Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Elgin

Elgin a city and royal burgh, and the county town Of Elginshire, is one of the brightest and most picturesque little towns in Scotland. It is situated on the right bank of the river Lossie in the NE end of the parish of Elgin, and includes within the municipal and parliamentary boundaries small portions of the parishes of Spynie and St Andrews-Lhanbryd. It has a station on the Highland railway, and is the terminus of the Craigellachie and Lossiemouth sections of the Great North of Scotland railway system. It will also be the terminus of the new extension of that system westward from Portsoy by Cullen and Buckie to Elgin, the bill for the construction of which has recently (1882) passed through Parliament. It is by rail 5 miles SSW of its seaport, Lossiemouth, 12¾ NNW of Craigellachie, 18 WNW of Keith, 37 ENE of Inverness, 12 ENE of Forres, 71 ¼ NW by W of Aberdeen, 178 N of Edinburgh viâ Dunkeld and Forres (187 ¼ viâ Aberdeen), and 194 NNE of Glasgow viâ Forres (223 ¼ viâ Aberdeen). The main part of the city lies along a low ridge running E and W, and sloping gently to the S; and this, as well as the adjacent lower land on which the rest of the town is built, is shut in and sheltered on all sides by wellwooded rising-grounds approaching close to the town, and by their protection greatly assisting the sandy and porous subsoil in producing the mild and healthy climate which the citizens enjoy. Much of the scenery in the neighbourhood is extremely beautiful, especially the wooded districts to the W and N, known as the Oakwood and Quarrywood, and along the banks of the Lossie; while the surrounding district is so fertile, that the inhabitants delight, and justly so, in claiming for the environs of their ancient city the distinguished appellation of 'the Garden of Scotland.'

The origin of the name is lost, and though many conjectures have been made, most of them are somewhat unsatisfactory. The derivation that finds most favour is one that takes its rise from the legend on the corporation seal (Sigillum commune civitatis de Helgyn), and from the spelling Helgyn it is argued that the place has received its name from Helgy, a general of the army of Sigurd, the Norwegian Earl of Orkney, who about 927 overran Caithness, Ross, Sutherland, and Moray, and who may possibly have formed a settlement here; but the town is noticed in 1190, in the Chartulary of Moray, with the name spelled Elgin as at present, which seems to be against this. Be that as it may, both name and town are very old, for we find that at an early period Elgin was a place of note, and a favourite and frequent royal residence, probably on account of the excellent hunting which was to be had in the neighbouring royal forests. Nor did the royal visits altogether cease till the middle of the 16th century. Edward I., in his progress through the North in 1296, turned back at Elgin, after staying for two days in its royal castle. He also passed through it in 1303, when he lived for some weeks at Kinloss Abbey, 10 miles to the W. Again, in 1457, James II., having resumed possession of the Earldom of Moray, which had been held by one of his foes the Douglases, and being minded to bestow it on his infant son, came down to set things in order, and was so charmed by the country that he stayed for some time and hunted, and often dwelt at one of the cathedral manses, which used to stand at what is now the NE corner of King Street. James IV. also paid it a visit in 1490, and Queen Mary is said to have also been in the neighbourhood. It was a royal burgh in the reign of David I., and received from Alexander II. a royal charter, which is still carefully preserved. About the same time that the city received this royal charter, it also became the cathedral seat of the great bishopric of Moray, for in 1224 Bishop Andrew de Moravia settled his episcopal see-which had hitherto been unfixed, and sometimes at Birnie, sometimes at Spynie, sometimes at Kinneddar-permanently at the Church of the Holy Trinity at Elgin; and to this it owes the peculiar character which it had almost unaltered down to the beginning of the present century, and which it still, though to a very slight degree, retains. It bore, and still bears, a strong resemblance to St Andrews-a likeness which is to be attributed to the circumstance of its having been, like that ecclesiastical metropolis, the seat of an important and wealthy see, and the residence of a numerous band of dignified ecclesiastics and affluent provincial gentry, drawn together here as to a common centre of attraction. Many of the quaint old houses remained till a recent period, and a few (not the most characteristic specimens) are still standing, although, just as in Edinburgh and elsewhere, the ancient mansion-houses were long since 'handed down' to artisans and others in the lower ranks of life. Though a new town has sprung up, and the old has in a measure 'cast its skin,' and has thus become almost entirely renovated, yet the period is by no means remote when Elgin wore the antiquated, still, and venerable aspect which so well befits the habits and harmonises with the repose of genuine ecclesiastics in the full enjoyment of an intellectual 'otium cum dignitate.' Till little more than sixty years ago the town consisted of one main street running from E to W, with narrow streets, lanes, or closes striking off from each side at right angles, like ribs from a spine. The houses that lined the sides of the long main street, as it then existed, were of venerable age, with high-pitched roofs, overlaid with heavy slabs of priestly grey, presenting to the street the fore-stair and an open piazza, consisting of a series of pillared arches in the front wall over the entrance to a paved and sheltered court within, in which, as well as in his humbler small dark shop or cellar, was the ancient merchant wont at times, with a perfect sense of security, to leave his goods and walk unceremonionsly off- 'his half-door on the bar' - to breakfast, dinner, or his evening stroll. The piazzas are all long since gone, and only a very few of the houses in which they were now remain, though several of the pillars and arches are yet to be seen. The last house that had the piazza open was Elchies House, a most picturesque specimen of the old burgh architecture, which was removed in 1845 to make way for the buildings occupied by the Caledonian Banking Company, and quite recently the best of the remaining examples was removed to make way for the block of buildings on the N side of High Street immediately to the W of the Royal Bank. A fine stone mantelpiece, which was in the old house, has found a position of honour in the new building, and so also have the quaint gablets over the windows on the attic floor. The dates of their erection and the names of their proprietors were usually inscribed upon the lintels of these ancient domiciles, and here and there might be seen carved one of those religions quotations which the taste of the 16th century so much delighted in, and with which our Reformation forefathers saluted those who crossed their thresholds. The pavement was an ancient causeway, which tradition modestly reports to have been the work of Cromwell's soldiers, though most likely it was many ages older. It rose high in the middle, and the 'crown of the causeway,' where the higher-minded folks delighted to parade, was elevated, and distinguished by a row of huge stone blocks, while those of a more moderate size occupied the sloping sides. The drains, which ran along the street, were crossed rectangularly by the common gutter, which passed immediately to the E of the Commercial Bank, and carried all the surface sewage of the western part of the town to an open ditch at the Borough Brigs. In heavy rains it often swelled into a rapid stream of considerable size. There were no side pavements till the Earl of Fife, aided by the citizens and the road-trustees, introduced them in 1821. About the centre of the town the street then, as now, widened out at the point where stand the parish church and the water-fountain, and the centre of the wider space was occupied by the old church of St Giles and the Tolbooth.

