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Moray Local HistoryA Brief History of Moray
by Bruce B. Bishop (All copy in this local history category is copyright © Bruce Bishop FSA Scot Cert.SFHS)
This is Moray is indebted to Mr. Bishop for his kind contribution to our local history category
Prehistoric Times in Moray
At these early times the lands which were later to become the Province of Moray were covered by the great ‘Atlantic Forest’ with the hillsides, apart from the highest tops, being covered by extensive pine forests which changed in character as the altitude decreased down to the oak, alder and beech woods of the lower lands, bordering onto the swampy coastline of the estuaries of the Findhorn (the Erne), the Lossie and the Spey. The lands of Covesea and Roseisle were separated from the mainland by the sea loch later known as the Loch of Spynie, and to the east the Loch of Cotts lay between the mouths of the Lossie and the Spey.
There are some indications of Stone Age settlements, either permanent or temporary, in the general area prior to about 2000BC, mainly based on the finding of flint arrowheads and scrapers. It is evident therefore that prehistoric man either visited or inhabited the area at this time.
Through the Bronze Age with its waves of immigrants from the Low Countries, generally settling along the coastal fringes of Scotland, the evidence for permanent settlements is still quite limited in comparison to other parts of the country, the marshy nature of the coastline may have been a factor in this.
By the Iron Age the cooling climate had put an end to any thoughts of habitation at the higher levels. The higher ridges of land in the Laich of Moray, however, may have proved ideal for a primitive form of agriculture and animal husbandry, the basic necessities of life being provided by the still very extensive woodland and forests, the sea for fishing, the innumerable wild fowl which must have frequented the marshlands, and the light soils of the Laich. The earliest permanent settlements may well therefore have formed along these ridges, such as at Birnie and Alves.
The arrival of the Celts, farmers, warriors and artisans, meant that the early native population would have needed to defend their livestock and farms from the new arrivals who, however, were very quickly assimilated into the local population, probably in quite a peaceable way.
Roman Times in Moray
Following the defeat of the Celts at the Battle of Mons Graupius in AD84, the Emperor led expeditionary forces into the north of Scotland, including Moray, but there is no evidence that any permanent bases or settlements were ever established, except possibly at Burghead (Ptoroton), and maybe at Birnie. It appears that this very limited presence of any Roman troops in the area made very little cultural impact on the local population, but following the general southward withdrawal of the Romans in AD121 it is likely that there was still a minimal contact maintained between Rome and Moray. During the period AD 200 – 220 there seems possibly to have been a further increase in Roman activity in the area. The only Roman finds in the Elgin area were an Alexandrian coin of Galerius found in a garden in Elgin and some Roman glass found at Lochside on what would have been the shore of the old Loch of Spynie. There have also been finds, including hoards of coins, at Birnie during the ongoing excavations there conducted by Professor Fraser Hunter. This may indicate that at some stage of the Roman period the local landowners were in the pay of the Romans.
Pictish Times in Moray
During the later years of the Roman presence in Britain, the Picts began to make their presence felt, and by the end of the 5th century they dominated Scotland north of the Forth. They had replaced, or integrated with the earlier Celtic culture, and in fact some sources consider that the Picts were the Celts by another name. The earlier Celtic way of life was replaced with the Pictish culture, either because of the destruction of the Celtic way of life by the Romans, which seems unlikely, or because of the more advanced civilisation which the Pictish way of life brought to the area. The Picts worshipped pagan gods, but were craftsmen and artisans of the highest order, as evidenced by their sculptured symbol stones which are found throughout Moray.
The first Pictish settlements would have been quite small, often no more that three or four extended family groups, thriving on a mixture of subsistence agriculture and a hunter-gatherer economy. There were few routes of communication in the area at this time. The Romans never constructed roads as in the south of Britain, and this was an area of forest tracks and dryways across the marshland. The nature of the coast and the rivers, with the shallow waters of the coast would also have made the sea and the rivers an effective means of communication between the settlements.
