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History of Lossiemouth, Scotland

The village of Lossiemouth is the harbour of the town of Elgin. A Process carried on by Bishop Bar, respecting the right of this port, was incidentally mentioned at pages 337, 338, vol. I. It appears to have been begun by his lordship's arresting a ship, the property of two of the burgesses. The narrative in the 92nd fol. of the Chart Mor. sets forth,

"That on Sunday the 7th of June, while the Lord Bishop was passing from his castle at Kineadur towards the Church of Urquhart, through his water of Lossie, at the ford called Krannokissi, he found a certain barque, namely "Farcost," lying in his said water, near the sea; to which coming, he asked at the only person who was found on board what the ship was called, to whom it appertained, and by whose permission it had entered that water, whoreplied, The barque "Farcost" was John de Lany's, and had entered there by the burgesses of Elgin; to whom the Bishop said, that neither the burgesses, nor any other,, could grant such authority or permission, for that water and the whole channel was the property of the Church of Moray, and appertained to him, and to no other person, and on that account desired that a pledge might be given him in name of arresting the said barque. That a little axe was handed to the Lord Bishop, which, as only a pledge, the seaman requested, in name of his master, might be returned, which the Bishop granted on the condition of its being restored upon demand.

"Likewise on the same day, in the year 1383, in the month above-mentioned, the same Bishop, returning by the same road, found at the said barque certain burgesses of Elgin, namely Philip Byset and Henry Porter, taking out of the ship some barrels of ale, and some sacks of tallow, and some of meal of wheat, together with horses and sledges standing upon his ground of Kineadur, which, together with the ship, he by his own proper authority arrested, as unwarrantably encroaching upon his Church lands, and gave up the same in pledge, at the instance of the said Philip requesting it, in the name of the community of his burgh, to be remitted to the said Bishop at his Cathedral, upon eight days' requisition, there to receive the issue and termination which the laws have been in use to grant."

It must be presumed, that the Bishop prevailed in establishing his claim, which accordingly became a pertinent of the estate of Kineadur, and was only purchased by the magistracy of Elgin in the year 1698. In the Conveyance it is described as a piece of waste, barren, unmanured ground, and was nearly 80 acres of naked gravel and sand, with an allowance on the quarries of the Goulard, for the restricted purpose of building and upholding the pier, and for the accommodations requisite for the town of Lossiemouth; for which the community became bound to pay yearly 2 1s. 7d., subjecting the inhabitants of Lossiemouth to be poinded for any arrears that may be incurred; and to the courts of the superior, which he may hold either in the town or at the Burn of Kineadur, for any riot happening either among themselves or with the superior's tenants of the barony ; and to send a burgess of Elgin yearly to the head court, upon the first Thursday after Michaelmas, to answer in their name; and to allow the accommodation of the harbour to all ships and fishing boats appertaining to the superior, or freighted by any merchant upon his account, or employed by him for exportation or importation, without payment of any dues to the community. Besides irregular streets fronting towards the sea, the town is laid out into four principal streets at right angles to the shore, each 42 feet wide, and commodious lanes cutting across the streets, equal to half their breadth, with a handsome square and cross in the midst. There are 175 feus marked off on the plan, each 120 by 180 feet, granted for the duty of 5s. each; but many remain to be taken, and many that have been granted are not yet built; but a number also of handsome houses of two and three stories, containing more than 200 inhabitants, have been erected. The harbour is sufficiently commodious for vessels about 80 tons burden. The community say that, prior to the year 1780, 1200 sterling had been expended in the formation of the quay; since that time a pier opposite on the other side the river, for clearing out the sand off the bar, has been erected at the expense of 2000 sterling, from the funds of the town, aided by private subscription and a donation of 200 sterling from the Convention of Burghs. The land end of this new pier was left unfinished, and unable to withstand the violence of winter storms. So much unheeded ruination has befallen it that 200 sterling at present would be insufficient to prevent its accelerating subversion. There is only one sloop and two fishing boats belonging to Lossiemouth; but during one year 49 vessels from 55 to 60 tons arrived, of which loaded with English coals were 20; Scots coals, 6; London goods, 10; Leith goods, 4; tanner's bark, 3; native salt, 2; bottles, slates, iron, lime, each one, 4; total, 49.

