- ELGIN, a burgh, market-town, and parish, in the county of Elgin, of which it is the capital, 63½ miles (N. W.) from Aberdeen, and 174 (N.) from Edinburgh; containing 5216 inhabitants, of whom 4325 are in the town. This place appears to have derived its name and foundation from Elgin, or Helgyn, general of the army of Sigurd, the Norwegian Earl of Orkney, who, about the year 930, made himself master of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, and Moray, in the southern part of which last district he built a town, supposed to be the origin of the present, a few miles from the small harbour of Burgh-Head, where the Norwegians kept their shipping. A castle seems to have been erected at an early period, either for the defence of the town, or as a residence for its founder; and on some rising ground called Lady hill, there are still traces of an ancient fortress which, in the reigns of William the Lion and Alexander I. and II., is said to have been a favourite resort and an occasional residence of those monarchs. A charter of William is yet extant, in which that king grants to the Bishop of Moray an annual payment out of the fee-farm rent of "his burgh of Elgin;" and in 1224, Alexander II. sanctioned the removal of the seat of that diocese to Elgin, where a cathedral was erected, and also an episcopal palace. The town thus became distinguished, and in ecclesiastical affairs obtained a degree of importance inferior to the cities of St. Andrew's and Glasgow alone. In 1269, Alexander III. bestowed upon the inhabitants all the liberties and privileges of a royal burgh; and Robert I., in his charter granting the earldom of Moray to Thomas Ranulf, expressly stipulates that the burgesses of Elgin, in holding under the earl, should retain all their accustomed rights as fully as when they held them immediately under the charter of Alexander III. The town appears to have suffered severely at various times, and to have been frequently destroyed by fire. In 1390, the Earl of Moray conferred upon the burgesses an exemption from certain sums paid to his castle, in consequence of the various calamities to which they had been exposed; and his successor soon afterwards remitted to them the customary dues on wool, cloth, and all other merchandise exported from the harbour of Spey, in consideration of the same or similar disasters. Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, in 1451, bestowed a charter reciting and confirming that of Alexander III.; and Charles I. of England, in 1633, ratified all previous grants by his predecessors in favour of the burgh, of which the form of government was finally settled by an act of the convention of burghs in the year 1706.The town is pleasantly situated on the south bank of the river Lossie, which forms the boundary of the parish for some distance; and is sheltered in the rear by a richly-wooded and gently-sloping height, in the form of a crescent, which protects it from the severer winds. It is irregularly built, but contains several good houses and handsome villas of recent erection; the streets are paved, and lighted with gas by a voluntary assessment, and a contribution of £30 annually from the funds of the burgh. The inhabitants were until recently only supplied with water from the river, and from wells sunk in different parts of the town; but they have now a more adequate and convenient supply, derived from a spring in the hills, four miles distant to the south of Elgin, and conveyed by pipes to the houses. There is an extensive circulating library, containing many well-selected volumes of history and general literature; and a literary association, established in 1818, is supported by subscription, and has a well-assorted library of more than 700 volumes, with a reading-room recently added to it, supplied with newspapers and periodical works. The Morayshire Farmers' Club, established in 1799, holds its annual meetings here for the encouragement of husbandry, and, by the distribution of prizes to all successful competitors within the surrounding district, has greatly tended to the interest and improvement of this part of the country: an extensive and valuable library has been formed by the club, which contains a numerous collection of standard works on agriculture. There are no manufactures pursued to any extent; the traffic is principally in grain, which is sent to different markets, and, among others, to Leith, Liverpool, and London. A very extensive trade in flour has long been carried on with Aberdeen and other towns in that county, and also in the county of Banff; and it has lately increased. There are in the town a tannery and some breweries, and near it two distilleries; the shops are well supplied with articles of merchandise, and several of the inhabitants are employed in various handicraft trades.A considerable degree of foreign trade appears to have been once carried on, and in 1698 a harbour was constructed at the mouth of the river Lossie, in the parish of Drainie, about five miles from Elgin, by the town council, who received the anchorage and shore dues. These dues, however, were by no means adequate to