Historical description of Elginshire, Scotland

ELGINSHIRE, or Morayshire, a county in the north-east of Scotland, bounded on the north by the Moray Firth, on the east and south-east by Banffshire, on the south by a detached portion of the county of Inverness, and on the west by Nairnshire. It lies between 57° 11' and 57° 43' (N. Lat.) and 3° 2' and 3° 58' (W. Long.), and is about 40 miles in length, and 23 miles in extreme breadth; comprising an area of 840 square miles, or 537,600 acres; 8526 houses, of which 8154 are inhabited; and containing a population of 35,012, of whom 16,090 are males and 18,922 females. This county constituted a portion of the ancient province of Moray, which contained the shires of Nairn and Elgin, with a large part of the county of Banff, and which was for many ages distinguished as the "granary of Scotland". At a very early period Moray had an establishment of Culdees, and it subsequently became the seat of various religious societies, that emigrated from Italy, and settled here about the commencement of the tenth century. In the year 1100 it was made a diocese, and in 1150 an abbey for Cistercian monks was founded at Kinloss by David I. The priories of Urquhart, Pluscardine, and Kingussie were soon afterwards established; and in the year 1224 Andrew, Bishop of Moray, erected a cathedral for his diocese at Elgin, the remains of which form one of the most interesting ecclesiastical relics in the country. During later times the county has been included in the synod of Moray; it comprises parts of several presbyteries, and consists of about twenty parishes. For civil purposes it is joined with the shire of Nairn, under the jurisdiction of one sheriff, who appoints a sheriff-substitute for each. It contains the royal burghs of Elgin and Forres, the former of which is the county town; the towns of Garmouth and Lossiemouth, and a few villages. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., the two counties return one member to the imperial parliament.

The SURFACE of Morayshire, which rises gradually from the shores of the Firth towards the Grampian range, is beautifully diversified with parallel ranges of hills of moderate elevation, intersecting the county from east to west, and between which are fertile valleys of pleasing appearance. The chief rivers are the Spey, the Lossie, and the Findhorn, the first of which enters the county from that of Inverness at Aviemore, and pursuing a north-eastern course, and receiving the waters of the Dulnan and the Avon, falls into the Moray Firth at Garmouth. It is scarcely navigable, from the extreme rapidity of its current, except for the floating of timber from the forests of Strathspey; but abounds with salmon, the fisheries of which produce a rental of £7000 per annum. The Lossie has its source in a loch of that name, within the county, and, taking a direction nearly parallel with the Spey, flows by the town of Elgin into the Firth at Lossiemouth. The river Findhorn rises in the county of Inverness, and soon after entering the county receives the streams of the Dorbac and the Divie, and runs northward into Findhorn bay in the Moray Firth. In Elginshire the chief lakes are, Lochnaboe, covering about sixty acres, and surrounded with a forest of ancient firs; Inchstellie, of very small dimensions; Loch Spynie, which has been almost wholly drained; and Lochindorb, on the boundary between Elgin and the detached portion of the county of Inverness. Of these the last is four miles in length, and about one mile broad: on an island within its limits are some remains of a castle, which was occupied for a time by Edward I. of England.

About one-fifth of the land is arable and in cultivation, and of the remainder less than one-half is in pasture, woodlands, and plantations. The soil in the lower districts is sand, alternated with clay and loam, which last is the most predominant; the system of agriculture, though inferior to that of some other counties, is still greatly improved, and the farm-buildings and offices are generally substantial and commodious. Considerable attention is paid to the rearing of live stock: the cattle are mostly a mixture of the Shetland and Lancashire breeds, and the sheep of the black-faced breed; the horses are the Clydesdale and the Lanark, with a few of the Suffolk and the Yorkshire. The natural wood with which the county formerly abounded has been greatly diminished, and only some remains of it are found on the banks of the rivers: plantations have been formed of late years. The minerals are not very important. Iron-ore was wrought, but the works have long been discontinued; and there are indications of lead-ore and coal. Limestone is found in several parts near the coast, and there are quarries of excellent freestone; slate is also wrought in some places. In this county the principal seats are Innes House, Duffus House, Darnaway Castle, Brodie House, the Grange, Burgie Castle, Ortown House, and Elchies House. The chief manufactures are the woollen and cotton, the former of which has been long established; there are likewise some bleaching-grounds, and the spinning of flax affords employment to a considerable number of persons. There are some tanneries, and also distilleries on an extensive scale, the latter paying collectively duties to government amounting to £50,000 a year. The annual value of real property in Elginshire is £98,115, of which £84,082 are returned for lands, £7350 for houses, £5439 for fisheries, and the remainder for other kinds of real property. In the county are numerous remains of antiquity, of which the chief are the ruins of Elgin cathedral, the episcopal palace at Spynie, the priory of Pluscardine, and the castles of Lochindorb, Dunphail, and Relugas: there are also many memorials of the frequent battles that occurred between the inhabitants and the Danes, by whose incursions this part of the country was much infested.

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