Stranraer (surveyed in 1863-77)


The royal burgh of Stranraer is located at the head of Loch Ryan, Wigtownshire, on the eastern side of the peninsula known as The Rinns of Galloway. The name of Stranraer translates from Scottish Gaelic into English as 'the place of the fat peninsula'. For the word sron is Scottish Gaelic for 'nose', while reamhar is Gaelic for 'fat' or 'thick' - hence Stranraer is a hybrid place-name. So Stranraer's name seems to be a reference to the town's location on the thicker part of the two sections that make up The Rinns of Galloway peninsula.

Although Stranraer boasts a considerable historical pedigree, the town did not receive its status as a royal burgh until 1617 (from James VI), and was not enrolled as a royal burgh until near the end of Charles II's reign. The town's most notable building is probably the Old Castle of St John, which was used by James Graham of Claverhouse in 1632. The North West Castle, meanwhile, was home to the famous Arctic explorer, Sir John Ross, who was born in nearby Inch where his father was the minister. The population of the town was recorded in the 1851 census as 3,877, with 523 houses.

Town planning

The names of the three central streets in Stranraer, Market Street, Harbour Street and Fisher Street, reveal much about the town's historical and economic origins. The original town house was built during the late-eighteenth century, but was enlarged and renovated in 1855. A corn exchange was added to the town house in 1840. The historic Old Town Hall, meanwhile, was built in 1776, and is now a museum.

The waterfront at Stranraer is dominated by the railway pier, which leads to the harbour station at the end of the east pier. Owned by the Caledonian Railway Company, railway tracks were laid down on the New East Pier in late 1862 as part of the construction of the Portpatrick Railway, and the harbour station opened that same year. The railway line to Stranraer harbour station was known as 'The Port Road'. It is highly likely that this survey took place very shortly after the opening of Stranraer's harbour station, possibly during the mid-1860s. Indeed, the construction of the railway line, town station and harbour station might well have been the reason why Stranraer was again surveyed by cartographers, so soon after the 1847 survey.

Trade and Industry

Traditionally a post and market town, Stranraer's main role at the time of this survey was as a seaport and place of exchange. In his Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland of 1857, Wilson records that Stranraer 'subsists mainly by the exchange of country produce for imported goods, and very little by local manufacture'. It was the lack of water power which explains why the town did not posses the type of industries traditionally associated with the Industrial Revolution. This said, however, some weavers did work in the town (though they were employed by firms in Glasgow), while the tannery and nail-making industry also provided employment to the local people, as did two breweries and a gasworks.

Some fishing was carried out on Loch Ryan, mainly for oysters and white fish. A weekly market was held each Friday, while fairs were also held on special dates through the year. It was not until 1862, however, that the ferry link to Larne in Northern Ireland was established. In turn, the railway line to Stranraer was finally built between 1861-2, as the town gradually took over from Portpatrick as the ferry port of choice for Ireland. The rural hinterland around Stranraer, meanwhile, provided its markets with cheese, milk, butter, grain and other farm produce.

Religious Life

The parish of Stranraer is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Galloway. As can be seen from the map, most of Stranraer's churches are clustered in the town centre, near George Street. In his Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland of 1857, Wilson records that Stranraer possessed three United Presbyterian churches, a reformed Presbyterian church, a United Original Secession church, a Free church, a chapel of ease and a Roman Catholic church.

Culture and Society

At the midpoint of the nineteenth century, Stranraer possessed a number of cultural organisations, including a public library, an agricultural society and a mechanics' institute, a fishermen's society and several other bodies. Stranraer Academy, the town's principal school, was founded in 1842. The town's newspaper, the Galloway Advertiser and Wigtownshire Free Press, was published every Thursday, and dates back to 1843.