keep the harbour in an efficient state of repair, and until the recent construction of Stotfield harbour the retail dealers in the town consequently obtained their principal London goods by smacks trading to Inverness, which sometimes landed them at Burgh-Head; articles of lighter weight were generally brought by steam-boats to Aberdeen, and forwarded thence by land-carriage. Considerable quantities of grain are nevertheless shipped, and coal is landed, at the harbour of Lossiemouth, where there is a small village for the residence of persons connected with the port; but, from the want of sufficient depth of water, only vessels of very small burthen can enter. A jointstock company was recently formed for constructing a harbour at Stotfield point, at a very inconsiderable distance from Lossiemouth; and the completion of this important work has opened a direct communication with the London and other markets for agricultural produce at less expense, and to a much greater extent, than was formerly practicable. The market, which is on Tuesday and Friday, is abundantly supplied with grain, poultry, butter, and provisions of all kinds; fairs are held in the town on the Fridays preceding Martinmas and Whitsuntide, for the hiring of farm-servants and the sale of various wares, and ten fairs are annually held in the vicinity for cattle and horses. Facility of communication is afforded by excellent turnpike-roads branching off from the town in every direction; the great north road passes through it. The post-office has a tolerably good delivery.The Burgh, under its charter, was governed by a provost, four bailies, a treasurer, dean of guild, and ten others, who formed the town council; but since the passing of the Municipal Reform act, the controul has been vested in seventeen councillors, together with a provost, town-clerk, and other officers, elected under the authority, and subject to the regulations, of that act. There are six incorporated guilds, the shoemakers, tailors, hammermen, glovers, wrights, and weavers, all of which, except the weavers, claim the privilege of exclusively carrying on their trades within the burgh. The freedom is obtained by birth, by servitude to a freeman of the incorporated guilds, or by purchase for the sum of £16, which has been fixed by the town council for all indiscriminately, though previously the payment varied according to the practice of the different guilds. The magistrates exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction within the limits of the burgh, and over all lands held under burgage tenure; but since the establishment of the sheriff's court few civil actions have been tried; and in their criminal jurisdiction, the magistrates invariably confine themselves to the adjudication of petty offences. The burgh is the head of an elective district, and, with the burghs of Cullen, Banff, Peterhead, Kintore, and Inverury, returns one member to the imperial parliament; the right of election is, by the Reform act, vested in the resident £10 householders. The number of voters within the municipal boundaries is 213, of whom ninetyfive are burgesses; and of similar residents beyond the municipal, but within the parliamentary limits, fifty, of whom six are burgesses. Of £5 householders within the burgh the number is 110, of whom forty are burgesses. The election of the member takes place here, and the assizes and sessions for the county are also held in the town. The old county hall and gaol, both very indifferent buildings, have been superseded by a new and elegant edifice.The parish, which is of very irregular form, comprises 11,500 acres; 7000 are arable, 1500 woodland and plantations, and the remainder rough pasture and waste. The surface is varied: from the town it has a gentle acclivity towards the base of the Blackhills; and to the west of the river it is divided, by a precipitous ridge of considerable elevation, into the vales of Pluscardine and Mosstowie. The scenery is generally of a pleasing character, and in many parts beautifully picturesque and romantic. The river Lossie, which rises in the hills of Dallas, skirts the parish to the north, and in other parts winds through it with a silent course, frequently overflowing, and doing considerable damage to the adjoining fields: after a course of about eight miles, it falls into the Moray Frith at the village of Lossiemouth. The soil is various; most of the arable land is of a light and sandy quality; in some parts inclining to clay; and in others, especially near the river, a deep rich loam. The crops are, wheat, oats, barley of the Chevalier kind, which, from its adaptation to the soil, is raised in great quantities, potatoes, and turnips. The system of agriculture is improved; lime and bone-dust are extensively used for manure; the lands are well drained and inclosed; the farm-houses and offices are substantial and commodious, and those of the larger farms are built of stone, and roofed with slate. Threshing-mills have been erected, several of which are driven by water; there are numerous mills for grain, a mill for carding wool, and one for sawing timber. Great attention