A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1851), Samuel Lewis


PETERHEAD, a parish and sea-port and burgh of barony, in the district of Buchan, county of Aberdeen; containing, with the villages of Boddam, Buchanhaven, and Burnhaven, and the former quoad sacra district of East Peterhead, 7619 inhabitants, of whom 4586 are in the burgh, 32 miles (N. N. E.) from Aberdeen, and 145 (N. E. by N.) from Edinburgh. This place, formerly called Keith-Inch, belonged to the family of Keith, earlsmarischal of Scotland, of whom George, the fifth earl, and founder of Marischal College, Aberdeen, built the town, which he also erected into a burgh of barony. The property continued in the possession of the Keiths till their attainder for participation in the rebellion of 1715, when the title and estates were forfeited to the crown, and the town and lands adjacent were purchased by the York Buildings' Company. They are now chiefly the property of the governor and trustees of the Merchants' Maiden Hospital, Edinburgh. The town is situated on a peninsula projecting into the German Ocean, and connected with the main land by an isthmus not more than 800 yards in breadth. It has several well-formed streets, called Kirk-street, Marischal, St. Andrew's, Broad, and Longate streets, with some smaller streets diverging in various directions. In general the houses are well built, chiefly of granite; and many of them are of handsome appearance. The town is paved, and lighted with gas by a company who have erected works in Longate; and the inhabitants are supplied with water from springs at Auchtigall, two miles and a half distant. The public subscription library, established in 1808, contains about 1500 volumes of standard works; and the Peterhead Mechanics' Library, instituted in 1836, forms a collection of about SOO volumes. A newsroom is well supported by subscribers, and amply furnished with journals and periodical publications. There is also a scientific association, established in 1835, which has a museum of natural curiosities and antiquities. The museum belonging to Adam Arbuthnot, Esq., and which by his permission is accessible to the public, is a valuable and extensive collection of specimens in the departments of natural history, mineralogy, and geology; and of Grecian and Roman coins, and British coins from the earliest dates to the present time. At this place the beach affords excellent accommodation for bathing; and during the summer months the town is much frequented by visiters, for whose reception there are good lodging-houses and a spacious inn, with an establishment of hot and cold baths. Near the town are several mineral wells, of various qualities and strength. The principal of them, called the Wine-well from the sparkling of the water, is in high repute for disorders of the bowels, indigestion, debility, and nervous affections, and is much resorted to; it holds in solution muriates of iron and lime, and glauber and common salt, and under proper regimen has been found highly beneficial. There are a few manufactures carried on here. Several of the inhabitants are employed in hand-loom weaving for Aberdeen houses; and the usual handicraft trades are exercised in the town, in which are also numerous shops, well stocked with different kinds of merchandise. There are rope-works and brick and tile works; and ship and boat building is pursued to a considerable extent. The post-office has a good delivery; and the revenue, previously to the alteration in the rate of postage, averaged about £900. Here are three branch banks and several insurance companies, established. The market is on Friday, and is abundantly supplied with grain and provisions of all kinds; and fairs are held on the first Tuesdays after Whit-Sunday and Martinmas, chiefly for hiring servants. Facility of communication is afforded by turnpike-roads to Fraserburgh, Banff, and Aberdeen, and by steamers, which touch at the port. In 1846 an act was passed for the construction of a railway from Dyce to Fraserburgh, with a branch to Peterhead. The trade of the port comprises the exportation of grain, meal, eggs, butter, pork, and potatoes; of various kinds of fish, but chiefly cod and herrings; and of blocks of granite. Its imports are rum and whisky, molasses, groceries, flour, salt, hoops, wool, lime, iron, foreign and British timber, manufactured woollen goods, and bonedust for manure. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in a late year was eighty-five, of the aggregate burthen of 11,429 tons; and the number of ships that entered inwards and cleared outwards was 832, of 48,136 aggregate tonnage. A custom-house has been established, in consequence of the rapidly-increasing prosperity of the port, of which the shore-dues, amounting in 1808 only to £367, have increased to nearl £3000. There are two harbours, separated by th isthmus which connects Keith-Inch with the main land, and which is the extreme eastern headland on this coast. They are highly valuable as harbours of refuge for vessels navigating the German Ocean. The North harbour is nearly eleven acres in extent; it has a depth of eighteen feet at spring tides, and fourteen feet at neap tides, and the total length of the quays is 2219 feet. The area of the South harbour is about six acres and a half, having at spring tides a depth of from twelve to fourteen feet, and from eight to twelve feet at neap tides; the length of the south quay is 480 feet, and of the west 653 feet. Both harbours are easy of entrance; and were they united by cutting a canal through the isthmus, an improvement which has been often contemplated, vessels might enter and depart at all times without being detained by contrary winds. Access is greatly facilitated by a lighthouse on Buchan Ness, finished in 1825: this building, which is of granite, and 1 18 feet in height, displays a flashing light every five seconds, visible at a distance of six leagues, and has fully answered the purpose intended. The improvements of the harbour have been successively completed at an expense of more than £50,000 by the proprietors, exclusive of grants o £15,000 each from government and the Trades of th town, and the entire appropriation of the harbour dues. There are very extensive fisheries off the coast, conducted with great spirit: cod, ling, haddock, and whiting are taken in abundance; and flounders, plaice, soles, turbot, halibut, and lobsters and crabs, are also plentiful. The herring-fishery is likewise profitable, and the fish generally of the best kind; nearly 300 boats are engaged in this branch, and the average quantity exceeds 40,000 barrels. The shoals of herrings are frequently followed by spout-whales, several of which have been killed upon this part of the coast. Many vessels used to be engaged in the Greenland whale-fishery, which has of late been less productive than formerly; at present only eleven vessels are employed, and the quantity of oil obtained does not exceed 100 tons. In this parish the principal fishing stations are, Ronheads, on the north side of the harbour; and the villages of Buchanhaven and Boddara, which are both noticed under their own heads.