By 500AD Scotland appears to have been divided into four kingdoms, with Morayshire being a frontier between the Picts and the Scots, and therefore often a battleground. By this time, however, more permanent settlements were beginning to emerge. During the 6th century there are indications that Forres, lying at the mouth of the River Erne or Finderene [later the Findhorn] was the most important town in the north. It had a strong merchant base and considerable trade with other ports around the coast, and possibly even across the North Sea to Norway, Denmark and the Baltic. At this time the sea would have extended almost to the northern edge of the town, and may even have lapped against the base of the Castle Hill at high tide. The small trading vessels of this time did not need harbour facilities, as it was possible to load and unload them on the beach or in small inlets such as the mouth of the Burn of Altyre [now the Mosset Burn].
In 535 Toncet, the King’s Chancellor, “causit divers merchantis of the Towne of Fores in Murayland (as then the chiefest towne of all that countrie) to be accused of treason. Efter sundrie wrangles and oppressions done to him (The Chancellor of King Coranus) in the king’s auctoritie callit afore him certane merchantis of Forres in Murray and for small or wane causis put them to deith as misdooris. Syne confiscat thair guddis to the kings behwffe. How much faith can be put in these early writings will never be known, but they certainly represent the earliest documentary sources referring to the merchants of Forres.
From this time onwards the Culdee Church, following in the footsteps of St Columba, St Ninian and other Irish missionaries, was beginning to establish itself in Scotland with some of the Pictish leaders, followed by their people, embracing the new Christian faith. The missionary preachers, in the process of converting the Picts from their former Pagan beliefs, were also acting as a civilizing influence of the people of a region which had degenerated socially since the end of the Roman era.
The major climatic deterioration during the period 535 – 542 AD, probably caused by the eruption of the Pacific volcano Krakatoa and the subsequent large amounts of atmospheric dust, led to very cold winters and cool dry summers, which would have caused the developing systems of agriculture to come under severe threat and lead to great hardship for the people. After this short spell, however, the climate returned to normal, and the agricultural developments continued apace.
In 663 the Synod of Whitby marked the beginning of the influence of the Roman Church in Britain, and there was a gradual spread of the Catholic faith throughout the 7th century, although the earlier missionary-based Culdee Church may have retained a presence in the more remote area until the 10th century. There is evidence that the Picts concentrated their major settlements around the major rivers, hence the development of Elgin near to what was, at that time, the mouth of the Lossie at Calcots, Forres near the mouth of the Findhorn, Nairn at the mouth of the River Nairn, and Inverness at the mouth of the Ness. At this time the Province of Moray extended from the Spey in the east almost to Lochaber, and Inverness and Nairn were considered to be towns within the Province.
In the year 843 the Pictish tribes in the north and the Irish “Scots” of Dalriada were amalgamated under the leader of the Scots; Kenneth MacAlpin; the first King of Scotland. This union may have been partly a response to the ever-growing threat from the Norsemen who were already beginning their occupation of the Northern Isles and the north of mainland Scotland. The members of the loose-knit alliance under King Kenneth seem to have formed various alliances among themselves, and Moray itself had claimants to the Scottish Throne. The Gaelic language brought from Ireland by the Scots was now becoming widespread throughout Scotland, and the Pictish name for the area “Fiddich” was now replaced by the Gaelic “Moray”. By the end of the 9th century the establishment of Moray as a province of Scotland was complete, with its head, the Mormaer of Moray, becoming a major figure not only locally but in the affairs of Scotland as a whole.
The Vikings in Moray
In about 800 the Viking occupation of the Northern Isles began, and the Norse Earldoms of Orkney and Catness (Caithness) were established by about 850. The main Viking sphere of influence extended down the west coats of Britain and included the Western Isles, the Isle of Man, Wales and of course Ireland. It was not long before the Norsemen began to extend their voyages soutwards to the Moray Firth, especially during the time of the Earldom of Sigurd in the late 9th century. There is evidence of Viking activity at Burghead at this time, but little suggestion that they ventured any further inland, and they seem to have had little lasting influence on the local population.
