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Peterhead, pp.539-543.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   PETERHEAD, a parish on the east coast of Buchan, Aberdeenshire. It is bounded on the north and north-east by the river Ugie, which divides it from St. Fergus; on the east by the German ocean [North Sea]; on the south by Cruden; and on the west by Longside. Its greatest length, from north to south, is 5 miles; its greatest breadth is 4 miles; and its superficial extent is about 9,000 imperial acres. A sweep of hill, nowhere attaining an elevation of 300 feet above sea-level, and bearing the various names of Stirling-hill, the hill of Invernettie, the Blackhill of Peterhead, and the hill of Cowsrieve, commences at the coast, and forms a line of water-shed round all the southern and most of the western boundary. Its highest part was a frequent point of observation seaward during the war; and serves so well as a landmark that the fishermen on the coast long trusted entirely to its guidance, and did not use a compass. A conical height, called Meethill, possessing an altitude of probably 200 feet, and consisting of an argillaceous diluvium superincumbent on granite, lifts its isolated form on the lands of Invernettie. All the rest of the parochial surface is a slightly rolling plain, whose rising grounds are just sufficiently variegated and high as to render the landscape cheerful, and produce numerous combinations of scenery. About a mile west of the town is the most remarkable of the hollows, called the How of Buchan, probably from being the lowest ground in that district, and being so circularly concave that, previous to the erection of some modern houses on its margin, a person at its bottom could see nothing but the ascent of its sides all round, and the overarching of the firmament above. The east end of Stirling-hill runs out in a narrow promontory into the sea, and forms the well-known Buchanness, the most easterly land in Scotland. Opposite the hill are two islets, the one green and the other rocky; the former once the site of a salt-pan, and the latter now the site of the Buchanness lighthouse. The coast, from the boundary with Cruden to the entrance of the bay of Sandford on the north side of Buchanness, is a series of high mural cliffs, all consisting of plutonic rock, and torn or perforated with numerous fissures, chasms, and caves. The bay of Sandford, measuring 1¼ mile across the entrance, and ¾ of a mile from entrance to head, makes a fine semicircular sweep between Buchanness and Salthouse-head, and is fringed with a beautiful low beach of sand and pebbles. The bay of Peterhead, penetrating nearly a mile inland, and measuring quite a mile at the entrance, is bounded by Salthouse-head and the promontory of Keith-Inch, and has shores at first rocky but flat, and afterwards gravelly and low. Keith-Inch, the site of the town of Peterhead, is a small flat rocky peninsula, terminating in two tiny headlands, called the North and the South Heads. The prevailing rocks of the parish are granite and syenite, veined or alternated with quartz, compact felspar, gneiss, and primitive trap. Various very extensive quarries are worked, and they produce blocks of large size of finely polishable structure, and of high attractions for the market; – the stones from some of the quarries a gray or white granite, and from others a syenite resembling that of Sienna in Egypt, whence this species of rock had its name. The soil of the arable lands is of great variety, from a sandy loam to a rich deep black earth, and a strong clay; and it possesses, for the most part, the highest fructiferous powers. About 8,260 acres are under cultivation; upwards of 500 are moorish and mossy, but are partly of value for the supply of fuel; about 120 are destitute of soil, and display the naked rock; and about 70 are covered with plantation. The pastures, natural and artificial, maintain about 1,400 black cattle, and only a little upwards of 100 sheep. The river Ugie diversities the landscape of the northern frontier with its windings and its fertile haughs; and it produces excellent salmon and great varieties of fine trout, eel, and flounders. Along the coast the sea-fish are of prime quality and very various; and include haddocks, whitings, roughback, plaice, sole, halibut, turbot, skate, lobster, and crab. Four fishing-villages overlook the coast, – Ronheads, a suburb of Peterhead and identified with it; BODDOM, [which see,] nearly 3 miles to the south; Buchanhaven, half-a-mile north of the town, but within the parliamentary boundaries; and Burnhaven, of modern origin, situated on