Nairn (surveyed in 1867-8)


Nairn is situated around the estuary of the River Nairn on the Moray Firth coast, about fifteen miles north-east of Inverness. The word 'Nairn' is believed to be of pre-Celtic origin, and its meaning is unknown, although it is known that the name belonged first to the river, and was later applied to the town. Around 1200 the town was known as 'Invernaren', (meaning mouth of the Naren or Nairn), but by the sixteenth century this had been shortened to 'Narne', later Nairn. Nairn was chartered as a royal burgh in 1189, and replaced nearby Auldearn as the caput or centre of the small Sheriffdom of Nairnshire in 1204. Like its neighbours Inverness, Forres and Elgin, Nairn was affected by the raiding and feuding that went on among nearby Highland clans and landowners, suffering theft and the destruction of some of its buildings. It developed less successfully as an economic centre than the three nearby royal burghs, although by the mid nineteenth century it had a fairly significant fishing industry. The population of the parliamentary burgh of Nairn in 1861 was measured at 3,435.

Town Planning

The centre of Nairn is atypical of early Scottish planned burghs, in that its High Street, or main street, is of a consistent width for most of its length, rather than broadening out to an open marketplace at one end. The existing courthouse and county buildings (sheet I.16.2.), built in 1818, are situated halfway down the High Street, apparently on the site of the original tolbooth, which was first mentioned in records of Nairn in the sixteenth century. A replacement for the original market cross stands outside the courthouse, suggesting that the marketplace was situated in the centre of the High Street, in front of the tolbooth. A royal castle existed in Nairn until the fourteenth century, and is believed to have stood between the north-east end of the High Street and the river, just a few yards to the south-west of the principal crossing over the Nairn (sheet I.12.23).

Trade and Industry

The Statistical Account of 1845 points out that 'The landward trade of Nairn must always be circumscribed by the nearness of the Highlands on the south, and by the vicinity of Inverness on the west, and of Forres and Findhorn on the east'. Modest produce markets were held on Tuesdays and Fridays, and a corn market on Thursdays; horse and cattle fairs were held five or six times a year. The main imports into Nairn in the 1850s were coal, lime and groceries, and the main exports were fish and fir timber. By the 1860s there was a brewery in the town, but there was little other significant industry in the town itself, other than that connected with the maintenance of the fishing fleet and processing of catches.


Probably the best farming land in the parish of Nairn was that immediately adjacent to the burgh, and this was the land that commanded the highest rents. As with much of the rest of Scotland, the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries saw much land improvement in Nairnshire, and the chief improver in the area is named in the Statistical Account as William Mackintosh of Geddes, who acquired lands in 1822 and found that the fields of the tenant farmers had been badly neglected by the previous owner. Mackintosh's improvements included draining, liming and enclosing fields, building proper farm-steadings and planting trees, and in addition to increasing the overall productivity of the land, he also added thirty newly cultivated areas to his property. The staple crops in the area appear to have been corn and wheat, and corn and flour mills stood on the River Nairn. Fishing was probably a more significant industry than farming in Nairn's hinterland. By 1850, over 400 fishermen and 60 fishing vessels operated out of Nairn. Haddock and cod were the predominant types of fish caught in the waters around Nairn, but during the herring season many members of the Nairn fleet went further north to participate in the Caithness herring fishings, which were extremely lucrative during various periods of the nineteenth century. There was also a small salmon fishery on the River Nairn.

Religious Life

The parish church which existed when Nairn was surveyed occupied a site by the river, south east of the High Street (sheet I.16.3). Built in 1811 to replace an earlier church on the same site, the parish church was eventually abandoned when it developed structural problems in the 1880s, and new one built on a different site. Other denominations represented in Nairn during the 1850s included the Free Church, United Presbyterians, Independents, Scottish Episcopalians and English Episcopalians.


The principal school in Nairn in the mid-nineteenth century was Rose's Academical Institution, founded in 1832 after a bequest from a local naval man, Captain James Rose, and later known as Nairn Academy. Other schools included a parish school, a General Assembly school, a Free Church academy, a monitory school and two girls' boarding schools. Nairn Town and County Hospital, still in existence today, had opened by the time the town was surveyed in 1867-8. Financial institutions included branches of the Caledonian Bank, the Linen Company Bank and the National Bank, a national security savings bank and seven insurance offices. The town had one newspaper, entitled the Nairnshire Telegraph, which was published on alternate Thursdays. Rail arrived in the town in 1855, with the opening of the Inverness and Nairn Railway, which was later extended to link Inverness with Aberdeen.

Culture and Society

At the time of the survey, social amenities still appear to have been quite limited in Nairn. The town had several friendly societies, the Nairnshire farmer's society and a masonic lodge. The courthouse was occasionally used as a ballroom, and the town had quite sophisticated facilities for sea-bathing which included shower blocks. After the improvement of rail links in the late nineteenth century, Nairn began to develop its identity as a seaside resort. Large hotels were built, a bandstand was opened on the links and the town had two fine 18-hole golf courses by the end of the nineteenth century. This development was partly arrested, however, by the opening of the southern rail link from Inverness to Aviemore in 1898.

A View of Nairn in 1845

"There is an excellent well kept hotel in the burgh, at which three public coaches stop every day. There is a Temperance Society in the burgh, which promises to be productive of good." (from the Statistical Account)