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Fraserburgh

(The Broch)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Fraserburgh, a town and a parish in the NE extremity of Aberdeenshire. Founded by Alexander Fraser of Philorth in 1569, at first the town was known as Faithlie, the name of a free burgh of barony erected by charter of Queen Mary five years earlier; but by a new charter of 1601, it was constituted 'a free port, free burgh of barony, and free regality, to be called in all time coming, the Burgh and Regality of Fraserburgh.' It is built on the southern slope of Kinnaird's Head, and along the western shore of Fraserburgh Bay, by road being 22 miles E of Banff and 17½ NNW of Peterhead, whilst by rail, as terminus of the Formartine and Buchan branch (1865) of the Great North of Scotland railway, it is 13 miles NNE of Maud Junction, 41 NNE of Dyce Junction, 47½ N by E of Aberdeen, 162¼ NNE of Edinburgh, and 200 NE by N of Glasgow. Kinnaird's Head (the Promontorium Taexalium of Ptolemy), ¼ mile to the N, is a rocky headland, composed of mica slate, and 61 feet high. The Frasers' castle here, dating from 1570, is a rectangular four-storied tower, 39 feet by 27; on its roof a lighthouse was built in 1787, whose lantern, rising 120 feet above high water mark, shows a fixed light, red over Rattray Briggs, white in all other directions, and visible at a distance of 17 nautical miles. A sea-crag, 50 yards to the eastward, is crowned by the massive ' Wine Tower,' which, measuring 25¼ by 20 feet, and 25 high on the landward side, contains two vaulted apartments. The only doorway is on the upper story, and the wooden stair leading up to this is modern, so that how the tower was formerly entered, and what was its purpose, remain a puzzle to the antiquary. The style, however, of five freestone carvings, that adorn the roof and two windows, is thought to refer it to the 15th century. Beneath it is a cave, the Selches Hole, believed to penetrate 100 feet, but now much choked with stones. Scarce a vestige remains of a square three-storied tower at the W end of the town, part of a college begun by Alexander Fraser, he having obtained a charter in 1592 to erect a university. The scheme fell through, but his building was once called into requisition, when, on the outbreak of the plague at Aberdeen in 1647, King's College for a time removed to Fraserburgh. The town itself, overlooking the harbour and bay, is neat and regular. Its principal streets run parallel to the bay, with others crossing at right angles; and recent shoreward improvements and northward extensions have always tended to enhance its symmetry. The Town House, built in 1855, is a handsome Grecian edifice, whose dome-crowned tower contains a niche, with a statue of Alexander Fraser, sixteenth Lord Saltoun (1785-1853), a hero of Waterloo and of the Chinese opium war. His portrait hangs in the town-hall, on the second floor, with one of his ancestor, the founder of the town. A market-cross, erected by that founder, stood originally on a large hexagonal basement, with nine gradations of steps; and, as restored in 1853, is an oval stone shaft 12 feet in height, surmounting a pedestal, and itself surmounted by the Royal and Fraser arms. The prison since 1874 has served only for the detention of prisoners whose period does not exceed three days. The parish church, rebuilt in 1802 and restored in 1873-74, is a plain structure, with clock-tower and spire and 1000 sittings. The new West quoad sacra church (1877; 800 sittings) cost £4000, and has a very effective spire. A fine new Free church was erected in 1880 at a cost of £6398; and other places of worship are the U.P. church (1875; 350 sittings), the Congregational church (1853; 550 sittings), the Evangelical Union church (1854), the Baptist church (1880), and St Peter's Episcopal church (1791; 300 sittings). The last is a cruciform pseudoNorman edifice, enlarged and refitted in 1840 and 1880, with a good organ and a marble tablet to Bishop Alexander Jolly, D.D. (1755-1838), who from 1788 till his death was minister here, and a Life of whom, by the Rev. W. Walker (2d ed., Edinb., 1878), contains much of interest relating to Fraserburgh. The Academy, opened in 1872, was built at a cost of £2700, and further endowed with £5000, by the late James Park, merchant; the Girls' Industrial school (1863) was mainly founded by the late Miss Strachan of Cortes, as a memorial to her brother, James Strachan, Esq., M.D., Inspector General of Army Hospitals, Madras; and a new public school, costing over £6000, was opened in Sept. 1882. It has accommodation for 800 children, and supersedes the former burgh school. The hospital was built by the late Thomas Walker, fishcurer, and gifted by him to the town; whilst the Dalrymple public hall and cafe was built at a cost of £4500, upwards of £2300 of which was given by the late Captain John Dalrymple. It is Scottish Baronial in style, and the hall has accommodation for 1100 persons.

