The 1st Statistical Account

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PARISH OF DINGWALL

(County of Ross)

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness (Image taken from Raeburn painting) with background of west coast outline

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty

By the Rev. Mr DANIEL ROSE

Antiquity and Government of the Borough
This town had its charter of erection into a royal borough, from Alexander II in the year 1226. By this charter, which another, granted in the reign of James IV, confirmed, the town was empowered to chose a provost, two bailies, a dean-of-guild, a treasurer, and 10 counsellors. It was also entitled to all the privileges, liberties, and immunities, possessed by the town of Inverness. The town is one of the five boroughs, constituting the northern district, and, in common with Kirkwall, Wick, Dornoch, and Tain, sends a member to Parliament.

The ancient size of the Town
There are some circumstances which would seem to indicate that the town was once much more extensive than it is now. The cross now stands at the east end of this borough, but a street of about 200 yards long runs from it to the north east, and a gentleman of the town, in digging some time ago for manure, found the remains of a causeway at the distance of 300 or 400 yards, in a line south east from the cross. The former had few houses built along it, till 30 or 40 years ago, and the latter has yet none near it. These circumstances however, afford some kind of presumption, that the antient might have exceeded the present size of the place.

Ruins of the Castle
The street north east of the cross, leads to the ruins of what once was the principal residence of the Earls of Ross. This building, situated close to the shore, had on three sides an extensive plain. It was situated at a considerable distance from any rising ground, and a little river with a deep slimy channel, into which the sea flowed, winded about two of its sides. It seems to have been a regular fortification, which in those days was well adapted for defence. The castle was built at the west end. A part of it, which still remains, has the stones so strongly cemented with the mortar that it is easier to break a solid rock, than to separate those of which it is composed. To the north east, but contiguous to the castle, there is an area of about half an acre which was enclosed. The whole was surrounded with a deep ditch and a regular glacis still remains. After the forfeiture of the Earl, the proprietor of the estate of Tulloch was appointed hereditary constable of the castle, and the trifling salary of 20 merks, or L.1. 2. 2-2/3 Sterling, is to this day annexed to the office. This Earl was once distinguished among the most powerful of the Scottish barons. He was proprietor of a great part of this country, and many of our most considerable families possessed their lands by charters from him, dated apud castrum nostrum de Dingwall.

About 25 years ago the annual revenue of the borough did not exceed L.7. It is now upwards of L.100. This vast increase arose chiefly from the feuing out of commonties to the gentlemen and other inhabitants of this place, for the purpose of their being converted into arable ground, or otherwise improved. Part of these were of excellent soil, perfectly level, contiguous to the town, and of easy culture; all of them were good subjects of improvement, of one kind or other. If the inhabitants of the town, some centuries ago were either as numerous, or as wealthy as they are at present, their wants must indeed have been few, or they themselves extremely ignorant and inactive, when they left waste such tracts of lands which were so easily convertible into fertile fields or thriving plantations. The town has of late been greatly enlarged, as well as improved in the appearance of its houses. This change appears to be chiefly owing to that superior taste and spirit of improvement which generally prevail, together with the accidental influx of money through private channels. Articles are now in universal demand, which were formerly unknown, and luxuries when once known, soon come into general use. To obtain these articles, the people resort to the town where they are to be found and, accordingly, a large retail trade is carried on here, considering the size of the place. This trade could not fail of introducing additional wealth, and its consequences luxury, and improvements of various kinds. Besides, the gentlemen of this neighbourhood are in general fond of a country life, and are happily attached to their own family seats. Their style of living, and their expences, are widely different from those of their ancestors. Much of the money they circulate must centre in the neighbouring town and men of trade or business seldom allow it to pass through their hands without retaining some portion of it. Those means of improvement exist much more in Dingwall than in either of the other two boroughs of the county. For these, lying at the extremities of the shire, do not feel so much the advantages of local situation, and have not been happy enough to experience in the same degree the favours of fortune. Of the three boroughs, Dingwall is accordingly by much the most flourishing.

Eighteen years ago, a very neat spire was built over the steeple of the town house, and it was furnished with an exceedingly good clock. And sevcn or eight years ago, the streets were new paved.

The town of Dingwall is the centre of the county of Ross, with respect to local situation, to the value of the property on all sides, and to the residence of the inhabitants. Nature, therefore, and common sense, both point it out as the most proper place for the transaction of all the most public business of the shire. The convenience of gentlemen, and the interest of the people, both require that it should have this privilege.

