Arbroath (surveyed in 1858)


The town of Arbroath is located on the Angus coast in north-east Scotland, bounded by the North Sea (then called 'the German Ocean'). Originally called Aberbrothock, its contracted Pictish-Gaelic name means 'mouth of the boiling water', with the Brothock being a burn that flows through the town. The town was declared a royal burgh by William the Lion in or around 1186, although this cannot be established for certain. However, James VI of Scotland confirmed its royal privileges in 1599. Arbroath Abbey is famous as the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1320. Traditionally a fishing and market town, its population in the census of 1831 was 6,600, increasing to 10,030 in 1851.

Town Planning

As with many Scottish town and cities, the centre of Arbroath has been built around the twelfth century Abbey, the town's oldest building and religious heart. The town house, containing a courtroom, a large elegant hall and council meeting rooms, was built in 1806. The police station and jail, located to the west of the town house, was built in 1842, while the costly trades' hall was constructed in 1814. One of Arbroath's most famous landmarks is the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which is located 11 miles from the town. Completed in 1811, the lighthouse is considered to be the finest example of the work of Robert Stevenson, an ancestor of the famous writer, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Trade and Industry

The water-power provided by the fast-flowing Brothock Burn led to the establishment of traditional 19th century industries such as bleaching, spinning, weaving and flax-dressing. The town's ancient harbour has also provided the townspeople (known as 'Lichties') with employment, mostly in the fishing and shipbuilding industries. In addition to its three iron foundries, the town also contained a leather manufacturer, which made a vast range of products, including equestrian equipment. A weekly market highlights Arbroath's close proximity to rural areas, with hiring fairs formerly being held at certain times during the farming year. The town is also famous for its 'smokies', which are gutted and dry-salted haddock hung out to dry in the hot smoke of oak chips.


The parish of St. Vigeans lies to the north of Arbroath, while the parish of Arbirlot lies to the south and west of the town. The Mearns region is located to the north-east of the town, and this rich agricultural area would have provided the produce for Arbroath's weekly market. The picturesque fishing village of Auchmithie also lies just north of Arbroath, immediately beside the town's famous caves and cliffs, 'The Deil's Heid' and 'Meg's Crag', at Carlingheugh Bay.

Religious Life

The Arbroath Parish Church, built in 1791, was the seat of the presbytery in the synod of Angus and Mearns. The diversity of religious belief is highlighted by the number of different churches that appear in Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland (1857). Wilson records that, in 1857, the town housed two Free Churches, three United Presbyterian Churches, an Episcopalian Chapel, an Independent Chapel, a Baptist meeting-house, a Methodist Chapel, a Berean meeting-house and a Roman Catholic Chapel.

Culture and Society

Arbroath Academy, built in 1821, is probably the most famous educational establishment in the town. A public subscription library was formed in 1797, which was complemented by the setting up of a Mechanics' Institute. There was also a museum owned by the Natural History, Antiquarian and Scientific Society, which was open to the public every Saturday. Another museum is located in the Bell Rock Signal Tower building, which overlooks the harbour. Arbroath Cricket Club was another famous society that was established during the Victorian era. A weekly newspaper, the Arbroath Guide (now known as the Arbroath Herald), was published every Saturday.