The exports were 20 cargoes barley and oats, each at an average about 400 bolls, and an inconsiderable quantity of peltry. There are two other creeks in the parish, Stotfield and Covesea, which admit boats. On the estate of Kineadur are 3 fishing boats, each yielding a yearly rent of 5 sterling; but every seventh year the landlord is obliged to furnish a new boat, which, rigged complete, costs about 20 sterling. The fish commonly caught are cod, scate, hollibut, haddocks, whitings, saiths, and crabs, but none in greater quantity than serves the consumption of the country. Of late, however, a lobster fishery has been undertaken in the bay of Stotfield by an English Company for the London market, to which they are transported alive, in wells formed in the bottom of the ships, which communicate directly with the sea water. 60,000 were in this manner conveyed the first summer, without any other precaution except tying their claws to their sides. They are caught by bait in small iron traps, though a simple invention, yet never used before on this coast.

In the Goulard Hill there are appearances of lead; many detached masses of ore are to be seen in the northern side of the hill, where the rock is limestone. Some adventurers, however, from England, several years ago, after expending about 500, could discover no vein worth working. But the greater part of the Goulard, with almost the whole of the ridge along the Covesea shore, consists of one uninterrupted mass of freestone, lying in horizontal strata, differing in thickness and in hardness; one kind being white, of a smooth, compact, and firm substance, yet readily yielding to the hammer or the chisel; the other kind more brown or yellow, softer and more friable. There are about 20 masons and nearly 40 labourers constantly employed in quarrying and cutting .stone to supply the demand from this and the neighbouring countries. The western part of this ridge, upon the Covesea coast, forms a very bold shore. The penetrating power of the surge in winter storms, with the reiterated play of the ocean, and the various whirl of the rebounding wave upon the projecting cliffs of the freestone rock, have formed several detached pyramids, towers, and arches, of various height and form, in some places resembling the broken, shapeless windows in a Gothic ruin, having the sea boiling round their bases at each flow of the tide. Under this hill also there is a number of caverns of whose formation it is difficult to conjecture the origin, without supposing the sea at some period to have been so much higher on the coast as to have in secret wrought out the softer materials, which might have originally filled these shapeless vacuities. They all open directly to the sea ; and it is likely that some of them may extend back to the land side of the hill, as their dark recesses have never been explored. Some of them are lofty even from the entrance, and their bounds everywhere readily determinable; others, with a low entrance, become gloomily lofty, and uncomfortably damp within; others are low, dismal, dark, and damp, throughout all their windings. Neither the floor or roof of any are on the same level; some of the lightest are used as a shelter by the stone-cutters, both from the heat and rain, and are in part filled by the chips and fragments. One of them was occupied as a stable to conceal the horses of the family of Gordonstown from the rebels in the year 1745, and has the entrance built up into a neat door. Another, behind the village of Lossiemouth, had in ancient times been formed into a small hermitage, not exceeding 12 feet square. It was completed by a handsome Gothic door and window, and commanded a long but a solitary view along the eastern shore. These artificial decorations were torn down about 30 years ago, by a rude shipmaster; and in the course of working the quarries, the whole cave has been destroyed.

There was a fountain in the rock above the hermitage, called St. Gerardine's [Gernadius's Well; but neither this nor any other spring in the parish has acquired fame for medicinal virtue.

The inhabitants, like all others employed in husbandry, are robust and healthy. They are in general a sober, honest, peaceable people, regular in their attendance on the ordinances of religion, rather grave than lively, seldom indulging themselves in any relaxation or diversion. Crimes of enormity are unknown among them; but this regularity of conduct must be in part ascribed to the poverty and depression of the people; for the situation of the smaller tenants in general is not comfortable. Few of them have any capital to set them out into the world, and fewer have the inclination or the means of adopting the modern improvements of husbandry, while the rents and the wages of servants have of late been considerably advanced. The women spin linen yarn, by which, with the greatest application, they can only earn 3d. by the day. Even this yarn, what is necessary for home consumption excepted, is exported unwrought to Edinburgh, Glasgow, or the north of England.] (Survey of the Province of Moray.)


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