Moray was now a frontier between the Scottish Kings across the mountains and the Viking Earls to the north. It is known to have been a troubled and unsettled area, but there are suggestions that the Mormaers of Moray and the Viking Earls made pacts with each other at various times, when it suited them.
The 10th and 11th centuries in Moray
The 10th century saw turbulent times for the people of Moray, with many battles between the Mormaers of Moray and the Kings of Scotland, although these were interspersed with some more peaceful periods. The Vikings to the north probably put their oar into the fray at times, whether invited or opportunistic.
Some of the Viking forces were now venturing further inland into Moray, and there are suggestions that the name of the town of Elgin was originally “Helgyn”, named after Helgy, the commander of one of these forces of the Earl of Orkney. The name of Elgin, or Helgy’s presence there, does not appear in any of the Viking Sagas, which would probably indicate that such settlements were of little consequence in the greater scheme of things.
By the end of the 10th century the Province of Moray, away from the coastal wetlands surrounding the very extensive Lochs of Spynie and Cotts, was still a heavily wooded area especially in the higher lands to the south. Large areas of woodland were being cleared for agriculture, and the very fertile lands were able to provide for the now rapidly increasing population. The Mormaers of Moray continued to function as regional rulers, and the area maintained is status of both political and cultural importance. The towns of Elgin, Forres, Nairn and Inverness were now becoming established as the main settlements of the province.
In 1040 Macbeth, the Mormaer of Moray, killed King Duncan I at Pitgaveny, just to the northeast of Elgin, and was crowned King of Scotland. During the following 17 years, in addition to making a pilgrimage to Rome, Macbeth succeeded in stabilizing the country under his leadership until his death at Lumphanan in 1057 at the hand of Malcolm Canmore. The people of Moray continued to support the successors of Macbeth, and there was much infighting throughout the country, with little acceptance by the people of Moray of any centralised Scottish Rule. By the end of the 11th century Donald III was King of Scots.
The 12th century in Moray
Times were beginning to change for the people of Moray during the 12th century, and a different way of life was beginning to emerge. The Threat of the Vikings was now a thing of the past, and in 1109 Scotland was united under Alexander I, who began a reign which was to last for 15 years, followed by King David I in 1124. King David, having been educated at the English court, was greatly influenced by the Normans, and sought to ‘civilise’ Scotland. He undermined the resistance to the monarchy in the north by creating a “New Order” similar to that which had developed in England after the Norman invasion of 1066.
He established Royal Burghs throughout Scotland in order to expand the economy of the country, and Elgin, Forres and Nairn all received Royal Burgh Status. The towns were granted charters to trade, hereditary sheriffdoms were created and castles were built, not only in the Royal Burghs but across much of the country to act as bases for the enforcement of the laws of the land. The King was able to put his own men into the castles to enforce these laws, and also to protect the towns from troubles such as those during the reign of William Lyon of England.
The Roman Church was also beginning to establish its own power bases, with the influence of the church now extending throughout virtually the whole country. The parishes originated about this time, with much the same boundaries being retained to the present day.
There was a continual influx of Normans, Saxons and Flemings into Morayshire, with trade having been developed with Holland, Belgium and the Baltic ports, and even at this time there were many new settlers in the area. Beroald de Flandrensis was brought to Moray to advise on the draining of the Loch of Spynie and the Loch of Cotts, and set up home on an island in the Loch of Cotts. The Gaelic name for an island was inch or innis, and on this island he built his family home, and took the name Beroald Innes, from which evolved the mansion house of Innes and virtually every person who now bears the family name of Innes.
The Royal Burghs, and also many smaller towns or villages, were allowed to erect a mercat cross, often within the churchyard, which became the focus of trade, and also the place from which proclamations could be made. Tolbooths were being built as a seat for the civil authorities in the Burghs, and there was general law and order in the towns. The countryside around, however, was still in a disturbed state.