St Giles, or 'the Muckle Kirk' -the old parish church -was pulled down in the end of 1826 to make way for the present parish church. It was a very old building, so old indeed that there is no record of its first erection, but it was older than the cathedral, and was very early mentioned as a parsonage. There is little doubt that the centre tower-a square heavy mass without a steeple -was as old as the 12th century. It was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of the city, said to be one of the early missionaries from Iona. In the palmy days of the cathedral's glory it was in the bishop's pastoral charge. The form of the church was that of -a Greek cross, with nave, choir, and transepts. The nave had two rows of massive pillars, surmounted by arches; its roof outside was covered with heavy slabs of hewn stone. The principal entrance was a large door in the W end, over which was a handsome three-light window. In the middle of the 16th century it had altars belonging to the different incorporated trades, who also maintained a chaplain, but at the Reformation these were all swept away, and there were lofts or galleries erected for the various incorporatetins, possibly above the sites of the old altars, and probably about the same time the nave and the choir were separated, and the former became what was known as ' the Muckle Kirk,' while the latter formed 'the Little Kirk.' The timber that supported the roof of heavy freestone slabs over the Muckle Kirk having become decayed, the whole of the roof fell-providentially between services-on Sunday, 22 June 1679, the same day on which the battle of Bothwell Bridge was fought, and the whole of the western part of the fabric was destroyed. The rebuilding began the following year, and was finished in 1684, when two long aisles, one on each side, were added, and the church was reseated after the Presbyterian fashion. The massive oak pulpit, which cost at that time £244 Scots, is still to be seen in the church at Pluscarden. It has some curious carved work about it, and even yet bears the old iron rim for the baptismal basin, while the iron sandglass holder lies close by. Both are specimens of characteristic twisted iron work. Although the interior of the Muckle Kirk,-with its rows of massive sandstone pillars running along the aisles and topped by high-peaked arches; with its beams of wood, from which were hung by strong iron chains massive brass chandeliers; with its old pulpit and curious galleries, and with its walls hung from place to place with the coats of arms of the principal heritors, or with black boards setting forth the charity and brotherly kindness of those who had

Mortified their cash,
To mortify their heirs,

and bequeathed sums of money to be managed by the kirk - session for the benefit of the poor, -possessed a dignity and grandeur of no common order, its exterior was not at all rich in architectural display, but yet everything connected with it was held in such veneration by the citizens that its demolition caused a general feeling of deep regret, if not dismay, which the unequivocal symptoms of decay and the impending danger of a repetition of the accident of 1679 did not at all diminish. The original transepts were removed about 1740, and the Little Kirk was so ruinous that it had to be demolished in 1800.

The old Tolbooth stood to the W of St Giles, and down to 1716 must have been a very primitive sort of erection, for in 1600 the building had a thatched roof, as is testified by the entry in the town's records: 'Item, £3, 6s. 8d. for fog to theck the Tolbooth.' In 1605 a new one was erected, 'biggit wt stanes frae ye kirkyard dyke, and sclaited wt stanes frae Dolass;' but it was burned in 1701, and the new one, begun in 1709 and finished in 1716 or 1717, was used as court-house, council-room, and prison, and remained in use till 1843. It had a massive square tower, with a round corner turret and a clock and bell. The bell now hangs between the burgh and county buildings, and the works of the clock are in the museum. In the museum is also preserved the lintel of the doorway, with the very suggestive motto, 'Suum euique tribue.' The 'Muckle Cross' was near the E end of the old church of St Giles, but is now also numbered with the things that were, the site it occupied being marked by two rows of paving-stones, laid so as to form a cross. The cross itself was 'a hexagonal pillar of dressed ashlar, 12 feet high, and large enough to contain a spiral stair. Around its base was a stone seat. From the top of the pillar rose a shaft of stone, surmounted by the Scottish lion rampant, and the initials (C. R.) of King Charles II.' The 'Little Cross' still stands near the E end of the town, opposite the Museum, and not far from an old house, originally with a piazza, and at one time the place of business of Duff of Dipple, an ancestor of the Earl of Fife. It is supposed to mark the western limit of the chanonry or precincts of the cathedral, and to occupy the site of a cross erected with part of the money paid in 1402 by Alexander, third son of the Lord of the Isles, in compensation for his having, when on a raid, attacked and plundered the chanonry of Elgin. The present shaft of the Little Cross is not, however, older than the 17th century. The cathedral precinct was surrounded by a wall about 12 feet in height and from 6 to 8 feet in thickness, of run lime work. A small part of it at the E gate or Pann's Port still exists, and a considerable portion, extending across the field to the SW of Pann's Port, was removed so late as 1866. Of the three gates, which were each defended by a portcullis, the Pann's Port is the only one remaining. The town itself seems also to have at one time had some defence, possibly a pallisade, for there was a gate near the W end, called the West Port, close to West Park; a second, about the middle of Lossie Wynd, called the Lossie Wynd Port; a third, at the S end of Commerce Street, called from the old name of the street the School Wynd Port; and a fourth, in South College Street, close to the Bied House, called the East Port. These gates were all removed in the latter part of last century, and were probably erected when the town and its approaches were restored after the destruction caused by the Wolf of Badenoch. They must certainly have been of later date than the 15th century, for there is a persistent tradition that previous to the Douglas troubles in the middle of the 15th century the old church of St Giles stood at the extreme E end of the town, and there were buildings extending westward along the ridge by Gray's Hospital and Fleurs, as far as the knoll (now ½ mile from the city), called the Gallow Hill. In 1452, in the struggle against the 'banded Earls,' the contest was carried on in the North between the Earl of Hurtle and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray. After the battle of Breech and the defeat of the Earl of Crawfurd, Hurtle started in pursuit of the Earl of Moray, who had been raiding in Strathbogie, and pursued him beyond Elgin, till he took up a strong position on the heights above Pluscarden. Halting at Elgin, * and finding that part of the town was inhabited by those favourable to the Douglas cause, and the other part by those favourable to himself, he burned the whole of the former portion, and hence the proverb, 'Half done as Elgin was half burned.' Huntly's men having, however, scattered in search of plunder, Douglas attacked them, and drove them into the Bog of Dunkinty, to the NW of the cathedral, where some 400 or 500 of them perished, and this gave rise to the jeering rhyme:

Oh where are your men,
Thou Gordon so gay ?
In the Bog of Dunkinty,
Mowing the hay.

