Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

BRECHIN (surveyed in 1862)




The royal burgh town of Brechin is located in the Strathmore Valley, Angus, nine miles west from the coastal town of Montrose. The town's southern side is bounded by the River South Esk, which flows into the North Sea at Montrose. The name, Brechin, is possibly derived from Brychan, who was a legendary character from Celtic mythology. In Scottish Gaelic, Brychan probably means 'holy' or 'high', and is related to the Celtic goddess, Brigantia. However, it is also claimed that the town's name perhaps comes from a sixth century Angus king called Brachan. Brechin Cathedral was built in a gothic style with pink sandstone during the thirteenth century, although the building's two surviving round towers date back to the eleventh century. The walled town was granted its status as a royal burgh town in 1641 by Charles I. Traditionally a market, farming and post town, Brechin's population in the census of 1831 was 6,508, increasing to 8,210 in 1851.


Trade and Industry

Wilson (1857) records that 'The trade of the place is chiefly confined to the manufacture of osnaburghs, sailcloth and brown linen, which is carried on to a considerable extent.' It is recorded that around one third of these products were exported to the French market. At the time this survey was completed, the town also boasted two bleaching works, a flax spinning mill, a paperworks, two breweries and two distilleries. The land to the south-east of the town, where the mills and bleaching works were located, was called 'Bleaching Green'. A number of banks were also established in the town during the early nineteenth century. Weekly markets were held each Tuesday, while a large agricultural fair for livestock was held in mid-June. The history of these markets dates back to the twelfth century, when the bishop of the cathedral granted special permission for these markets to take place. The fertile hinterland around Brechin, meanwhile, produced a large amount of grain for export, and a granary existed in the east of the town, close to the railway station.


Religious Life

At the time of this survey, the parish of Brechin was the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Angus and Mearns. Wilson (1857) records the broad spectrum of religious beliefs that existed in Brechin towards the middle of the nineteenth century. He writes that, in 1857, the town possessed three Free churches, three United Presbyterian churches, a Congregational church and an Episcopalian chapel.


Culture and Society

A mechanics' institute, funded by Lord Panmure, was founded in 1836 to provide adults with some form of education. This institute, together with three schools and a library, was housed in a municipal building designed by the local architect, John Henderson, and was built in 1838-9. The public park was created in 1867, while Brechin High School was built in 1876. The Brechin Advertiser, a weekly newspaper, was published every Tuesday. The town's most famous former inhabitant is probably Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892-1973), who worked on the development of radar. Another famous individual who was born in the parish of Brechin is James Tytler (1747-1805). Known as 'Balloon Tytler', he achieved celebrity by manning Britain's first hot-air balloon flight in Edinburgh in 1784. He is also remembered for his role in helping compile the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/