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History of Arbroath to the Present Time
Chapter I - Situations and Names - The Ancient Race

IT IS intended in the following pages to narrate the history, so far as it can be gleaned from local records and other sources of information, of the royal burgh of Arbroath. The town is situated on the coast of Forfarshire, a few miles below where the estuary of the river Tay broadens into the German Ocean. Anciently, it was built altogether on the east bank of the stream called the Brothock, but now, with its population of about twenty-two thousand, it occupies both banks. The town derives its name from the small river which flows through its midst, and which, rising at Ninewells, in the parish of Kirkden, has a course of about six miles to the sea. The word Arbroath is a contraction of 'Aberbrothock,’ or 'Aberbrothwick.’ With that uncertainty of spelling which commonly characterizes ancient documents, the name appears in a considerable variety of forms in the Chartulary of the Abbey of Arbroath, and in much later records. Among those forms is the abbreviated one by which in common speech the town is now always known. The proper name, however, is Aberbrothock, or Aberbrothwick. Both styles of the word are made use of by the Municipal Corporation, but the Presbytery of the district, in this respect less conservative than the Municipality, have these many years sunk both in favour of the shorter and ordinary designation. ‘ Aberbrothwick* is the name which the town receives in the Acts of Parliament regulating the affairs of the harbour, and also in other Acts of the Legislature. This latter form of the word was an offence to the local authorities when it was introduced into the Parliamentary Reform Act, 1832, and for some time afterwards. In 1840 a bill was brought into Parliament for the better regulation of municipal corporations, and the Town Council, who petitioned against it, noted with disapproval that in the schedule of the bill the burgh was described as ‘Aberbrothwick'. The bill did not pass in 1840, and it was re-introduced in the following year, when the Council renewed their petition. In this petition it was stated that the town was formerly known by the name of Aberbrothock, and more generally by the abbreviated name of Arbroath, but that by the Reform Act it received a new name, being therein designated as ‘ the royal burgh of Aberbrothwick.’ The latter appellation, the petitioners said, had since been adopted in several private and local Acts passed by the Legislature. They represented to Parliament that this variety of names was inconvenient, and might lead to mistakes, and they asked that the name (Arbroath,* by which the burgh was commonly known, might be legalized, and might be made to include ‘Aberbrothock’ and ‘ Aberbrothwick.’ The Council were not correct in supposing that the latter word was a new name, although until 1832 it had been of rare occurrence, and even now is used only in official intimations or other proceedings under Acts of Parliament. The word does not occur in the Abbey Registers, nor in the other documents printed along with them in the published edition of the Chartulary;2 though in the Preface to the second volume of that work3 mention is made of the charter granted, on 11th November 1600, to the Marquis of Hamilton under the great seal of the Abbacy of ‘Aberbrothwick.' Certainly, ‘Aberbrothwick* is as old as 1690, for it appears in an Act of Parliament passed on 7th June of that year for a supply to the Crown. The name of the burgh is so printed also in Acts of the General Assembly of about the same time. The matter is not of much moment, but, although they did not get what they wanted, the Council in 1841 were right in thinking that convenience would have been, promoted had the ordinary name of the town been accepted as its Parliamentary designation. Had this been done, the phraseology of legal and official documents might have been somewhat shortened.

Buchanan gives the burgh a name which does not occur in the Abbey Chartulary. He says:  Fourteen miles beyond the Tay, in a direct line along the shore, we meet with the town of Aberbrothock, sometimes called Abrinca. This name ‘Abrinca’ does not occur in any pages except Buchanan’s; it is merely a Latinized form of Arbroath.

With regard to the derivation of the word Aberbrothock, the first part, which signifies ‘ mouth,’ is Celtic; it is a component part of many geographical names in Scotland. The origin of ‘Brothock’ is not so certain. It is probably Saxon, and, if so, the name Arbroath, like not a few others, represents that blending of the Saxon with the British or Celtic races, not the total expulsion of the latter from their ancient homes, which over a great part of Scotland was the result of successive Gothic inroads, peaceable and warlike. ‘Brothock’ is said to mean ‘a muddy stream.’ Now that it supplies an important part of the motive power of the spinning and manufacturing machinery which has been erected on its banks, and especially during the time, now passing away, that it has served the humble purpose of the common sewer of the town, the description has not been inaccurate; but formerly the Brothock, in its course through the town of Arbroath, was a dear trouting stream, and the only occasions on which it could be suggestive of ruddiness or muddiness—for the word is said to bear both meanings—was when, after heavy rains, it came rolling down to the sea in full flood.

Andently, and until the sixteenth century, the name Aberbrothock was applied not only to the burgh, and to what is now the parish of Arbroath, but to all the valley of the Brothock. The ‘shire’ of Aberbrothock included the whole, or nearly the whole, of the land now 'constituting the parishes of Arbroath and St Vigeans, and also part of the parish of Carmyllie. Even down to the middle of the seventeenth century, about a hundred years after the erection of a separate church and parish of Arbroath, the parish church of St Vigeans, although it had long been commonly so called, was also known by its old name. In a retour of the service of George, Earl of Panmure, expede on 1st April 1662, it is described as ‘the kirk of Aberbrothock, called St Vigeans.’

