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Cromarty

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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Cromarty, the county town and a parish of Cromartyshire. A seaport and parliamentary burgh, the town lies low on the southern shore of the Cromarty Firth, 2 miles W by S of its Sutor-guarded entrance, 4¾ miles E by S of Invergordon by water and 8 by the shore-road and Invergordon ferry, 11¾ SSE of Tain, 9 NNE of Fortrose, and 19½ NNE of Inverness. For more than three centuries the sea has been steadily gaining on its site, so that where the old burgh stood is covered deep by each returning tide; but at a remote period the sea came higher up than now, and its ancient margin is marked by an eminence that, rising abruptly from the level to a height of 100 feet, next forms a tableland, and thence sweeps gently upward to the Southern Sutor. On the said eminence, right above the town, stood the old castle of the Urquharts, a massy, time-worn building, battlemented, stone-roofed, and six stories high. It was rased to the ground in 1772, and its place is occupied by Cromarty House; hard by, a column, 40 feet high, is surmounted by Handyside Ritchie's life-size statue (1859) of Cromarty's most celebrated son, the stonemason geologist and author, Hugh Miller (1802-56). Even before his day the antique gabled houses of ` Old Cromarty ' had mostly disappeared; but their successors have in turn grown old, and the whole place presents an appearance of picturesque decay and desolation, 30 out of its 287 domiciles standing untenanted in 1881. The Bay of Cromarty forms one of the finest natural harbours in the world, and during winter storms ship after ship comes pressing into it for shelter. Thither they are guided by a lighthouse, whose fixed red light is visible for 13 nautical miles, and which was built on the Point in 1846 at a cost of £3203. From a commodious quay, constructed in 1785, and repaired and extended in 1880, goods valued at £25,000 were shipped to London in 1807. But by the railway the commerce of Easter Ross has been diverted to Invergordon; and fishing and fishcuring are now the only industries of Cromarty. It still is head of the fishery district between Findhorn and Helmsdale Loch, in which during 1880 there were cured 2223 barrels of white herrings, besides 1504 cod, ling, and hake,-taken by 298 boats of 2451 tons; the persons employed being 904 fishermen and boys, 8 fish-curers, 12 coopers, and 831 others, and the total value of boats, nets, and lines being estimated at £30,505. A brewery, a hemp and cloth factory, and one or two timber-yards have all been closed; two fairs have become extinct; but a weekly market is held, in name at least, on Tuesday. There are three churches-the 16th century parish church, described as 'a true Presbyterian edifice;' an Established Gaelic church, built about 1785; and a Free church: and Cromarty has besides a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, branches of the Caledonian and Commercial Banks, 5 insurance agencies, 3 hotels, a neat townhall (1782) with cupola and clock, a masonic lodge, and 3 benevolent societies. A royal burgh once, it was reduced in 1672 to the rank of a burgh of barony, but by the Reform Act of 1833 unites with the other five Wick burghs in returning a member to parliament; and, having adopted the General Police and Improvement Act of 1862, is governed by a provost, 9 councillors, and 9 police commissioners. Its parliamentary and municipal constituency numbered 83 in 1882, when its valuation amounted to £1922. Pop. (1801) 1993, (1831) 2215, (1851) 1988, (1861) 1491, (1871) 1476, (1881) 1352. The parish, forming the north-eastern extremity of the Black Isle peninsula, is bounded N by Cromarty Firth, SE by the Moray Firth and Rosemarkie, SW by Rosemarkie, and W by Resolis. Its utmost length, from NE to SW, is 7 3/8 miles; its width, from NW to SE, varies between 1 ¼ and 2½ miles; and its area is 7060 acres. The coast-line, 9½ miles long, presents for 3 miles to the Moray Firth a huge brown wall of beetling precipice, rising to 225 feet near M'Farquhar's Bed, and 463 at the Southern Sutor, whose highest knoll is termed the Gallow Hill, from its having been the place of execution. The northern shore, on the other hand, all along Cromarty Bay, is fringed by the level strip, already noticed, behind which the green bank slopes upwards to a height