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A History of Moray and Nairn
Chapter V. The Towns of Moray and Nairn


ELGIN: NOT THE NATURAL CAPITAL, BUT MADE SO BECAUSE OF THE CATHEDRAL —THE TOWN’S DEBT TO THE CHURCH—ITS APPEARANCE—ITS PROGRESS UNDER THE EARLDOM—THE EARL OF DUNFERMLINE, PROVOST — THE INCORPORATED TRADES—POLITICAL CORRUPTION—THE UNINCORPORATED TRADES — FINDHORN AND LOSSIEMOUTH, AND THE CONTINENTAL TRADE — EDUCATION — FORRES—NAIRN.

If there had been no cathedral on the banks of the Lossie, Elgin would probably never have been the capital of the county. Burghead, the site selected for this purpose by the earliest inhabitants of the district, had greater historical claims and much greater natural advantages; and after Burghead came Forres. Elgin might have remained a mere provincial town, and the whole history of the district would have been different.

There is probably hardly another town in Scotland* whose legendary origin is so absurdly fictitious. "A variety of etymologies,” says the writer of the account of the parish in the ‘New Statistical Account“ have been given of the name; but the most probable derives it from Helgy, general of the army of Sigurd, the Norwegian Earl of Orkney, who conquered Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, and Moray about the beginning of the tenth century.” Lachlan Shaw, the county historian, though he does not accept this preposterous story, is of opinion that “it was a considerable town with a royal fort when the Danes landed in Moray about anno 1008.” There is not the slightest evidence to justify either the one oc-~ the other of these statements. Elgin was probably founded somewhere towards the end of the eleventh century; but when, or why, or by whom, there is absolutely nothing to show.

It is certain, however, that it was one of the royal burghs in the reign of Alexander I. For in his charter conferring the Earldom of Moray on his nephew, Thomas Randolph, King Robert the Bruce reserves to his burgesses of Elgin, as well as to those of Forres and Inverness, the same liberties they had enjoyed in King Alexander’s reign. In 1151, David I., who had succeeded to his brother Alexander’s right in the kingdom “benorth the Forth” on his death in 1124, granted to the Priory of Urquhart an annual payment of twenty shillings, out of the ferme of my buigh and waters of Elgin (de firma burgi tnei et aquarum de Elgin).

And contemporaneously, or very nearly so, with this, came also the concession of a free “hanse.” Under this grant the burghers acquired the right of free trade within the burgh, and the privilege of associating in defence of their prerogatives.

Possessed of these important privileges, the burgh was placed in a position to make its own way in the world. And it seems to have made good use of its advantages. For a century later, when it was proposed to change the seat of the diocese, a very large church was required for its spiritual wants. The Church of the Holy Trinity, which in 1224 became the cathedral, was probably not within the actual burghal limits. It is described as being only “juxta Elgyn” but we hear of no other within the town; and it is difficult to believe that more than one was required.

The transference was the making of the burgh. The burgesses soon saw that their surest and swiftest road to prosperity lay in the patronage of the Church. The Church on its part was quite ready to aid them. And thus the rise of the two—the burgh and the bishopric—went on harmoniously, rapidly, and simultaneously, till the Reformation parted them, and converted fast friends into deadly enemies.

Towns fostered into importance by the Church are commoner in England than in our own country. But whether situated north or south of the Tweed, they have all the same characteristics. The traces of ecclesiastical influence are manifest everywhere. They are to be seen in their institutions, their habits of thought, their local industries, their buildings. Handicrafts of all descriptions flourish within them, and constitute the greater part of their trade. The town becomes famous for the excellence of its masons, carpenters, glovers, weavers, shoemakers, and the like. The Church with her riches requires and engrosses the services of every craft which can in any way minister to her material comfort. The craftsmen profit in their turn. There is ease and wellbeing everywhere. But as there is no necessity for extraordinary exertion, there is no real inducement to progress. There is no commerce, no manufactures, no wealth, for there is neither the need nor the energy to produce them. And when the support of the Church is withdrawn, the fortunes of the burgh are almost certain to wane.

It is only within recent years that Elgin has awakened from the sedative effects of ecclesiastical influence. Till the middle of the eighteenth century, at any rate, it was

*A monkish-looking town,
Most reverend for to view, sirs.”