the north side of the bay of Sandford, and provided with a small harbour for the accommodation of boats. A spinning and carding-mill stands on the estate of Boddom; a brick-work has long been in operation about a mile south of the town; and two large grains are situated respectively at Ravenscrag and Invernettie. Two ancient but small forts occur 2 or 3 miles west of the town. A moat, the memorial of feudal courts and baronial jurisprudence, graces, or it may be, disgraces the parish. Old Crag, or Ravenscrag-castle, a fine old ruin of great thickness of wall, and not very greatly dilapidated, stands on the Ugie, and was, for a long period, the seat of a branch of the Marischal family. Boddom-castle, built centuries ago by the family of Keith, a branch of the Marischals, lifts its picturesque ruins from the brow of a narrow promontory a little south of Buchanness; two very deep fissures or chasms cutting down the high craggy rocks into mural precipices on the two sides, and often bringing up such impetuous onsets of the sea that the spray sails over the ruin. The Earls-Marischal resided chiefly at Inverugie-castle, on the St. Fergus bank of the Ugie, half-a-mile east of Ravenscrag; but they possessed the larger portion of the parish of Peterhead, and were the founders and superiors of the town. After their forfeiture, in 1715, most of the property was purchased by a fishing company; and, their affairs becoming embarrassed, it was sold, in 1728, to the Merchant Maiden hospital of Edinburgh. This institution is, in consequence, the superior of the town, as well as the proprietor of adjacent estates; and, in 1783, it purchased another part of the quondam Marischal property in the parish from the York Building company. The first purchase by the institution cost £3,420, and is now worth about £2,370 a-year; and the second cost £3,886, and besides income from feus and town-dues, and freeholds sold for £727, is worth £475 a-year. The parishioners, owing to the influence over them of the Earls-Marischal, were noted Jacobites; and, when the Pretender landed at Peterhead, in 1715, they readily joined his standard. Three great lines of road diverge from the town northward, southward, and eastward; and subordinate roads are minutely ramified throughout the kingdom. Population, in 1801, 4,491; in 1831, 6,695. Houses 788. Assessed property, in 1815, £9,019. 

   Peterhead is in the presbytery of Deer, and synod of Aberdeen. Patron, the Crown. Stipend £235 9s. 5d.; glebe £50. Unappropriated teinds £432 4s. 9d. The parish-church was built in 1803. Sittings 1,863. A section of the town having, in 1836, been made, by ecclesiastical authority, a separate parochial erection, the parish of Peterhead, or West parish, consists, quoad sacra, of but a part of the town and of all the landward district. Its population, in 1837, as shown by ecclesiastical census, was 6,346; of whom 4,931 were churchmen, 1,305 were dissenters, and 110 were nondescripts. – A Scottish Episcopalian congregation was established in the parish at the Revolution, in 1688. Their chapel was built in 1813-14, at a cost of about £3,500. Sittings 763. Stipend £150. – An United Secession congregation was established in 1800. Their place of worship was built in the same year, and cost between £600 and £700. Sittings 500. Stipend not known. – An Independent chapel in the town formerly belonged to a Secession congregation now extinct; and is of unascertained date of erection. Sittings 507. Stipend not known. – A Wesleyan Methodist congregation was established in the parish in 1833; and assembles in a small house fitted up as a place of worship. Sittings 240. No stipend. – The quoad sacra parish of East church of Peterhead, erected in 1836, consists solely of a small triangular section of the town. Its population, in 1837, according to a survey by the session, was 1,461; of whom 903 were churchmen, 377 were dissenters, and 181 were nondescripts. The church was built in 1767, and was purchased, by certain individuals, in 1834, to be a church in connection with the Establishment. £500 was its price; £100 additional were expended in altering and repairing it. Sittings 702. Stipend £150. – The educational institutions in the landward district and villages are simply two private schools; and in the town are a parish-school, a town-school, a Lancasterian school, two ladies’ schools for the higher departments of female education, and six private and ordinary schools. Salary attached to the parish-school £34 4s. 4½d., with from £40 to £80 fees, and about £20 other emoluments; to the town-school £10, with fees; to the Lancasterian school £20, with fees. 

