A Brief History of Cromarty

A brief history of Cromarty — and a thought on its future

Cromarty first appears in historical records in the 1200s, as a royal burgh protected by a castle. Only royal burghs were permitted to trade and Cromarty appears to have flourished in its early years.

There were later periods of prosperity – in the early 1700s, when exports of salt fish grew; and from the late 1700s, when improved agriculture brought greater income to landowners, local farmers and merchants.

In the 1790s there was a view that it could overtake Inverness as the principal commercial centre of the north. The town’s hemp factory, fish processing, pork curing, ship-building, brewing and sea-borne trade were a model of what could be achieved in a small Scottish town.

Cromarty grew to reach a peak population of just over 2200 in 1831, when a disastrous decline set in — but it remained the biggest settlement in the Black Isle until a century later, when it was overtaken by Fortrose.

Cromarty’s later history could be described as a lesson in the art of survival. The town had to live with decline and find new sources of employment. In the end, this is a success story — but there is a sting in the tail.

Cromarty folklore, recorded by Hugh Miller in the 1820s, included tales of an older town lost to the sea. This is likely to be myth – but a myth which may become reality. It now seems likely that, at best, sea levels will rise by one metre [3¼ft] by the end of this century (see www.climatesafety.org).

The town of Cromarty has a history of over 750 years. Urgent action is needed if it is to have a similar future.
 David Alston

See also:

  • David Alston: 'My Little town of Cromarty', Birlinn, 2006
  • David Alston: 'Ross and Cromarty: A Historical Guide', Birlinn, 1997
  • new Cromarty Homes and Heritage project

Photo: 'Emigration Stone and Rig' by Calum Davidson

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