Neish claims it’s all in the name

The Salvation Army performing in Peterheads Longate which used to be called the Kingis Common Gate.
The Salvation Army performing in Peterheads Longate which used to be called the Kingis Common Gate.

While gleaning through the annals of the Buchan Observer we came across an article marking the paper’s 125th year.

It gave an indepth history into Peterhead’s street names by Robert Neish, author of ‘Old Peterhead’ and a former clerk to the Feuars of the Community.

Here’s what he said...

“If we reflect for a moment on the names given to some of the old lands and thoroughfares of our town, we will find that they reveal much enshrined history and cast an illuminative glow over the long vicissitudes of the past.

Ancient street names bring back the paths of kings and nobles, the dwellings of monks and peasant, the sites of battlements and holy wells, and in some cases they betray the evolution of our language.

On such a fascinating subject it is difficult to know where to begin, but we must begin somehwere. I shall first of all trace the history of what was, until recent years, the main shopping centre of the town, namely the Longate.

When the town was erected into a Burgh of Barony, the Longate was known as the Kingis Common Gait, and we immediately ask ourselves whether this was just a courtesy title or whether any king, in fact, did ride in state along the Kingis Common Gait.

Here I may explain that, ahtough all our ancient towns throughout the realm about in streets whose names are compounded with ‘gate’, ie. Backgate, Ballowgate, Aldersgate etc, it is a mistake to think of these streets as marking the site of a gate in the sense of an entrance.

In medieval Scottish the word ‘gait’ simply meant a road or a way, nothing more.

The actual gate of a city was the ‘bar’ and the distinction is preserved in York’s Monksbar and Michiegate bar etc.

If we explore the pages of ancient history we shall discover that in the summer of 1589 the ‘richt heich and michtite’ King James the Sixth of Scotland paid a visit in state to the Craig of Inverugie on the occasion of the marrige of the sister of George, Earl Marischal.

On his way south to Aberdeen, King James followed the course of the Ugie to Collieburn, then over the hill past the Priory of Monkisholme to the Roanheads where, no doubt, he inspected the embryo harbour of Port Henry, which was mentioned in the Charter of Erection of 1587, and perhaps also the site on Keith Inch where George, Earl Marischal, intended to build his town residence.

I may recall that in 1587 the Earl Marischal negotiated the marriage of King James with Anne of Denmark and the cost of banquets and firewords to enertain the DAnesemptied George’s coffers to the tune of £15,000.

The debt, however, was never paid.

There is little doubt, however, that the present Longate was named originally in honour of the visit of James VI. At that time the Longate only extended to the Heugh-head or the Hillock, and did not include North Street.

The original name of the Kingis Common Gait was retained until the 1715 Rebellion, when following the fiasco of Sheriffmuir and the fact the Old Pretender landed at Peterhead, the inhabitants thought discretion the better part of valour by dropping any reference to the King, even on their streets.

Thereafter the street became known as the Long Street and so remained until the beginning of the 19th century when it was re-christened to Longate.

From the Kingis Common Gait, the next street of importance in our humble fishertoon was the Common Gait - now Broad Street.

Situated practically half-way between the Kirktoon and the Roanheads, and leading to the Flesh Market which then stood near to where the Graving Dock is today, and also to the Sandbridge to Keith Inch, it was the most convenient place for the inhabitants to meet to discuss state and burgh affairs and to hold their weekly markets.

Without doubt, this choice of the inhabitants upon a communal centre influenced the decision of the Earl Marischal, after the Restoration, to build the second Tolbooth at Peterhead, on the site of the present Townhouse.

The street name was then changed to Broad Gate, and so it continued until 1832 when it received the more aristocratic application of Broad Street.

Although it is claimed that there was once a market cross on the site of the present Reform Monument, I am convinced that after a search of the Burgh records that, unlike other towns, Peterhead never did have a market cross of any description.

The only other road in the original Fischertoon was the Bankhead Road, now the Seagate, which ended at the Hillock at Port Henry.

From the Common Gait, or Broad Gate, I will pass over to the island of Keith Inch.

Until 1660 Keith Inch was the exclusive domain of the Earls Marischal. I

n 1590 George Earl Marischal built his residence known as the Castle of Keith Inch, at the most easterly tip, and no inhabitant of the town was allowed to reside there apart from the retainers and domestic staff of the earl.

For many years the only road on the island was Castle Street, but in course of time other interesting streets were added.

It must be kept in mind that until 1810 the islands of Keith Inch and the Greenhill were quite separate. The channel between them was known as Poolmouth, and the channel between the two islands and the mainland the Trot Valley.

Through these channels the sea rushed with terrific force into the South Bay. When the two islands were joined together by excavations from the present North Harbour, a street was made on the reclaimed land and was named Pool Lane.

This land commemorates to a certain extent, not only the fact that there was one at Poolmouth, but also that the Pool itself was responsible for the origin of the herring fishing industry in Peterhead.

It is a surprising fact that although the Dutch regularly visited Keith Inch, every fishing season for 100 years prior to 1703 with anything from 50 to 100 fishing busses, the inhabitants took little interest in such produce of the sea.

During the summer months shoals of herrings were driven ashore in profuse abundance through the Poolmouth into the shallow basin of the South Harbour, and in the course of a few hours the inhabitants could replenish their winter stocks according to the quantity of barrels and salt at their disposal.

Apart from loads which farmers removed for manure, the remainder was allowed to go to waste.

What was of much more importance to the inhabitants, however, the arrival of herring shoals was the sign that the dog fish were in the vicinity and these were diligently caught without restriction, for the purpose of converting their livers into oil for lighting purposes.

In 1703, the Dutch herring fishing fleet of over 400 busses was annihilated by French warships and it was nearly 100 years later before the Dutch fleets revisited Keith Inch.

More to follow