Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Nairn

Nairn (formerly Invernairn), the county town of Nairnshire, and a royal and police burgh on the W bank of the river of the same name, at its mouth, and near the E side of the sea-coast of the parish just described. By rail it is 9½ miles W by S of Forres, 15½ ENE of Inverness, 21½ W by S of Elgin, 92¾ NW of Aberdeen, 145 SSW of Wick, 175 NNW of Edinburgh, and 191 N of Glasgow. It is a seaport and an important and well-known watering-place, in which connection it has been styled the 'Brighton of the North;' and though this is a somewhat lofty title, it is nevertheless a clean, bright, pleasant, little town, with a remarkably dry climate, partly due to small rainfall, which averages about 23 inches annually, and partly to the rapidity with which the light sandy soil of the neighbourhood absorbs moisture. The adjacent beach, which is sandy, and has a very gentle slope, affords excellent bathing ground, well sheltered and secluded, and for those who do not care for open air bathing, provision is made in the Public Baths to be afterwards noticed. The surrounding country has also many attractions, both from beauty and historical associations (see Auldearn, Brodie, Cawdor, Darn away, Findhorn, Forres, Kilravock, etc.); while the view across the Firth and along the shore beyond is very good. By London physicians the town is often recommended for invalids requiring a dry and bracing, yet moderate climate, and more than half of the visitors every year come from London and the S of England.

History.—The burgh is of considerable antiquity, and some writers have held that it was here that Sigurd built his burg in the latter part of the 9th century (see Moray), and have identified it with the Narmin of Boece. This identification, though found in the later editions of Camden, and generally given on his authority, can be traced no farther back than Bellenden's translation of Boece, and was probably adopted by Camden from Holinshed's Chronicle, which is merely an Anglicised form of Bellenden. Gordon of Straloch and the writer in the Old Statistical Account mention an old castle whose site was then covered by the sea, and the latter asserts that there were people then alive who remembered seeing vestiges of it; while, on the other hand, Shaw, in his History of the Province of Moray (and he was well acquainted with the district, as he was for fifteen years minister of the adjoining parish of Cawdor), says that no Danish fort or any tradition of it existed. The existence of the royal burgh is said to date from the time of William the Lyon, according to charter mention in the reign of Alexander II., when the king granted certain lands to the Bishop of Moray 'in excambium illius terre apud Invernaren quam Dominus Rex Willelmus, pater mens, cepit de episcopo Moraviensi ad firmandum in ea castellum et burgum de Invernaren.' The castle stood in what was known as the Constabulary garden near High Street, and in the 13th century the sheriffs of Nairn were ex officio keepers of it. In 1264 Alexander de Moravia, the then sheriff, was repaid by the royal treasurer for expense incurred in plastering the hall, in placing locks on the doors of the keep, and in providing two cables for the drawbridge. In the 14th century the office of sheriff and constable of the castle became hereditary in the family of Cawdor, and with them it remained till the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions in 1747, when the then thane claimed £3000 as compensation for the first office, and £500 for the second. The lands and town itself' were granted by Robert I. to his brother-in-law, Hugh, Earl of Ross, and they probably continued in the possession of that family till the forfeiture of John, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, in 1475. At that period the tenure of the lands in Nairnshire, which had been formerly held under the Earls of Ross, was changed to a crown-holding; and a similar change very probably took place with regard to the town of Nairn, which then begins to be styled in records the king's burgh and the royal burgh of Nairn; unless it may be thought that the terms of Robert I.'s grant of the earldom of Moray to Thomas Randolph (which cannot easily be reconciled with the Earl of Ross's charter) are sufficient to prove that Nairn, as well as Elgin and Forres, was then of the rank of a royal burgh. 'The town stands across the line marking the division between the highlands and lowlands which intersects High Street about Rose Street. The part of the town NE of this was inhabited by Saxon-speaking fishermen, the part to the SW by Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, and hence the story that James V1., when twitted, after his accession to the English throne, about the inferior importance of the towns of his old kingdom, replied that, however that might be, he had a town in Scotland 'sae lang that the inhabitants of the one end did not understand the language spoken at the other;' and when Dr Johnson passed through the town 170 years later, he found no great change had taken place, for he says: 'At Nairn we may fix the verge of the Highlands; for here I first saw peat fires, and first heard the Erse language.' He is otherwise very hard on the town, for he says: 'We came to Nairn, a royal burgh, which, if once it flourished, is now in a state of miserable decay; but I know not whether its chief annual magistrate has not still the title of Lord Provost.' In the Covenanting troubles of the 17th century the burgh does not seem to have taken a very active part, or to have suffered much, though, after the battle of Auldearn, Montrose's men burned and destroyed Cawdor's house in the town. The Duke of Cumberland spent the night of 14 April in the Laird of Kilravock'town-house here, and the night following at the old house of Balblair not far off. To the W of the town, between Balblair and Kildrummie, are the fields where the Royalist army encamped, where they held their rejoicings on the Duke of Cumberland's birthday, the 15th April, and where they were when the Highlanders attempted their night surprise. The only distinguished native of the town is Lieutenant-Colonel James Grant, C.B. (b. 1827), son of a former parish minister. Colonel Grant accompanied Speke in his journey to the sources of the Nile in 1863, and gave an account of the expedition in his Walk across Africa.