It is said that the part then burned was the western half, and that it was never rebuilt, but that the new buildings were erected to the E beyond St Giles, and so the town was continued eastward in the direction of the cathedral. This Archibald Douglas seems-though Lady Hill still belongs to the Earl of Moray-to have been the last constable of the royal castle of Elgin, which stood on the flattened summit of the Lady Hill, a conical-shaped eminence near the W end of High Street. The ruins of the Castle are all that remain of the oldest building in connection with Elgin. From its isolated and commanding position Lady Hill no doubt attracted the attention of our rude ancestors at a very early period. It was a place of importance, and probably fortified with earthworks, in the time of the Celtic Mormaers of Moray. The ruins still existing are those of walls faced with rough ashlar (now, alas, nearly all gone), and backed with run lime work, and date from the time of David I., for Elgin is mentioned as a king's burgh in his reign, and must therefore have had a royal castle at that time. Malcolm IV. mentions it in a charter granted in 1160, and it is again referred to in a deed granted by William the Lyon. Both David and William held their courts here, as also did Alexander II. and Alexander III.; and Wyntonn records numerous visits of the former to Elgin. Edward I. resided in the Castle during his two days' stay at Elgin in 1296; and in the journal of his proceeding, preserved in the Cottonian MSS., it is described as 'bon chastell et bonne ville,' or 'a good castle and a good town.' It probably suffered, however, in the few following years, for some of the wooden apartments in the interior of the place were burned while it was held by the English governor (Henry de Rye), and, accordingly, when Edward returned in 1303, it was not seemingly considered a fitting residence for him. From this time it ceased to be a royal or even a baronial residence, but still continued to possess its keep, chapel, and probably its storehouses, and it no doubt was maintained as a fort, and perhaps used as a prison for at least a century and a half afterwards; but after the forfeiture of the Douglases the buildings were neglected, and fell rapidly into decay. The works seem to have occupied the greater portion of the flat part on the top of the hill, which measures about 85 yards in length by 45 in breadth. It is difficult to form any idea of the plan of the buildings, but there seems to have been a strong outer wall and a massive keep. There seem also to have been an outer and an inner court, and a circular depression near the NW angle of the remains of the keep is said to mark the draw-well. There were gates to both the E and the W, the latter being the chief one. From some points of view Lady Hill looks as if a smaller hill had been set down on the top of a larger, and for this tradition has assigned a reason. An earlier castle stood at a lower level, but the 'pest' having appeared, hung over it for some time as a dark blue cloud, which was by some means induced to settle, and then the inhabitants gathering, covered the Castle and all its inmates deep under a fresh mound of earth, which now constitutes the upper part of the hill.

-'the Castle in a single night
With ail its inmates sunk quite out of sight;
There at the midnight hour is heard the sound
Of various voices talking under ground;
The rock of cradles-wailing infants' cries,
And nurses singing soothing lullabies.

In 1858 excavations were made on the top of the hill by the Elgin Literary and Scientific Association, but nothing of any importance was discovered. On the top of the hill now stands a Tuscan column erected by subscription by the inhabitants of the county in 1839 to the memory of the last Duke of Gordon. A stair leads up the shaft, and from the top a very extensive view may be obtained. The statue of the duke is 12 feet high, and was placed on the top in 1855. The can non close by is one of those captured at Sebastopol, and was presented to the city of Elgin by the War Office in 1858. The hill takes its name-Lady Hill-from the chapel in the Castle, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and a spring in the neighbourhood to the westward- deep-seated, and very cool in summer-is still known as Mary Well, no doubt for the same reason. The flat ground immediately to the N of Lady Hill, and lying between it and the river Lossie, is known as Blackfriars Haugh. It was formerly the site of a monastery, of the Dominicans or Black Friars, which was founded by Alexander II., when the order was first introduced into Scotland in his reign. No account of the building nor of anything connected with it now remains, nor is any trace of it left, though some parts of the ruins were in existence up to the middle of last century. There was a monastery of the Franciscans or Greyfriars near the E end of the town. The original buildings founded also by Alexander II. stood on the ground now occupied by the garden of Dunfermline Cottage, on the S side of High Street, at the Little Cross, but this structure fell into decay in the beginning of the 15th century between 1406 and 1414, and the new buildings which stand on the S side of Greyfriars Street, in the ground to the E of Abbey Street, were erected. A dovecot and some ruins of the older building remained till the beginning of the present century, when they were demolished, and the stones used in the erection of the present garden walls of Dunfermline Cottage. Of the newer buildings extensive remains still exist. The walls of the church are pretty entire, though the roof fell about the middle of the last century, or perhaps earlier, for now an ash tree, which measures 4 feet in circumference, grows through one of the windows. Part of the monastery walls form part of the modern mansion-house of Greyfriars. The church was the meeting-place of the trades from 1676 till about 1691. Still further to the E, on a field now feued by the trustees of Anderson's Institution as a play-field, stood the Maison Dieu, or House of God, a foundation dating also from the time of Alexander II., and largely endowed by Bishop Andrew de Moravia for the reception of poor men and women. It was burned by the Wolf of Badenoch at the same time as the cathedral in 1390, and was never rebuilt. After the Reformation the revenues belonging to it, which had reverted to the Crown, were, by a charter dated 1620, granted to the 'Provost, Bailies, Councillors, and community of Elgin,' to support poor and needy persons, to maintain a teacher of music, and to increase the common revenue of the burgh. The support of the poor and needy persons is carried out by the Bied House, in South College Street, in which 4 poor men reside, each of whom has a small house, a strip of garden, and £12, 10s. a year. The original building was erected in 1624, but this structure having become ruinous was pulled down, and the present one erected in 1846. The tablet from the old house, with a representation of an old style Bied-man, and the inscription 'Hospitalinm Burgi de Elgin per idem conditum, 1624,' and the text, 'Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble,' has been built into the gablet over the doorway of the new building. There was a Leper House farther to the E, on the opposite side of the road, but the only trace of it remaining is the name given to the fields, viz., 'the Leper Lands.' Still farther to the E, close to the point where the Aberdeen road crosses the Lossiemouth railway, is a pool, till recently of considerable depth, known as 'the order Pot,' a name corrupted most probably from the ordeal Pot, and the place where presumptive witches underwent the ordeal by water. lt. may have also been the place where criminals sentenced to be put to death by drowning (as was sometimes the case) were executed, and was probably the only remaining specimen of such a 'pit.' In Rhind's Sketches of Moray there is a long account of the death of a supposed witch by drowning at this place. Traditionally it was supposed to be bottomless, but in the course of years the amount of rubbish thrown into it materially diminished its size, and within the last year it has been numbered with the things that were, and it will therefore no longer be possible that the old prophecy that