“Within the memory of some still alive,” says Professor Cosmo Innes, “it presented the appearance of a little cathedral city very unusual among the burghs of Presbyterian Scotland. There was an antique fashion of building, and withal a certain solemn drowsy air, about the town and its inhabitants, that almost prepared the stranger to meet some Church procession, or some imposing ceremonial of the picturesque old religion. All that is changed now. Not a single one of its quaint old public buildings remains. The parish church of St Giles,— a building erected in 1224 to take the place of the Church of the Holy Trinity, converted into the cathedral,—a huge, ungainly, yet most interesting specimen of Gothic architecture which stood in the middle of the High Street, and the Town House, with its heavy double forestairs and its rude old tolbooth tower, have been removed. “The irregular tall houses standing on massive pillars and arcades, the roofs of mellow grey stone, broken picturesquely with frequent windows, the tall crow-stepped gables, are poorly exchanged for the prim and trim square modem houses and shops. Much, indeed, has been gained in the way of increased convenience and healthfulness. But the charm which springs from picturesque architecture, and from associations and memories of the past, is lost for ever.

Though the rapid rise of Elgin is largely due to ecclesiastical patronage, this was not the only source of its prosperity. To its feudal superiors, who were, first, the kings, and, afterwards, the Earls of Moray, the burgh was under heavy obligations. David I. was much in the district, and most of the religious foundations in the vicinity owe their origin to his generosity. William the Lion (1165-1214), his grandson, who succeeded him, was also frequently in Elgin, and as Richard, the Bishop of Moray, had been his chaplain, the bishopric was considerably enriched on these occasions. His son, Alexander II. (1214-1249), was a still greater benefactor to the district. He visited Elgin in 1221 and in 1228. In 1231 he spent his Yule here. And in 1234 he granted to the burgh its charter of free guild, “ as other burghs possessed it,” and thus completed the tale of its municipal privileges. On the establishment of the earldom a new superior was interjected between the Crown and the burgh, and henceforward we find few traces of royal interference with civic affairs.

The documents still preserved in the town’s “cageat” prove this at any rate, that the transference of the superiority produced no detrimental effect on the prosperity of the burgh, as was too often the case in other burghs in Scotland. If indeed there had been any conflict between the bishopric and the earldom, the result might have been otherwise. The town would certainly have suffered. Fortunately for the burgh, the bishops and the earls in Roman Catholic days were always good friends; and the rise of Elgin went on unimpeded.

This was especially the case during the earldom of the Dunbars. Many members of that distinguished family held high office in the Church—one of them, Columba Dunbar, even attaining, as we have seen, to the bishopric. Hence we find during their tenure of the dignity numerous concessions and indulgences to the town of Elgin.

Thus in 1390, John Dunbar, Earl of Moray, “in consideration of the many hardships and devastations the Burgh had sustained since the death of his two uncles, Thomas and John Randulph, Earls of Moray,”grants to the town a charter of exemption from the excise or duty on ale brewed within it,” which hitherto had been payable to the “Constable of our castle of Elgin”; and warrants the grant by allowing the burgh to retain the “ferme” due to him in case “ they were anyways troubled or molested thereanent” In 1393-941 Thomas Dunbar, the second earl of the family, grants to his aldermen and bailies of the burgh and the burgesses thereof “all the wool, cloth, and other things that go by ship out of the haven of Spey uncustomed.” Three years later, in 1396, he ratifies Alexander II.’s charter to the guildry, and by another deed formally takes the town under his protection, and enjoins all his judges to do the burgesses ready justice whenever they complain to them.

So in like manner, in 1451, when Archibald Douglas assumes the earldom, we find him confirming the town’s charter of guildry in the same ample terms as his predecessor, Earl Thomas, had done in 1396. And other charters of various earls are extant ratifying in equally liberal phraseology the existing privileges of the town.

