Forres (surveyed in 1868)


Forres sits on a small tributary of the River Findhorn, beneath the Cluny and Sanquhar Hills, in the county of Moray in north-east Scotland. The origins of the name 'Forres' are unclear. It has been suggested that the burgh is on the site of 'Varis', a settlement shown on Ptolemaic maps of Roman Britain from circa AD140, which predate the first records of Scots Gaels. It has also been suggested, however, that the name is derived from Scots Gaelic, and means 'beneath the bushes' (from far, meaning 'below' and ras, meaning 'shrubs' or 'underwood'). Like its neighbour Elgin, Forres was one of Scotland's earliest royal burghs, chartered by David I in either AD 1130 or 1150, and also like Elgin, its location made it susceptible to attack during Highland-Lowland feuds, and the town was burned by the Wolf of Badenoch in 1390. Forres passed into the control of the Earls of Moray in the fifteenth century, and stagnated economically until the eighteenth century, when a slow recovery began. In 1861 the burgh population was numbered at 4,112.

Town Planning

Forres, like the majority of Scotland's early planned burghs, is dominated by a long high street. The tolbooth, which was rebuilt on the original site in the nineteenth century, stands halfway down the High Street, presiding over a wide central marketplace that is also typical of Scottish burghs. The parish church stands at the west end of the High Street, overlooked by the hill where Forres's medieval royal castle once stood. In 1806 the octagonal Nelson tower was built on the nearby Cluny hills, and still dominates the approach to the town.

Trade and Industry

The growth of the textile industry assisted the economic recovery of Forres in the eighteenth century, and by the 1790s flax spinning was a significant cottage industry in the town. However, the large scale spinning and weaving technology which revolutionised the textile industry in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries did not reach Forres, and by the time of the Statistical Account of 1845 it was recorded that 'There are no manufactures in Forres'. The town did, however, have a brewery, opened in the 1820s, and a gasworks, opened in 1837. The bulk of other employment was in retail and small scale trade.


The area of Moray around Forres was largely given over to arable and livestock farming. Cattle farming was predominant on the land nearest to the town, as the regular demand for dairy products from the population made this the most profitable method of farming. Sheep were also kept in some areas of the countryside, however. The staple crops were turnips, potatoes, wheat, barley and oats, and flour and meal mills stood on the burn of Forres. In addition to farming, salmon fishing could be a profitable, if unpredictable, business. The Findhorn was a noted salmon river, and in the 1840s the fisheries in the parish of Forres were owned by Messrs Forbes and Co. of Aberdeen.

Religious Life

St Lawrence's, the parish church of Forres, has stood on the same site, on the north-west side of the High Street, since medieval times. The Statistical Account of 1845 notes that the church, seating 1000, was the only Church of Scotland building in the town, but that there were 'three Dissenting chapels', associated with the Secession Church, the Independents, and the Scotch Episcopal Church. At this time there was no Roman Catholic place of worship in Forres.

Schools and Education

The Statistical Account describes six schools for the education of boys in Forres in 1845. Two were fee-paying schools. Three were parochial schools, funded by the local parish, and the other was a charity school endowed by a Mr John Anderson of Glasgow. The three parochial schools, and the charity school, all appear to have occupied the same building, the academy, or 'Anderson's Academical Institution'. In addition to the boys' schools, Forres contained two boarding schools for 'young ladies', and the burgh paid small salaries to two additional women who taught local girls.

Other Institutions

In the 1850s Forres contained branches of the Caledonian Bank, the National Bank and the British Linen Company Bank, twenty-one insurance offices, a building association, a mechanics' institute and three masonic lodges. It also had a newspaper, the Forres Gazette, which began publication in 1837.

Culture and Society

A subscription library was founded in Forres at the turn of the eighteenth century, and was managed by a president and board of directors. By the 1850s the town also had three public connections with fine arts' institutions, four friendly societies, a bible society and two societies dedicated to temperance or total abstinence from alcohol. Forres had at least one ballroom, located in the St Lawrence masonic lodge, and the eight agricultural fairs held every year were undoubtedly important social events.