Forfarshire is rich in archeological relics, and many of them, now contained in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, have been discovered in the district of Arbroath. Stone arrow-heads, with barbs and stems, have been picked up at Carmyllie, and they tell of a time when they were shot by the primitive Briton at the deer and the wild boar in the forest, or, it may have been, at the warriors of some opposing sept. At West Grange of Conan, and at Letham-Grange, both within the ancient shire of Aberbrothock, we come upon traces, at their homes, of those former inhabitants of the country. Underground buildings, somewhat in the shape of a bee-hive, which were discovered at West Grange in 1859,1 about half a mile from the ruins of the old chapel which tradition asserts to have been the cell of the hermit St Vigian, are doubtless the remains of an ancient Celtic dwelling, perhaps of a Celtic village. The buildings were constructed of stones from some Old Bed Sandstone quarry of the locality, and of water-worn boulders from the sea-shore at Arbroath. When they were erected, a distinct advance had been made by the natives of the district. The people had learned the use of metals. What archaeologists call the Bronze period had arrived, but that of Stone had not yet passed away. Personal decorations were no longer confined to curious shells from the sea-beach. On the buildings at Grange of Conan being opened, a bronze ring or armlet was discovered, along with a number of stone cups and other stone vessels, all of very primitive construction. A bronze needle which was found in this antique dwelling suggests that wife and daughter did not neglect an important part of the duties of housewifery. A Pict’s house’ at Letham-Grange, with the domestic vessels which were discovered in it, tells a similar tale—meagre, but not without interest—of the ancient race. Discoveries which have been made elsewhere in the county show that the people then were not unacquainted with arts which are followed by many of their modem representatives in the various burghs of Angus, those of spinning and weaving. Bronze pins found in a moss at Inverkeillor afford further local proof of the rudimentary application of the metals to useful purposes. As to the mosses, these abounded, and the jet found in them was carved into personal ornaments, and such common articles as buttons. A ring of jet and four pebbles were found in a cist, or grave, near the underground buildings at Caimconan, and* two buttons of jet were turned up in a grave at Letham. Sepulchral urns have been discovered at Letham and Carmyllie. Articles found in graves there, and in others that have from time to time been opened in the valley of the Brothock, show that, long before the period when written history begins, or Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, veven such history as may be deduced from unhewn obelisks or the later sculptured monuments, the people of the district had a social organization. Here it may be remarked that it is their graves which supply the most certain and copious evidence of how the primitive inhabitants of the country # lived. Tumuli, and many stone coffins, have been found about Barry, an ancient seat of population, and also within the limits of what is now the burgh of Arbroath. The date of the interments, even within a century or two, cannot be determined; but those old graves do certainly show that this district of the country was inhabited at an early period, and the remains which have been found in some of the graves—articles of domestic, ornamental, or religious use—present to us a people passing by slow degrees from the savage to a comparatively civilized state. When they had attained to the religious idea, their religion ultimately assumed shape in some form of Paganism. Not far from the supposed cell of St Vigian, and the underground chambers at West Grange of Conan, there are the remains of what in the district is called a Druidical circle. Whether the Druids ever had a temple there is, at the least, open to question; but it is possible, or probable, that the rites of Pagan worship continued to be practised in the forests of Angus for some time after the Roman invasion had swept through ancient Caledonia on to the Grampians.

The Romans have left but little trace behind them in Forfarshire. But they were in the county. One of the most complete of the Roman camps in Scotland is at Kirkbuddo, a few miles from Arbroath, and there is another between Forfar and Clocksbriggs. Farther away to the north are the hill forts of Caterthun, which, as Dr Burton1 suggests, are not Roman, although they are of that period. Caterthun appears to be a British fortress, erected to defend one of the passes of the Grampians against the Roman invaders. The site for this ancient fort, overlooking as it does the great valley of Strathmore, and commanding a wide extent of country, must have been selected by some one who, though he may have been what we should now call uncivilized, was no mean tactician.

The earliest battle in the district of which .there exists a distinct trace is that which took place at Dunnichen, near the town of Forfar, in the year 685. At that time, Arbroath, if it had any existence, which is improbable, must have been a hamlet in Pictland, one of the then political divisions of the modern kingdom of Scotland. The story of the battle is that Egfrid, King of Northumbria—a kingdom which extended to the shores of the Forth—crossed the estuaries of the Forth and Tay with the purpose of subduing the northern kingdom. Egfrid penetrated to Dunnechtan, or Nechtan-mere, the modern Dunnichen, where a great battle was fought, in which the Saxon invaders were defeated and their king slain. The frontier of the Forth was abandoned, and the kingdom of Northumbria took its limits at the Tweed, which six centuries afterwards was the principal fighting line of the English and Scottish monarchies. That old, and now all but forgotten, fight which took place at Dunnichen him thus a good right to be regarded as one of the decisive battles of history. It is about two centuries after it was fought that Pictland as a separate state is found disappearing from view, and a king of Scots, Kenneth by name, is engaged in founding, or extending, that monarchy which, after a lapse of seven centuries, was to seat itself by the Thames.

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