Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Eyemouth

Eyemouth, a fishing town and a parish of Berwickshire. The town stands 3 miles NNE of Ayton, and 2½ NNW of Burnmouth station, this being 5½ miles NNW of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and 52 E by S of Edinburgh. The river Eye here falls into the German Ocean at the head of a small semicircular bay, immediately S of the larger bay that takes its name from Coldingham Shore. On the NW side are precipitous whinstone rocks, and the cliffs begin to rise again on the S side of the river, between Eyemouth and Burnmouth attaining a height of from 70 to 339 feet above sea-level. Out at the entrance to Eyemouth Bay are the ` Hurcars,' rocks upon which the sea, when even slightly stirred, breaks with much force and beauty. The place itself is not so greatly altered from what it was in 1827, when Chambers's Picture of Scotland described it as ' dark and cunning of aspect, full of curious alleys, blind and otherwise, and having no single house of any standing but what could unfold its tale of wonder.' Stories of smugglers, namely, for Eyemouth in last century was a noted seat of the ` free-trade,' and many of the older dwellings retain deep hiding-holes for smuggled goods. But, though the streets are still narrow and intricate, a good many better-class houses had been built within the past three years, and the town showed every sign of well-being and progress, when the great disaster of 1881 threw it back to what it was fifteen years before. A town-hall, built in 1874 at a cost of £1200, is a handsome Romanesque structure; a fine new public-school was erected in 1876; and in 1880 part of the old parish school was opened as a reading-room, with a public library of 2400 volumes. Eyemouth, besides, has a post office under Ayton, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Commercial and Royal Banks, 12 insurance agencies, 3 hotels, a gas company (1847), water-works (1856), now under the management of the Police Commission, a masonic lodge, St Abb's (1757), a cemetery, and fairs on the first Thursday of June and the last Thursday of October. Places of worship are the parish church (1812; 450 sittings) with a neat spire, a fine new Free church (1878; 450 sittings), a U.P. church (1842; 500 sittings), and an Evangelical Union chapel (250 sittings).

The present harbour is formed by a stone E pier of 1768 (one of Smeaton's earliest designs), and a short W jetty, with an entrance between them 154 feet wide; but it is wholly inadequate, and will, one may trust, be ere long superseded by the harbour works designed by Messrs Meek, C.E., of Edinburgh, at a cost of £82,891. Of this total, £22, 232 are for inner works, viz., extension of basin-jetty to 700 feet, quay on outer side of new basin (600 feet), undersetting existing quays, etc.; and £60, 659 for outer works, viz., E pier (440 feet), W pier (1050 feet), middle pier (680 feet), harbour quay (500 feet), etc. The outer works would enclose an area of 2¾ acres, or treble the existing available area, with a depth of 6 feet at low water, and of 8 feet at the entrance. Backed by strong influence, the harbour trustees have applied to the harbour works loan board for £20,000, as a first instalment to commence the works, but as yet it is hard to say what will be the result of this application. Its urgency was terribly instanced by the great gale of 14 Oct. 1881, which cost the lives of 191 fishermen belonging to fishing-ports from Burnmouth to Newhaven, 129 of them to Eyemouth alone. They left 107 widows, 60 adult dependants, and 351 children under 15 years of age, for whom a relief-fund of £50,000 was raised, chiefly in Scotland. Out of this fund widows and dependants get 5s. per week, and boys and girls 2s. 6d., the boys till they reach the age of 14, the girls of 15, years. Up to the day of the disaster 48 boats could have mustered at Eyemouth for the haddock fishing; their number now is reduced to 28, that of the fishermen from 360 to 230. The Eyemouth winter fishing-boats are among the largest and finest in Scotland; and the fishermen among the best and most energetic to be anywhere met with. From October 1881 to June 1882 about 1050 tons of haddocks, of a value to the fishermen of £13,000, were caught by the 28 crews of the place, these crews consisting of 6 or 7 men each. In the capture, 900 tons of mussels, costing £1800, were used as bait, almost the whole of which was brought by rail from Boston in England. Prior to the disaster nearly 100 boats belonging to Eyemouth were engaged in the herring fishery; now they are reduced to 70. In each of these boats from 2 to 4 hired hands from other places are employed. Eyemouth is head of a fishery district marching with that of Leith, and extending from St Abb's Head southward to Amble. In this district the number of boats in 1882 was 601, of fishermen 1627, of fish-curers 58, and of coopers 181, whilst the value of boats was £44,691, of nets £42, 528, and of lines £6864. The following is the number of barrels of herrings cured here in different years-(1864) 43, 458, (1871) 46,127, (1873) 42, 939, (1874) 52, 060, (1878) 18,056, (1879) 58,177, (1880) 58, 639, (1881) 67,915.