The order Pot and Lossie grey
Shall sweep the Chan'ry Kirk away,

attributed to Thomas the Rhymer, can be fulfilled.

The crowning glory of old Elgin, as of the modern city, is the Cathedral, still grand, though but a ruin and a shadow of what once was, when the cathedral church of the diocese of Moray was not only 'the lantern of the north,' but also, as Bishop Bur states so plaintively in his letter to the King, complaining of the destruction caused by the Wolf of Badenoch, 'the ornament of the district, the glory of the kingdom, and the admiration of foreigners.' 'It is,' says Chambers in his Picture of Scotland, 'an allowed fact, which the ruins seem still to attest, that this was by far the most splendid specimen of ecclesiastical architecture in Scotland, the abbey church of Melrose not excepted. It must be acknowledged that the edifice last mentioned is a wonderful instance of symmetry and elaborate decoration; yet in extent, in loftiness, in impressive magnificence, and even in minute decoration, Elgin has been manifestly superior. Enough still remains to impress the solitary traveller with a sense of admiration mixed with astonishment., Shaw in his description of it does not hesitate to say that 'the church when entire was a building of Gothic architecture inferior to few in Europe.' At a period, 'observes Mr Rhind, 'when the country was rude and uncultivated, when the dwellings of the mass of the people were mere temporary huts, and even the castles of the chiefs and nobles possessed no architectural beauty, and were devoid of taste and ornament, the solemn grandeur of such a pile, and the sacred purposes with which it was associated, must have inspired an awe and a reverence of which we can form but a faint conception. The prevailing impulse of the religion of the period led its zealons followers to concentrate their whole energies in the erection of such magnificent structures; and while there was little skill or industry manifested in the common arts of life, and no associations for promoting the temporal comforts of the people, the grand conceptions displayed in the architecture of the Middle Ages, the taste and persevering industry, and the amount of wealth and labour bestowed on these sacred edifices find no parallel in modern times. When entire, indeed, and in its pristine glory, the magnificent temple must have afforded a splendid spectacle. A vast dome, extending from the western entrance to the high altar, a length of 289 feet, with its richly ornamented arches crossing and recrossing each other to lean for support on the double rows of stately massive pillars- the mellowed light streaming through the richly stained windows, and flickering below amid the dark shadows of the pointed aisles, while the tapers of the altars twinkled through the rolling clouds of incense -the paintings on the walls-the solemn tones of the chanted mass, and the gorgeous dresses and imposing processions of a priesthood sedulous of every adjunct to dazzle and elevate the fancy, must have deeply impressed a people in a remote region with nothing around them, or even in their uninformed imaginations, in the slightest degree to compare with such splendour. No wonder that the people were proud of such a structure, or that the clergy became attached to it. It was a fit scene for a Latin author of the period, writing on the' 'tranquillity of the soul,'' to select for his Temple of Peace, and under its walls to lay the scene of his philosophical dialogues.' It has been already noted that the early cathedral of the diocese was at Birnie, Kinneddar, or Spynie. This practice seems to have answered for a time, for though the bishopric of Moray was founded by Alexander I. shortly after his accession (1107), it was not till 1203 that 'Bricius the sixth bishop made application to Pope Innocent III. to have a fixed cathedral, and the Pope ordered that the cathedral should be fixed at Spynie,' which probably led to the foundation of what afterwards developed into the Bishop's Palace at that place. [See Spynie.] Bricius died in 1222, and his successor, Bishop Andrew de Moravia, coming in the reign of Elgin's great benefactor, Alexander II., and having obtained from him an extensive site on the banks of the Lossie, made in 1223 fresh application to Pope Honorius, representing the solitary unprotected site of the cathedral, and its distance from market, and praying that it might be translated to Elgin as a more suitable place, and there settled at the church of the Holy Trinity, a little to the NE of the town, adding as an additional reason that the change was desired, not only by the chapter, but also by the King. The Pope readily consented, and on 10 April 1224 issued a bull directed to the Bishop of Caithness, the Abbot of Kinloss, and the Dean of Ross, empowering them to make the desired change if they should see fit; and these dignitaries, having met at Elgin on 19 July 1224, ` appointed the said church of the Holy Trinity to be the cathedral church of the diocese of Moray, and so to remain in all time coming; ' and on the same day the foundationstone of the cathedral was laid with all due pomp and ceremony. Bishop Andrew de Moravia lived for eighteen years after, and therefore carried the building far towards completion, if he did not, as is most likely, actually finish it. Of this first building probably now little, if any, part is left, for it is recorded by Forerun under the year 1270, that the cathedral of Elgin and the houses of the canons were burned, whether by accident or design he does not say. Part of the walls of the S transept seems somewhat different in structure and design from the rest of the building, and may possibly belong to the earlier building. The ruins now standing probably then date from a period immediately subsequent to this, and then arose that grand structure which the Chartulary of Moray describes as the 'mirror of the country and the glory of the kingdom;' which