The natural forests had by now almost all been felled, except for the Royal Forests of Longmorn, the Enzie, Altyre and Darnaway, and the unfarmed land was degenerating into moorland and heathland. The main commodity at the markets was food, with little in the way of luxuries for the general population. The Royal Burgh of Elgin, Forres and Nairn were now considered, for a brief period, to be quite wealthy. By 1135 the Earldom of Moray had been annexed to the Crown, and the fortunes of the Burghs were beginning to decline. The latter part of the 12th century was a time of turmoil throughout Scotland, and Moray was no exception.
King William, who succeeded to the throne in 1165, was in Elgin several times during his reign, and was accompanied by many of the leading nobles and clergy of the time. Elgin must have been an important centre to be able to accommodate the King and his large retinue, and during the course of his reign from 1165 to 1214 he granted no less than 14 charters to the Burgh of Elgin, compared with one to Inverness and 6 to Aberdeen. He may have used Elgin, and possibly also Forres, as a base for his military expeditions into Ross.
The 13th century in Moray
For the first part of the 13th century Moray managed to maintain some semblance of independence, despite repeated attempts to bring it under the control of the “establishment”. Its success was, however, probably more due to the rule of Kings Alexander II and III, who, with the help of the church, brought about the beginnings of a “Golden Age” for Moray, and for much of the rest of Scotland. It was helped, no doubt, by the steady improvement in the climate, which facilitated a more varied form of agriculture.
The houses of the town dwellers were built of a timber frame, with wattle and daub infill, and thatched roofs, the floors being of beaten earth or clay. The rural dwellers had ‘cottages’, often little more than huts, with rough stone or even turf walls, and a heather thatch on the roof. Except for the very wealthy, windows were almost unheard of at this time, although some building had apertures closed by shutters.
The early wooden castles were being replaced with stone structures, and the parochial churches had the support of the local landowners. The church was acquiring lands at an alarming pace; a process which was to continue for the next three centuries.
Even more important was the development of surnames or family names, Alfred the Blacksmith became known as Alfred Smith, John the Baker was now John Baxter and James the wagon-maker was now James Wainwright or James Cartwright. This also enabled both the church and the state to establish a much more convenient method of record keeping, probably kept by William the Scribe, now known as William Scrivener!
Alexander II was a frequent visitor to Moray during his reign, and was one of the greatest benefactors the province had known. The Bishops of Moray had not had a fixed seat, using Birnie, Spynie and Kinneddar at various times, but in 1215 the decision was taken to built the Cathedral at Elgin, which was finally completed in 1224. The Chanonry, which contained not only the Cathedral but also the dwellings of the officers of the Cathedral was, unlike the Burgh, enclosed by a wall some 12 feet high and 6 ft thick. This wall had four gates or Ports, of which Panns Port is now the sole survivor. At about the same time the great Abbeys of Pluscarden and Urquhart were founded, together with the monasteries of Blackfriars and Greyfriars in Elgin.
The middle of the 13th century was a time of peace in Elgin, with much expansion in the arts and industry, during which time the town became very wealthy. This regional power doubtless attracted many nobles and Barons to live in the Burgh, or at least to build close by. The main part of the town ran from the Gallowhill (now Maryhill), past the castle on Ladyhill, to the church of St Giles at the east end. To the east lay the walled Chanonry of Elgin Cathedral, and thus Elgin became both a Royal Burgh (the secular part) and a City (the religious part).
The century had witnessed the building of some fine Religious Houses, with the monks becoming farmers, schoolmasters, architects and tradesmen, and generally boosting the local economy beyond recognition. There is a mention of the first recorded Provost of Elgin, Thomas Wyseman, in 1261.
The demise of Alexander III in 1285 sounded the death knell for the “Golden Age”, and led to a time of Scottish revolt and punitive attacks by King Edward. At the time of William Wallace in central Scotland, Andrew de Moray led the northern resistance in 1298, and Moray returned to its troubled times.
