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Forres

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.

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Forres, a town, with the privileges of a royal burgh, in the centre of the foregoing parish. It stands on a terraced ridge, extending from E to W, and sloping gently to the N and S. The site is pleasant and well sheltered, the surrounding country finely wooded and beautiful; and the sheltered situation combined with the dry soil makes it one of the healthiest places in Scotland, so much so, indeed, that it has sometimes been called the Montpelier of Scotland. The large number of detached villas and the great extent of garden ground give the town the appearance of being much larger and having a great many more inhabitants than is actually the case. The station on the Highland railway, greatly improved in 1876-77, is the junction of the Inverness, the Keith, and the Perth sections of the system. The railway convenience thus afforded has greatly aided in the development of the town and the increase in its trade and population that have taken place in recent years. By rail it is 6 miles S of Findhorn, 12 W by S of Elgin, 30 WN W of Keith, 83¼ NW by W of Aberdeen, 25 ENE of Inverness, 166 NNW of Edinburgh, and 182 NNE of Glasgow.

The name Forres is probably the Gaelic for, ' near,' and uis, ' water; ' but however that may be, it is a place of considerable antiquity. It has been by many writers identified with the Varris of Ptolemy's chart, and mention is made by Boece that so early as 535 certain of its merchants were for some trifling cause put to death and their goods confiscated to the king. Malcolm I. is said to have resided in the neighbourhood; and Ulurn or Vlern, where, according to the later chronicles, he was killed in 954, has by some writers been identified with Blervie Castle, 4¼ miles ESE of Forres. (See Fetteresso.) King Dubh or Duffus, the son of Malcolm, is said to have been murdered in the castle at Forres by Donald, the governor, in 967; and there is a curious story that his body was hidden under the bridge of Kinloss, and that, till it was found, the sun did not shine. At Forres, according to Boece, the 'gracious ' King Duncan held his court, and Shakespeare, founding thereon, has made Macbeth and Banquo, going to the camp, meet the weird sisters on the Hard Muir, in the parish of Dyke close by-

' How far is't called to Forres ? '

Though early Forres thus was evidently a place of as much importance as or even more than Elgin, it does not seem to have been able to keep pace with its rival after the foundation of the bishopric, when Elgin became the centre of ecclesiastical power and influence in the province. At what date Forres became a royal burgh is uncertain, as all the older charters have been lost, and the oldest now remaining is one of De novo damus, granted by King James IV., and dated 23 June 1496. It narrates that the king, ' understanding that the ancient charters granted to the town of Forres have been destroyed in time of war or by the violence of fire, ' now grants anew in free burgage all the lands and rights formerly belonging to the community, with power to elect a provost and bailies, etc., w ho were to exercise jurisdiction within the burgh boundaries. Liberty was also given to erect a cross and to hold ' a weekly market on Friday, and an annual fair, beginning on the Vigil of St Lawrence, and to continue for eight days .. with all and sundry other privileges and immunities of a free burgh.' The oldest notices of the place that exist from contemporary documents are in connection with the castle, which stood on a green mound at the W end of the town, now known as the Castle Hill. A northern bard has declared that

'.. Forres. in the days of yore,
A name 'mang Scotia's cities bore,
And there her judges o'er and o'er
Did Scotlands laws dispense;
And there the monarchs of the land
In former days held high command.
And ancient architects had planned,
By rules of art in order grand,
The royal residence.'

