Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Portsoy

Portsoy, a seaport and burgh of barony in Fordyce parish, Banffshire. It was formerly the terminus of the Grange and Portsoy branch of the Great North of Scotland railway system, but is now one of the chief stations on the loop line of the same system, which was constructed in 1883-85, and which passes from Keith by Portsoy, Cullen, and Buckie to Elgin. By rail it is 8½ miles W of Banff, 13¼ NE of Grange, 17¾ NE of Keith, and when the new line is finished it will be about 5½ miles E of Cullen, 11 E of Buckie, and 24½ E by N of Elgin. By road it is 18 miles ENE of Fochabers. It stands on a point of land on the W side of the little estuary of the Soy Burn, which carries off the surplus water from the Loch of Soy-now sadly encroached on by the railway-and from which the place takes its name. On the SE side the Burn of Durn enters the sea at the Back Green. The town is of some antiquity, and was in 1550 constituted by Queen Mary a burgh of barony holding of Sir Walter Ogilvie of Boyne, and with all the usual privileges, and the charter was ratified by Act of Parliament in 1581. The present superior is the Earl of Seafield. As might be expected from its age the town is very irregularly built, and many parts of it have a very quaint appearance. There seems to have been a castle at one time, but there is no record of it, and its existence is only inferred from the place once known as the `Castle Brae' Of an ancient church dedicated to St Columba, which stood at the Aird, `hard by the toune where now [1724] is a large meeting-house lately buildit,' no trace now remains, though the Aird still exists; and even where the meeting-house was is not exactly known, though it is supposed to have been the Episcopal church which was destroyed by Cumberland's soldiers in 1746, and seems to have stood between the house and mill of Durn. There is a well still known as St Colme's or St Comb's Well. The district was constituted a preaching station in connection with the Established Church in 1741; and a chapel of ease was constituted in 1836, and became a quoad sacra charge in 1 71. The church, which was built in 1815, was greatly improved in 1881, a clock tower having been previously erected by public subscription in 1876. The clock and bells in this were the gift of Mr F. P. Wilson, a native of the town, who had made a considerable fortune by his commercial enterprise abroad. The original church bell, now at the school, bears the inscription, ` For the use of the Presbyterian Church, Portsoy. John Spicht, Rotterdam, 1746.' The bell which succeeded it is lying unused in the present clock tower. The Free church, built soon after the Disruption, and rebuilt with a handsome spire in 1869, has 456 sittings. The U.P. church, built in 1866, has 400 sittings. The Episcopal church (St John the Baptist), built in 1841, has 150 sittings. The sacramental plate belonged to the old church already mentioned as burnt in 1746. The Roman Catholic church of the Annunciation, erected in 1829. has 150 sittings. None of them call for more particular notice. Under the school board of Fordyce, the public, female public, and female industrial schools, with respective accommodation for 360, 157, and 90 pupils, had (1884) an average attendance of 295, 84, and 57, and grants of £281, 16s. 6d., £74, 13s., and £41, 13s. The cemetery on the sloping ground SE of the town was originally opened about 1728, and was extended in 1874. It contains a monument to Miss Bond, a native of Fortrose, who in 1814 published a book called Letters of a Village Governess, giving some curious pictures of life in a country village at the beginning of the present century. She died at Portsoy in 1839. The serpentine and associated minerals for which the place was long famous have been noticed under Fordyce. An excellent harbour was formed by the Earl of Seafield in 1825-28, but was destroyed by storms in January 1839. During the present year (1884) the old channel has been cleared out, and the works then constructed restored at a cost of about £12,000, concrete being used instead of stone. There is now accommodation for 12 vessels of 100 tons, and a depth of 11 feet at high water of stream tides and of 9 feet at neap tides, the basin being tidal. Portsoy ranks as a creek under Banff, and the few ships belonging to the port have an average tonnage of under 100 tons. The chief imports are coals coastwise and bones from the Baltic, and the principal exports grain, herring, and potatoes. There were belonging to the port in 1882, 32 first-class herring fishing boats, 4 second-class boats, and 20 third-class boats, employing 108 resident fisher men and boys. On an average from 40 to 50 boats prosecute the fishing from Portsoy harbour, and 52 thus engaged in 1883 had a total catch of 5720 crans. The other industries in the town are a small ropework and a bone mill, and in the neighbourhood there are a wool mill, and Glenglassaugh distillery, where there are extensive buildings, erected in 1873-75 at a cost, including fittings, of about £10,000. Trade has considerably increased since the railway was originally opened, and will probably be developed still more by the new line and the improved harbour accommodation. There is a coastguard station, a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, under Banff, branch offices of the North of Scotland and Union Banks, agencies of 10 insurance companies, two hotels, a Young Men's Christian Association with a library, a reading and news room, and a newspaper, the Independent Banffshire Reporter (1856), published on Saturday. In the neighbourhood is Durn House, associated with the early days of Ferguson the astronomer. The only distinguished native is the Rev. Peter Thomson, Free Church minister of St Fergus, who died in 1880 at the beginning of what promised to be a very brilliant career. The story of his life has been told in A Scotch Student (Edinb. 1881). Pop. of town (1841) 1720, (1861) 1903, (1871) 1822, (1881) 2090, of whom 916 were males and 1174 were females. Houses 504 inhabited, 13 uninhabited, and 4 building. The quoad sacra parish is in the presbytery of Fordyce and synod of Aberdeen. Pop. (1881) 2313.—Ord. Sur., sh. 96, 1876.

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

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a seaport and burgh of barony"   (ADL Feature Type: "harbors")
Administrative units: Portsoy Burgh       Banffshire ScoCnty
Place: Portsoy

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