   PETERHEAD, a considerable town, a parliamentary burgh, and an unimportant sea-port, is situated on the coast of the cognominal parish, 18 miles south-east by south of Fraserburgh, 32 north-north-east of Aberdeen, 40 east-south-east of Banff, and 145 north-north-east of Edinburgh. Its site is a peninsula, 4½ furlongs in extreme breadth, and between 6 and 7 furlongs in length or projection, on the north side of Peterhead-bay, and about ¾ of a mile from the mouth of the Ugie. On the extremity of the peninsula stands a suburb called Keith-Inch, whose principal thorough-fare extends about 220 yards from south-west to north-east, and bears the name of Castle-street. The two harbours, afterwards to be described, now indent the peninsula at points directly opposite to each other, and leave between them an isthmus of less than 100 yards broad to connect Inch-Keith with the rest of the town. Immediately within the harbours, and along the shore of Peterhead-bay, stands Peterhead proper. Its principal thoroughfare, under the name of Broad-street, extends about 270 yards on a line with the isthmus between the harbours; and then, under the name of Marischal-street, inclines a little to the west, and is prolonged 300 yards, to a point not more than 60 yards from the shore of the bay. At this point it is joined, at acute angles, by partially edificed thoroughfares, which converge hither along the sides of the town; and, about 130 yards from its commencement at the harbours, it is crossed at right angles by Long-gate-street, which is 400 yards in length, and connects the sides of the town. Peterhead is thus somewhat triangular in outline; yet it has, both on its landward side, and especially in its interior, several short streets which preserve no uniformity with its main thoroughfares. One street, on a line with Long-gate-street, and continued from its north end, connects the town with the suburb of Ronheads, at 250 yards’ distance; and another, on a line with Marischal-street, connects it with that of Kirktown, so near as to be simply a wing of the main body. The aggregate length of the streets is upwards of 4½ miles; and the superficial extent of ground which they cover is about 20 acres. Most of the houses are built of a beautiful granite, found in the vicinity; and many of them have fronts of ashlar either dressed with the pick, or axe-dressed, and closely jointed. The carriage-ways are kept in good repair; and the side-paths are either paved with dressed granite, or fitted out with crib and pebbles. An ample supply of pure spring-water is furnished by pipes from a very copious spring upwards of 2½ miles distant; and gas is furnished for night-lighting, from works situated in Long-gate-street, and belonging to a joint-stock company formed in 1833. In general the town may be summarily regarded as clean, dry, and well-aired; with spacious and open streets, and a prevailingly neat and even handsome appearance. – The town-house, situated in Broad-street, and built in 1788, is a neat edifice 60 feet long and 40 wide, surmounted by a handsome spire of granite 125 feet high. The building consists of a ground floor, fitted up as shops; a second floor, distributed into school-rooms; and a third floor, arranged into apartments for public business. The cross, erected in 1832, on occasion of the town being created a parliamentary burgh, is a Tuscan pillar of granite, crowned with the armorial bearings of the Earls Marischal. Two public halls or buildings are occupied respectively as a reading-room and a billiard-room; and another public structure contains a suite of cold and hot baths. The parish-church, situated at the entrance of the town, or west end of Kirktown, is a substantial edifice, pavilion-roofed, lighted by round arched windows, and ornamented by an attached spire, 118 feet high. The Episcopalian chapel, situated in Merchant-street, displays much taste, and has a front of Gothic architecture, executed in axe-dressed granite. 