The older castle of Forres, where King Duffus is said to have been murdered, and which is said to have been razed after his death, was probably by no means so grand as this, and was very possibly of wood. ' Its keep and walls were no doubt strengthened, if not rebuilt, in the reign of David I., when the town which it protected is first mentioned as a king's burgh. It was then surrounded by a forest, in which the burgesses had the privilege of wood-bote granted to them by that monarch.' The castle was a royal residence, and William the Lyon dated charters here in 1189 and 1198, and Alexander II. dated a charter from the same place in 1238. In 1264 William Wiseman, sheriff of Forres, paid £10 for the erection of a new tower beyond the king's chamber; and in the chamberlain's accounts about the same time, in the reign of Alexander III., there are entries of expenditure for various articles for the king's table here. King David II. issued a writ at the castle of Forres in 1367, and it is mentioned again in 1371 under Robert II. The castle was the official residence of the hereditary sheriffs of Moray, and so was in the possession of the family of Dunbar of Westfield for more than 300 years. From them it passed to the Earl of Seafield, and now belongs to Sir Charles R. Macgrigor, Bart., London. The ruins which now stand on the Castle Hill are not the remains of the old castle, but the relics of a house projected and partly built by William Dawson, provost of Forres, about 1712. The foundations of the old castle were exposed when the NW slope of the hill was being planted with trees nearly twenty years ago. On the level space to the W of the ruins stands a lofty obelisk of polished Peterhead granite resting on a freestone base. This base is 24 feet square; the die of the obelisk is 9½ feet square; and the whole structure rises to a height of 65 feet. It was erected by public subscription, in 1857, in memory of Assistant-Surgeon James Thomson, who, as set forth in the inscription, was present with the 54th Regiment 'at the battle of Alma in 1854; and a few days afterwards, when the British were leaving the field, volunteered to remain behind with 700 desperately wounded Russians. Isolated from his countrymen, endangered by the vicinity of large bodies of Cossacks, ill-supplied with food, and exposed to the risk of pestilence, he succeeded in restoring to health about 400 of the enemy and embarking them for Odessa. He then died from the effects of excessive hardships and privation. This public monument is erected as a tribute of respect for the virtue of an officer whose life was useful and whose death was glorious. ' Dr Thomson was a native of Cromarty, but the authorities there refused a suitable site for the obelisk, and the subscribers accepted the offer of Dr Thomson's friend, Sir Charles R. Macgrigor, of this site on the Castle Hill at Forres. Opposite the entrance to the Castle Hill on the site now occupied by Auchernack Cottage stood a humble house, where James Dick (17431828), the founder of the Dick Bequest, was born. Early in the present century Mr Dick had accumulated in America the large fortune of £140, 000. This fortune he at his death bequeathed to trustees for the benefit of the parochial schoolmasters in the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Elgin; and so well has the fund been managed by the Society of Writers to the Signet, that the principal teacher of one school in every parish in these counties receives, after passing a qualifying examination, from £20 to £30 from this fund. Besides the castle, other objects of antiquarian interest that may be mentioned are Sueno's Stone and the Witch's Stone. Both are at the E end of the town near the old toll-house, Sueno's Stone being to the E and the Witch's Stone to the W of it. Sueno's Stone is an elaborately carved pillar of hard reddish grey sandstone, about 23 feet high, 4 wide at the base, and 15 inches thick. The broad faces are towards the N and S. On the N side are three divisions. Below are two figures seemingly bending towards one another, while a smaller human figure stands behind each. In the upper division is a long cross, with a circle at the intersection of the arms. The cross and the whole of the centre division are covered with elaborate carving, forming so-called Runic knots. The edges are also covered with Runic knotting, and at the base of one of them are several figures, seemingly females. On the S side there are five divisions. The first shows ground of figures, with the walls of some building in the background; the second has a body of horsemen advancing at full gallop, and infantry following with spears in their hands and shields on their arms. The sculptured figures in the third are engaged in battle; at the top warriors seem to be attacking a gateway; and in one of the corners are a number of headless bodies. The fourth division shows bound captives, some apparently women, while above is a row of warriors with unsheathed swords. The last division is much worn, but seems to have contained a number of figures on horseback. The stone received its name from Boece's supposition that it was erected to commemorate a victory of Sueno, son of Harald, King of Denmark, gained at Forres over the forces of Malcolm II. in l008. Dr Skene, however, inclines to the belief that it commemorates a fray in the year 900 between Sigurd the Powerful, Norwegian Earl of Orkney, and a Scottish earl, Melbrigda, in