The 2nd Statistical Account
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PARISH OF DINGWALL
(PRESBYTERY OF DINGWALL, SYNOD OF ROSS)
Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty
By the Rev. HECTOR BETHUNE, MINISTER
V. – PAROCHIAL ECONOMY
The burgh of Dingwall contains a population of 1715, amounting to about four fifths of the whole population of the parish.
Having no manufactures, the trade of Dingwall is very limited, being confined, on the one hand, to the importation of those various articles of merchandise which are required for the supply of the surrounding country, and, on the other, to the exportation of corn, timber, bark, and such other country produce as can be conveniently procured to form a freight for the vessels which bring hither coal, lime, and other commodities.
The chartered constitution of the burgh consists in a council of fifteen members, including a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, and a treasurer. These, by the late burgh Reform Act, are elected from time to time by those residing within the royalty, who possess or rent property to the yearly value of L.10 or upwards. The number of persons possessing this qualification here is about 100. Dingwall is one of the northern district of burghs that send a joint member to Parliament.
The police of the place is very defective, owing to the limited state of the public funds. For although it possesses an average revenue of L.273. 7s. 2d. Sterling, arising from the superiority of certain lands held in feu of the burgh, the fishings in the river Conan, &c. and the rent of a small residue of the public lands, still the interest of debts to a large amount contracted chiefly in a tedious law-suit with the Honourable Mrs Hay McKenzie of Cromarty, regarding possession of part of the Conan fishings, together with the payment of public burdens, leave little to meet the expense of an efficient system of police and of cleaning, lighting, or improving the town.
The freedom of the town, which is an indispensable qualification to merchants commencing business here, costs from L.5 to L.15, according to the probable extent of the business to be carried on.
Means of Communication –
There is the greatest facility of communication between Dingwall and all parts of the country. The roads in all directions are surpassed by none in the kingdom. The mail-coach passes and repasses daily through the town, and in summer there are two additional daily coaches, one betwixt Dingwall and Inverness by the ferry of Kessock, a distance of thirteen miles. And the other twice each day between Dingwall and the Strathpeffer spa, now a place of considerable resort, distant four miles and a-half. Weekly steam-boats from Edinburgh, and every second week from London, call at Invergordon, in this frith, distant only fourteen miles, and the town furnishes four post-chaises and six gigs.
There is a tolerably good harbour quite close to the town, consisting of a canal formed in the years 1815-17, at an expense of L.4365. The management of it is vested by an Act of Parliament passed in 1824 in a board of commissioners, a great majority of whom consist of the magistrates of the town. The average revenue arising from it is about L.130, which is not more than sufficient to keep it in repair. The advantages resulting from this canal must be obvious, for by means of it, vessels of considerable burden are brought into the immediate vicinity of the town, which, without it, owing to the shallowness of the frith, must have remained at a distance, and, from the muddy nature of the shore, almost inaccessible.
Ecclesiastical State –
The parish church is situated on the north side of the town, and is exceedingly convenient to the whole population, being almost in the centre of the parish. It was built in 1801. Although plain in its exterior, within it is remarkably neat and commodious, and is in excellent repair. It affords seat-room for about 800. From the circumstance that the Gaelic and English portions of the population form two almost distinct congregations nearly equally numerous, this apparently deficient accommodation is ample. For the same cause also the poorer classes, who belong to the Gaelic congregation, enjoy the privilege of church accommodation free of expense, for the wealthier part of the community, by whom seats are rented, attend, with few exceptions, the English service only, and thus all the seats are open to the unrestricted access of any who may choose to occupy them during the Gaelic service.
The manse was built in the year 1791, and had an addition made to it in 1825. It is sufficiently commodious, and is at present in good repair. The glebe, which is a mile distant from town, consists of about ten acres, all arable, and of superior quality.
The stipend is 16 chalders, paid one-half in meal, and the other in barley.
There is a catechist employed in the parish, who receives about L.15 per annum for his services. This sum is paid partly by the inhabitants, who subscribe for the purpose, and partly by the kirk-session, who allow him L.5 for visiting the poor.
There are no Dissenting or Secession places of worship in the parish, but there is an Episcopalian chapel, in which service is performed every alternate Sabbath.