As a dependency of Coldingham priory, and the only harbour within its limits, Eyemouth acquired early importance, being known in the reign of Alexander II. (1214-49) as a commodious haven for the import of supplies, and the shipment of wool, hides, etc. On a small bold promontory, called the Fort, to the N of the town, is a series of grassy mounds, remains of a fortification, erected by the Protector Somerset in his invasion of Scotland, and reconstructed by Mary of Lorraine and Cromwell. An Eyemouth notary-public, George Sprott, was executed in 1608 for being privy to the Gowrie Conspiracy, into which he w as drawn by Logan of Fast Castle; from Eyemouth the Duke of Marlborough assumed his first title of Baron in the peerage of Scotland. But none of its other memories are equal in interest to that thus jotted down in Burns's Border Tour:-' Friday, 18 May 1787. Come up a bold shore from Berwick, and over a wild country to Eyemouth-sup and sleep at Mr Grieve's. Saturday.-Spend the day at Mr Grieve's -made a royal arch mason of St Abb's.lodge. Mr William Grieve, the oldest brother, a joyous, warmhearted, jolly, clever fellow; takes a hearty glass, and sings a good song. Mr Robert, his brother and partner in trade, a good fellow, but says little. Take a sail after dinner. Fishing of all kinds pays tithes at Eyemouth.' The entry in the lodge books shows that he was admitted gratis, on the score of his ` remarkable poetical genius.' In 1597, by a charter from James VI. in favour of Sir George Home of Wedderburn, Eyemouth was erected into a free burgh of barony, with the privilege of a free port; but having adopted the General Police and Improvement Act (Scotland) in 1866, it now is governed by a body of nine commissioners. Its municipal constituency numbered 568 in 1882, when the annual value of real property within the burgh was £5745. Pop. (1831) 1100, (1861) 1721, (1871) 2324, (1881) 2825, or, with Ayton suburb, 2877.

The parish was anciently included in the territory of Coldingham Priory, and did not assume a parochial form earlier than the reign of James VI. It still encloses the Highlaws detached portion (802/3 acres) of Coldingham parish. Bounded N by the German Ocean, E, S, and SW by Ayton, and W by Coldingham, it has an utmost length from N to S of 15/8 mile, an utmost breadth from E to W of 1½ mile, and an area of 1079½ acres, of which 64 are foreshore and 11½ water. Eye Water flows 1¼ mile north-north-eastward along the eastern border to Eyemouth Bay; and Ale Water, flowing 1¾ mile east-by-southward to the Eye, traces all the south-western and southern boundary. The coast rises 90 feet from the sea in rocky precipitous cliffs, which here and there are channelled by deep fissures or gullies, and at one place are pierced by a cavern; except at two points where roads have been scooped down its fissures, and at Eyemouth, where it is dissevered by the Eye, it admits no access to the beach. The interior is undulating, or slightly hilly, attaining 212 feet above sea-level at a point on the Coldingham road 7 furlongs W of the town, 252 at Highlaws, and 305 on the western boundary. The rocks comprise traps, greywacke, and Old Red sandstone, in such connections one with another as are eminently interesting to geologists. The soil in general is fertile. All the land, since the latter part of last century, has been in productive condition. Linthill House, overlooking the confluence of the Ale and the Eye, 1½ mile S by W of the town, is an old mansion, and was the scene, in 1752, of the murder of the widow of its proprietor. Patrick Home. Milne-Home of Wedderburn is chief proprietor, 7 others holding each an annual value of between £100 and £500, 11 of from £50 to £100, and 42 of from £20 to £50. Eyemouth is in the presbytery of Chirnside and synod of Merse and Teviotdale; the living is worth £279. The public school, with accommodation for 800 children, had (1882) an average attendance of 450, and a grant of £387. Valuation (1865) £5624, 14s. 1d., (1882) £9084, 11s. Pop. (1801) 899, (1831) 1181, (1851) 1488, (1861) 1804, (1871) 2372, (1881) 2935.—Ord. Sur., sh. 34, 1864.

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

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a fishing town"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Eyemouth ScoP       Berwickshire ScoCnty
Place: Eyemouth

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