1806, however, the officers of state laid claim to the remains on behalf of the crown; and after removing various encroachments made by sundry parties on the abbey precincts, they commenced excavating the ruins down to the original pavement, carefully transferring the remains of the dead deposited in the area of the abbey church, to the adjoining churchyard. In the course of these operations, various objects of antiquity were brought to light, including a beautifully carved truncated statue of Thomas à Becket in his robes of office, and a marble slab supposed to have been the lid of the royal founder's coffin, adorned with the figure of a man in alto relievo, with a lion couchant at his feet. The tomb of the king, who was buried under the steps leading to the high altar, was not discovered. In addition to these excavations, the crown has from time to time executed important repairs of the ruins, with a view to their preservation, under the superintendence of the crown architect for Scotland, acting under the instructions of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. The whole area of the church is now cleared out, and the bases of the pillars that supported the roof displayed. The church appears to have been 270 feet in length, from the great entrance at the west to the high altar at the east, and 130 feet in breadth, along the transepts; the nave was 148 feet in length, by about seventy feet in height, and the choir about seventy-five feet long. The western entrance is tolerably entire, exhibiting the remains of a large circular window above the doorway, which must have thrown a flood of light into the area of the church: but the portions of the tower by which the entrance was flanked are so dilapidated that scarcely any indication of their original style of architecture presents itself. Adjoining the south transept are the remains of a building containing a large vaulted apartment in excellent preservation, supposed to have been the chapter-house. The principal remaining tower, locally called the Old St. Thomas, rises to the height of 112 feet. The cloisters have disappeared; and the abbot's palace, which, after the abolition of episcopacy in Scotland, was converted into a manse for the parish minister, is now a private residence.

This important religious establishment occupied an area 1150 feet in length and about 700 in width, inclosed by a stone wall nearly twenty-four feet in height. At the north-west angle is a tower twenty-four feet square, and seventy feet high, which is still entire; and at the south-west angle was another, of smaller dimensions, which being ruinous was some time ago taken down. The principal entrance was through a stately gateway-tower on the north side, defended by a portcullis and drawbridge; and at the south-east angle was a postern of inferior character, called the Darngate, from which the town arms are derived. The abbey buildings are now placed under the care of a resident keeper, appointed by the crown; and the crowds of visiters to the ruins, especially during the summer months, attest the interest felt by tourists in these venerable remains of our ancient ecclesiastical architecture. The public burying-ground adjacent, which is the only place of sepulture for the town, is tastefully laid out, and, with its numerous monuments of the dead, adds not a little to the feelings of solemnity which a visit to this sacred spot is calculated to inspire.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis


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