The 14th century in Moray
The presence of King Edward in the north in 1302 was followed by the wars of independence until 1314. These disputes were followed by outbreaks of plague which led to a substantial depopulation of Moray in both the Burghs and the rural areas. Many of the old nobility were being replaced by families from the south, names such as Comyn and Cheyne were vanishing from the scene to be replaced by the Randolphs, giving rise to the Dunbars and other noted families. The Comyns, or Cummings, however, were not long in re-establishing themselves amongst the leading families in the north.
The Burghs of Elgin, Forres and Nairn were now typical medieval burghs, with a High Street and a castle, a tollbooth and a church. The North and South Back Gaits marked the boundaries of the town, and entrance was controlled usually by four ‘ports’ or gates. From the High Street the riggs and crofts of the Burgesses would have extended north and south to these two back gaits. The burgesses had their own burgess lands, with access by means of the characteristic closes or vennels.
During the 14th century the Loch of Spynie began to silt up, eventually robbing Elgin of its harbour at Spynie, but the ports of Garmouth and Findhorn continued to play a major role in the economy of the area. In 1393 the port of Garmouth became the principal port for Elgin. There were repeated attacks by the English, often accompanied, or followed, by times of “pestilence” or fever.
Following a dispute with the Bishop of Moray in 1390, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, more commonly known as the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’, attacked and burned the towns and churches of Forres and Elgin, and also the Abbey of Pluscarden. The Cathedral of Elgin was rebuilt by 1397.
The 15th century in Moray
Royal authority over the whole of mainland Scotland was finally re-established with the crowning of King James I, and despite arguments between families such as the Douglasses and the Gordons, the early 15th century generally saw peace return to Moray. The only threats which now remained were from the Highlanders. The castles were by this time falling into decay, as they had outlived their usefulness, and this became a period of growth for both towns and villages. Some of the strongholds of previous times began to evolve into fortified houses, such as Innes, Darnaway, Altyre and Coxton. Despite their reservations about the by now very wealthy abbeys, the church was becoming a focus of life for the people, especially as the markets were always held within the churchyard.
Houses in the Burghs were now being built up to two storeys high, and in some exceptional cases the builders were able to go to three storeys. Sometimes they were built all of stone and at other times of a mixture of wood and stone, but in general the roof was still thatched.
King James II visited Moray in 1458, and James IV was also a frequent visitor. The Burgh of Elgin was first represented at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in 1469, and by 1488 Elgin and Forres had a joint representative at the parliament.
Despite all of these improvements, however, the countryside was taking longer then the burghs to recover from the troubles of the previous century, and starvation and disease were still problematical in many rural parts. This often led to an influx of people to the towns, where they seem to have fared little better. Communications in the area were still poor, and apart from the clergy and the wealthy, few people ventured very far afield.
The 16th century in Moray
This was a time of exploration, and the beginning of the decline of the ignorant and superstitious Middle Ages. The clergy were becoming all-powerful, and acquiring more and more land. This often worked to the benefit of the local people who were able to find employment on the church lands, and under the protection of the church they were often exempted from military service.
The Burghs continued to grow, and populations increased. The tollbooth became the centre for the collection of taxes, the seat of local government, the court, prison, and sometime even a place of execution. Shops or ‘booths’ appeared along the High Street, and the growing number of merchants and tradesmen formed the trade guilds to give protection to the livings of the tradesmen, and some sort of security in times of need.
Kings James IV often visited the area, and there are many records of the expenses which these visits incurred.
The steeple of Elgin Cathedral collapsed in 1506, and the repairs and reconstruction were not completed until 1538, resulting in a spire some 198 feet in height. By 1540 the church owned almost half of all the lands in Scotland, and the Bishop of Moray, Patrick Hepburn, seeing the first signs of the Dissolution of the church in England, and the inevitability of a Reformation in Scotland, began to dispose of the extensive church lands in Moray, generally to his own family, whether legitimate of not, and to his friends. It is at about this time that we begin to find consistently accurate, useful, and even at times legible records of life in the church and the burghs.