   Peterhead has been called the Scarborough of the north of Scotland; and it resembles its prototype not alone in situation, but in being doubly a watering place, – a resort both for sea-bathing and for the use of celebrious mineral water. Exertions have been both long and extensively made to accommodate bathers. One bath, constructed in 1799, measures 40 feet by 20; and another, constructed at a later date, measures 90 feet by 30, is hewn out of the solid rock, and, by means of a valve, is filled every tide with pure sea-water. The apparatus of the bathing-house, which adjoins, enable an invalid to take vapour, hot air, projecting, or shower baths, as he finds most suitable. The mineral water of Peterhead is said to have been in repute during nearly 250 years. Of six separate springs in which it wells up, one called the Wine-well, and situated at the lower end of Wine-Well-street, on the south side of the town, is much the most famous. Twelve pounds avoirdupois of the water of this spring, as analyzed by Dr. Laing, were found to contain 3½ grains of aerated iron, 30¾ of muriated iron, 7 of muriated lime, 2 of siliceous earth, 2 of gypsum, 13¼ of Glauber’s salt, 7½ of common salt, and 83⅓ cubic inches of fixed air. The water has been in repute chiefly for stomach and bowel complaints, nervous affections, and general debility; it has been advantageously used by persons of leuco-phlegmatic habits; and is not without fame as a remedy against scrofula. The celebrity at once of the spa, the baths, and the bathing-grounds of Peterhead, is said to be on the decline. 

   Two capacious and excellent artificial harbours, joined to geographical peculiarity and great natural advantageousness of position, render Peterhead one of the most valuable ports in Scotland, and one even of importance to the whole kingdom. The peninsula which they indent contests with Buchanness the distinction of being the most easterly land in Scotland; and is very often the first land which can be reached by vessels arriving from foreign stations, or overtaken by storm and tempest in the German ocean. The configuration of the peninsula possessed much natural capacity for the purposes of a port and a place of marine shelter; and, now that it has been deeply indented with the berthage of the harbours, and aided by their piers and their jetties, it can be entered in almost any circumstances, and affords complete protection from every wind. From the origin of the town till after the middle of last century, an old harbour, situated between the present north one and the suburb of Ronheads, figures lustily in documents; but seems to have been rude, small, and comparatively valueless, and is now surrendered almost exclusively to the uses of fishing-boats. Another early harbour on the site of the present south one, of unknown date of formation, and constructed on principles the reverse of those which render the present so excellent, figures also so early as the beginning of the 18th century; but never seems to have been of much capacity, and is noted in record principally for alternations of coming into use and going into decay. The two modern harbours were commenced, the south one in 1773, according to a plan by Mr. Smeaton, and the north one in 1818, according to a plan by Mr. Telford. They are accessible from opposite directions, and, in consequence, are characterized by the single and occasionally serious disadvantage of sometimes holding vessels wind-bound; but were they united by a cut or canal – an improvement which has long been contemplated, and which is deferred only from want of means to defray the expense, they would always admit the departure as well as the arrival of a vessel with the wind at any point of the compass. The south harbour covers 66 imperial acres, and can accommodate from 100 to 120 vessels; and, besides being furnished with quays and other interior appliances for the purposes of a port, it has extensive and very costly outworks for rendering it a place of complete safety. Its south pier is concave toward the sea, so as to occasion waves which strike it to run along to its centre, and there destroy each other, and fall back toward the sea; it also covers the west pier, which is nearly at right angles with it; and, in its turn, it receives aid from a jetty, running parallel to it, eastward, out from the west pier, and protecting the interior of the harbour from such waves as the devices of the south pier fail entirely to repel. The north harbour covers an area of 10.86 imperial acres, and is thus more than one-half larger than the south one; and being, according to Mr. Telford’s plan, unprotected on the north side, it began, in 1837, to receive a pier on that side at the cost of nearly £5,000, and is now as singularly well-protected as its fellow, and has the additional advantage of offering accommodation to steam-vessels. The quays of the two harbours comprehend an area of nearly 5 acres; and extend in aggregate length about 3,352 feet. The total expenditure upon the two harbours from 1773 till 1840, amounted to the large sum of about £85,000. A considerable part of this sum was furnished by the trades of the town; a larger part was furnished by the commissioners of Highland roads and bridges, out of the forfeited estates’ fund; and the greatest or chief part was furnished by the governors of the Merchant Maiden hospital of Edinburgh, the superiors of the burgh, who gave up for the purpose not only all the harbour dues, but all the town revenue arising from commonty lands, petty customs, and other sources. An excellent lighthouse, constructed on the opposite corner of the bay by the commissioners of northern lights, marks the entrance to the port; and is of great utility. The New Statistical Account informs us that the number of vessels which entered the harbours in the year ending 1st March, 1837, was 832, of aggregately 48,136 tons; that the number of vessels belonging to the port, on the 1st of January of the same year, was 82, of aggregately 11,022 tons; that the number of wind-bound vessels which entered from 1833 to 1836 averaged 229 in the year; and that the revenue of the harbours, from 1808 to 1837, rose, by an almost regular annual increase, from £367 1s. 5⅓d. to £2,879 8s. 2d. A full custom-house establishment for the port was long earnestly desired, and quite as stoutly denied; but, since 1838, has at length been granted. 