At various times, as we have seen, the earldom was in abeyance through the failure or forfeiture of the line which had hitherto held it. At such periods the superiority of the burgh and of the burgh lands reverted to the Crown. The necessaiy consequence of such interregnal periods was to compel the burgh to apply to the Crown for a renewal of its privileges. This was the case in 1594, after the murder of the Bonnie Earl of Moray. A charter of King James VI., dated the 22d March of that year, grants to the burgesses—the provost, bailies, and community—of the burgh “all and whole the said burgh of Elgin, with all and singular the lands, tenements, yards, tofts, crofts, annual rents and dues belonging to the same, within the bounds and marches thereof.”

The terms of the charter of 1611, granting the earldom to James, son of the Bonnie Earl, seem to have necessitated a further application to the Crown to define the rights of the burgesses. Accordingly in 1633 Charles I. issued a charter to the burgh, commonly known as the town’s Great Charter, in which, after regranting to the burgesses “all and haill the town of Elgin” with the lands pertaining thereto, he incorporated “the said burgh” and “the said lands” into “one free and intyre burgh royal now and in all tyme coming, to be called the burgh of Elgin, and ordained one sasine to be taken for the whole.”

This deed constituted the town's present title, and with it the modern history of the burgh may be said to commence. From this period the list of the municipal rulers is consecutive and complete. Previous to this we know scarcely anything about them.

The first provost of whom we hear is Thomas Wysman, who held the reins of civic affairs in 1261. A certain Walter, son of Ralph, is said to have been provost in 1343. Then comes a gap of nearly two hundred years. The names of only four provosts are recorded during the sixteenth century.

But about 1606 we find one of the most distinguished statesmen of the day occupying the civic chair. This was Alexander Seton, Earl of Dunfermline and Chancellor of the kingdom. The son of George, seventh Lord Seton, Mary Queen of Scots’ “truest friend,” he was her majesty’s “god-baime,” and had received from her as a “god-bairne gift” the lands of Pluscarden. At first intended for the Church, he had taken holy orders in Italy; but the outbreak of the Reformation had induced him to abandon ecclesiastical pursuits, and he joined the Scotch Bar in 1577, when he was about twenty-two years of age. In 1586 he was created an Extraordinary Lord of Session by the style of Prior of Pluscarden, in room of James Stewart, Lord Doune, the father of the Bonnie Earl of Moray. The following year the lands of Urquhart and Pluscarden were erected into a barony and granted to the prior. And on the 16th February 1588 he was appointed an Ordinary Lord of Session under the title of Lord Urquhart. Five years after this he was promoted to the President’s chair of the court; he was created a peer with the style of Lord Fyvie; and finally, in 1605, was advanced to the office of Chancellor of the kingdom, and promoted to the earldom of Dunfermline. He was one of the commissioners of the Treasury, called from their number the Octavians. He was also one of the commissioners for a treaty of union with England in 1604, and the king’s commissioner to Parliament in 1612. He died in 1622. During the days of his connection with Moray he resided in the bishop’s town house, within the cathedral precinct, which from that circumstance is often known by the name of Dunfermline House.

There is perhaps only one other Provost of Elgin who can vie with Lord Dunfermline in distinction. This was St Giles, the patron saint of the town. The burgh records state that on the 3d October 1547 he was duly elected provost for a year; and tradition has improved the story by asserting that the council, under his chief magistracy, passed an edict to the effect that no widow should marry without the consent of the provost and magistrates!

Under Alexander II.’s charter of guildry, and its ratification by the Earls of Moray, the trades of Elgin were entitled to form themselves into corporations. Six crafts took advantage of the privilege. These were the hammermen, the glovers, the tailors, the cordiners (shoemakers), the weavers, and the squarewrights or carpenters. So long as Roman Catholicism endured, these guilds were in the happy position of having no history. Fostered by the Church, each craft pursued the even tenor of its way, jealously protecting its monopoly, carefully attending to its pecuniary interests, priding itself on the skill of its members, exercising a severe but wholesome discipline over its journeymen and apprentices. Each craft had its assigned position in the parish church of St Giles—its patron saint, its separate altar, its priest and confessor. Each craft was a corporation, a trade protection society and benefit society combined. It had no thoughts, no ambitions, no inclinations, beyond its own narrow limits. Absorbed with its own concerns, it had neither the time nor the desire to occupy itself with other and wider affairs.

