UK Genealogy Archives logo

Dingwall, Ross and Cromarty

Historical Description

DINGWALL, a royal burgh, a sea-port, and a parish, the capital of the county of Ross, 20 miles (S. W.) from Cromarty, and 174 miles (N.N.W.) from Edinburgh; containing 2100 inhabitants, of whom 1739 are in the burgh. This place, the name of which is of Scandinavian origin, is supposed to have been originally a Danish settlement, and subsequently the seat of one of the numerous royal fortresses erected along the coast, to repel the frequent incursions of that warlike people. It is of considerable antiquity, and, from the discovery of foundations of houses and pavements within and beyond the limits of the present town, is supposed to have been anciently of greater extent and importance. It was erected into a royal burgh by Alexander II., who, in 1226, bestowed upon the inhabitants a charter investing them with all the privileges and immunities enjoyed by the burgesses of Inverness. Dingwall Castle became the principal seat of the powerful Earls of Ross, who were proprietors of the greater portion of the lands in the surrounding district, several estates of which are still held under charters granted to the owners by the earls, and dated from Dingwall. The castle and the lands remained in the possession of the Earls of Ross till 1476, when, on the attainder of the last earl, the proprietor of the estate of Tulloch was appointed hereditary constable of the castle, and the earldom was vested in the crown. The only remains of the castle are a small shapeless fragment of the walls, from which a tolerable idea maybe obtained of the massive solidity of the structure; the fosse by which it was surrounded may still be traced, and part of its site is now occupied by a castellated building recently erected by the proprietor of the land.

The TOWN is situated at the entrance of the picturesque and beautiful vale of Strathpeffer, which opens into the Firth of Cromarty. It comprises one chief street about half a mile in length from east to west, from which several smaller streets diverge at right angles; the houses in the main street are shaded by rows of tall poplar-trees in front, and those of the older class are generally well built and two stories high. From its vicinity to the mineral springs of Strathpeffer the town has been much extended within the last few years, and many handsome houses have been built. The streets are paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are supplied with water conveyed into the town from springs in the vicinity. There are no manufactures carried on; the principal trade arises from Dingwall being the general mart for the rich and populous district of which it is the centre, for which it has numerous shops, amply stored with wares of all kinds. The trade of the port, employing much shipping, consists chiefly in the exportation of grain, timber, bark, and agricultural produce; and in the importation of merchandise for the supply of the district, and of coal, lime, and other commodities. There are several vessels belonging to the port, which were built here, and are employed in the coasting-trade. The harbour, close to the town, was Constructed in 1817, at a cost of £4365, and is under the superintendence of commissioners appointed by act of parliament in 1824.

Under the charter of Alexander II., confirmed by James IV., and ratified by James VI., the government of the burgh is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, treasurer, and ten councillors, chosen under the regulations of the Burgh Reform act. There are no incorporated guilds; persons dealing in merchandise within the burgh must become burgesses, the fee for which varies from £5 to £15. 15., but neither the sons nor apprentices of burgesses pay any fee, and craftsmen may exercise their trades without becoming burgesses. The jurisdiction of the magistrates extends over the whole of the royalty, and comprehends both civil and criminal causes; for which the sheriff also, who has a substitute residing here, holds the usual courts. Dingwall is associated with Cromarty, Dornoch, Kirkwall, Tain, and Wick, in returning a member to the imperial parliament. The townhouse, nearly in the centre of the town, is an ancient structure with a spire. Within the last few years, an extensive new prison, on the most approved principles, has been built; in front of which are the county buildings, an elegant structure containing accommodation for the gentlemen of the county when assembled on business, and also for the sheriff and other law courts. The market, on Friday, is well supplied with grain and provisions of all kinds; and fairs, chiefly for cattle and agricultural produce, are held on the third Wednesdays in January and February, the first Wednesdays in June, September, and November, the first Tuesday in July, and the Tuesday before Christmas-day. There are regular posts to Poolewe, Stornoway, Ullapool, Lochcarron, Lochalsh, Kintail, Glenelg, and the Isle of Skye; and a branch of the National Bank of Scotland in very handsome premises, and more lately a branch of the Caledonian Bank, have been established in the town. Facility of communication is afforded by good roads in all directions, kept in excellent repair; and by steam-boats to Edinburgh weekly, and every alternate week to London, which call at Invergordon, in the Firth of Cromarty.