Streets, etc.—The principal street, High Street, extends from the river south-westward for about ½ mile, and contains now a number of very good buildings. From it the older streets branch off, but along the sea and on the W side there are large numbers of handsome villas, many of them built for the purpose of being let to visitors, but others built by their proprietors as seaside residences for themselves. The county buildings, near the middle of the NW side of High Street, were erected in 1818, and greatly improved in 1870. They have a good front and spire, and, besides providing accommodation for the county offices, contain a large county hall, used also as a court-room. The prison cells erected behind have, since the passing of the Prisons' Act, become almost useless. The public hall was projected in 1865, and built by a joint-stock company at a cost of about £1200. It contains a large hall, with accommodation for 800 persons, supper-rooms, and ante-rooms. On the SE of the town the railway crosses the river Nairn by a handsome stone bridge of four arches, each with a span of 70 feet and 34 feet high. A little farther down the river is the bridge for the great coast road. It was originally built by Rose of Clava in 1632, but has since been very extensively repaired in consequence of damage received in heavy floods in 1782 and 1829. The parish church is a very plain building, erected in 1811, and containing 902 sittings. It is at present (1884) proposed to erect a new one at the corner of Seabank Road at a cost of over £6000. The new Free church to the S is a fine building, Early French Gothic in style, erected in 1880-81 at a cost of £7000, and containing 1200 sittings. There is a handsome spire with clock and bell. The U.P. church, erected in 185152, contains 512 sittings. The Congregational church, erected in 1804 at a cost of £575, contains 416 sittings. St Columba's Scottish Episcopal church is an Early English edifice of 1857, containing 225 sittings; and St Mary's Roman Catholic church (1864) contains 150. There is also a small English Episcopal church. At the SW end of the town is Rose's Academical Institution, built by subscription on ground given by Captain Rose, and supported partly by endowment, and partly by subscriptions and fees. It is managed by a body of directors elected by the subscribers. Near it is a monument erected by old pupils as a memorial of Mr John Strath, who for 40 years held the office of parochial schoolmaster. Church Street and the Monitory public schools, with respective accommodation for 300 and 400 pupils, had (1883) an average attendance of 270 and 287, and grants of £249, 1s. and £251, 2s. 6d. There are also some private schools. The Town and County Hospital, to the W of the town, was erected by subscription in 1846, and is supported by donations and subscriptions. It is managed by directors chosen by the subscribers. The museum calls for no particular mention. There is a cemetery E of the town. Two large bathing establishments possess all kinds of artificial baths, cold, tepid, and warm. The Marine Hotel salt-water baths are open to the public at all seasons. Near the sea-shore is a large swimmingbath, erected in 1872-73 at a cost of £1200. The main building is a square measuring 91 feet each way, covered with a glass roof. The plan of the bottom has been so ingeniously managed, that, while the depth of water slopes gradually from 1 foot 3 inches to 6 feet, yet there is a swimming course all round of about 100 yards. Water is pumped from the sea by a centrifugal -pump worked by steam, and the bath when full holds 140,000 gallons. A large number of bathing coaches ply on the beach during the summer months.