Miscellaneous Observations

This parish is very happily situated. Though the branch of the sea on which it lies is not navigable by large vessels, yet it furnishes a water communication with all the maritime parts of the kingdom; and though it does not produce much variety of fish, yet it supplies the means of an easy conveyance of the produce of the country to the markets of the town. Besides, the parish lies in the centre of a fertile and well inhabited country. It is conveniently situated in respect to the midland and western highlands. Most of the roads from them meet in this place, and of course it is often well supplied with their produce. From this view it must be obvious how well it is situated for most kind of manufactures. There is abundance of people in the parish and neighbourhood, who would be glad of employment; living is comparatively moderate; the home market for several sorts of manufactures would by no means be inconsiderable; and a communication with the foreign market would always be easy and open.

Gaelic is still the language of the common people, in which, therefore, the greater part of public worship is performed. But most of the parishioners now understand and speak English. There are comparatively few of the younger people who were not early sent to school, and taught both to read and to write.

In this parish there are two inns, and nineteen ale or whisky houses. The former are kept by well behaving respectable people; they are frequented by travellers, and used for public meetings. Of the ale houses only seven are regularly licensed. Most of this description, indeed, whether licensed or not, are the worst of nuisances. They not only endanger the morals of the people, by furnishing secret opportunities of indulging a propensity to drunkenness, but by encouraging theft in servants, and by diverting the earnings of mechanics and labourers, and the productions of farmers, from the support of their families. It is, therefore, a false and and pernicious lenity, which, under the pretext of charity, is sometimes shewn to such traders; for indulgence to them, often proves ruin to the innocence and welfare of thousands.

The lower order of people is not remarkable for any extraordinary degree of hospitality. Living in a country well inhabited, and much resorted to by strangers, and not enjoying those means of wealth which arise from extensive commerce, or regular manufactures, this virtue cannot have much room to exert itself among this class. According to their situation, however, they are by no means unwilling to share what they possess, either in the way of hospitality or charity. The more wealthy are noted for their hospitality and attention to strangers. Luxury is a vice with which the people cannot be charged; I, with truth permitted me, to say that they always had abundance of the necessaries of life. Indeed, total want is a thing little known in this part of the country; but between that and any approach to luxury, the distance is very great, and the intermediate stages are extremely numerous.

In general, the people arc sober and industrious, decent in their behaviour, and submissive to the laws. Every country furnishes some exceptions to the good character of its inhabitants. There are no temptations to any extraordinary expences; neither commerce nor manufactures have yet given scope for dangerous speculations; and the people still retain that fond attachment to patrinomial inheritances, however trifling, which the feudal institutions inspired. The lands, however, sometimes change their proprietors, and when sold, the price is high, perhaps 30 years purchase, and it is still daily advancing.

The parish is sufficient to supply itself and the town with provisions. Indeed, on this subject, it is difficult to speak with any degree of certainty, for most of the barley which the parish produces is sold to distillers, and many of the cattle are purchased by drovers. The Dingwall butchers are therefore often obliged to go to a distance for cattle, sheep, &c. and the mechanics furnish themselves with their summer-meal from other parts of the country. It is difficult to draw the balance between those exports and imports, but, on the whole, it is probably in favor of the parish.

Near the church an obelisk stands, which, though of no great antiquity, attracts the notice of all travellers. It is erected on an artificial mount, the bottom of which covers about two-thirds of an English acre. The obelisk is six feet square at the base, and rises in a pyramidal form to the height of 57 feet. It was erected by George, first Earl of Cromarty, Secretary of State for Scotland in the reign of Queen Anne, and was intended to ornament and distinguish this spot, which he designed to be the family burying-place.

Ross and Cromarty Heritage Editor’s Notes
Note 1 – Received on 01.06.00 from Simon Cohen:
“I checked the Oxford Book of British Bird names last night for Bernicle and Rood-goose. The former is an older form of the Barnacle goose but the latter is an old Scottish term for the Brent goose. Rood appears to be from the old Norse for snore and is thought to relate to the call of the Brent Goose! Thousands of Brent geese used to winter in the Cromarty Firth until a wasting disease killed off a lot of the Eelgrass on which they fed. I’m not sure exactly when this happened.”

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