Bower in his continuation of Forerun calls 'the glory of the whole land;' which Buchanan terms 'the most beautiful of all which then existed in Scotland;' and of which, in still later times, Mr Billings has written that for size and ornament, as its lovely and majestic fragments still indicate, it must have been unmatched. Stately as it was, it was doomed to still farther misfortune, for in 1390 it was again destroyed and burned by the Earl of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, son of Robert II., and best known as the Wolf of Badenoch. The Wolf having seized some of the church lands in Badenoch was excommunicated, and in his ire descended on the low country in 1390, and in May burned the town of Forres with the choir of the church and the manse of the archdeacon. In June he followed this up by coming to Elgin and burning a considerable part of the town of Elgin, the church of St Giles, the Hospital of Maison Dieu, the official residences of the clergy in the chanonry, and the cathedral itself. This sacrilegions outburst of the Earl of Badenoch and his 'wyld, wykked Heland-men,' as Wyntonn calls them, was too great to be overlooked, even though the aggressor was the King's son, and Bishop Bur sent a very plaintive appeal to the King for aid and reparation, and the Wolf was at last compelled to yield, when 'on condition that he should make satisfaction to the bishop and church of Moray, and obtain absolution from the Pope,' he was absolved by the Bishop of St Andrews in the Blackfriars Church at Perth. In spite of the old age and feebleness of Bishop Bur, he pressed on the rebuilding of the church energetically, and this was continued by his successors, Bishops Spynie and Innes, and even at the death of the latter the structure was not finished, for at the meeting of chapter held to elect his successor, the canons agreed that whichever of them was elected bishop, should appropriate a third of the revenues of the See for building purposes, until the cathedral was completed. Mr Billings thinks that the amount of destruction caused by the Wolf of Badenoch was very much overrated; 'the pointed arches,' he says, 'and their decorations are a living testimony that he had not so ruthlessly carried out the work of destruction; and there is every reason to believe that the portions which have since gradually crumbled away are the inferior workmanship of the 15th and 16th centuries, while the solid and solemn masonry of the 13th still remains.' The immense amount of destruction accomplished, however, may be best estimated when we consider the long period during which the reconstruction had to be carried on-for the Wolf's raid was in 1390, and Bishop Innes died in 1414, and the rebuilding was not then completed; and this notwithstanding the fact that the See was a wealthy one, and that no doubt a considerable portion of the revenue was devoted to the building. Even as it was some of the work does not seem to have been very good, for in 1506 the great central tower which stood at the intersection of the nave, choir, and transepts, either fell or showed such signs of impending disaster that it had to be taken down. It reached to a height of 198 feet (including the spire), and must have been a stately structure, for the rebuilding, though begun in 1507, was not completed till 1538, and from that time till the Reformation the structure remained perfect. In 1568, however, the privy council, hard pressed by their necessities, appointed the Earl of Hurtle Sheriff of Aberdeen and Elgin, with some others, 'to take the lead from the cathedral churches of Aberdeen and Elgin, and sell the same' for the maintenance of Regent Moray's soldiers. The vessel freighted with the metal had, however, scarcely left the harbour of Aberdeen on her way to Holland, where the plunder was to be sold, when she sank with all her cargo. From that time onward the cathedral, on which so much care and thought had been spent, was long left exposed to the ravages of wind and weather. In 1637 the rafters of the choir, which had been standing without cover, were blown down, and in 1640 Gilbert Ross, minister of Elgin, 'with the assistance of the young laird of Innes, the laird of Brodie, and others, all ardent Covenanters,' broke down the carved screen and woodwork inside, and destroyed it. In the presbytery records it is minuted on 24 Nov. 1640 that 'that day Mr Gilbert Ross regreatted in Presbyterie the imagerie in the rood loft of the Chanrie Kirk, yerfor the moderator and the said Mr Gilbert was appointed to speak to my Lord of Murray for demolishing yrof.' The 'demolishing' was carried out on 28 Dec., and Spalding, who records the circumstance, tells also that the minister was anxious to use the timber for firewood, but that every night the kindling log went out, and so the attempt was given up. The tracery of the W window is said to have been destroyed between 1650 and 1660 by a party of Cromwell's soldiers. The walls remained pretty entire down to 1711, when on Easter Sunday the foundations of the great central tower gave way, and the structure falling to the westward, destroyed the whole of the nave of the building and part of the transepts. The mass of rubbish became at once a 'prey to every needy adventurer in want of stones to build a dyke, a barn, or a byre,' till 1807, when, through the exertions of Mr Joseph King of Newmill, a wall was built round the churchyard, and a keeper's house was erected. In 1816 the attention of the Barons of the Exchequer, who claim the walls and all the area within as belonging to the Crown, was called to the ruinous state of the buildings, which have been from that time onwards most diligently cared for by the Crown authorities. Some idea of the former condition of things may be formed when it is remembered that John Shanks, the first keeper, who was appointed to superintend the ruins in 1825, cleared out and disposed of 3000 barrow-loads of rubbish.

