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Blade 5

Early Entrepreneurs

Alexander Elles was a Baron Bailie in the town – the equivalent today of a Town Councillor. He was also a successful solicitor. In the mid 1700’s he had a fine new townhouse built at the bottom of Broad Street, just at the harbour. The house had a few extra features built in, to help with some of Baron Bailie Elles’ less public business activities. For Alexander Elles wasn’t just a magistrate and Bailie. He also controlled the biggest smuggling network in Peterhead. The government levied very high taxes on luxuries like tea, brandy, Dutch gin and tobacco. Alexander had a thriving and illegal trade in all sorts of contraband, helped by his official position. As a Bailie, he controlled the local militia, who he used to divert attention from his activities. The new house boasted a secret passage from the harbour, and hidden rooms where goods could be stored. Other hiding places included beneath the sandy floor of the Town House, where the Bailies met.

Alexander was charming and helpful when the Excise men arrived in 1778 to search his premises. Although working on a tip-off, the customs officials did not manage to find the 4 hogsheads of rum, several chests of tea, and two hundred weights of tobacco hidden in behind the false wall in the cellar. When they finished searching, the Bailie invited them to dinner. The food and the wines were most enjoyable, and the Excise men were full of praises for his hospitality. When they had gone, their host went upstairs to signal to the smuggling ship “Crooked Mary”, to let the crew know the coast was clear.

Alexander’s house later became the Union Bar.

Opposite Bailie Elles’ fine house is the Graving Dock, which was built in 1855 to provide a dry dock facility that could cope with the large whaling vessels using the port. It was partly financed by a tax of 6 shillings and sixpence levied on every ton of whale oil landed, and cost £6,000 to build. Designed by Thomas Stevenson, it is 148 feet long and built of granite. Stevenson’s original plan was to use steam driven pumps to empty the dock, but the harbour Trustees, mindful of cost and suspicious of the technology, insisted on a cheaper option. Two pumps powered by a team of six horses were installed, costing a modest £130. They could empty water from the dock in under 8 hours, although this would have been tiring work for the poor horses.

Real horse power gave way to mechanical pumps long ago, but the original graving dock is still providing vital dry dock facilities more than 150 years after the initial construction.

Behind the graving Dock lies a more modern maritime repair facility – the ship lift. With two berths – a massive covered repair hall and an external dock, the Syncrolift ship lift can raise ships weighing up to 2,000 tonnes for repair, maintenance and survey.

Across the road from the Graving Dock, the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen has provided a vital charitable support service to the fishing community for generations. Founded in 1881, the Fishermen’s Mission is a national charity which aims to provide financial, emotional and pastoral support to fishermen and their families in over 70 ports and harbours throughout the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. The Mission Centres provide showers, washing machines, accommodation, food, companionship and recreational activities (such as snooker tables and internet access). Deep Sea fishing is the UK’s most dangerous peace time industry, and the Mission provides immediate assistance, day or night, to the families of any fisherman killed or seriously injured. The immense importance and value of their work in fishing communities like Peterhead cannot be overstated. Like the RNLI, the Fishermen’s Mission relies on charitable donations to fund its work. For more information, visit https://www.fishermensmission....