   Peterhead traded, at an early period of its history, with the Baltic, the Levant, and America; and, though more domestic in the general range of its traffic, it ranks high as a commercial town and sea-port. The whale-fishery was, for many years, of prime importance to it, rendering it second in that department to only one port in Scotland; and, though the trade has declined, it still employs 10 ships. The herring-fishery, quite in a nascent state so late as 1820, has for years been a great, an increasing, and a very profitable branch of employment and traffic; it is judiciously encouraged by both the superiors of the town and the trustees of the harbour; and, in 1836, it employed 262 fishing-boats; and produced upwards of 40,000 barrels of herrings. The departure of the vast fleet of boats from the harbour at the fishing-season, is a peculiarly animating sight, and suggests crowding recollections of the enterprise and zealous industry for which the people of the town and the adjacent villages have long been distinguished. Other fisheries, particularly of the several varieties of white-fish, furnish much employment to the inhabitants, and increasing cargoes to the ship-owners. One bulky article of export is, “Peterhead butter,” gathered from most parts of Buchan to Peterhead as its capital, and favourably known in various distant markets. A single merchant has been known to purchase, at a time, 100 tons in the province for exportation at the port; and the quantity shipped, in 1837, amounted to 167 tons, or a little more than 3,300 casks. Grain also is brought for shipment from most parts of Buchan; and, in 1837, was exported to the amount of upwards of 270,000 quarters in its unground state, and to that of nearly 14,500 bolls in the state of meal. Eggs likewise are annually shipped to the amount of about 150,000 dozen. The principal imports are British and foreign timber, wooden hoops, lime, bone manure, soft goods, wool, groceries, flour, salt, and iron. – The manufactures of the town are very limited. A distillery, formerly at work, is happily extinct; a thread manufactory, once of some importance, has disappeared; and a manufacture of woollen cloth, once extensive, has dwindled to insignificance. A number of weavers are employed by the manufacturers of Aberdeen; and, in the town and parish, are breweries, dye-works, a rope-work, and a brick-work, and a small carding and spinning-mill. 

   There are in Peterhead branch-offices of the Commercial bank of Scotland, the Aberdeen, Town, and Country bank, the Aberdeen banking company, and the North banking company. A merchants’ society was instituted in 1712; a trades’ society, in 1728; a gardeners’ society, in 1760; a weavers’ society, in 1778; a Buchan farmers’ society, at a date not known; and a Keith lodge of masons, in 1754; – and they all possess property in houses and money, and, besides attending to objects indicated by their respective titles, they act as benefit institutions. A scientific society, instituted in 1835, and called the Peterhead Association for Science, Literature, and the Arts, maintains occasional lectures, and has fitted up a museum. A weekly well-supplied market is held on Friday; and annual fairs, both of them for hiring servants, and the latter for the sale of cattle and horses, are held on the third Tuesday of May, and the second Tuesday of November, both old style. 