which the latter fell and all his men with him. ' Earl Sigurd and his men fastened their heads to the saddle-straps in bravado, and so they rode home triumphing in their victory. As they were proceeding Earl Sigurd, intending to kick at his horse with his foot, struck the calf of his leg against a tooth protruding from Earl Melbrigda's head, which scratched him slightly; but it soon became swollen and painful, and he died of it. He was buried in a mound at Ekkialsbakki,, which Dr Skene proceeds to identify with the river Findhorn (Celtic Scotland, i. 337, 1876). In 1813 eight human skeletons were found near the pillar; and in 1827 a large stone coffin was dug out of a steep bank above the Findhorn. Of the pillar there is an excellent drawing in the first volume of Stuart's Sculptured Stones of Scotland (Plates xviii. -xxi.). The Witch's Stone is at the foot of the hawthorn hedge on the S side of the turnpike road to the W of the old toll-house. It is the remaining one of three stones which traditionally marked the spot where three witches, accused of plotting the death of King Duffus, were put to death. The king, according to the tradition preserved, after returning from one of his visits to Forres, was taken ill at Scone. His physicians, unable to check the disease, concluded that he had been bewitched while in the North, and instructions were sent to the governor of the castle to institute inquiries. The witches were surprised at midnight, and found with a wax image of the king slowly melting before the fire. They were immediately seized and taken to the top of Cluny Hill, and there each was placed in a barrel. The barrels were then sent rolling down the hill, and at the place where they stopped they and their contents were burned, and stones set up to mark the spot. The survivor at one time was broken up for building purposes, but the town authorities caused the pieces to be brought back, clasped with iron, and placed in the original position. A stone within the field on the opposite side of the road is said to be another of the three, but this is doubtful. Forres seems to have been, from the days of the weird sisters downwards, a place of note for witches; and the last of them, an old woman named Dorothy Calder, was, by the aid of fifteen cart-loads of peats, burned to death early in last century on the top of Drumduan Hill, the common place of execution. Near the centre of the town stands the town-house, built in 1839 on the site of the old Tolbooth, which dated from 1700. The present building is in the Tudor style, with a handsome square tower. It contains the council chamber, the town-clerk's offices, and the court-room. Close to it, in the centre of the street, is a neat little market-cross, erected in 1844. It is an imitation of the great crosses of the Middle Ages, and somewhat resembles, though on a very small scale, the Edinburgh monument to Sir Walter Scott. A little to the W is the Falconer Museum (1870), a neat building in the Italian style. The expense of its erection was covered by a sum of money bequeathed for this purpose by Alexander Falconer in 1856, and a farther bequest by his brother, the late Dr Hugh Falconer (another of the distinguished sons of Forres), so well known for his palæontological labours, who besides bequeathed to it a number of curiosities as a nucleus for the collection. It contains a number of the Sewalik fossils discovered and admirably described by Dr Falconer, and the collection of Old Red sandstone fishes formed by the late Lady Gordon-Cumming of Altyre, many of them being specimens described and named by Agassiz. The Mechanics' Institute is on the N side of High Street. It is a massive quasi-classical building, with a good library, etc., and contains two large halls, which are used for public meetings, concerts, etc. Anderson's Institution was erected in accordance with a deed of settlement of a native of Forres, Jonathan Anderson, who, in 1814, made over to the magistrates and town council the lands of Cowlairs, near Glasgow, for the purpose of erecting a school and paying a teacher, so that the children of necessitous parents in the parishes of Forres, Rafford, and Kinloss might be instructed in reading, English, writing, arithmetic, and such other branches of education as the provost, magistrates, and town council should judge proper. It is a Grecian structure of 1824, remodelled in 1881, at a cost of over £3000, to meet the requirements of the Education Act. The Agricultural Hall was erected, in 1867, by a jointstock company at a cost of £l700. It is an oblong building, Grecian in style, and measures 150 by 58 feet. In it are held the Christmas shows of the Forres an d Northern Fat Cattle Club. A gallery along the sides and the N end gives space for the display of grain, seeds, farm-implements, etc. The market buildings were erected also by a joint-stock company in 1851; and an auction mart was opened in 1877. Gas was introduced in 1837, and water in 1848. The parish church was built in 1775, and repaired in 1839, and again in 1860; there is accommodation for over 1000 worshippers. It stands on the site of the old church of St Lawrence. There are a Free church (783 sittings), a Gothic United Presbyterian church (1871), with several stained-glass windows, superseding a building of date 1812, St John's Episcopal church (1840), Italian in style, a Gothic Independent church (1866), an Evangelical Union church, and a Baptist chapel (1860).