The abolition of the old religion changed all this. The Reformation, though to all outward appearance it was only a change of creed, was actually a revolution. Old principles and prejudices, old modes of looking at things, old customs and habits, were swept away in a flood of new ideas. There was not a single nook or cranny of national thought or sentiment into which the new notions did not penetrate. Before a hundred years were over there was a new Scotland as different from the old as light is from darkness.

In the burying-ground of Elgin Cathedral, on a tombstone dated 1687, bearing the glove and shears, the emblems of his craft, and marking the “burial-place of John Geddes, Glover Burges in Elgin, and Issobell M'Kean, his spous, and their relations,” is the well-known epitaph :—

“This world is a cite full of streets,
And death is the mercat that all men meets;
If lyfe were a thing that monie could buy,
The poor could not live and the rich would not die."

Mercat is here used in its old legal sense of a fine or redemption-money.

The guilds of Elgin could not fail to be affected by the change. Suddenly wakened out of their old, quiet, sleepy ways, they became aware of their importance as factors in municipal life. Hitherto they had been more or less identified with the body of the burghers. Now they discovered that they and the general body of the citizens were not one but two.

This discovery was immediately followed by an effort to improve the strength of their position. The six incorporated trades resolved to form themselves into a convenery to protect their privileges. Accordingly in 1657 articles of condescendence were entered into between the town council of the burgh and the crafts, recognising their existence as independent corporations, and making regulations for the management of their respective bodies. The magistrates, however, still retained the right of nominating the deacons of each craft from a leet of three presented to them. In 1700 the trades advanced a stage further. They claimed, and in 1705 were accorded, the right to nominate their own deacons. And in 1706 the trades placed the copestone on their influence^ by obtaining the right to be represented at the council board by three of their members—the deacon-convener and two others selected by the town council from the deacons of the six incorporated trades.

The result of these successive changes was to place a very considerable amount of political influence in the hands of the crafts. The election of a member of Parliament for the Elgin Burghs—which then consisted of Elgin, Cullen, Banff, Inverurie, and Kintore—rested in the respective town councils of these burghs, each of whom chose a delegate. A majority of the votes of those delegates carried the election. The admission of the trades* representatives placed in their hands the fifth part of the representation of the burgh.

No one nowadays will dispute that the concession thus granted to the trades was a step in the right direction. It was a practical extension of the franchise to a class which had not hitherto possessed it. But under the close system which then prevailed it was not likely to be conducive of harmony. The miserable petty squabbles that ensued, the bickerings that took place between the democratic craftsmen and the more conservative town council, soon produced a state of things which threatened to become intolerable. Matters culminated in the memorable election of 1820, which resulted in the Raid of Elgin. The Fife party had the representatives of the crafts on their side; the Grants relied chiefly on their influence with the other members of the town council. But the corruption, the bribery, the treating that were practised by either side to compass its ends would scarcely now be credited. The deacons of the crafts were the special objects of attack, because, in the then state of matters in the council, their votes carried the day. James Cattanach, the deacon of the wrights, received from Lord Fife a parcel said to contain a psalm-book; but every one of its three hundred psalms consisted of a one-pound note. On the other hand, Deacon Steinson received from the Grants “a well-biggit close”—a property only disposed of a few years ago by the last heir of his name. One only of the trades’ representatives to the council seems to have preserved his self - respect. It is recorded of Alexander M'lver, the deacon of the shoemakers, that he refused £2000, and the liferent of a farm for himself and his son.

An Act of George II. attempted to deal with the evil, but with little success. It was not till the passing of the Reform Act in 1832 that this disgraceful state of things was brought to an end. By that Act the right of election was taken away from the town council, which had hitherto so shamefully abused it, and placed directly in the hands of the people. And Peterhead was added to the list of the electing burghs. By extending the scope of the franchise, it was intended to intensify the difficulties of corruption. The Act had the desired effect. The town councils were reduced from being political factors of the highest importance to their proper sphere of administrators of municipal affairs. As for 'the trades’ guilds, they sank at once into mere friendly societies; and as such they continue to this day. They had outlived their usefulness. The days when society had need of hammermen to forge its armour and to shoe its horses, of glovers to make its gauntlets and to provide its buff jerkins and buckskin breeches, of weavers to manufacture its linens and its homespuns, were past. The unfreemen—the merchants—had driven them off the field. Free trade was the logical concomitant of reform.

