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Cromarty, Ross and Cromarty

Historical Description

CROMARTY, a burgh of barony, a sea-port, and parish, in the county of ROSS and CROMARTY, 175 miles (N. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing 2662 inhabitants, of whom 1938 are in the burgh. This place, whose Gaelic name, Crom Ba, signifying the crooked bay, is derived from the winding shore of the Firth of Cromarty, appears to have attained to some importance at an early period, though few details of its ancient history are recorded. It is identified in some degree with the usurper Macbeth, to whom it gave his earliest title of Thane of Cromarty. It also seems to have been the scene of various disastrous battles, in commemoration of which are numerous tumuli in different parts of the parish, raised over the bodies of the slain. The hill behind the town is distinguished by tradition as the site of one of the victories gained by William Wallace over the English, during the disputed succession to the Scottish throne in the reign of Edward I. of England; and the opinion is confirmed by some artificial hillocks still discernible among the trees which crown that eminence. The district appears to have been originally inhabited by the Lowland Scots, Prior to the reign of Robert II., the town, which carried on a considerable trade in the exportation of wool and salmon to Flanders and France, was erected into a royal burgh, and united with that of Inverness.

The inhabitants were constantly subject to the predatory incursions of the Highlanders of the surrounding district; and in the reign of James IV., a combination of the Highland clans assaulted the town, and carried off nearly the whole of the property, even to the household furniture, for the restitution of which a decree was enacted by the lords of the council. Nearly the whole of the lands in the old county of Cromarty belonged to Sir John Urquhart, who was hereditary sheriff: and on his petition, the town was disfranchised as a royal burgh, and erected into a burgh of barony under his own jurisdiction. The prosperity of the place was subject to great fluctuation prior to the Reformation; but at that time it began to revive, and in the reign of Anne it had regained much of its previous importance, and had five vessels engaged in the herring-fishery. At the period of the Union it experienced considerable depression, and in 1730 had so far declined that scarcely a single shopkeeper was to be found in the town. In 1765, however, the lands of Cromarty were purchased by George Ross, Esq., who, at his own cost, added greatly to the revival and prosperity of the town by the construction of a pier, the introduction of an extensive manufacture of hempen-cloth, the erection of a public brewery, and the establishment of a lucrative trade in pork for the English market. Among his other beneficent measures, was the erection and endowment of a Gaelic chapel for the accommodation of Highland inhabitants.

The TOWN is pleasantly situated in the eastern part of the parish, upon a low promontory between the Moray Firth on the east, and the Firth of Cromarty on the west. It consists of several streets of irregularly-built houses, which, notwithstanding the antique appearance of the more ancient, have an air of cheerful neatness. The herring-fishery, which was formerly carried on to a great extent, and, within the last twenty years, produced annually not less than 20,000 barrels that were shipped from the port, has lately been almost discontinued. The manufacture of hempen-cloth introduced by Mr. Ross is, however, still carried on in an extensive factory, in which about 150 persons are employed, in addition to nearly half that number in collateral branches; the brewery is a ruin. The principal trade of the port is, the exportation of pork for the supply of the English market, of which the average quantity annually shipped is valued at from £15,000 to £20,000; and the importation of coal from Sunderland, and other produce from different parts of the coast. The harbour has a commodious pier, and is accessible to vessels of 400 tons, which can come up to the quay; and should the population and the trade of the district require it, this might be made one of the best harbours on the coast.

The entrance into the bay of Cromarty, from the North Sea, is between two lofty and precipitous promontories called the North and South Souters, of which the former is in the county of Ross, and the latter in that of Cromarty. The passage is about a mile and a half in width, and the bay is about seven miles in length, five miles in breadth, and from nine to twelve fathoms in depth, affording secure shelter to vessels in the severest gales. Towards the south-west it contracts into a firth about two miles in breadth, across which is a good ferry to Invergordon, where no accident has occurred within the memory of man. The market, which was weekly, has long been discontinued; and of the several fairs that were formerly held here only one remains, on the third Tuesday in November (O. S.). The government of the burgh, since the late act for municipal reform, has been vested in a provost, two bailies, and six councillors; but they have no funds. Cromarty is associated with Dingwall, Dornoch, Kirkwall, Tain, and Wick, in returning a member to the imperial parliament. The number of qualified voters is about forty. The town-hall, a neat substnntial building, was erected by Mr. Ross, and contains in the upper story a spacious hall surmounted by a dome, and on the ground-floor a prison. The internal intercourse is impeded by the numerous inlets from the sea with which the parish is indented; but a road has been formed to Inverness, that passes through Chanonry. Rosemarkie, and Avoch, and the regular sailing-packets from London, Leith, and Inverness touch at the port.

The PARISH extends from five to seven miles in length, and from two to three in breadth, comprising about 7100 acres, of which 2047 are arable, 1850 woodland and plantations, and the remainder meadow, pasture, and waste. Its surface is strikingly diversified. Towards the Moray Firth it is precipitous and abrupt, attaining, at a small distance from the shore, an elevation 470 feet above the sea. On the north and west, it declines gently towards the Firth of Cromarty for some distance, and then subsides, more abruptly, into a continuous extent of table-land overhanging the beach. In the eastern portion of the parish is the hill of Cromarty, having an elevation of 470 feet, and richly crowned with wood; and about two miles to the east of the town is a natural arch in the cliff, affording a passage to a peninsulated rock rising to the height of 100 feet from the beach. The small burn of Ethie, which forms the extreme southern boundary of the parish, flows for nearly two miles through a deep ravine in a bed of sandstone, the banks of which rise precipitously to an elevation of 250 feet. In its course it forms numerous cascades of romantic character, and in one part, flowing between banks crowned with flowers and foliage of every hue, falls from a height of thirty feet into a dark mossy basin, shaded with plantations of hazel, birch, and hawthorn, intermixed with ivy and wild honeysuckle. The SOIL of the arable land is of a clayey quality, and in other parts are large tracts of moor and moss. The system of agriculture is in an improving state; the chief crops are, wheat, which was first raised about forty or fifty years since, and the various other kinds of grain. The substrata are mostly sandstone and granitic gneiss. The annual value of real property in the parish is £3847. Cromarty House, a handsome modern mansion, beautifully situated in a richly-planted demesne, and Udale, are the principal residences.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Chanonry and synod of Ross. The ministers stipend is £251. 12., with an allowance in money in lieu of a manse, and the glebe is valued at £15 per annum: patron, the Crown. Cromarty church is a plain structure in very bad repair. The Gaelic chapel erected in 1783 by Mr. Ross, for the accommodation of the Highlanders employed in his factory, has an endowment of £150 per annum from government, for the support of its minister. To this chapel, containing 580 sittings, of which 300 are free, Gaelic people may come from all parts of the parish. There is also a place of worship for members of the Free Church. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £40, with a sum for house and garden, and the fees average £10. The poor have bequests producing £75 per annum. There are some very slight remains of ancient chapels, the most perfect being those of St. Regulus; and among the ruins of the chapels of St. Dutbac and St. Bennet, are two springs of excellent water. Of the distinguished persons connected with the place, may be named, the eccentric Sir Thomas Urquhart, celebrated for his Genealogy and Universal Language, and the late Dr. James Robertson, librarian of the university of Edinburgh, and professor of the Oriental languages; who were both natives. The town formerly gave the title of earl to the Mackenzie family; but George, the third earl, was attainted for his participation in the rebellion of 1745, and the title became extinct.

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