The whole population of the parish are members of the Established Church, with the exception of from 40 to 50 Episcopalians, and about a dozen Wesleyian Methodists – strangers connected with the staff of the Ross-shire militia, which is stationed here.
The people are regular in their attendance on divine worship. The average number of communicants is 140.
The only religious or charitable society established in the parish is “the Dingwall Ladies’ Association for Missionary and Religious purposes” which meets annually with the view of collecting funds in aid of the objects of the association. But the Northern Missionary Society holds one of its annual meetings at Dingwall. The average amount collected by these annually is about L.65; the receipts of the latter generally amounting to about L.50.
The yearly average amount of church collections for religious and charitable purposes is about L.60.
There are five schools in the parish. One of these is the parochial school; none of the others is endowed. One, an infant school, was erected in 1832 by private subscription, and is still supported by the same means. The other three, of which one is a female seminary, are private, the school fees being the sole emolument of the teacher. At these the ordinary branches of education are taught, viz. reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, and geography, in addition to which, at the parochial school, mathematics, the Latin and Greek classics, French, &c. are taught.
In addition to those mentioned, there is a Sabbath school in the parish, at which from 200 to 300 children generally attend. It meets in church, and is taught on Gall’s system by a number of benevolent individuals of both sexes, under the superintendence of the minister.
The salary of the parochial teacher is the maximum, amounting to L.34, 4s. 4.1/2d. The average annual amount of school fees is about L.40. The teacher is provided with a house and garden – that occupied by him at present is rented for that purpose by the heritors, the house appropriated to the schoolmaster having fallen into disrepair.
The general expense of education is as follows; viz. for English reading, 6s. per annum; do. and writing, 8s.; do. do. and arithmetic, 12s.; Latin or Greek L.1. 4s. &c.
The people in general are sufficiently alive to the advantages of education, and, with few exceptions, avail themselves of the facilities afforded them of giving to their families at least an elementary education. The low rate of fees places this within the reach of all who exercise ordinary industry and prudence, and that the children of the poorest may not be excluded from its blessings, the kirk-session maintain at school twenty of the most destitute children out of the funds at their disposal.
It is to be regretted that there is no public library or reading-room, nor any literary or scientific society in this parish. There was a subscription library established here some time ago, but, owing to public indifference, the project failed. The reason probably is that the wealthier and more influential part of the community, which comprises almost the whole of its literary taste, are generally possessed of private libraries, and supply themselves with newspapers and periodicals. Of the former, about forty-seven come to the parish, of which about seven are daily papers, and of the latter, the number of copies of the larger magazines and reviews which come to the parish is twenty-eight, and of the smaller class, 136.
Poor and Parochial Funds –
The average number of poor receiving regular parochial relief is about 100, whose allowances vary from 5s. to L.1 yearly. Besides these, a considerable sum is annually expended in relieving contingent cases of necessity.
The average amount of poor’s funds is L.100; of which about L.50 are derived from church collections. The remaining L.50 consists of the interest of various sums, amounting to L.1000, mortified at different periods for the behoof of the poor. Of this, L.700 was left by one of the proprietors of the estate of Tulloch, and L.100 by the late Bailie Murdo Mackenzie of this place. The remainder, consisting of cash at the disposal of the kirk-session, has been lent out on heritable security, for all which five per cent. interest is paid.
There is no regular assessment here for the poor, but claims for parochial relief do occasionally occur which the ordinary resources of the parish are incapable of meeting, and which compel recourse to a measure which ought always to be resorted to with caution, on account of its obvious tendency to encourage idleness, and to destroy that feeling of independence which shrinks from parochial relief, which still exists to a considerable degree here, and which is one of the strongest stimuli to habits of industry and economy.