The six incorporated trades formed the aristocracy of trade within the burgh. They did not, however, exhaust the list of its industries.

In the seventeenth century the brewsters of Elgin were an important fraternity. In 1687 there were no less than eighty private brewers within the town. William Douglas, who was then the principal innkeeper, is said to have brewed within three months as much as 4000 gallons of ale and 400 gallons of aqua vitae. As the population of the buigh was in those days only about 3000, the consumption must have been considerable. Long before this, however, the citizens had acquired a reputation for “drouthiness.” In the statutes of the cathedral of 1238 there is a special prohibition to the vicars against frequenting taverns “in a crowd, as is the custom of certain laics,” under the penalty of total abstinence from all intoxicating liquor the following day. In the middle of the seventeenth century we have the first authentic notice of a very useful class of public functionaries, the tasters of ale, who probably had existed for some time previously. Their duty was to test the quality of the drink supplied to the citizens. Unfortunately the manner in which they discharged their important functions was not always satisfactory. In 1547 complaint was made to the town council “ that they sae filled their bellies that they lost the very taste o’ their moos, and were consequently unable to pronounce a discreet opinion thereon.” To remedy this, the council increased their number to eight, in order that there might always be one at least who had the proper judgment of his senses. Much about the same time, too, the town council attempted to grapple with what was fast becoming a serious “skaith” to the community—the manufacture of ale of inferior quality by the “brewster wives” of the town. It was enacted that

if any of these worthies made “a washy or evil ale,” she should be fined “in ane unlaw of aught shillings, and be placed upon the cock stule.” Ale continued to be the beverage of the district till quite modem times, when whisky unfortunately took its place. At the present day the manufacture of whisky is by far the most important, one might almost with truth say the only, industry of the district. In the year ended 30th September 1896, there were twelve distilleries in active operation within the two counties of Moray and Nairn. Three new ones were fast approaching completion in Morayshire, while large additions were contemplated to those now at work. The quantity of proof-spirit distilled within the same period was one and three-quarter millions of gallons; and the amount of malt used was 97,000 quarters.

The quality of the spirit produced, by the Speyside distilleries in particular, is of the highest order, owing to the remarkable perfection to which the process of distillation has been carried, the special suitability of the waters of the Morayshire burns and rivers, the use of peat in the malt-kilns, the quality of the barley used for malting, and above all to the fact that malt, and malt alone, and neither sugar nor unmalted grain, nor any other substitute, is used in its manufacture. As yet there seems no prospect of diminution in the Morayshire whisky trade. Every year, indeed, sees an increase over the one preceding.

The withdrawal of ecclesiastical influence from the burgh was not immediately followed by a decline of its fortunes. On the contrary, Elgin seemed to awaken to a new life. There can be no doubt that an amount of energy pervaded all classes, which, had it lasted, might have placed the little town on a much higher level amongst the burghs of Scotland than it now possesses. We have already shown how the local trades, released from the fetters of ecclesiastidsm, attempted to assert themselves, and how ignominiously they fell. The same result attended the foreign trade of the district.

The trade with the Continent, especially with Holland, which the necessities of the Churchmen had fostered, and probably engendered, assumed what may be considered a surprising importance in the seventeenth century. Findhorn, a little village a few miles north of Forres, at the mouth of the river of the same name, was the principal seat of the trade. It was built on a sandpit forming the eastern horn of a sheltered and most picturesque bay, and has more than once experienced the Biblical fate of the house built on sand. The trade itself was in the hands of a who, as a rule, have not shown much inclination to business.

