1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elgin

ELGIN, a royal, municipal and police burgh, and county town of Elginshire, Scotland, situated on the Lossie, 5 m. S. of Lossiemouth its port, on the Moray Firth, and 711/4 m. N.W. of Aberdeen, with stations on the Great North of Scotland and Highland railways. Pop. (1901) 8460. It is a place of very considerable antiquity, was created a royal burgh by Alexander I., and received its charter from Alexander II. in 1234. Edward I. stayed at the castle in 1296 and 1303, and it was to blot out the memory of his visit that the building was destroyed immediately after national independence had been reasserted. The hill on which it stood was renamed the Ladyhill, and on the scanty ruins of the castle now stands a monument to the 5th duke of Gordon, consisting of a column surmounted by a statue.

The burgh has suffered periodically from fire, notably in 1452, when half of it was burnt by the earl of Huntly. Montrose plundered it twice in 1645. In 1746 Prince Charles Edward spent a few days in Thunderton House. His hostess, Mrs Anderson, an ardent Jacobite, kept the sheets in which he slept, and was buried in them on her death, twenty-five years afterwards. For fifty years after this date the place retained the character and traditions of a sleepy cathedral city, but with the approach of the 19th century it was touched by a more modern spirit. As the result much that was picturesque disappeared, but the prosperity of Elgin was increased, so that now, owing to its pleasant situation in “the Garden of Scotland,” its healthy climate, cheap living, and excellent educational facilities, it has become a flourishing community. The centre of interest is the cathedral of Moray, which was founded in 1224, when the church of the Holy Trinity was converted to this use. It was partially burned in 1270 and almost destroyed in 1390 by Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, natural son of Robert II., who had incurred the censure of the Church. In 1402 Alexander, lord of the Isles, set fire to the town, but spared the cathedral for a consideration, in memory of which mercy the Little Cross (so named to distinguish it from the Muckle or Market Cross, restored in 1888) was erected. After these outrages it was practically rebuilt on a scale of grandeur that made it the most magnificent example of church architecture in the north. Its design was that of a Jerusalem cross, with two flanking towers at the east end, two at the west end, and one in the centre, at the intersection of the roofs of the nave and transepts. It measured 282 ft. long from east to west by 120 ft. across the transepts, and consisted of the choir, the gable of which was pierced by two tiers of five lancet windows and the Omega rose window; the north transept, in which the Dunbars were buried, and the south transept, the doorway of which is interesting for its dog’s-tooth ornamentation; and the nave of five aisles. The grand entrance was by the richly carved west door, above which was the Alpha window. The central steeple fell in 1506, but was rebuilt, the new tower with its spire reaching a height of 198 ft. By 1538 the edifice was complete in every part. Though the Reformation left it unscathed, it suffered wanton violence from time to time. By order of the privy council the lead was stripped off the roofs in 1567 and sold to Holland to pay the troops; but the ship conveying the spoils foundered in the North Sea. In 1637 the roof-tree of the choir perished during a gale, and three years later the rich timber screen was demolished. The central tower again collapsed in 1711, after which the edifice was allowed to go to ruin. Its stones were carted away, and the churchyard, overgrown with weeds, became the dumping-ground for rubbish. It lay thus scandalously neglected until 1824, when John Shanks, a “drouthy” cobbler, was appointed keeper. By a species of inspiration this man, hitherto a ne’er-do-well, conceived the notion of restoring the place to order. Undismayed, he attacked the mass of litter and with his own hands removed 3000 barrow-loads. When he died in 1841 he had cleared away all the rubbish, disclosed the original plan, and collected a quantity of fragments. A tablet, let into the wall, contains an epitaph by Lord Cockburn, recording Shanks’s services to the venerable pile, which has since been entrusted to the custody of the commissioners of woods and forests. The chapter-house, to the north-east of the main structure, suffered least of all the buildings, and contains a ’Prentice pillar, of which a similar story is told to that of the ornate column in Roslin chapel. In the lavatory, or vestibule connecting the chapter-house with the choir, Marjory Anderson, a poor half-crazy creature, a soldier’s widow, took up her quarters in 1748. She cradled her son in the piscina and lived on charity. In the course of time the lad joined the army and went to India, where he rose to the rank of major-general and amassed a fortune of £70,000 with which he endowed the Elgin Institution (commonly known as the Anderson Institution) at the east end of High Street, for the education of youth and the support of old age. Within the precincts of the cathedral grounds stood the bishop’s palace (now in ruins), the houses of the dean and archdeacon (now North and South Colleges), and the manses of the canons. Other ecclesiastical buildings were the monasteries of Blackfriars (1230) and Greyfriars (1410) and the preceptory of Maisondieu (1240). They also were permitted to fall into decay, but the 3rd marquess of Bute undertook the restoration of the Greyfriars’ chapel. The parish church, in the Greek style, was built in 1828. Gray’s hospital, at the west end of High Street, was endowed by Dr Alexander Gray (1751–1808), and at the east end stands the Institution, already mentioned, founded by General Andrew Anderson (1746–1822). Other public buildings include the assembly rooms, the town-hall, the museum (in which the antiquities and natural history of the shire are abundantly illustrated), the district asylum, the academy, the county buildings and the court house, the market buildings, the Victoria school of science and art, and Lady Gordon-Cumming’s children’s home. In 1903 Mr G. A. Cooper presented his native town with a public park of 42 acres, containing lakes representing on a miniature scale the British Isles. Grant Lodge, an old mansion of the Grant family, occupying the south-west corner of the park, was converted into the public library. From the top of Ladyhill the view commands the links of the Lossie and the surrounding country, and a recreation ground is laid out on Lossie Green.

The industries include distilling and brewing, nursery gardening, tanning, saw and flour mills, iron-foundries and manufactures of woollens, tweeds and plaiding, and the quarrying of sandstone. Elgin combines with Banff, Cullen, Inverurie, Kintore and Peterhead to return one member to parliament, and the town is controlled by a council with provost and bailies.

Two miles and a half S. by W. of Elgin stands the church of Birnie, with the exception of the church at Mortlach in Banffshire probably the oldest place of public worship in Scotland still in use. It is not later than 1150 and, with its predecessor, was the cathedral of Moray during the rule of the first four bishops; the fourth bishop, Simon de Toeny, an Englishman, was buried in its precincts in 1184. In the church is preserved an old Celtic altar-bell of hammered iron, known as the “Ronnell bell.” Such is the odour of sanctity of this venerable church that there is an old local saying that “to be thrice prayed for in the kirk of Birnie will either mend or end ye.” Six miles to the S.W. of Elgin, charmingly situated in a secluded valley encircled by fir-clad heights, lie the picturesque remains of Pluscarden Priory, a Cistercian house founded by Alexander II. in 1230. The ruins, consisting of tower, choir, chapter-house, refectory and other apartments, are nearly hidden from view by their dense coating of ivy and the fine old trees, including many beautiful examples of copper beech, by which they are surrounded. Its last prior, Alexander Dunbar, died in 1560. The Liber Pluscardensis, a valuable authority on early Scots history, was compiled in the priory by Maurice Buchanan in 1461. The chronicle comes down to the death of James I. The 3rd marquess of Bute acquired the ruins in 1897.