is paid to the breed of cattle and horses; the prevailing breed of cattle is a black kind resembling the Aberdeenshire, but inferior in size, with an occasional cross of the short-horned: very few sheep are reared. The rateable annual value of the parish is £15,592. The plantations consist of Scotch and spruce firs and larch, intermixed with every variety of forest trees; they are under careful management, and in a very flourishing state. The principal substratum is sandstone, of which the ridge separating the valleys of Pluscardine and Mosstowie is chiefly composed. Limestone, also, is found near the town, of a dark colour, in some parts alternated with sand and clay; it is quarried for building and other purposes, and burnt into lime for manure, and for making mortar for the use of builders. Westerton, the seat of Lieut.-Col. Alexander Hay, is a handsome modern mansion beautifully situated in the romantic vale of Pluscardine, commanding a view of the ruins of the abbey and the richly-wooded grounds of the Earl of Fife.The parish is the seat of a presbytery, and of the synod of Moray; patron, the Crown. There are two ministers, each of whom has a stipend of £241; one minister has a manse, but the other has neither manse nor allowance in lieu; the glebe is equally divided. A home mission for the remoter parts of the parish has been maintained for more than a century, from the funds of the Royal Bounty and the interest of some legacies bequeathed for the purpose, and the minister dispenses the ordinances of religion to more than 600 persons. The parish church, situated in the centre of the town, was erected on the site of the old church of St. Giles, which had become dilapidated; it is an elegant structure of freestone, in the Grecian style of architecture, with a noble portico at the west end of six columns of the Doric order, having an entablature and cornice surmounted with a triangular pediment. At the east end is a square tower supporting a circular campanile turret, surrounded with columns. The interior of the edifice is neatly fitted up, well arranged, and adapted for a congregation of 1800 persons; the church was completed at an expense of £8300, and was opened for divine service in October, 1828. There are places of worship for members of the United Secession, members of the Free Church, Original Seceders, Baptists, and Independents, and an episcopal and a Roman Catholic chapel. The Elgin academy, partly supported by endowment, and partly from the common funds of the burgh, comprises three schools, each under the direction of a master; the classical master has a salary of £50 per annum, and the mathematical and English masters a salary of £45 each. The late James Mc Andrew, Esq., of Elgin, bequeathed £200, the interest to be distributed in prizes to three boys in the classical school. The Elgin institution for the support of old age and the instruction of young persons, established and endowed by Lieut.-Gen. Andrew Anderson, E.I.C.S., affords accommodation for ten aged and infirm persons, and for sixty children who are maintained and educated in a school of industry; and connected with the building is a free school for 230 children, with apartments for a master and mistress, who have a joint salary of £75 per annum. The teacher of the school of industry has a salary of £55, with lodging and maintenance. The buildings of the institution occupy a spacious quadrangular area, and are handsomely erected of freestone: the central range has a Doric portico supporting an entablature and pediment, on which latter are three sculptured figures representing the founder and the objects of the institution, the whole surmounted by a circular cupola and dome; and the wings are embellished with porticos of the same order. The interior is well adapted to the purposes of the establishment, and contains a neat chapel, schoolrooms, with refectories and dormitories for the children, and apartments for the aged persons; the gardens are well laid out, and the whole is inclosed with a stone wall and iron palisade. The expense of the buildings, which were completed in 1833, was about £12,000. An infant school is supported by subscription, the master of which has a salary of £25 per annum, with a house and the school fees; and there is a trades' school, with an endowment of £5 per annum from the common fund of the burgh.The poor have the interest of lands and monies vested in the corporation, amounting to £23. 7. 6., and of property in the hands of the Kirk Session, amounting to £54. 15. per annum. James VI., by charter in 1620, granted to the provost, bailies, and community of the burgh, the site and revenues of the hospital of Maison Dieu, under which grant an almshouse has been erected for four bedesmen, who receive annually four bolls of barley, paid out of the rents of the hospital lands. Four bedesmen are also supported by the proceeds of money and land bequeathed by William Cumming, of Auchray, in 1693, and producing annually £71. 