Like all the churches of the time, the cathedral stood E and W, and had the form of a Jerusalem or Passion Cross. The principal entrance was at the W end, between two lofty square towers. On each side of the nave was a double aisle. The aisle on the S side of the chancel, which is known as St Mary's aisle, is still pretty entire, and so is the chapter-house, which stands near the angle between the N transept and the chancel. The great centre tower rose at the intersection of the nave, choir, and transepts. The western towers, which are still pretty entire, rise to the height of 84 feet. The communication between the different floors was by means of circular stairs in one of the angles in each tower. The great entrance is in the wall between, and consists of a finely carved pointed arch, 24 feet high, which again divides into two pointed doorways. The ornamented space between, at the top, is said to have contained a statue of the Virgin, and the other niches may have been for statues of some of the saints. Above this is the great pointed western window, 28 feet high, which must at one time have been filled with elaborate tracery, but so completely did Cromwell's men do their work, that of this now not a scrap remains. The great gateway is entered by a flight of steps, and leads to the nave, where the numerous and splendid processions used to take place, while the multitudes who witnessed them were present in the aisles at the sides, which were separated from the nave by rows of stately pillars rising up to support the roof. Pillars and roof are nowalike gone, and only the bases of the former remain. Between the nave and the choir, where the rites were performed, stood the pillars that supported the walls of the great central tower, and on each side were the transepts. The choir extended eastward to the high altar, beyond which was the Lady Chapel. The S aisle and transept were dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, and the N aisle to St Thomas à Bucket, the martyr. The crossing was separated from the choir by a screen, on the E side of which was a painting representing the Day of Judgment, and on the W was a representation of the Crucifixion. This was destroyed in 1646, as has been already noticed, by some zealons Reformers. Spalding records it as very wonderful, that although the screen had been standing exposed to the weather from the time of the Reformation, 'and not a whole window to save the same from storm, snow, sleet, and wet,' yet the painting 'was so excellently done that the colours and stars had never faded, but kept whole and sound.' Some remains of painting may still be traced on the arch of the recess in St Mary's aisle, over the statue of Bishop John Winchester, who died in 1458. The high altar stood on the spot now occupied by the granite monument to the Rev. Lachlan Shaw, one of the ministers of the parish, and the first historian of the province of Moray. The altar was reached by an ascent of three steps, and must have been very strongly lighted, as the eastern gable immediately behind is pierced by two rows of slender lancet-headed windows, with five in each row, and these are again surmounted by the circular eastern window. The choir and the nave were also lighted by a double row of windows with pointed arches, the lower range being the largest, and both tiers ran along the whole extent of the church. The stonework intervening between the windows on both tiers was constructed so as to form a corridor round the whole building. The windows were filled with richly tinted glass, fragments of which have been found amongst the ruins. The chapter-house, attached to the northern cloister, is extremely elegant. It is later in style than the other parts of the building, and was probably built during the incumbency of one of the Bishop Stewarts, of whom there were three, in the latter part of the 15th century. At all events, there are on the roof three Stewart coats of arms. It is an octagon with an elaborately groined roof. The groins spring from the angles, meet at fine bosses, and again separate to reunite in the centre in the great 'Prentice' Pillar, which is 9 feet in circumference, and is a very beautiful specimen of the workmanship of the period. One side of the octagon is occupied by the door, and each of the other seven is pierced by a large window. In the interior, over the doorway, are five niches-a row of four and one by itself over. The four are said to have held statues of the four evangelists, while the solitary one above contained a figure of the Saviour, but this seems doubtful. Opposite the doorway is the niche reached by steps, where the throne of the bishop was placed, and the space on either side was occupied by the stalls of the dignitaries who sat in council with him. The chapter-house is richly ornamented with sculptured figures, and it now also contains grotesque heads and various other fragments of carving, which have been found in clearing out the ruins. It is like all the choice portions of the ecclesiastical buildings of the Middle Ages, known as the 'Apprentice Aisle,' having been built, according to the curious but hackneyed legend, by an apprentice in the absence of his master, who from envy of its excellence murdered him on his return-a legend so general (See Roslin) that probably it never applied to any cathedral in particular, but originated in the mysticisms of those incorporations of Freemasons who in the Middle Ages traversed Europe, furnished with papal bulls, and ample privileges to train proficients in the theory and practice of masonry and architecture. On the E side of the entrance to the chapter-house is a small dark chamber which was used as a lavatory. It has an interesting association with General Anderson, who left the fortune with which the institution at the E end of the town, now known as Anderson's Institution, was built, for the stone basin here was his cradle. The dimensions of the cathedral are as follows:-length from E to W, including towers, 289 feet; breadth of nave and side aisles, 87 feet; breadth of choir including walls and aisles, 79 feet; length across transepts including walls, 120 feet; height of W towers, 84 feet; height of E turrets, 60 feet; height of middle tower, including spire, 198 feet; height of grand entrance, 24 feet; height of chapter- house, 34 feet; breadth of chapter-house, including walls, 37 feet; height of great western window, 27 feet; diameter of eastern circular window, 12 feet; height of side walls, 43 feet; breadth of side aisles, 18 feet. The chapter consisted of 22 canons, who resided within the chanonry or college, to the boundary-wall of which reference has already been made, and memorials of which appear in the names of North College Street and South College Street, as well as in the modern mansion-houses of North College and South College, the former being the residence of the Dean-whose memory is embalmed in the adjoining flat along the river known as Deanshaugh, and the bend beyond known as Dean's Crook-and the latter of the Sub-Dean. Duffus Manse and Unthank Manse-residences of the canons who were ministers of Duffus and Unthank-which stood at the N end of King Street, remained till the early part of the present century; the other 18 had disappeared long before. The canons were chosen from the clergy of the diocese and officiated in the cathedral, each receiving for his services over and above the revenues of his vicarage in the country parish, whence he was chosen, a manse and garden in the college, and a portion of land called a prebendum. The dignified clergy were the Dean, who was minister of Auldearn; the Archdeacon, who was minister of Forres; the Chanter, who was minister of Alves; the Treasurer, who was minister of Kinneddar; the Chancellor, who was minister of Inveraven; the Sub-Dean, who was minister of Dallas; and the Sub-Chanter, who was minister of Rafford. The Bishop had civil, criminal, and ecclesiastical courts and officers, and his power within his diocese-which comprehended the present counties of Moray and Nairn, and part of those of Aberdeen, Banff, and Inverness-was almost supreme. The first Bishop of Moray on record is Gregory, who held the See in the reign of Alexander I. and the beginning of that of David I. There were 28 Roman Catholic and 8 Protestant Bishops-the last of the former being Patrick Hepburn, an uncle of the notorious Earl of Bothwell. The Bishop's town residence, or the Bishop's Palace, as it is commonly called, stands close to the SW corner of the enclosing-wall of the cathedral. The northern part is supposed to have been erected by Bishop John Innes about 1406, but besides his initials it bears also the arms of one of the bishops of the name of Stewart, probably David. The S wing was built by Bishop Patrick Hepburn, and bears his arms and initials, with the date 1557. Soon after the Reformation it was granted by the Crown to Alexander Seton, Earl of Dunfermline, who lived a considerable time in it, and from whom it got the name of Dunfermline House. Probably the Bishops never lived much in it, as they had their principal residence at Spynie Castle.