The government of the burgh, by charter of the Earl-Marischal, was vested in a baron-bailie and other officers appointed by the superior. Since the passing of the Municipal Reform act it has been vested in a towncouncil of twelve members, of popular election, who choose from their own body a provost, three bailies, and a treasurer. The jurisdiction of the magistrates extends over the whole of the boundaries, which have been enlarged; and is equal to the jurisdiction exercised in royal burghs: a bailie, also, appointed by the governors of the Merchants' Maiden Hospital, holds a court-baron. The only important privilege enjoyed by the burgesses is that of paying less for harbour-dues than strangers. Peterhead is associated with Banff, Cullen, Elgin, Inverury, and Kintore, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; the number of qualified voters is about 240. The town-house, situated at the head of Broad-street, is a quadrangular building of granite, sixty feet long and forty feet wide, and surmounted with a spire 110 feet in height. It was completed at a cost of £2000, and contains on the ground-floor various shops and on the first-floor several schoolrooms; above which are two spacious rooms, one for transacting the general business of the burgh, and the other for holding the courts. Underneath the building is a vault, originally intended for a gaol; but it is not used. The cross, a handsome Tuscan pillar of granite, crowned by the arms of the Earl-Marischal, the founder of the town, was erected by subscription in commemoration of the grant of the parliamentary franchise, in 1832.

The PARISH is bounded on the east by the sea, and on the north by the river Ugie, which separates it from the parish of St. Fergus. It is nearly five miles in length and from three to four in breadth, comprising about 9085 acres, of which 8266 are arable, seventy-two woodland and plantations, and the remainder waste. The surface rises gradually towards the west, and is diversified with hills and dales; the highest of the hills are Stirlinghill and Blackhill, which have an elevation of about 280 feet, and Methill, which varies from l50 to 200 feet in height. The Ugie has its source in the upper part of the district, in the union of the Strichen and Deer waters, and, after winding along the northern boundaries of the parish, falls into the sea at Buchanhaven. In some parts the coast is low and rocky, in others indented with bays, and broken by projecting headlands and promontories, the principal of which are the North and South heads, Invernetty Point, and Buchan Ness: the shore of the bay at Peterhead is for some distance a fine sandy beach. The soil varies from a sandy loam to a deep black mould of great fertility, and a strong clay. The crops are, grain of all kinds, turnips, and potatoes; the system of agriculture has been improved, and much waste land has been brought into profitable cultivation. Few sheep are reared; the cattle are principally of the polled Buchan breed, with a few of the Teeswater: the horses are all of the native breed, and well adapted for the purposes of husbandry. The lands are inclosed, and most of the recent improvements in the construction of implements have been adopted; the chief manure is dung brought from the town. In this district the plantations are on a very confined scale: near the coast they consist of ash, elm, birch, beech, mountain-ash, plane, alder, and willow; and in other parts, of white American spruce, silver-fir, and Scotch fir, in a thriving state. The substratum of the parish is mostly granite. There are extensive quarries at Stirlinghill, from which blocks have been raised for numerous public works, including the docks of Sheerness, and the Duke of York's column, London. At Salthouse head is a quarry of beautiful grey or white granite, and at Blackhill are also large quarries. All is of excellent quality, and in the aggregate not less than SOOO tons are yearly shipped from the port. The annual value of real property in the parish is £22,410.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes this place is within the bounds of the presbytery of Deer and synod of Aberdeen: the minister's stipend is £235. 9. 2., with a manse, an a glebe valued at £50 per annum; patron, the Crown The parish church, erected in 1803, is a handsome structure of granite, with a spire 115 feet high, and contains 1863 sittings. A church built in 1767 in the eastern part of Peterhead, was purchased in 1834 at a cost of £500, and repaired and improved at an additiona expense of £100; and in 1836 a portion of the town including a population of 1173 persons, was assigned to it as a quoad sacra parish, under the designation of the East Church: the building contains 702 sittings. There is an episcopal chapel, a fine structure, erected in 1814 at a cost of £3500; and members of the Free Church the United Presbyterian Church, Independents, and Wesleyans, have places of worship. The parochial school is at present held in a room in the town-house; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with an allowance o £13 in lieu of house and garden, and the fees vary fro £40 to £80 per annum. Another school, called t Town school, is held in the same building, by a master appointed by the fourth bailie, and to whom the landholders pay a salary of £10 from a bequest by Mr. Willia Rhind, for teaching seven poor children. There is also a school in connexion with the episcopal chapel, the master of which receives a salary of £20 per annu from a bequest by the late Dr. Anderson, of St. Christopher's. A coal fund distributes from about £60 i coal annually; and there are several friendly societies. Some considerable remains exist of the old castle of Ravenscraig, the baronial residence of the Keiths, who eventually acquired by marriage the castle of Inverugie, on the opposite bank of the river. There are also ruins of Boddam Castle, the residence of a branch of the family. A flagon of pewter, after the fashion of the age of James IV., has been discovered in cutting a deep water-course through a peat-bog; and on the summit of Methill is a tumulus, said to have been a seat for the administration of justice in ancient times. On the north side of the den of Boddam are various pits, generally supposed to have been Pictish camps, but by some thought rather to have been formed by the Danes when they landed on the eastern coast of Scotland.

[From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1851) - copyright Mel Lockie 2016]