Nairn, pp.422-424.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   NAIRN, a parish on the coast of Nairnshire, and in the province of Moray. It is bounded on the north by the Moray frith; on the east by Auldearn; on the south by Calder; and on the west by Ardersier. It expands at the ends, and greatly contracts in the middle, so as to have proximately the outline of an hour-glass. Its greatest length from north to south is upwards of 8 miles; its greatest breadth, from east to west, is 6 miles; and its superficial extent is between 25 and 30 square miles. It all lies within the champaign country, or great plain of Moray. The hill of Urchany, at one of the south corners, is the highest ground, and only noticeable eminence. For some distance from the skirt of this height the surface descends in a gentle slope; and along the sea-board it becomes low and flat. The river Nairn bisects the parish north-eastward and northward to the frith. The soil on the banks of the river is sand mixed with clay; in the southern district, is a rich and heavy mould; and about Kildrummie, around the town, and along the coast by Delnies, is light and sandy. A pendicle of about 400 acres around the town is probably the most pleasant low ground in the north of Scotland. Salmon are somewhat extensively taken in the river, shell-fish at its mouth, and haddocks, skate, cod, ling, flounders, and herring, in the frith. On the north side of the hill of Geddes are vestiges of an old edifice, called Caistel Fionlah, – ‘Finlay’s-castle,’ – about 78 feet long, and nearly half as broad. It was surrounded with a ditch, still visible, round the middle of the eminence. A little east of the same hill are the remains of the castle of Rait, built at a remote but unascertained period, and the residence for some time of a branch of the powerful family of Comyn. At a place called Knock-ma-gillan, a little below this castle, 18 of the Macintoshes were slain by the Comyns in a feudal brawl. At Easter-Geddes are the remains of an old chapel, the burying-place of the family of Kilravock, surrounded with a public cemetery. Lady Kilravock, and her husband, Hugh Rose of Geddes, obtained, in 1293, a charter from King John Baliol, confirming to them and their heirs the lands of Kilravock and Geddes. The chapel was founded in 1473, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and endowed with £5 Scots and a small glebe. Its chaplain was to perform daily offices, not only for the soul of the founder, but also for the souls of his predecessors, and of his heirs and successors for ever,” – a pretty plain intimation that the masses would ever be useless. The parish carries two roads up the river, and two parallel to the coast. Population, in 1801, 2,215; in 1831, 3,266. Houses 721. Assessed property, in 1815, £1,762. – Nairn is the seat of a presbytery, in the synod of Moray. Patron, Brodie of Brodie. Stipend £284 2s. 10d.; glebe £18. Unappropriated teinds £347 2s. 1d. The parish-church was built in 1810-11. Sittings 902. A catechist, paid by voluntary subscription, divides his labours between Nairn and Auldearn. – An United Secession congregation was established in the parish about 65 years ago. Their meeting-house was built in 1815, at a cost of about £820. Sittings 512. Stipend £110. – An Independent congregation was formed in May, 1801. Their chapel was built in 1804, at the cost of £575. Sittings 416. Stipend about £46 from the congregation, and £20 from the Congregational Union. – The parish-school, at the date of the Education Report in 1834, was in a most inefficient state. Salary about £30 with £10 fees, and £7 other emoluments. There are a prosperous academy, established, a few years ago, by the inhabitants of the burgh; two flourishing schools in the landward district, supported by the society for propagating Christian knowledge; and four other schools; – in all, seven non-parochial schools, conducted by eight teachers, and attended by about 300 scholars. 