There is a jail in the burgh which, however, has been disused for a year or two past, owing to its great insecurity. It has recently undergone a temporary repair, and is about to be again employed as a place of confinement. Four-fifths of the prisoners confined in it when in use were committed for offences against the excise laws. These, the Highlanders, a simple people, unskilled in nice distinctions, were accustomed to view as oppressive restrictions on a practice to which habit had given them the feeling of a legal right. The infringement of them they therefore did not regard as criminal, and imprisonment on account of it they considered as rather a misfortune than a disgrace. But smuggling is now, happily for the peace and comfort of the people, almost wholly at an end; so that our jail will henceforth, it is hoped, be occupied by those only whose offences are of so unequivocal a criminality as that the severity of their punishment may not be aggravated by a doubt of its justice. The government of the jail was extremely defective. Indeed, the poverty of accommodation, and the character of the building, which permitted the prisoners to hold free and constant intercourse with the public, precluded anything like a proper system of discipline, while the damp and ill-ventilated cells into which many were necessarily crowded, seldom failed in affecting the most robust constitutions. A new county jail is at present in contemplation, of which Dingwall, as the county town, and the most centrical situation, is generally expected to be the site.
There are three annual fairs held in the parish, at which all sorts of commodities are vended. At these the country people assemble in great numbers, partly because they still have somewhat of the character of festivals (which the term “feil” in Gaelic imports), but chiefly owing to the force of confirmed habit, since all that can be purchased at these fairs may be had quite as conveniently in town at any time.
Inns, &c. –
In addition to the two principal inns, which are commodious and well kept houses, there are in the parish at present sixteen licensed public-houses. The number a few years ago was considerably greater, but the authorities, sensible of their demoralising tendency, have been gradually restricting the number, and have done much to counteract their influence, by maintaining over them a strict superintendence.
The fuel used in the parish is chiefly coal, of which there is always an abundant supply. Peats are also a good deal used. They are brought from the neighbouring parish of Fodderty, in small rung carts, and sold at a shilling or fifteen-pence per load.
Since the time of the last Statistical Account this parish has undergone considerable change, chiefly in respect of its productive capabilities, the condition and appearance of the town, and the multiplied facilities of communication with all parts of the kingdom.
Since that period a great part of the parish, formerly waste, has been brought into culture, and that previously in cultivation greatly improved. At that time the land was principally occupied by small farmers and crofters, whose notions of husbandry were extremely limited; now it is laid out in large farms, where the most approved theories of farming are practically exemplified. Then the implements used were of the most primitive description, Scots ploughs, rung carts, kallachies, &c.; now these, which are not to be seen at all, have been supplanted by metallic ploughs, harrows and rollers, frame carts, &c. &c. These changes have not left much to be added to the productive capacity of the parish. Still it would be too much to say that this had attained its maximum. Some land, as has been mentioned, still remains to be reclaimed, and further improvements in agriculture may still do much in developing the latent energies of the soil.
In these changes also the town has shared in a similar degree. Since that time it has been greatly extended, and the character of the buildings, both in respect of size and comfort, very much improved. Most of the better sort of houses have been built within the last twenty years, and several excellent houses are at present in the course of erection. Shops of all kinds have multiplied to such a degree as to furnish every kind of goods, and to preclude the necessity which existed, even within the last twenty years, of sending to Inverness for all but the most common commodities. The access to the town has been greatly improved, especially towards the north, in which direction a new street has been opened. A new road has also been made leading eastward to the shore. A harbour has been formed, a bank has been established, new apparatus has been constructed for conveying water into the town, the pavement of the streets has been renewed, and more attention than formerly is now paid to keeping them clean. Light is still a desideratum.
Another important change in the benefits of which this parish has participated in common with the district around, is the facility of communication with all parts of the country. Roads of the very best description intersect it in all directions, along which coaches and carriers are continually passing, affording means of conveyance to the places around. A constant communication has been opened by steam both with Edinburgh and London; that with the latter place has only been recently established, but has already exerted a marked influence on the arrangements of the farmer, as rendering the feeding of stock for which this has opened up the market, to which little attention has been hitherto paid here, an object of the first importance.
With all these changes, the condition of the people has been improving. Habits of cleanliness and comfort now more generally prevail, and the bulk of the people have been advancing in intelligence and information, towards which the facilities of education, especially the institution of the Sabbath and Infant Schools, have contributed, and which the establishment of libraries accessible to the lower classes would still further promote. A savings bank is also very desirable for the encouragement of right management and economy. But many of the people are extremely poor, and in want of regular employment,a want which can only be supplied by the introduction of manufactures, for which the place is well situated. There is abundance of people who would be glad of employment. Living is comparatively moderate. The home market for several kinds of manufactures would be considerable, and conveyance to the foreign markets would always be easy and open.