The town has, besides, a post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Bank of Scotland and the Aberdeen Town and County, North of Scotland, and Union Banks, 13 insurance agencies, 2 hotels, a gas-light company, a water supply from Ardlaw, complete new sewage works, formed at a cost of over £4000 in 1877, a custom-house, a mechanics' library, a news-room, a masonic lodge, a lifeboat (1880), an Independent Friday paper, the Fraserburgh Advertiser (1852), etc. There is a weekly cattle auction; corn markets are held on Tuesday and Friday; and a sheriff small debt court sits four times a year. Whale and seal fishing is quite extinct; and shipbuilding has dwindled away, only 4 vessels of 418 tons having been launched here during 1875-78, and none during 1879-81. Some employment is furnished by two breweries, a bone-mill, two rope and sail yards, and four saw-mills; and a large trade is done in the export of agricultural produce, and the import of coals, timber, and groceries, Fraserburgh being a 'creek' of Peterhead; but herring fishing is the staple industry.

The harbour, founded by Alexander Fraser on 9 March 1576 in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, had only one small pier. The north, south, and middle piers were built between 1807 and 1837 at a cost of £30,000, the space within the pier heads being nearly 8 acres, with a depth, according to the tides, of 11 to 16 feet of water inside and along the quays, and of 6 to 20 feet at the entrance. In 1855 and following years a new N harbour of 8 acres of sheltered water, with a low-water depth of 10 feet at the entrance, was formed by the construction of a pier and breakwater, giving a total berthage of 8850 feet, of which 6025 are available for shipping. The estimated cost of this N harbour (£25,000) was more than doubled, and even then the breakwater was left unfinished till 1875, when, and in following years, it was carried to a length of 850 feet. The latest undertaking (1881) has been the deepening of both harbours and the widening of the quays, £30, 000 having been borrowed for that purpose from the Public Works Loan Commissioners., Of late years,' to quote from an article on 'Fraserburgh' in the Scotsman of 11 April 1882,' the chief increase in the herring fishery has been from the Aberdeenshire ports, the principal of which are Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Fraserburgh. During the season of 1874, about the most productive year on record up till 1880, more than 1800 boats were fishing from these ports and their immediate neighbourhood, and about 400, 000 crans of fish, or more than one-third of the entire take of herrings in Scotland, were captured by these boats; so that the market value of the herrings now brought into the Aberdeenshire ports in an average year is equal to the whole land rental of the county. The sea is thus as productive as the land; and if there were better harbour accommodation-though that of late years has been considerably improved-the production of the sea might be still further increased. The requisites of a perfect fishing-boat harbour are an entrance that will allow the largest class of boats to have free access and egress at all times of the tide; perfect shelter within the entrance; sufficient space for all the boats that frequent the place during the fishing season to lie together without crowding or jostling; enough depth of water inside to enable them to be afloat at all times of the tide; and proper facilities for fitting out, taking in their nets, lines, and other gear, and for landing their fish. Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Fraserburgh are the only ports on the stormy E coast of Scotland that possess to a considerable extent these requisites, and they have, consequently, reaped, and will continue to reap, a rich reward. Their proximity to the best fishing grounds of the teeming North Sea certainly gives them exceptional advantages; but without the sums judiciously expended at all the three places on harbour extension and improvement, these natural advantages would have been comparatively useless. The following statistics with regard to Fraserburgh, where for many years past the Harbour Commissioners have been engaged in improving and extending the harbour accommodation, are remarkable and interesting:-

'I. Number of Boats, Crans, and Barrels of Fish,
'and Total Value of Herrings.

Year. No. of Boats. Crans Average. Crans Caught. Barrels Exported. Total Value of Exports at 25s.
1868 389 167¾ 65,290 73,253 £105,606
1869 450 114 51,317 57,885 ½ 90,204
1870 480 187½ 90,028 103,080 113,388
1871 432 216½ 93,586 112,162 ½ 155,158
1872 626 209 130,837 150,228½ 189,663
1873 630 214 135,071 153,889½ 209,033
1874 688 221 152,088 181,309 ½ 239,479
1875 740 224 165,903 194,457½ 239,830
1876 779 96 75,002 89,984½ 157,472
1877 736 176½ 130,000 154,200 231,300
1878 745 207½ 154,587½ 191,043 238,803¾
1879 844 103¾ 87,526 111,993 195,987 ¾
1880 789 239 ½ 188,873 250,180 312,725
1881 843 137 114,283½ 165,362½ 206,703
1882 785 172½ 125,120 …. ….

'Of these large values two-thirds are estimated on reliable data to be expended on labour.

'II. Number of Fishing-Boats Owned within Fraserburgh District on 1 Jan. 1882.-Number of boats of all kinds, 688; number of fishermen employed, 2151; value of boats, £49,199; value of nets, £55,115; value of lines, £5450; total value of boats, nets, and lines, £109, 764.

'III. Harbour Revenue.-(1850) £1559, 17s. 1d.; (1855) £1743, 13s. 3d.; (1860) £1458, 19s. 3d.; (l865) £236l, 13s. 9d.; (l870) £3630, Is.; (1875) £6344, 1s. 5d.; (1880) £10,185, 0s. 11d.