   NAIRN, a small town, a royal burgh, and the capital of Nairnshire, is situated on the left bank of the river Nairn, immediately above its embouchure; 11 miles east by south of Forres; 23 east-south-east of Elgin; 31¾ east of Fochabers: 18 north-east of Inverness; 86 north-west by west of Aberdeen; and 194 north-north-west of Edinburgh. Nearly the whole town has a dingy and very antiquated appearance. Its principal street, called Main-street, commences close on the river ¼ of a-mile from the frith, and runs away south-westward to the distance of 3½ furlongs. This thoroughfare is nearly straight, and tolerably spacious; and has the irksomeness of its old-fashioned aspect relieved by one or two fine modern public buildings. All the other old thoroughfares are narrow confined lines, either huddled in a mass round the foot of Main-street, or sneaking crowdedly from its sides. Charles-street is a new, solitary, and partially edificed line along the river and harbour, from the foot of Main-street to the frith. Cawdor-street and Cumming-street are newly planned, and spacious lines, the former parallel with the frith at a furlong’s distance, the latter crossing it at right angles, and both situated north-west of the old town, along the margin of the town-links. Several good new houses have been erected also on the south-west wing of the old town. The streets, not long ago noted for having the most uneasy pavement of any in the kingdom, are now well-paved; and, in 1839, they began to enjoy the luxury of gas. The river, just before coming abreast of the town, forms an island of 1½ furlong in length, and opposite the lower end of the island is overlooked by the parish-church; and after passing the bridge two-thirds down the town, it continues to run direct along to the frith, leaving to the right its old channel which diverged among sandy grounds to the north-east, and formed a little island. The bridge was originally an excellent and substantial structure, built in 1631 or 1632; but it sustained much damage, – first from a flood in 1782, and next from the great flood of 1829. An inscription upon a stone of it, which long ago fell into the river, is ‘Gulielmus Rose de Clava,’ with the motto, ‘Non est Salus, nisi in Christo: Soli Deo Gloria.’ At the south-west end of the town stand the academy, a handsome structure, and a neat monument to the memory of Mr. John Straith, who was 40 years schoolmaster of the parish. Near the middle of High-street, and on its north-west side, stand the town and county buildings, erected in 1818. The structure is the principal public edifice and architectural ornament of Nairn; and it has a fine appearance, and is surmounted by a handsome spire. Its interior contains the town and county jail, and a court and county hall; the latter very elegant and spacious, and occasionally used as a ballroom. In a recess opposite this structure stands the United Secession meeting-house. On the same side as the town-house, and less than 100 yards to the north-east, stands Richardson’s hotel. This is noted both as a good inn and as the scene of an annual autumnal festivity, called the Nairnshire Harvest Home, and possessing strong attractions for persons who cannot find happiness enough in the retirements of quiet society, and of home and the closet. The original town occupying, perhaps, not quite the same site as the present, and one more seawards, was defended by a castle. Buchanan informs us that, as far back as the time of Malcolm I., the Danes captured this castle, and cruelly used its custodes or keepers. But every vestige of the structure, and even its site, were long ago overwhelmed by encroachment of the sea. 

   Nairn is distinguished for the dryness and healthiness of its situation, for its cheapness of provisions, and for the excellence of its beach and its artificial appliances for sea-bathing. It is, in consequence, a favourite summer resort of sea-bathers, and is provided with cold and hot salt-water baths. Several reminiscences and objects both in the town and its vicinity, possess interest for strangers, or make pleasing appeals to the imagination. The town was long noted for standing so exactly on the boundary-line between the Highlands and the Lowlands, and being so completely bisected by the mutual repulsion of the Moray men on the east, and the kilted Gael on the west, that the Lowland Scottish dialect was spoken at the one end of the street, and the Gaelic language at the other. According to a tradition of the place, James VI., when one day after his accession to the English throne, twitted about the smallness and unimportance of the towns of his native kingdom, wittily declared that he had “ae toon in Scotland, the toon o’ Nairn, sae big that the inhabitants spake two different languages, and the folks at the ae end o’t could not understand the folks at the ither.” West of the town is the field on which the Duke of Cumberland encamped his army on the day before the battle of Culloden. The insurgents, aware of his position, came down the banks of the Nairn from Culloden with the design of attacking him by surprise; but they were too late in their movements, and, being overtaken by the dawn, were obliged to halt and return. Their fatigue and want of sleep occasioned by the long and useless night-march are sometimes assigned as a chief reason of their having suffered so signal and total a discomfiture in the action of next day. The field of battle lies 9½ miles south-west of Nairn. Kilravock (popularly Kilrawk) castle, a seat of Colonel Rose, the descendant of one of the oldest and most respectable families in Moray, stands on the left bank of the Nairn, 6 miles on the way to Culloden; and lifts over the stream a range of castellated buildings, and a very ancient tower. A museum of paintings, armour, and writings in this mansion excels every other collection in the north. The mother of Henry Mackenzie, the author of the ‘Man of Feeling,’ and the lady admired by Lord President Forbes, and made the heroine of his song, ‘Ah! Chloris, could I now but sit,’ were daughters of the House of Rose, and residents at Kilravock. Less than 4 miles south of Nairn stands Cawdor or Calder-castle, teeming with curious associations: See CALDER. Within a range of 5 miles round the town – and, in about half the instances, within a range of 1½ mile – are about 17 or 18 mansions, various in their attractions, and jointly contributing much richness to the landscape. 