in places of 100 feet; further inland the surface ascends to the broad Ardmeanach ridge, attaining 241 feet near Newton, 477 near Bannan, and 548 near Glenurquhart. The Sutor, or 'Hill of Cromarty,' to quote Hugh Miller, is one of a chain belonging to the great Ben Nevis line of elevation; and, though it occurs in an Old Red sands stone district, is itself a huge primary mass, upheaved of old from the abyss, and composed chiefly of granitic gneiss and a red splintery hornstone. It contains also numerous veins and beds of hornblend rock and chlorite schist, and of a peculiar-looking granite, of which the quartz is white as milk, and the felspar red as blood.' In the cliff are two lines of caves-one hollowed by the waves long centuries ago, and another that the surf is still busy scooping out. Many of the former-as the Doocot or Pigeon Caves, and the inferior though better-known Dropping Cave-' are lined with stalactites, deposited by springs that, filtering through the cracks and fissures of the gneiss, find time enough in their passage to acquire what is known as a petrifying, though, in reality, only an incrusting quality. ' Garnets are plentiful along the shore, where, too, are the Clach Malloch or Cursed Stone, an enormous granitic boulder, and five vast natural archways in the rocks. But for full exposition of Cromarty's sermons in stones the reader himself must turn to Hugh Miller's Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland (1835) and My Schools and School-masters (1854), which further record its memories of Macbeth, Thane of Cromarty; of Wallace's fabled defeat of the English, 4¾ miles SW of the town; of the Chaplain's Lair; of the Black Years (1694-1701); of the Meal Mob (1741), etc. Towards the close of the 13th century one William Urquhart of Cromarty was heritable sheriff of the county; among his descendants was the all-but admirable Sir Thomas Urquhart (1613-60), translator of Rabelais, and author of 128½ folio quires of MS., wherein he discussed as many or more original inventions. That wily statesman, Sir Geo. Mackenzie of Tarbat (1630-1714), was created Viscount Tarbat in 1685 and Earl of Cromartie in 1703. His second son, Kenneth, who became a baronet in 1704, obtained the extensive estate of Cromarty; but his eldest son, Sir Geo. Mackenzie, member for the shire, was driven by bankruptcy to sell it in 1741 to William Urquhart of Meldrum. Five years later the earldom was attainted in the person of George, third Earl, for his part in the '45; nor was it revived till 1861, and then in favour of his fourth descendant, Anne Hay-Mackenzie, Duchess of Sutherland, with limitation to her second son, Francis, Viscount Tarbat. There are now in the parish 6 lesser landowners, 1 holding an annual value of between £100 and £500, 2 of from £50 to £100, and 3 of from £20 to £50; but much the largest proprietor is Col. Geo. Wm. Holmes Ross of Cromarty House (b. 1825; suc. 1852). His estate extends over 7946 acres, of which 4112 are arable, 2625 in pasture, and 1209 under wood; its rental has been raised, by reclamations and other improvements, from £5144 in 1850 to £6128. The soil is principally loam, but clay abounds in some parts, and moorish soil in others; and the rent of an acre ranges from 10s. to 60s. The moorish land reclaimed at a cost of £20 per acre was previously under wood; on the other hand, all the available waste has been planted (pp. 107-111 of Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1877). Cromarty is in the presbytery of Chanonry and synod of Ross; the living is worth £399. Prior to the Reformation there were six chapels within its bounds, three of which were dedicated to SS. Duthac, Bennet, and Regulus; but scarcely a vestige remains of any one of them; whilst a Red or Trinitarian priory, founded about 1271, has vanished utterly. In 1875-76 two new board schools were built at a cost of £6000 in the town and at Peddieston, 4¼ miles to the SW. With respective accommodation for 300 and 120 children, these had (1880) an average attendance of 164 and 40, and grants of £134, 8s. 6d. and £19, 5s. Pop. (1801) 2413, (1831) 2901, (1841) 2662, (1861) 2300, (1871) 2180, (1881) 2009.-I>Ord. sh. 94, 1878. See P. Bayne's Life of Hugh Miller (2 vols., 1871), and Wm. Fraser's Earls of Cromartie: their Kindred, Country, and Correspondence (2 vols., 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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