1902 Encyclopedia > Elgin (royal burgh; town), Scotland

Elgin (royal burgh; town)
Scotland




ELGIN, a royal and parliamentary burgh of Scotland, and the county town of the above county, which, from its having been once the see of a bishop, and occasionally the residence of the kings of Scotland, claims for itself the designation of a city. It occupies a sheltered situation on the banks of the small river Lossie, about five miles from where the latter enters the Moray Firth. From Edinburgh it is dis-tant by railway 200 miles, from Aberdeen 71, and from Inverness 36-J. Elgin has one main street about a mile in length, with several others running parallel or at right angles to it. Northwards across the Lossie is the suburb of Bishopmill, in a different parish, but within the parlia-mentary boundaries of the burgh. In the outskirts of Elgin proper, as well as in the neighbourhood of Bishopmill, are a large number of villas, most of them built within the last thirty years. On an eminence at the west end of the High Street stands Gray's Hospital, opened for the recep-tion of patients in 1819. It was built and is maintained out of the proceeds of a legacy of £24,000, bequeathed for the purpose by Alexander Gray, surgeon, H.E.I.C.S., a native of the town. The site of the old church of St Giles is occupied by the parish church, erected in 1828, at an expense of aearly £9000. At the eastern extremity of High Street is Anderson's Institution, " for the education of youth and the support of old age," opened in 1833. This building cost nearly £12,000. Its founder, the son of a poor woman who cradled him among the ruins of the cathedral, rose from the ranks to.be a major-general in the service of the East India Company, and bequeathed for the erection and endowment of this institution £70,000. On the top of Ladyhill rises a column 80 feet high, surmounted by a statue of the last duke of Gordon in his robes as chancellor of Marischal College and University, Aberdeen. Along the High Street are many handsome modern struc-tures, erected mainly for business purposes, prominent among which are those belonging to various banking com-panies. Other public buildings and institutions are—the District Asylum, the Assembly Rooms, the Market Build-ings, the Burgh Court-house and the County Buildings, the Club-house and Reading-room, the Museum, and the Morayshire Union Poorhouse. The places of worship, besides the parish church,^ are the High and South Free churches, the Moss Street and South Street U.P. churches, the Congregational church, and the Episcopal, the Roman Catholic, and the Baptist chapels, all of them of recent date. Elgin is well supplied with schools, the old grammar school of the burgh being represented by the Elgin Academy. The ruins of the cathedral are situated at the east end of the town. In 1390, after it had stood 166 years, the " Wolfe of Badenoch," a natural son of King Robert II., having quarrelled with Bishop Barr, set fire to the splendid pile. The destruction thus wrought was repaired but slowly, owing in part to the lawless condition of the country in those days. After the Reformation, the lead was stripped from the roof in 1568 by order of the Privy Council, and shipped for Holland to be there sold. The building being thus exposed gradually yielded to the influence of the weather, and in 1711 the great central tower fell to the ground. It remained in a neglected state till about 1820, when it was taken possession of in the name of the Crown by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. The cathedral is now well inclosed, and every attention paid to

Ground-plan of Elgin Cathedral.





its preservation from further decay. Adjoining are the ruins of the town house of the bishops of Moray, whose official residence was Spynie Palace, situated about three miles to the north. The Museum, already mentioned, contains, besides objects from various parts of the world, a very complete collection illustrating the natural history and antiquities of the county, chiefly formed through the zeal and activity of a band of local workers.

The trade of Elgin is largely connected with its weekly and other markets. It has, however, two woollen manufactories, a tanwork, one or two small iron foundries, tw<i breweries, and some other industrial establishments. Its port is Lossiemouth, with which it is connected by railway, but it has likewise railway communication with Burghead. The railway from Aberdeen to Inverness passes the town, and a branch line strikes off southwards here that traverses Strathspey. There are several newspapers, one of which is published twice a week ; and, besides a circulating library and book clubs, Elgin has a literary and scientific society in connection with the Museum. Attracted by early associations, by the salubrity of its climate, or by other advantages it enjoys, not a few gentlemen of independent means make it their home. The municipal corporation of the burgh and city of Elgin consists of a provost, 4 bailies, and 12 councillors ; and, along with Banff, Cullen, Inverurie, Kintore, and Peterhead, it returns one member to the imperial parliament. Population in 1871, 7340 ; parliamentary constituency in 1877-8, 918.

The first notice we have of Elgin carries us hack beyond the middle of the 12th century. In a charter granted by David I. to a priory in its neighbourhood, it is referred to as "my burgh of Elgin." Certain privileges bestowed on its citizens by this king were afterwards confirmed and extended by his grandson, "William the Lion, who seems to have oftener than once held his court in its castle. William's son and successor, Alexander II., frequently resided there, and it was in his reign that it became an episcopal city. When Edward I. of England entered Scotland in the year 1296 at the head of his army, he marched northwards as far as Elgin, where he remained some days. The town or city must then have been a place of considerable importance. Its castle, the ruins of which are still to be seen on a green mound near its western boundary, called Ladyhill, was one of the seats of Scottish royalty. Beneath this fortress, and commanded by it, ran the single street— now High Street—that formed the ancient town, with the East and West Ports at either end. Two short lanes branching off near its centre led to the North and South Ports respectively. At one time these four Ports were no doubt connected by some defensive works. About half-way between the East and West Ports, stood a church dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of Elgin, and sur-rounded by a graveyard. A little to the west of this church was the Tolbooth. There is evidence that the clergy and landed proprietors of the town and neighbourhood had even then residences within the limits of the town. But its glory was its noble cathe-dral, founded in 1224 by Bishop Andrew Moray, and declared by Billings to have been '' the most stately and the most beauti-fully decorated of all the ecclesiastical edifices of the country." Clustered round the cathedral were the deanery, and the manses and gardens of the canons,—the whole constituting the " College," and inclosed by a stone wall 20 feet high and 6 feet thick. Among its other ecclesiastical buildings were two monasteries, one of black and the other of grey friars, and a chapel to the Virgin connected with the castle. The Reformation, by stripping Elgin of its ecclesiastical honours, greatly reduced its influence. It con-tinued, however, till towards the close of the last century to be the winter residence of the chief landowners of the district, some of whom lived in houses surrounded by large gardens, others in mansions fronting the street and resting on squat pillars and arches. A characteristic specimen of the latter is shown by Billings in his Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland. The merchant gentlemen of the town, some of whom carried on a very extensive import and export trade in all sorts of commodities, occupied dwellings of the same class, while the humbler burgesses lived in smaller houses, whose crow-stepped gables were turned to the main street. With the change that, owing to various influences came over the social habits of the upper classes in the course of the last century, the importance of Elgin was a second time threatened, but when the agricultural resources of the country began to be more fully developed, its position as the centre of one of the most fertile districts of Scotland gave a new impetus to its prosperity.





See Shaw's History of tlie Province of Moray, Edinburgh, 1775 ; A Survey of the Province of Moray, Aberdeen, 1798 ; Rhind's Sketches of the Past and Present State of Moray, Edinburgh, 1839 ; Dr James Taylor's Edward I. in the North of Scotland (privately printed), Elgin, 1858 ; Dunbar's Social Life in Former Days, chiefly in the Province of Moray, 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1865-66; Morayshire Described, Elgin, 1868. (J. M'D.)




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