Prices were beginning to be set by Elgin, Forres and Nairn for foodstuffs and other commodities, and education was coming to the forefront, with church schools and music schools. New building was increasing apace in the towns, and as stone became used more extensively for the buildings three storeys were becoming the norm in the towns. The rural dwellers, however, saw little of these benefits, the runrig system of agriculture kept them tied to their small two-roomed cottages and their narrow strips of land, wholly at the mercy of the landowner who they served, often the church. Most of these cottages would have been predecessors of the ‘but and ben’, where the family lived in one end of the cottage and the beasts in the other. Warm in the winter but no doubt very smelly!
1560 saw the start of the Reformation in Scotland, but Elgin, being one of the most important ecclesiastical towns in Scotland, showed little enthusiasm for change, and throughout Moray it was several years before the catholic faith was extinguished. The magnificent Cathedral, the Monasteries of Blackfriars and Greyfriars, the Preceptory and Hospital of Maisondieu, and the abbeys of Pluscarden and Urquhart were now falling into disuse, the stone being taken away by the local people to build their new structures, which, being made of stone, reduced the ever-present risk of fire.
Protestant Ministers gradually replaced the Catholic Clergy, although some of the earlier Catholic priests seemed to have made the transition of faith very easily and remained in office. The old Pagan festivals such as Beltane, Midsummer and Hallowmass or Hallowe’en were very slow to die, despite the efforts of the new Protestant Church. Trials for witchcraft were becoming commonplace throughout Moray by the end of the 16th century, and feature extensively in the Kirk Session Minutes.
The burghs and larger villages set their market days and the carrying of arms within the towns was gradually becoming prohibited. Some of the family feuds such as the ones between the Brodies, Cummings, Leslies, Grants and Ogilvies were intensifying as more and more of the lands previously held by the church were becoming available to the local landowners. Some of these disputes lasted for several decades and resulted in the deaths of many members of these families. Only the Dunbars and the Inneses seemed to have come to an amicable settlement.
The 17th century in Moray
The start of the 17th century saw the Burghs and villages of Moray little changed, the threat of plagues and fevers still remained, and despite the reformation now being 60 years in the past Papism and Idolatory were still prevalent. Prayers were still held privately in the ruins of the Cathedral amongst other places in Moray, often in the private chapels of the big houses of the landed gentry.
Following a general decline over the previous half century, the area was now becoming re-established as a centre for industry and commerce, but by 1645, after the battle of Auldearn, Montrose despoiled much of the province, Royalist and Covenanter troops roamed the area and the whole place was “in much confusion”.
Things had quietened down by 1650, and Scotland was under the firm grip of Cromwell, with a body of his troops stationed in Elgin. In spite of this, however, business and trade went on as it had done previously. By 1661, following the Restoration, the purges against witchcraft began in earnest, and the Kirk Sessions were urged to actively seek out cases of witchcraft.
By 1689 the biggest threats to Moray were from the ‘Highlanders’, and settlements such as Dallas and Knockando suffered severely.
If the troubles of the Revolution had not been enough for Moray, 1694 saw the start of what was to become known as the “Little Ice Age”, or more specifically in Moray “The seven ill years”. For the next seven years the climate showed a marked deterioration, which was probably due to volcanic activity in Iceland and the consequent dust clouds in the atmosphere. The crops failed totally for four years out of these seven. Many of the rural poor came to the Burghs to search for food, of which there was very little, and they only added to the toll of poor people who were often found dead, or dying of starvation, in the streets. It is possible that some quarter to a third of the population succumbed to the effects of starvation or the associated illnesses.
Despite these food shortages, however, there were still 80 brewhouses operating in the area in 1697, but as the water was undrinkable this was essential to the population. By 1700 the climate was improving again.
The 18th century in Moray
Trade with the continent was increasing now, through the ports of Findhorn and Garmouth, with imports of wine and other luxury goods, and the export of grain, salmon, hides and timber from Moray. By 1703 the contracts were being signed for the building of the new harbour of Elgin at Lossiemouth. Many changes to the structures of the local councils and other aspects of administration were also under way at this time, and there was a great deal of new building work going on in the Burghs. Rural life remained little changed, with the but and ben still providing the majority of the accommodation for the agricultural workers.