18., which sum is equally divided among them. Mr. Duff, in 1729, left lands for the support of a decayed burgess, which yield £23 per annum, paid to persons nominated by the Earl of Fife. A bequest by Mr. Petrie, in 1777, for the education of six poor orphans or children of the town of Elgin, is in the hands of the Kirk Session; and from the proceeds each of the children receives £4 per annum for three years. The Guildry charitable fund was established in 1814, by the guild brethren, for the relief of the widows and children of decayed members; and by good management, the funds have accumulated sufficiently to enable them to divide £250 annually among the objects of the institution. Grey's hospital for the sick poor of the town and county was founded in 1819, by Dr. Alexander Grey, of Calcutta, who endowed it with funds for its maintenance; and Dr. Dougal bequeathed £15 per annum for the purchase of medicines for the poor, which was given to the trustees of the hospital. The number of patients admitted annually is about 250, and the number in the house at one time about twenty-five; and since the addition of Dr. Dougal's bequest, medicines and advice have been gratuitously dispensed to 300 out-patients every year. The building is in the Grecian style of architecture, with a handsome portico of four Doric columns, supporting an entablature and cornice, and a stately dome rises from the centre of the edifice; the interior is well arranged. On the grounds belonging to it, and nearly adjoining, a county lunatic asylum for paupers has been built. Dr. Grey likewise bequeathed £2000, which, on the decease of his widow, will be augmented with an additional £1000, for the assistance of unmarried daughters of respectable but decayed burgesses: the interest of this sum is divided among them by the ministers and physicians of the parish, who are permanent trustees. A portion of land, also, was bequeathed by Mr. Laing for the assistance of a decayed merchant and guild brother; it produces £5. 10. per annum, which are paid to the nominee of the nearest surviving relative of the testator. The six incorporated trades distribute considerable sums among their poor members and widows and children; and a savings' bank was established in 1815, in which the amount of deposits is above £23,000.There are some beautiful remains of the ancient cathedral, founded by the Bishop of Moray in 1224, and which was burnt by Alexander Stewart, generally called the Wolf of Badenoch, whom one of the bishop's successors had excommunicated for the unjust seizure and detention of his lands; it was, however, soon afterwards restored, and continued in all its original magnificence till the year 1568, when the Regent Morton directed the lead to be stripped off its roof, in order to pay his troops. From its exposure to the weather, it now began to decay; the wood-work of the great tower in time perished, and the foundation sinking, it fell in 1711. When entire the cathedral had five towers, two at the west end, two at the east, and one stately tower rising from the centre; it was a splendid cruciform structure in the decorated style of English architecture, 264 feet in length, and of proportionate breadth, and the central tower was 198 feet high. The remains consist partly of the walls and turrets of the choir; and the western towers, with the grand western entrance, are yet tolerably entire; but only a few fragments of the walls of the nave and transepts are standing. The chapterhouse, an octangular building nearly forty feet in diameter, with a richly-groined roof, supported on one central column, is still in good preservation. Of the college, which was an appendage of the cathedral, only the eastern gateway, with part of the wall by which it was inclosed, is now remaining, the episcopal palace and conventual buildings have all disappeared, and though enough is left to afford an idea of the style of this once stately structure, the ruins convey but a very imperfect memorial of its ancient grandeur and magnificence. By the laudable exertions of the barons of the exchequer of Scotland, and the commissioners of woods and forests of England, much of the accumulated rubbish has been removed, and many interesting details which had been long concealed have been brought to light. There are still some ruins of the church of a convent of Grey Friars, founded here by Alexander II.; and the site of the hospital of Maison Dieu may be traced in a field near the town. About six miles to the west of Elgin are the ruins of the abbey of Pluscardine, situated in the valley of that name; a considerable portion of the stone wall that inclosed it is yet remaining, and the dormitory, which has been roofed and restored in the original style, is fitted up as a place of worship for the inhabitants of the district. The remains are carefully preserved from further decay by the proprietor, the Earl of Fife; and the plantations which his lordship has formed in the immediate vicinity add greatly to the beauty of their appearance. On Lady hill is a monument to the memory of George, last duke of Gordon, who died in 1836. Elgin gives the title of Earl to the family of Bruce.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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