A wharf and harbour were constructed at the mouth of the river in 1820, according to a plan by Telford, the principle being to increase the depth of the river, and by straightening its course from the bridge downwards to increase the scour, and so prevent the silting up of the opening. Inclusive of a sum paid for injury to the neighbouring salmon fishings, the operations cost £5500, but so great was the damage done by the flood of 1829 that only very small vessels and fishing boats frequented the place. Fresh works, on a similar plan, were afterwards again constructed; a breakwater of wood and stone, 400 yards long, was extended from the side of the river, so as to afford shelter against the only winds to which the harbour is exposed; and further improvements have subsequently been made.- The rise of spring tides in the harbour is about 14 feet, and of neaps 11 feet. In its custom-house relations it is a creek under the port of Inverness. In 1882 there- were 91 boats belonging to the place, of which 52 were first--class, 37 second-class, and 2 third-class, and connected with them were 250 resident fisher men and boys. Most of these boats prosecute the herring-fishing from ports farther down the firth. The exports are timber, corn, potatoes, eggs, smoked haddocks, and- freestone; and the imports are foodstuffs, soft-goods, hardware, lime, manures, and coal. The white fishing is successfully prosecuted, and there are good salmon fishings along the coast on both sides of the river. The harbour affairs are managed by the town council, who are at present (1884) attempting to form a mussel-bed near the mouth of the river. Should it succeed it will prove of very great benefit to the fishermen of the place. -There are excellent sandstone and granite quarries within a few miles of the town, and a well-known distillery at Brackla is 4 miles off. -

Municipality, etc.—Any charters erecting the -town into a royal burgh, or granting or ratifying its privileges, appear to be lost; but a charter of confirmation,- granted by James VI. in 1597 and approved by act of parliament, refers to one of Alexander I. The town is now governed by a provost, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 11 councillors, and the council act also as the police commission, but the police force is incorporated with that of the county. The corporation at one time possessed a considerable amount of landed property, but most of it has been alienated. The revenue is about £1000 a year. Gas is supplied by a private company formed in 1839. Water was introduced many years ago, and in 1884 the supply was improved by the erection of a concrete collecting well near the springs at Urchany, the cost of the improvement being about £900. In 1878 a scheme was proposed for the utilisation of the sewage, and this was carried out between that year and 1880. The whole refuse is carried across the river in an iron pipe 18 inches in diameter, and spread by irrigation over the surface of a salt marsh, from which the sea has been dammed out by an embankment of clay down to the rock. The pipe is carried across the river on two iron cylinders filled with concrete, and this portion has been converted into a foot-bridge, while beyond it is embedded in an embankment, on the top of which is a walk. The total cost was £3000, of which £1542 was spent on the irrigation scheme alone. The arms of the town are St Ninian in a proper habit, holding in his right hand a crossfitchée, and in the left an open book.

The town has a head post office, with money order, Savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments; offices of the British Linen Company, Caledonian, National, and Royal banks; agencies of 21 insurance offices; and 6 hotels. The newspapers are the Conservative Moray and Nairn Express (1880), published on Saturday, and the Liberal Nairnshire Telegraph (1841), published on Wednesday. There is a masonic lodge, St Ninian's (No. 575); and among the miscellaneous institutions may be noticed the Volunteer Hall, the Literary Institute, the National Security Savings' Bank, the Nairn Friendly Society, a branch of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society, the Nairn Building Society, a Farming Society, John Rose Troup's Education and Charitable Fund, the Ladies' Benevolent Society, the Nairn Coal and Meal Fund, the Orchestral Society, the Swimming Club and Humane Society, the Bowling Club, the County Cricket Club, and the 12th and 13th batteries of the 1st Inverness Artillery Volunteers. Ordinary and small debt sheriff courts are held every Friday during session. Quarter sessions are held on the first Fridays of March, May, and August, and on the last Tuesday of October. Ordinary weekly markets are held on Tuesday and Friday, and there is a weekly corn market on Thursday. Fairs for cattle and other live stock are held monthly on the Saturday after Muir of Ord, and hiring fairs on the Thursdays preceding 26 May and 22 Nov.

Nairn unites with Inverness, Forres, and Fortrose in returning a member to serve in parliament. Parliamentary constituency (1883-84) 359; municipal constituency 494 (135 females). Valuation (1875) £10,030, (1884) £13,710 inclusive of railway. Pop. of parliamentary burgh (1841) 2388, (1851) 2977, (1861) 3435, (1871) 3735, (1881) 4161, of whom 1867 were males, and 2294 were females. Houses (1881) 841 inhabited, 33 vacant, 12 building.

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

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "the county town of Nairnshire, and a royal and police burgh"   (ADL Feature Type: "capitals")
Administrative units: Nairn Burgh       Nairnshire ScoCnty
Place names: INVERNAIRN     |     NAIRN
Place: Nairn

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.