The revenues of the bishopric were no doubt at first very limited, but by the bounty of successive kings, nobles, and private individuals, they afterwards became very ample. King William the Lyon was a liberal donor. At a very early period he granted to the See the tenth of all his returns from Moray. Grants of forests, lands, and fishings were also made by Alexander II., David II., and other sovereigns, besides the Earls of Moray, Fife, etc. The rental for the year 1563, as taken by the steward of the bishop, was £1649, 7s. 7d. (Scots), besides a variety of articles paid in kind. At this period, however, the revenue had been greatly dilapidated, particularly by Bishop Hepburn, and a large proportion of the church lands had been alienated, the full rents were not stated, and probably the rental then given did not amount to a third of the actual income in the flourishing period of the bishopric. The estates with the patronages belonging to the bishop remained vested in the Crown from the Reformation till 1590, when James VI. Assigned them to Alexander Lindsay, a son of the Earl of Crawford, and grandson of Cardinal Beaton, for payment of 10, 000 gold crowns which he had lent to his Majesty when in Denmark, Lindsay being at the same time created Baron Spynie. The King afterwards prevailed on Lord Spynie to resign the lands in order that they might be appropriated to the use of the Pro testant bishops of Moray, but the rights of patronage remained with the Spynie family till its extinction in 1671, when they were reassumed by the Crown as ultimus hœres. They were granted by charter in 1674 to James, Earl of Airlie, by whom they were disponed to the Marquis of Huntly in 1682.

The burying-ground about the cathedral contains many quaint and curious monuments, the inscriptions on some of the 17th and 18th century stones being particularly noteworthy. On one dated 1777 a husband records of his wife that

She was remarkable for
Exact, Prudent, Genteel Economy;
Ready. Equal Good Sence:
A Constant flow of cheerful Spirits;
An uncommon sweetness of natural temper;
A great warmth of Heart Affection,
And an early and continued piety.

And he adds that `strict justice demands this tribute to her memory.' On another, with the date 1687, are four very pointed lines

This world is a Citie full of streets,
And death is the mercat that ail men meets,
If lyfe were a thing that monie could buy,
The poor could not live and the rich would not die.

The stone coffin near the S entrance is said to have contained the body of King Duncan, previous to its removal and re-interment at Iona. St Mary's aisle was the burial-place of the Gordon family, the tomb in the E end being that of the first Earl of Huntly (date 1470). The blue slab in the NW corner marks the burial-place of some of the bishops, and the great blue slab in the chancel, close by, marks the grave of Bishop Andrew de Moravia, the founder of the cathedral. The granite monument to the Rev. Lachlan Shaw has been already mentioned. In a line with the wall of the chancel and of the N transept is an old Celtic pillar which was found in 1823 about 2 feet below the surface of the High Street, near the site of old St Giles Church. It is 6 feet long, 2 ½ broad, and 1 thick, but is evidently incomplete. On the obverse is a hunting party with men, horses, and hawks, and, on the reverse, is a cross covered with so-called Runic knots, and figures in the attitude of supplication. The arms of Elgin are Saint Giles in a pastoral habit holding a book in his right hand and a pastoral staff in his left. The motto is Sic itur ad astra.