It was ostensibly carried on by men like William Duff of Dipple; his uncle, William Duff, Provost of Inverness; and William King of Newmill, Provost of Elgin. But nearly all the landed gentry in Moray and Naim—such as the lairds of Innes, Kinsteary, Muirtown, Clava, and Kilravock; Brodie of Brodie, Lyon King-at-Arms; Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, premier baronet of Scotland; and Dunbar of Thunderton, heritable sheriff of the county—were directly or indirectly engaged in it, a condition of things almost without a parallel in any other county in Scotland. The produce which these well-born traders exported was the salmon, herring, and cod-fish which they caught in the waters attached to their estates, and occasionally the spermaceti and blubber of whales stranded on their lands. In return, they imported Holland muslins, lawns, ribbons, and silks, foreign wines, spices, cucumbers, and capers —materials for the adornment of their wives and daughters, and for their own material enjoyment. And what they did not' require themselves they were always ready to sell to their neighbours at a good profit. When the enterprise was at the height of its prosperity the greater part of the trade of the north of Scotland was in their hands.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century the magistrates of Elgin made an attempt to get possession of this trade by diverting it from Findhorn to Lossiemouth, a village which was then, as now, their property. In 1687 they procured a Crown right to erect a harbour there. In 1703 they began to build it, and in due time it was erected. But by this time the trade had begun to dwindle. Soon it disappeared altogether. Findhorn became the ghost of its former self. Of Lossiemouth it could be said that it existed only. Now, by a fortunate conjunction of circumstances,—the establishment of a golf-course, its unrivalled air, its excellent sands for bathing, its erection into a burgh, the deepening and improvement of its harbour,—Lossiemouth bids fair to become an important watering-place, and the prosperity which has been so long delayed is likely to come to it at last.

Perhaps the most valuable legacy which the Church bequeathed to Elgin was its zeal in the cause of education. In the time of Bishop Bricius (1203-1222) we first hear of a school in connection with, and within the precincts of, the cathedral. It was called the Sang Schule, and was instituted for the education of youths intended for the service of the Church. In it they were instructed in the Church services, and received the elements of what would now be termed a liberal education. But when Roman Catholicism was abolished, the sang schule did not become, as so many schools of similar name and origin did become, the grammar-school of the burgh—for this reason, that in 1488 the cathedral authorities had established a grammar-school for the burgh, and within its boundaries. It was, of course, controlled by the Roman Catholic Church till the Reformation. But as it was specially designed for the education of the children of the burghers, the scheme and scope of its teaching were quite different from those of the cathedral institution.

The sang schule disappeared either with or before the Reformation. The grammar-school continued to be the only available establishment for the education of the youth of the district until the year 1620, when King James VI. granted a charter to the magistrates and town council of the burgh, establishing a school for teaching music and other liberal arts in connection with the grammar-school, and “mortifying” the property of the old hospital and preceptory of the Maisondieu to the town for its support and maintenance. In 1659 this supplementary school was converted into an English school, in which sacred music was also taught. And so things continued till the year 1800, when the two schools were amalgamated into the Elgin Academy, and new and commodious buildings erected for its use. These gave place in the year 1887 to the present handsome building. Now there are six schools in Elgin and its suburbs; and in all of them the old reputation of the burgh as a scholastic centre is worthily maintained. There are few county towns in Scotland where better education is to be had. In all, except the Academy, instruction is now gratis.

The antiquity of Forres is probably greater than that of Elgin. At any rate, long before the time of Alexander I. we hear of such a place existing. It was in the town of Forres, according to Fordun, that King Donald, son of Constantine (892-903), died, not without suspicion of poisoning. It was in the same town, according to the same authority, that King Duff (961-965) was murdered, and his body hid “under the shadow of a certain bridge near Kinloss.” As for Macbeth’s connection with the district, on which its modern fame so largely depends, it is hardly necessary to remark that it rests only on the unreliable basis of tradition and the equally doubtful evidence of Hector Boece, “the learned Mr Raphael Hollinshead,” and Shakespeare.

Its existence as a royal burgh, however, cannot be carried back to an earlier period than the reign of Alexander I. (1107-1124). It is therefore contemporaneous with Elgin, Nairn, Inverness, and the other northern burghs. Like them, too, it has lost its original charter. The title under which it now exercises its municipal privileges is a charter of novodamus by King James III., dated in 1496. Proceeding upon the narrative that its older charters had been “ destroyed, burnt by fire, annulled through the devastations of war, and other accidents,” it of new erects it into a royal burgh, “with all the rights and privileges it had hitherto enjoyed.’ This charter was subsequently ratified by King Charles I. in 1641.

Like these other royal burghs, Forres had also its royal castle. There is authentic evidence of its existence in the time of William the Lion (1165-1214). It stood on a slight eminence on the west side of the town, girt about by the little gently-flowing Mosset bum. But the ruins which now surmount that eminence are not those of the ancient castle, but of a modern structure; and no trace of the old “ fort,” as Lachlan Shaw calls it, exists.