At the time of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 the Earl of Mar was in control of the area, but the effects on the local people were small, apart from the inconvenience of the military garrisons in the area.
In the 1720’s new schoolmasters and schoolmistresses were appointed in many parishes, and education became within reach of many of the less advantaged classes. Communications were being improved, with extensive work on roads and bridges throughout the county. The Rebellion of 1745-46 caused considerable disturbance, especially to the landowners whose crops and beasts were requisitioned, and the area was very divided between the Government and the Jacobite camps, although in actual terms very few Moray men went to fight on the Jacobite side.
Major disputes occurred between various factions of the councils in the Burghs during the middle part of the 18th century, but eventually things settled down and life returned to normal. The state of the towns continued to raise concern, and various plans were put into action to remove the dung-heaps from the main streets and generally to tidy up the towns and villages.
In general the 18th century was not one of much progress, and it closed with severe food shortages bordering on a famine. The trade in the Burghs had gradually declined following the Act of Union in 1707, and the foreign trade almost ceased due to the punitive fiscal laws of England now having been extended to Scotland as well. A developing contraband trade succeeded this. Many of the more prominent old families had left the towns, and there was a gradual decline in population across Moray. To quote Dr. Robert Young, “In short, it [the 18th century] was a time of inactivity and depression”
The 19th century in Moray
The century started with yet another year of food shortages throughout Moray. The effect of the ‘Agricultural Improvements’ of the last decades of the previous century were now becoming apparent. In most areas the old ‘run-rig’ way of farming had vanished, fields were being enclosed, woodlands planted, and the major tenant farmers were starting to become wealthy men. The cottars or cottagers, the small tenants who had held their strips of land in the runrig were now in many cases dispossessed. Some of them had been kept on as agricultural workers by the new farmers, but many had been forced to move south to the expanding industries of the central belt of Scotland to find work and make a living.
The effects of the high taxation during the past years, to pay for the wars which Britain was involved in, were now diminishing, and this too had an impact on the economy of Moray. Links with the rest of Scotland were becoming ever more important, roads were being built or improved, the harbours were being repaired and rebuilt, such a Burghead in 1806, and Lossiemouth in 1811.
Until 1810 there had been little new building in the Burghs, many properties having stood since the 17th century. By the early 1820’s however, Elgin and Forres were beginning to expand rapidly with the building of the new ‘villas’ in the ‘suburbs’.
The end of the wars brought a collapse of trade and commerce to much of Scotland, and Moray did not escape. With men returning from the war having little hope of finding work because of the changes in agriculture, the Poor Rolls for almost every parish increased rapidly. Money was scarce; an income of £200-£300 a year would have provided a very comfortable way of life for the newly emerging middle classes, but the poorer people may have had an income of only one-tenth of this amount each year.
The Great Flood of 1829 brought havoc to much of the low-lying lands of Moray. Despite all these setbacks the Burghs of Elgin, Forres and Nairn were transformed, during the years up to about 1840, into “stately neo-classical towns”, with all the public institutions which graced other towns throughout Scotland. Hospitals, Libraries, Schools were all erected or improved, and elegant houses dotted amongst the trees or lining the new ‘suburban’ streets surrounded the towns. Rural life, sadly, did not keep up with this, and many of the farm labourers continued to live in little more than a two-roomed cottage. In the hills of upland Moray change was even slower, and life in the peat and cobble, heather thatched cottages continued for many decades.
In the 1830’s gas lights were introduced to the towns following the building of the gas works. The Victorian age came to Moray on 26th June 1837, and building works continued apace to improve the towns. The railways came to Moray between 1853 and 1858, and the economy was transformed. New hotels were erected, roads were improved, and the Queen visited Moray in 1872. During the later years of the 19th century the Burghs of Moray were on a par with any similar town in Scotland, agriculture was becoming extremely profitable with the facility now to ‘export’ produce by rail, and modern Moray was taking shape.
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