Stonehaven (surveyed in 1865)


Stonehaven lies round the sandy bay on the east coast of Scotland where the Cowie and Carron Waters converge and meet the North Sea, at one of the few breaks in the coastal cliffs between Aberdeen and Montrose. The town's name was first recorded as 'Stanehyve', in 1587, and probably derives from either Old English stan ('stone') and hyth ('landing place'), or Old Norse steinn ('stone') and hofn ('harbour'). From the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries Cowie, a kilometre to the north of Stonehaven over the Carron Water, was the significant settlement in the area. However, in 1587 the fishing village of Stonehaven had already begun to develop on the south bank on the Carron, and was chartered as a burgh of barony. By 1607 the harbour had been extended, a tolbooth had been built and Stonehaven was recognised as the county town of Kincardineshire. A post office opened in 1699 and a second harbour in 1700, and in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the new town was laid out north of the Carron, stretching towards Cowie. In 1851, the population of the old and new towns combined was measured at 3,240.

Town Planning

The old town of Stonehaven, although built more than four hundred years after the major Scottish burgh planning era of the twelfth century, corresponds roughly to the street pattern preferred in the medieval towns. A long high street, broad enough to be used as a marketplace, slopes toward the pier and harbour, where many goods for trade would have been landed. The tolbooth, the first administrative building for Kincardineshire, was built overlooking the harbour, at the commercial heart of the original town (sheet XVII.4.16). The eighteenth-century town house was built at the west end of the High Street. The structure of the new town adheres to a layout that was popular in Scottish planned towns of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, involving the streets being arranged in a gridiron pattern around a large central square. Like the medieval model, this town plan was designed on the principle that commercial and civic business should be carried out in a public space at the heart of the community.

Trade and Industry

Cotton and linen weaving were significant industries in Stonehaven in the early-nineteenth century, but by the 1850s had declined. A bark-mill, a tannery and a gasworks, manufacturing coal gas, existed in the town, and a small brewery and a distillery were also in operation. Fish curing, a product of the extensive fishing carried on off the coast of Stonehaven, was an important job, and various other people were employed in the secondary industries generated by fishing. As a county town, Stonehaven was a trading centre, and its weekly produce market was held on a Thursday. There were also six agricultural fairs every year.


When the 1845 Statistical Account was written, just less than 60% of the acreage of Dunottar parish, including Stonehaven, had been cultivated, and a significant additional amount of the countryside had been given over to woodland. The improvements that had been made on the land in the preceding years included better drainage, a new six-year rotation of crops and proper enclosure of fields. Corn, barley, oats and turnips were among the staple crops. The main breed of livestock reared was black polled cattle. Pig-farming became more extensive in the area in the nineteenth century, but sheep-farming was barely practised. The horses used in the area were often local breeds that had been crossed with Suffolk or Clydesdale breeds in an attempt to eradicate defects. There was no salmon fishing in the parish. Sea-fishing, which was hugely important to the Stonehaven economy, was mainly for white fish such as haddock, whiting, cod, ling, skate and halibut. Lobsters and crabs were also common, and local herring fisheries increased in prosperity between 1845 and the publication of Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland in 1857.

Religious Life

The town of Stonehaven falls into two parishes, Dunnottar and Fetteresso, and because of this, the town contained two parish churches in the 1850s. Other denominations in the town included the Free Church, United Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists. Dunnottar parish will always be associated with the martyrdom of Covenanters during the period known as the 'killing times' in the late seventeenth century. 167 Covenanters were imprisoned in the dungeon of Dunnottar Castle, two miles south of Stonehaven, and were tortured, and in some cases executed, by Royalist troops.


In the mid-nineteenth century, schools in Stonehaven included two parish schools, several private schools, a Free Church school, a Methodist school and Donaldson's Free School. The town house contained a courtroom, committee rooms, a sheriff-clerk's office, cells and a prison-house. Sometime in the early nineteenth century a neo-classical sheriff court and police station was built in the new town, and a market-house, containing a large public hall, was built in the square of the new town in 1827. In its description of Stonehaven, The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland (1857) records branches of the Bank of Scotland, North of Scotland Bank and Aberdeen Town and Country Bank, a national security savings bank, a penny-bank and seven insurance offices in the town.

Culture and Society

Mid-nineteenth century Stonehaven appears to have lacked amenities catering for the cultural and leisure interests of its inhabitants. A joint-stock library and several religious institutions are mentioned by Wilson (1857), and the Statistical Account of 1845 cites the Mill Inn as a notable establishment, but few other attractions seem to have existed prior to the time of the survey. Things did improve in Stonehaven towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the founding of a golf club in 1888 and the opening of more bars and hotels.