The new parish church which stands in the centre of High Street is one of the most elegant structures in the north of Scotland. It was erected in 1828 at a cost of nearly £10, 000. The length, including walls, is 96 feet, the breadth 60 ½, and the height from floor to ceiling is 31 feet. It has at the W end a spacious portico, composed of six massive Doric fluted columns, surmounted by a pediment. At the E end is a tower, with clock and bells. The lower part of the tower is square, the upper circular, with six fine Corinthian pillars, with a slightly dome-shaped roof, and a finial. The whole rises to a height of 112 feet; and the upper part is a copy of the Choragic monument of Lysicrates. There is sitting accommodation for about 2000. There are two Free churches, two United Presbyterian churches, an Episcopal church, a Roman Catholic church, a Congregational church, a Baptist chapel, and a building in the occupation of the Plymouth Brethren. Each of the Free churches has a mission hall or children's church in connection with it. The Assembly Rooms, at the corner of High Street and North Street, were erected by the Trinity Lodge of Freemasons in 1821. They contain a large ball-room and supper-room. There is a public subscription reading-room on the ground-floor. The Elgin Club (1863) has a fine building in Commerce Street, with reading-room, billiard-room, and card-rooms. Near the 'Little Cross' is the Museum, belonging to the Elgin Literary and Scientific Association. It contains a number of interesting and curious objects, and among the fossils from the rocks of the neighbourhood are some specimens so rare that they are to be seen nowhere else. The Elgin Institution, at the E end of the town, was erected and endowed in 1832, from funds, amounting to £70, 000, bequeathed for the maintenance of aged men and women, and the maintenance and education of poor or orphan boys or girls, by Lieut. -General Andrew Anderson (17461824), who was cradled in the stone basin in the lavatory of the cathedral, and who rose from the position of a private soldier to the rank of Major-General in the Honourable East India Company's service. The style of the building is Grecian, and there is a central circular bell-tower and dome. Over the principal entrance to the N is a sculptured group, representing the founder, with one hand bestowing bread on an aged woman, and with the other holding a book before a boy and girl. There is accommodation provided for 50 children and 10 aged persons. The management is carried on by a house governor, a female teacher, and a matron. On leaving the institution at the age of fourteen, the boys are apprenticed to any trade or occupation they may desire, and during their apprenticeship have a yearly allowance. Attached to the institution is a free school for the education of children whose parents, though in narrow circumstances, are still able to maintain and clothe them. Standing at the opposite end of the town, Gray's Hospital is another memorial of the munificence of Elgin's sons. It was built and endowed from a fund of £26, 000, left by Dr Alexander Gray (1751-1808), a native of Elgin, who had acquired a large fortune while in the service of the East India Company. The hospital is intended for the relief of the sick poor of the town and county of Elgin. The building is a handsome erection, in the Grecian style, with a projecting portico of Doric columns on the eastern front, and a central dome which is seen for a long distance round. It forms a fine termination for High Street on the W. There is a resident physician, and two of the doctors in town visit the building daily. Immediately to the W of the hospital is the Elgin District Lunatic Asylum. It was originally built by voluntary assessment in 1834, but was greatly enlarged and improved in 1865, when it passed into the charge of the Lunacy Board. The Burgh Court-House (1841) and County Buildings (1866) stand on the S side of High Street a short distance W from the Little Cross. Both buildings are Italian in style, the former being very plain, while the latter has rusticated work along the lower part. The centre projects, and has eight Ionic columns, with frieze and cornice. The courtroom is 30 feet by 40. There are offices for the procuratorfiscal, the county-clerk, the town -clerk, and the sheriffclerk, as well as a room for Council meetings. There are two woollen manufactories close to the town - one at the E end - Newmill, and the other in Bishopmill. The chief textures made are plaids, tweeds, kerseys, and doublecloths. There is a brewery immediately to the E of the cathedral. There is a flour-mill at Kingsmills close by, and also a saw-mill; and there is a large saw-mill further to the S, near the Morayshire railway station. There are large nurseries at both ends of the town; and there is also a tan-work near the Lossie, on the N side. There is a gas supply and a water supply by gravitation, both now under the charge of the corporation. There is a market company, established in 1850, with buildings comprising a fish, beef, and vegetable market, a corn market hall, and a concert hall, which is let for concerts, lectures, and theatrical entertainments. There are a branch of the Bible Society, a literary and scientific association, two mason lodges, several cricket clubs, a curling club, a bowling club owning a fine bowling green, a boating club, a football club, and a horticultural society. There are six incorporated trades - the hammermen, the glovers, the tailors, the shoemakers, the weavers, and the square-wrights. Besides the Bied-House or Alms House already mentioned, there are a number of other charitable funds and mortifications. The Guildry divides an income of upwards of £400 a year for the benefit of decayed brethren, and of the widows and children of deceased members. The Guildry Society also manage the Braco and Laing's Mortifications. There is a charitable fund connected with the Incorporated Trades. There are a number of these trusts under the kirk-session, the chief being Petrie's; and a number under the management of the corporation, the chief being the Auchry Mortification. The Academy stands in Academy Street, near the centre of the town. There is a ` general school, ' mentioned in the Registrum Moraviense as early as 1489; and this was no doubt the same as the grammar school which we find mentioned in 1585, and which was then under the jurisdiction of the magistrates. In 1594 part of the funds arising from Maison Dieu were granted by the Crown for the support of a master to teach music, and a ` sang school' was established. The old grammar school stood near the top of Commerce Street, which was long known as the School Wynd. The schools were united when the present buildings were erected in 1800. The Academy was one of the eleven high-class schools scheduled in the Education Act of 1872, and then passed from the management of the Town Council to that of the School-Board. There are four masters for respectively, classics, mathematics, English, and modern languages. Bishopmill public, Elgin girls' public, West End public, Anderston's Free, and a Roman Catholic school, with respective accommodation for 178, 415, 200, 255, and 140 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 123, 298, 195, 195, and 77, and grants of £106, 4s. 6d., £252, 13s., £196, 3s. 6d., £170, 9s., and £58, 19s. 6d. There is also a private day school for boys and girls; and three ladies' boarding and day schools are well attended.

Elgin has a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Bank of Scotland and the British Linen Co., Caledonian, Commercial, North of Scotland, Royal, and Union Banks, a National Securities Savings' Bank, offices or agencies of 48 insurance companies, 5 hotels, and 1 newspaper - The Elgin Courant and Courier (1827), published every Tuesday and Friday. The chief courts for the county are held at Elgin. A weekly market is held on Friday. Cattle markets are held fortnightly on the second and last Friday of every month. Feeing markets are held on the last Friday of March for married farm servants, on the Friday before 26 May, on the last Friday of July for harvest hands, and the Friday before 22 November. There is a considerable trade in grain. Coaches run on Tuesday and Friday to Garmouth and Kingston-on-Spey.

Elgin unites with Banff and Macduff, Cullen, Inverurie, Kintore, and Peterhead to form the Elgin Burghs, which district returns one member to Parliament (always a Liberal since 1837). The Corporation consists of a provost, 4 bailies, and 12 councillors. The revenue of-the burgh was £715 in 1832, £835 in 1860, £803 in 1870, and £762 in 1881. Under the Lindsay Act, the Town Council act as Police Commissioners, and under a special Road Act for the county and burgh, they act as Road Trustees for the burgh. The police force is separate from the county, and consists of a superintendent, a sergeant, and 4 constables. The municipal constituency was 272 in 1854, 750 in 1875, and 921 in 1882; while the parliamentary constituency was 756 in 1875, and 930 in 1882. Annual value of real property (1815) £2435, (1845) £9031, 17s., (1872) £22, 433, (1881) £30,297, 18s. 6d., plus £781 for railways. Pop. of the royal burgh (1831) 4493, (1861) 6403, (1871) 6241, (1881) 6286; of the parliamentary burgh (1861) 7543, (1871) 7340, (1881) 7413, of whom 3257 were males and 4156 females. Houses (1881) 1396 inhabited, 44 vacant, 25 building.

See Shaw's History of the Province of Moray (Edinb. 1775; new ed., Elgin, 1827; 3d ed., Glasgow, 1882); Young's Annals of Elgin (Elgin, 1879); Sinclair's Elgin (Lond. 1866); Taylor's Edward I. in the North of Scotland (Elgin, 1858); Watson's Morayshire Described (Elgin, 1868); and the Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis (edited for the Bannatyne Club by Cosmo Innes, Edinb. 1837).

* Pitscottie (2d edit., Glasgow, 1749, p. 80) says it was Forres, but the evidence seems conclusive in favour of Elgin, and the proverb puts the matter beyond dispute.

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a city and royal burgh, and the county town of Elginshire"   (ADL Feature Type: "capitals")
Administrative units: Elgin Burgh       Moray ScoCnty
Place: Elgin

Go to the linked place page for a location map, and for access to other historical writing about the place. Pages for linked administrative units may contain historical statistics and information on boundaries.