Blade 4 - Panel C
Royalty, Rebellion and Reform
The Reform Monument was designed in 1833 by Bailie Roderick Gray, the last Baron Bailie, and paid for by public subscription to celebrate the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. This act extended voting rights to many ordinary men, introduced the concept of the secret ballot and made parliament more representative of the country. Under the act, Peterhead became a Parliamentary Burgh for the first time. Two monuments were commissioned – one by each of the two main political parties. The Whigs (liberals) built the Meethill Tower on the edge of town, while their rivals, the Tories, chose the more historic site on Broad Street. They claimed that this was an attempt to re-establish the Market Cross where the town’s Baron Bailies had traditionally made public announcements.
Broad Street was the site of a very important proclamation in 1715. In 1714, Queen Anne died and her cousin George, Elector of Hanover, was invited to succeed her. This did not go down well with supporters of Anne’s half-brother James Francis Stuart, son of the deposed King James VII and II, who had died in exile in France. Young James considered his claim to be greater than George’s – he was the legitimate son and rightful heir of the former King. The government, not keen on the idea of a Roman Catholic monarch, disagreed and called him a “Pretender” to the throne. Discontent grew among James’ supporters, known as Jacobites.
By September 1715, the Earl of Mar was gathering the clans in Braemar in open rebellion against King George. At first things went well. Mar’s army had some early victories, but by the end of the year progress was flagging. In an attempt to rally support, James himself took ship for Scotland. On 22 December 1715, he arrived in Peterhead, where his supporter George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal of Scotland had proclaimed James as King James VIII and III.
His visit to Scotland did not get off to a good start – James was suffering from seasickness and fever, made worse by depression at the loss of his treasure ship on the way over. His mood was not improved by a rather frosty welcome from Baron Bailie Arbuthnot, leader of the Town Council. Although loyal to his employer, the Jacobite Earl Marischal Keith, Thomas Arbuthnot was a worried man. The rising was already showing signs of failure, and there would be dire consequences for everyone involved. Thomas could foresee trouble looming and wanted to protect his family. Equally, he did not want to refuse hospitality and offend the man proclaimed King in Broad Street just a few months earlier. However, there was a solution to his dilemma, and he arranged for the unwanted royal visitor to spend the night at the conveniently empty home of his son-in-law, Captain Park, in nearby Park Lane.
After a visit brief visit to Inverugie to pay his respects to Lady Mary Drummond, mother of the Earl Marischal, James departed for Perth the next morning to join his army. James had not brought any guns or troops with him, and his low mood did little to boost morale. He set up court at Scone, but did not stay long. In February 1716, James Stuart, the Old Pretender, returned to France, abandoning his supporters to their fate at the hands of a vengeful government.
George Keith’s title of Earl Marischal was forfeit, along with his land and property and he was forced to live in exile in France. Thomas Arbuthnot lost his position as Baron Bailie, but considered himself lucky to keep both his liberty and his head. As part of the confiscated Keith estates, Peterhead was sold by the government to a new Feudal Superior - the York Building Company.
Flying Gigs Wynd was originally a lane between Broad Street and the Seagate, and may be one of the oldest street names in Peterhead. It was on the boundary of one of the original feus (grants of land), given in 1595 in the Burgh Charter by Earl Marischal George Keith, which marked the founding of the modern settlement of Peterhead. Although no longer possible to get through to the Seagate this way, it was once part of a thriving area, surrounded by taverns. There have been suggestions that the street name came about because smugglers conducted much of their business in a nearby drinking den, out of sight of the Excise men and other government busybodies who might interrupt their trade. Should the law arrive to raid the premises, the landlord helpfully kept a fast horse harnessed to a light gig at the back door, to allow swift evacuation for any wanted person. Unfortunately, although smugglers were active in the area, this story unlikely to be true. Why draw attention to your escape by clattering down the street in a horse drawn vehicle that must stay on open streets when it would be simpler to melt silently on foot down dark alleyways where customs officials might hesitate to follow?
A more plausible source for the street name is suggested by local historian Dr David Bertie. His theory is that the name has been altered over the years and was originally “Flying Jib Wynd” – after the one of the masts on the sailing ships. Looking down from Broad Street, there would have been a good view of the harbour and the ships’ sails.