   A harbour was constructed at Nairn, in 1820, chiefly according to a plan by Mr. Telford; and, including a sum paid for the deterioration of a fishery by changing the course of the river, cost not less than £5,500. Most of the work having been swept away, or otherwise demolished, by the flood of 1829, the inhabitants have made laudable exertions for its restoration. The trade of the town, though understood to be thriving, must always be very limited; as the Highlands commence at a short distance to the south, and Inverness and Findhorn supply the adjoining coast districts. The chief articles of import are coal, lime, groceries, soft goods, and other merchandise; and of export are fish and fir-timber. The fishing and the curing of herrings are conducted with much enterprise and success; and the former employs many boats, while the latter has appropriated to it a kind of factorial building. Salmon-fishing likewise gives some employment. A weekly market is held on Friday; and annual fairs for horses and cattle are held on the third Friday of April, – on the 19th of June, if a Tuesday, or, if not, on the first Tuesday after, – on the 13th of August, or first lawful day after. Campbeltown fairs, – on the fourth Tuesday of September, – on the Friday after the third Tuesday of October, – and on the first Friday of November. The April and October fairs are appropriated also to the hiring of servants, and the August fair to the hiring of reapers. The town has branch-offices of the Caledonian bank, the National bank of Scotland, and the British Linen company’s bank. Communication is enjoyed with Inverness and the north on the one hand, and Aberdeen and the south on the other, by the daily transit of the royal mail. A stage-coach runs every lawful day to Nairn from Elgin: and, on its arrival, a passage-boat, wind and weather permitting, starts for Cromarty. 

   “Nairn,” says the Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations, “appears to have been founded by William the Lion. Alexander II. made a grant to the Bishop of Moray ‘in excambium illius terre apud Invernaren, quam dominus Rex Willelmus, pater meus, cepit de episcopo Moraviensi, ad firmandum in ea castellum et burgum de Invernaren.’ The lands and town were granted by Robert I. to his brother-in-law, Hugh, Earl of Ross; and they probably continued in the possession of that family till the forfeiture of John, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, in 1475. At that period the tenure of the lands in Nairnshire, which had been formerly held under the Earls of Ross, was changed to a Crown-holding; and a similar change very probably took place with regard to the town of Nairn, which then begins to be styled in records the King’s burgh, and the royal burgh of Nairn; unless it may be thought that the terms of Robert I.’s grant of the Earldom of Moray to Thomas Ranulph (which cannot be easily reconciled with the Earl of Ross’s charter) are sufficient to prove that Nairn, as well as Elgin and Forres, was then of the rank of a royal burgh.” Any charters erecting the town into a royal burgh, or granting or ratifying its privileges, appear to be lost. But a charter of confirmation, though not copied, was confirmed by an act of parliament in 1597; and that act specially prohibits all who are not freemen and burgesses “from presuming to use or exercise the liberties and privileges pertaining to the said burgh and burgesses thereof within the bounds and limits set down in the foresaid infeftment.” A considerable extent of landed property formerly belonged to the burgh; but it has almost all been alienated. The proceeds of lands which yielded a price of £3,478, and produce annual feu-duties of £10 10s., were all, with the exception of £210 in price, and £3 10s. 6d. in feu-duties, expended since 1820 upon the construction of the harbour and the building of the jail. The revenue in 1833 amounted from all sources to £141 12s. 8d.; and the expenditure, consisting of salaries to officers and a schoolmistress, public burdens, subscription to the academy, repairs of jail and harbour, and some incidental items, amounted to £151 14s. 3d. The burgh-debts amounted in the same year to £240. The corporation-revenue in 1839-40 amounted to £294 8s. 4d. The only local tax is a stent, which has become merely nominal. Any person, in order to trade within the burgh, must be an ordinary burgess. The number of burgesses, in 1833, was about 71, of whom about 35 were merely honorary. The fees of admission exacted from handicraftsmen are £1 1s., and from merchants £8, besides small sums to officers. Temporary licences are occasionally granted to unfreemen. There are no minor corporations or crafts. The town-council consists of a provost, 3 bailies, a dean-of-guild, a treasurer, and 11 councillors. Municipal and parliamentary constituency, in 1840, 72. The jurisdiction of the magistrates in criminal matters has gradually narrowed to cases of petty thefts and assaults; and, as regards even these, it is incumbered with such oppressive modes of procedure as almost entirely put it in abeyance. Such civil cases as come before the bailie court are few and trifling, and seldom litigated; any civil cases of importance being generally carried to the sheriff-court. The only patronage of the town-council is the appointment of the burgh-officers and a schoolmistress. The burgh unites with Inverness, Forres, and Fortrose, in sending a member to parliament. The population within the burgh-boundaries is but an unimportant fraction less than that of the parish. In 1841, it amounted to 2,687; and in that year the burgh contained 663 inhabited, and 47 uninhabited houses. – Nairn gave the title of Baron in the Scottish peerage to the ancient family of Nairn; and the title afterwards diverged to a younger branch of the ducal family of Athole. The peerage was created in 1681, attainted in 1746, and restored in 1824, and it has been dormant since the death of William, 6th lord, in 1837. It is said to be represented by the Baroness Keith of Banheath and Stonehaven-Marischal.