To the SE of the town is the wooded ridge of the Cluny Hill, which belongs to the burgh, and is laid out for the recreation of the inhabitants. The ridge is covered with fine plantations, and walks wind along in all directions amid the trees. There are three distinct hills, and on the summit of the highest is an octagonal tower, erected by public subscription in 1806 to commemorate Lord Nelson and his victories. It is 24 feet in diameter, and 70 high. On panels on the outside are inscribed ' In memory of Admiral Lord Nelson,' ' Nile, 1 August 1798, ' ' Copenhagen, 2 April 1801,, and ' Trafalgar, 21 August 1805. ' There are a number of floors, and the room on the first contains a marble bust of Lord Nelson. The top is reached by a spiral stair, and the view therefrom is magnificent. The eye ranges over a wide expanse of country, beginning with the richly wooded plains of Kinloss, Forres, and Dyke and Moy, and passing over the Moray Firth to the distant blue hills of Ross and Sutherland. On the southern slope of the hill is the Cluny Hill Hydropathic Establishment, admirably situated on dry soil, with a sheltered and sunny exposure, and commanding an extensive and fine view.

Forres has a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, offices of the British Linen, National, Caledonian, and Royal Banks, a National Security Savings' bank, agencies of 19 insurance companies, 9 hotels and inns, a branch of the Bible Society, a number of religious and charitable societies, a property investment company, 3 masonic lodges, a cricket club, etc. There are also a woollen manufactory, a chemical work, a bone-mill, two flourmills, a saw-mill, and a brewery. The Liberal Forres, Elgin, and Nairn Gazette (1837) is published on Wednesday; the Independent Moray and Nairn Express (1880) on Tuesday and Friday. A weekly market is held on Tuesday, and fairs for cattle and other live stock are held on the Tuesday before the third Wednesday of January, February, March, and April, on the Tuesday before the second Wednesday of May, on the second Tuesday of June, on the first Tuesday of August, on the fourth Tuesday of September and October, and on the Tuesday before the third Wednesday of November. A lamb fair is held on the first Tuesday of July, and a fair for fat stock on the Tuesday in December before the London Christmas market. Hiring fairs are held on the Saturday before 26 May, on the first Tuesday of August, and on the Saturday before 22 November. Justice of Peace courts sit on the first Monday of each month, and the sheriff holds a small debt circuit court on the second Monday of February, April, June, August, October, and D e c em b e r. The town is governed by a provost, 3 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 11 councillors, who, under the Lindsay Act, adopted in 1865, are also commissioners of police. The town possesses extensive lands, the boundary of which, extending over about 15 miles, was officially perambulated in 1840. The arms of the town are Saint Lawrence (the patron saint) in a long habit, holding a gridiron: round his head is a nimbu, at his right side is a crescent, and at the left a star of six points; in his right hand is a book. The motto is Jehova tu mihi Deus, quid deest ? Forres unites with Inverness, Nairn, and Fortrose in returning a member to parliament, its parliamentary and municipal constituency numbering 407 in 1882. Corporation revenue (1832) £620, (1854) £707, (1879) £2235, (1881) £1715. Burgh valuation (1867) £7796, (1875) £11,116, (1882) £14, 498. Pop. of parliamentary and police burgh (1851) 3468, (1861) 4112, (1871) 3959, (1881) 4030, of whom 2257 were females, and 3110 were in the royal burgh.—Ord. Sur., sh. 84, 1876.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

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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