The PARISH, which is situated at the western extremity of the Firth, is about three miles in length, of nearly equal breadth, and is bounded on the north by the lofty Ben-Wyvis, a mountain that attains an elevation of nearly 4000 feet; on the south by the river Conan; and on the south and south-east by the sea. It comprises about 5600 acres, of which 2380 are arable, 1380 woodland and plantations, and the remainder meadow, pasture, and waste. The surface is beautifully diversified with hills and valleys, and with wood and water. To the north, the hill of Tulloch, a continuation of the ridge of Strathpeffer, rises to a height of 800 feet; it is crowned with timber of stately growth, and enriched on the acclivities with lands in the highest state of cultivation, and the tastefully embellished pleasure-grounds of Tulloch Castle. The Conan, which flows by a winding course into the Firth, adds much to the beauty of the scenery, and abounds with salmon and trout of various kinds, and also with pike and eels. At flood-tide the Firth forms a magnificent expanse, but at ebb-tide recedes for nearly three miles from the shore, leaving a flat strand of slime. The soil is generally of a clayey nature; in the lower lands near the town there is a deep black vegetable mould, of great fertility, and in dry seasons producing luxuriant crops. Throughout the parish, the soil of the lands under cultivation is fertile, and well adapted to the growth of wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, and turnips, which are the principal crops. The system of husbandry is in the most improved state; the lands are inclosed with hedges, in which are rows of timber, and the farm-houses and offices are substantial and well arranged. Few live stock are reared, but considerable numbers of sheep and cattle are pastured; the sheep are chiefly of the Cheviot breed, and the cattle of the Highland breed, with some Ayrshire cows on the dairy-farms. The woods abound in game of all kinds, which, from the sheltered situation of the place, resort in great variety; the principal are partridges, hares, grouse, black game, and pheasants, which last, though but of recent introduction, have rapidly increased in number. The plantations are fir, larch, beech, elm, oak, ash, sycamore, and various other trees, all in a very thriving state, and under careful management. In this parish the chief substrata are sandstone and conglomerate, and there are three sandstone-quarries, extensively wrought; the stone of one is of a grey colour, and of hard quality, and that of the others of light blue, of softer kind, but well adapted for building, and susceptible of a fine polish. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4576.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Dingwall and synod of Ross; the minister's stipend is £244, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £30 per annum; patron, the Crown. Dingwall church is a neat plain structure in good repair, and contains 800 sittings. Service is performed both in the English and in the Gaelic language, and a catechist is employed who is paid £15 per annum. There is an episcopal chapel, and the members of the Free Church have a place of worship here. The parochial school is well attended; the master has a salary of £34, with a house and garden, and the fees average £40. The poor have the interest of some legacies, of which £700 was a bequest by one of the Tulloch family, and £100 by the late Bailie Mackenzie. Near the church is an obelisk rising from a base six feet square to the height of fifty-seven feet, erected by George, the first Earl of Cromarty, and secretary of state for Scotland to Queen Anne, to point out the family sepulchre. Towards the northern extremity of the parish are the remains of a Druidical circle; and at the east end of the town are those of the cross supposed to have been in the centre of the ancient town. This place gave the title of baron to Sir Richard Preston, who was created Lord Dingwall by James VI., with whom he was a great favourite; he married the only daughter of the Earl of Ormond, and left a daughter who conveyed the title to another family, by whom it was forfeited by attainder in 1716.

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