'IV. The total rental of fish-curing yards in Fraserburgh amounted, in l862, to £393, 15s.-say £400 at twenty years' purchase, £8000. In 1880-81 the rental of fish-curing yards is seen by the valuation roll to be £2842, 13s., besides ground rent charged otherwise in the roll-say £3000 at twenty years' purchase, £60,000. The curing stations at Balaklava belonging to the Harbour Commissioners contain an area of 7297 square yards, and rented, in 1862, for £65, 10s.; in 1877-78, for £352; and in 1880-81, for £506. The curing yards belonging to the Town Council contain an area of 8422 square yards, and rented, in 1862, for £55; and, in 1880-81, for £207, 5s.

'Such is a brief account of the wonderful prosperity and development of Fraserburgh during the last thirty years-a result owing in part to the advantages of its situation with reference to the best fishing grounds in the North Sea, but chiefly due to the skill and perseverance with which the harbour has been enlarged, deepened, and improved. There is now not only a spacious inner harbour, extending over an area of 20 acres, but beyond its entrance a breakwater, inside which there is an area of about 8 acres of sheltered water, with from 1 to 2 fathoms at low tide, where the largest class of fishing-boats can at all times lie waterborne and in perfect safety. The above-quoted harbour returns show that where fishermen are supplied with a good harbour they are willing to pay adequate dues for the shelter and safety which it enables them to command.,

The harbour is managed by 13 commissioners; and the town, as a burgh of barony, is governed by a provost (Lord Saltoun), a baron bailie, 14 councillors, a dean of guild, and a burgh fiscal. In 1871 it adopted the General Police and Improvement Act (Scotland) of 1862, to be administered by an elected body of 12 police commissioners. The municipal constituency numbered 1050 in 1882. Pop. (1851) 3093, (1861) 3472, (1871) 4268. (1881) 6583, of whom 6529 were in the police burgh.

The parish of Fraserburgh, known as Philorth or Faithlie till early in the 17th century, consists of a main body and a considerable detached district. The main body is bounded N by the Moray Firth, NE by Fraserburgh Bay, SE and S by Rathen, SW and W by Pitsligo. Its utmost length, from WNW to ESE, is 35/8 miles; whilst its width, from NNE to WSW, varies between 2½ and 3½ miles. The detached district, lying 1¼le SS W of the main body, has an utmost length and breadth of 25/8 and 23/8 miles; it is bounded NE and E by Rathen, S by Strichen, SW and W by Aberdour (detached), and NW by Tyrie. The area of the whole is 8667¼ acres, of which 27471/5 lie detached, 2582/3 are foreshore, and 412/3 are water. The northern coast, extending 21/8 miles along the Moray Firth, is low though rocky, but rises into bold headland at Kinnaird's Head (61 feet); the north-eastern, extending 25/8 miles along Fraserburgh Bay, is most of it low and sandy, skirted by bent-covered hillocks. Fraserburgh Bay measures 2½ miles across the entrance, from Kinnaird's Head to Cairnbulg Point, and 9 furlongs thence to its inmost recess; on a fine summer day, with a fleet of vessels riding at anchor in it, it presents a charming scene. The Water of Philorth creeps 27/8 miles north-north-eastward, along all the south-eastern border, to its mouth in Fraserburgh Bay; and two burns, draining the rest of the main body, flow northward and north-eastward to the sea. The surface, throughout the main body, rises from the coast, but so slowly as to appear almost flat, and attains its maximum altitude in the Sinclair Hills (167 feet). The detached district is hillier, attaining 315 feet at Mountsolie, whilst the summit of Mormond Hill (769 feet) falls just beyond its SE corner. Mica slate, granite, limestone, and ironstone are plentiful; and there are several chalybeate springs. The soil in many parts is sandy and light, in others loamy and clayey; and nearly all the land, except 400 acres of plantations and 200 of moss in the detached portion, is arable. Philorth House noticed separately, is the only mansion ; and Lord Saltoun is much the largest proprietor, 2 others holding each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 6 of between £100 and £500, 22 of from £50 to £100, and 54 of from £20 to £50. In the presbytery of Deer and synod of Aberdeen, this parish since 1877 has been divided into Fraserburgh proper and West Church quoad sacra parish, the former a living worth £407. A chapel of ease, served by a missionary, stands at Techmuiry in the detached portion, 5¼ miles SSW of the town. Five schools - Fraserburgh public, the Girls' Industrial, St Peter's Episcopalian, Broadsea General Assembly, and Techmuiry public-with respective accommodation for 417, 233, 304, 77, and 115 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 417, 233, 304, 77, and 115, and grants of £341, 6s., £207, 12s., £183, 19s., £70, 14s. 6d., and £33, 16s. Valuation (1855) £12,073, (1875) £28,568, (1882) £37,176, 16s. 9d. Pop. (1801) 2215, (1821) 2831, (1841) 3615, (1861) 4511, (1871) 5301, (1881) 7596, of whom 54 were on board vessels in the harbour, 4304 in the ecclesiastical parish of Fraserburgh, and 3238 in that of West Church. - Ord. Sur., sh. 97, 1876.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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