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Blade 7

Jacobites, Episcopalians and Civil Engineers

Port Henry Lane was the site of the Earl Marischal’s house. It was built in 1599 using stone recycled from the old Abbey of Deer on the order of George, 5th Earl Marischal. The Keith family home was at Inverugie castle, and the Earl used his town house to house his fishermen and their families. It was three storeys high, 60 feet long and 24 feet wide, and remained in some form of use until the middle of the 20th century. In his book “Old Peterhead” published in 1950, local historian Robert Neish described the house as standing “unkempt and forlorn, and its former glory has passed away”. He added a plea that it be treated with respect. Sadly, it had passed beyond repair and was eventually demolished.

Next door to the Earl Marischal’s house stood the home of the Episcopalian minister, Alexander Barclay, who used it as a meeting house. Until 1699, the Episcopalian Church was the established church in Scotland, but even after it was ousted in favour of Presbyterian worship, Peterhead retained a faithful Episcopalian congregation. Alexander Barclay was a fervent Jacobite, and in 1715 he read a proclamation from his pulpit levying men from his congregation to join the rebel forces of the Pretender to the throne, James Stuart. A few months later, he held a service of thanksgiving to mark James’ arrival in the town. Reverend Barclay kept up his very public support for the Jacobite cause long after it became clear the rebellion had failed. Summoned by the presbytery, Alexander was deposed from his calling and forbidden to exercise “any ministerial function”. He had publicly supported a Roman Catholic Pretender when his allegiance should have remained with the Protestant King. By “openly espousing a Romanish pretender’s interests”, Alexander was considered guilty of betraying his protestant faith and his career was over. Loyalty to the Stuart cause had claimed another victim.

Peterhead harbour has seen many developments since the town’s foundation in 1593. From a small fishing port to the development of merchant trade and whaling, port facilities have grown to meet changing needs. One major redevelopment was proposed in 1772, to replace the dilapidated 16th century facilities. John Smeaton, known as “the father of civil engineering” was asked to redesign the South Harbour. He realigned the south pier to improving safety by deflecting the sea from the harbour entrance, and added a new shorter pier to the west. The harbour was deepened, giving a maximum depth of 4.3 meters at spring tides. After a struggle to raise the money to pay for the new facilities, work finally began in 1775 and was completed in 1778. It cost more than £6,000.

In 1812, another prominent architect, Thomas Telford designed the North Harbour, which was built using 500 million year old Peterhead granite. The two harbours operated separately until 1826, when Robert Stevenson suggested building a canal to create a link between them. His son, David, drew up the design, and created the shortest canal in the UK. To maintain access, a rolling lift bridge was constructed. It could be raised to allow boats through the canal, or lowered to give vehicle access to the far side of the harbour.

Just past Port Henry Pier is the Patent Slipway. This was built as part of the 1931 improvements to the harbour, and was of revolutionary design. It was the creation of the Harbour Superintendent, Mr. George Youngson, and was an electrically operated slipway which provided a dry dock facility using a side-slipping arrangement to raise up to four steam drifters out of the water at a time. This facility is also still in operation today.

Peterhead’s port lies at the heart of the town and has been a long-term source of prosperity. With a forward looking Port Authority willing to commit millions of pounds to major investment, it will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of modern shipping and the demands of new industries.