Much about the same time, too, we first hear of a church at Forres. In later times this church formed part, possibly the most important part, of the prebend of the archdeacon of the diocese. And, along with the other principal churches in the diocese, it was placed by Pope Innocent II. under the spiritual protection of St Peter, and of himself as Vicar of God on earth. Yet, notwithstanding all these marks of distinction, Forres neither has, nor has ever had, any history. There are^ indeed, a few noteworthy incidents connected with it, some of which have been already related. But they had never any real, vivifying influence on the affairs of the district; and their chief importance lies either in their own picturesqueness, or in the indirect light they throw upon the inclination of local sentiment and opinion.

The word Forres is said to be derived from two Gaelic vocables—far uis, near water; and the name is singularly appropriate to its position. The little village of Findhorn was the port of Forres, as Leith is the port of Edinburgh. The importance of both the one and the other is now unfortunately a thing of the past. Forres is still, however, one of the brightest and pleasantest places within the county. And with its picturesque surroundings, its unrivalled climate^ and its other natural advantages, there is nothing to prevent its ultimately attaining to that position amongst the burghs of Scotland for which its original founders, whoever they may have been, destined it.

The old name of Nairn was Invername—the mouth of the river Nairn, the water of alders. The alder-tree still forms the appropriate badge of the stream. Till comparatively recent times there was a dense thicket of these bushes extending for several miles up the river; and it is said that wherever its banks remain undisturbed this homely and characteristic tree immediately makes its reappearance.

The early history of Nairn is precisely similar to that of the other royal burghs in the north. It owes its foundation as a royal burgh to Alexander I., whose services to Scottish civilisation in this respect have hardly yet been adequately appreciated. But, like its neighbours of Forres and Elgin, it lost its charter of erection, if any such ever existed, “through turbulencies, occasion of war, and divers depredations and incursions of Irish [Celtic] rebels, and through the negligence of the custodiers of the same ”; and it now holds its extensive burghal privileges, with its right of free port and harbour, under a charter of ratification and confirmation granted by King James VI., dated the 16th October 1589. Like them, too, it early placed itself under the tutelage of a patron saint. What St Giles was to Elgin, and St Lawrence to Forres, St Ninian was to Nairn—a powerful protection in more believing days than ours, and a guarantee of antiquity and respectability in our own. But Nairn differs from most other Scottish burghs of so remote an origin. Not a single trace of antiquity is to be found within it. Any one visiting it for the first time would undoubtedly set it down as one of the most modem towns in Scotland. Its trig villas, its High Street with its handsome banks and its shops with plate-glass windows, its wide beach with rows of bathing-machines, its crowded golf-links, its general air of energy and progress, have dissociated it entirely from the past. From a historical point of view this is perhaps to be regretted. Yet it is impossible to refuse to the citizens the credit due to their worldly wisdom, or to withhold the praise to which they are entitled for transforming a sleepy old-world town into a thriving, fashionable watering-place.

Yet the old history of the town was very interesting. Standing on the dividing line between the Highlands and the Lowlands, it could not fail to be affected by both Celtic and Saxon influence. There is an old story, probably apocryphal, that James VI., in conversation with the envoys of some other nation, referred to it as a town so long that the inhabitants of the one end of its then single street did not understand the language of those at the other. There was doubtless some basis of truth in the remark, if it was ever made. For the Celts had as little sympathy with the Saxons as the Jews had with the Samaritans; and both races no doubt preferred to live only with and by themselves. To-day, though no such line of delimitation exists between these two races, Nairn still consists of two separate and distinct communities. The fishing population, which in its names, and in a lesser degree in its customs, yet shows traces of its Scandinavian origin, has its habitat at the mouth of the river close to the sea. The rest of the citizens, Lowlanders and Highlanders combined, cluster round the more southerly extremity of the burgh. Less marked, indeed, in its outward features, and therefore not so readily recognisable, it is nevertheless a parallel case to Edinburgh and Newhaven. The peculiar and interesting traits of the fishing community of Naim would well repay a patient and sympathetic study.


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