   Previous to the latter part of the 16th century, Peterhead, or rather Keith-Inch, or what stood on the site of that modern suburb, was only a trivial fishing-village. Along with the adjoining lands, which were of considerable value, it belonged to the abbey of Deer; and, in 1560, it passed with them, by grant of Queen Mary, to Robert Keith, son of the fourth Earl Marischal, and commendator of Deer-abbey. The abbey lands having afterwards passed to the Earls Marischal, Peterhead Proper was, in 1593, founded and erected into a burgh-of-barony by Earl George; and it subsequently followed the fortunes of the Marischal property, and came to hold feu of the governors of the Merchant Maiden hospital of Edinburgh. The feuars, originally but 14 in number, obtained from the Earl Marischal, along with the privileges of burgess-ship, considerable property in moss-lands, fisher-lands, commonage, and pasturage; and the successors of these feuars having, in 1774, made a new arrangement with the governors of the Merchant Maiden hospital, a dispute existed, at the date of the Report on Municipal Corporations, whether what remained of this property fell to be administered by the baron-bailie and a committee of the feuars, or by the magistrates appointed under the Reform act. The sum of £100, bequeathed to the town, in 1825, by Mr. Rhind, was, on both sides, regarded as belonging to the new administration. The annual revenue from the disputed property, at the date referred to, was £267 15s. 7½d.; the revenue from petty customs belonging to the feuars was very small, and, in some cases, disputed; the expenditure for the year, was £173 19s.; and the nett amount of debt was £386 2s. 4¾d. The preses of the governors of the hospital, the factor and the treasurer of the same institution, the bailie or bailies of the burgh-of-barony, and a certain number of individuals chosen by the majority of the votes of the feuars and burgesses, are, by act of parliament, trustees of the harbour, declared a corporate body, under the designation of “the trustees of the harbour of Peterhead.” Both the harbour act, and a police act for the burgh, are perpetual acts. The baron-bailie held his appointment for a long series of years, exercised jurisdiction over the whole lands of Peterhead, and, in his court, entertained no civil causes, but only actions for petty delinquencies. The magistrates, under the Reform act, are a provost, 3 bailies, a treasurer, and 7 councillors; and they exercise jurisdiction within all the parliamentary burgh, the limits of which are considerably more extensive than those of the old burgh. Municipal patronage extends only to the town officers, and the teachers of the town school. The burgesses import goods at 1s. 3d. per barrel bulk less of shore-dues than strangers, but have no other exclusive privileges. There are no incorporated trades. Ten commissioners of police are elected by resident occupiers of tenements of £5 or upwards of annual rent; and they, along with the same parties connected with the hospital who are on the trusteeship of the harbour, constitute the board of police. There is no watching establishment, except on particular occasions, when the inhabitants subscribe for it. The only jail is a vault under the town-house; and it is never used as a place of punishment. Peterhead was, in 1840, made the seat of a sheriff-substitute. The burgh unites with Elgin, Banff, Inverury, Cullen, and Kintore, in sending a member to parliament. Constituency, in 1840, 241. Population, in 1821, 4,783; in 1831, 5,112. Houses, in 1831, 708. Assessed taxes £495 6s. 6d. – The Chevalier St. George landed at Peterhead, in his miserable expedition of 1715; and, appearing in the dress of a sailor, did not throw off his incognito till he had proceeded two days’ journey from the town. The site of the house in which he slept on the night after his debarkation, is still pointed out in a back street; and the house itself, not many years ago, existed as a chief lion of the town. Peterhead, at a very recent date, was eminently jacobitical and prelatical; and, even yet, it contains a considerable proportion of episcopalians, and not a few of those usages and opinions amongst people of the upper class which afford to a student of human nature distinct traces of the character which belonged to the partisans of the later Stuarts. But the influence of trade, which brings men together in a sort of friendly melee of action, and the effects of extended intercommunication with the south of Scotland, which destroy the exclusiveness and seclusion of the place’s former social position, are so rapidly bringing out their appropriate results, that, probably in the course of another generation, every vestige of peculiarity will have quite disappeared.

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