Broch history - and street names?

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(The following is the complete text of an article sent to us by Janet Arnott, an abbreviated version of which appears in this week’s Fraserburgh Herald dated March 9, 2017.)

Janet Arnott has been prompted by the recent controversy over names for the new streets at Kirkton Heights to send us a comprehensive article referring to the book ‘Fraserburgh Past and Present’ by John Cranna.

She says: “This book was given to me some years ago by my late mother-in law and has made interesting reading over the years. I was unaware of the history associated with the book and indeed the town I had known all my life, until page after page aroused curiosity.

“John Cranna was the Fraserburgh Harbour Treasurer, he published this book in 1914 and it provides a comprehensive history of the life and times of Fraserburgh in a bygone era.

“I have thought of the book often when street names were being considered for new developments in the town. It was disappointing to see that lighthouse names were being considered from afar, when the town has so much traditions and legends of its own.

“This is the year Scotland is celebrating ‘History, Heritage and Archaeology’ and we need to delve into our past and bring it to the future for generations yet to come. Remember our today is tomorrow’s yesterdays, what will we leave to be remembered by?

Who knew that Warld’s End, one of the most interesting houses in the town was built on the site of a remote castle called Kinbucket and occupied by the Gordon’s of Glenbucket as a town house for the’ bathing season’. ‘Purchased for the grand sum of £38. 1s. 1p in 1766, it was also used as a hiding place for Lord Pitsligo for some time after Culloden. The name of the house is rather unique, but it is thought that as most of the town at the time was built along Braeheads and the northern part of Shore Street, the distance, being viewed very differently from today, would have appeared practically inaccessible, hence the name Warld’s End.

The introduction of steam to Fraserburgh came in 1858 when the tugboat ‘Heatherbell’ arrived in the harbour, so great was the occasion that it was the first annual holiday ever observed by the people of Fraserburgh. The Heatherbell was used for excursions between Fraserburgh and Aberdeen and the boat was crowded with eager holidaymakers.

In 1859 the screw steamer ‘Aberdeenshire’ was used to ferry goods and passengers to Aberdeen and back. This boat kept up the trade for several years carrying big crowds on their annual holiday and doubled as a vessel taking the first season’s herrings to Hull. The harbour must have been a rare sight in those days with Schooners engaged in the trade of carrying herrings not only to Hull but also to the Elbe and Baltic Ports for the grand sum of 2s 6d a barrel.

Gas came to Fraserburgh in 1840 and was considered the greatest step forward ever taken by the people of Fraserburgh, they were considered pioneers in this field. The smell left by the burning power of Dogfish Oil in ‘eely-dolly’ as a prior form of lighting became intolerable when used at large gatherings.

There was strong opposition to gas but on the 6th May, 1840, an interim committee was set up to effect this new wonder. Gas became the sole topic of the town, and to satisfy the people of its safety, Baillie Chalmers of the suite of rooms facing Frithside Street, known as the best in town, agreed to light up his house with this wondrous product. The ‘hail toun’ turned out for the event and were completely amazed when the rooms were brilliantly lit up and the blaze of light flooded onto the street. The people were still suspicious of this new illuminant and the story was told of a man named Fowler, the tenant of the Grocers Shop at the corner of Commerce and Cross Street, of a young boy who came into the shop and carelessly threw a piece of burning paper into a small keg of powder resulting in an explosion, causing considerable damage to the premises.

A Cairnbulg fishwife hearing of the incident said “that’s yer gran gas, the seener we’re oot o’ the Broch the better”

The Free Gardeners Society was established in Fraserburgh as far back as 1790, within twelve months it consisted of 120 members. The Society must have done excellent work and the benefits derived from membership must have been considerable for applications to be admitted to the society came from as far afield as St Fergus and even Aberdeen. The committee consisted of many of the leading men of the town who looked well after the interests of its members.

In 1799 extraordinary weather brought failure to the crops and resulted in famine in the Buchan District. Mr Fraser of Kirkton or Kirktown as it was known, factor to Lord Saltoun was an active gardener in the Society and took it upon himself to secure supplies of oatmeal to its members as well as the poorer classes in Fraserburgh and district, playing a leading part in adopting measures to prevent starvation amongst the people. The proceeds from their work was also used for good causes with £100 being donated to the building of the North Pier and ten guineas towards the fund for the first ever lifeboat for Fraserburgh.

These men’s names may be worthy of note - the Committee members at the time were: Mr William Fraser of Memsie, Baillie Kelman, Lewis Chalmers, later known as Baron Baillie; Phineas Daniel, a lawyer; Dr Leslie Dalziel, the famous Broch watchmaker.

The fact it was a Gardeners Society from Kirkton could have street names with gardening connotations. Anyone for Buttercup Crescent, Foxglove Place or Primrose Lane?

These are just a few of the interesting facts about our town and the naming of streets need to reflect our history, we need to share this with visitors to the town with points of interest for them to journey to. On visiting other towns, I always visit museums and then look for the connection to names as I walk around the town. Let the Year of ‘History, Heritage and Archaeology’ be the one that establishes Fraserburgh as a major place and port of interest.

Our history is our own and in the words of John Cranna, “Any native who is capable of letting these classic places fade from his memory is no true Brocher.”

On a more modern note, I wonder why the name Bill Gibb appears to have eluded the street naming process. It has been suggested but has not yet made its way to the name plate. On looking up the internet for famous Brochers, his name appears as the only one showing, educated at Fraserburgh Academy and encouraged by his teachers to pursue a career that would take him to the Royal College of Art.

He went on to become one of the great designers of the sixties being one of only six designers invited to present their designs in New York. In 1970 his design was chosen by Vogue as ‘The Dress of the Year’. He was awarded the ‘Key of the City’ on his visit to Yugoslavia, his work is represented in the Bath Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Manchester City Galleries, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Fashion and Textile Museum in London and the Art Gallery in Aberdee.

He is celebrated by the writer Jack Webster who describes him as “one of the most gentle, kindly and considerate human beings I have ever met, and a man without malice”.

If I were a visitor to his home town I would look for some connection to this master of the decorative, who dressed women such as Twiggy and Elizabeth Taylor.