WICK, a royal burgh, the county town, and a parish, in the county of Caithness; containing, with Pulteney-Town adjoining and the villages of Sarclet, Staxigoe, Reiss, and Ackergill, 10,393 inhabitants, of whom 1333 are in the town, 16 miles (S. by E.) from Canisbay, 20½ (S. E. by E.) from Thurso, and 276 (N.) from Edinburgh. This place, of which the name, in the Celtic language, signifies a village or small town on an arm of the sea, appears to have been originally inhabited by a Celtic tribe, who at a very early period fell under the power of the Picts, of whose settlement in this part of the kingdom, many ancient monuments are still remaining. The Norwegians under Sigard, brother of Ronald, to whom Harold had granted the Orkneys, eventually obtained possession also of Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross, which continued to be governed by a succession of Norwegian earls for many generations. About the year 1330, that part of Caithness which includes the parish of Wick belonged to the family of De Cheyne, of whom the last male heir, Sir Reginald de Cheyne, dying in 1350, was succeeded by his two daughters, who by marriage conveyed the lands to the Sinclairs, Sutherlands, and Keiths. In 1464, a feud arising between the clan of Gun, who held lands here, and the Keiths, a sanguinary conflict took place on the moors of Tannach, in this parish, in which the former were defeated; and above a century afterwards, in 1588, the Earl of Sutherland in revenge for the slaughter of some of his dependents by the Sinclairs, earls of Caithness, made an inroad into the territories of the latter, burnt the town of Wick, laid siege to their baronial castle of Girnigoe, and after a fruitless endeavour to reduce it, wasted the adjacent territory. The lands in this parish belonging to the Earl of Caithness were sold in 1672, by his grandson, to the lord of Glenorchy, who, having thus become proprietor of the greater part of Wick, married the countess, and assumed the title of the Earl of Caithness. To vindicate his claim to this honour, which was disputed by Sinclair of Keiss, Glenorchy raised a considerable force; and Sinclair, with a band of 400 of his adherents, took post in the town of Wick, to intercept his progress to Keiss. A battle now occurred, in which Sinclair was defeated; but notwithstanding, his right was subsequently acknowledged, and Glenorchy, to compensate his disappointment, was created Baron of Wick. The baron did not, however, long retain his lands here; for in 1690, dividing the estate into numerous portions, he sold them to as many proprietors; and Sir George Dunbar, of Hempriggs, is now the principal landowner.
   The town is situated at the head of the bay of Wick in the Moray Frith, and on the north side of the river Wick, over which is a handsome bridge connecting the town with the populous district of Pulteney-Town. The streets are irregularly formed, and the houses but indifferently built; the place is, however, lighted with gas from works erected by a company in 1840, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. A subscription library, established in 1826, has now a collection of more than 1600 volumes; and there are two readingrooms, one in Pulteney-Town, and the other in Wick, the former established in 1829 and the latter in 1840, and both well supplied with London and other journals, and supported by subscription. The weekly paper called the John O' Groat Journal is also published in the town. Among the principal manufactures carried on are, the making of ropes and cordage, for which there are four establishments employing about eighty men; and the building of ships, of which there are always one or two on the stocks, occupying about fifty men. There are also twelve yards for boat-building; nearly 100 boats are annually launched for the fisheries, and from seventy to eighty persons are engaged in the yards. Here are a distillery and brewery, a meal and barley mill, and four saw-mills, three of them driven by steam; an iron-foundry has been lately established in PulteneyTown, and about sixty men are employed in preparing paving-stones for exportation. The female part of the population are to a great extent occupied in spinning yarn, and making it into nets for the herring-fishery, for which, also, nearly 300 coopers are constantly employed.
   The trade of the port was early carried on upon a tolerable scale; and in 1588, when the Earl of Sutherland burnt the town, it is recorded that he plundered a ship belonging to one of the merchants of the place. In 1843 the number of vessels registered as belonging to the port was thirty-five, of an aggregate burthen of 2529 tons; and the tonnage of the vessels annually touching here averages in the aggregate about 30,000; the customs in the same year amounted to £824. There is a chamber of commerce in the town. The original harbour, at the mouth of the river Wick, in the bay, was accessible only to vessels of very small burthen; and in 1810 a harbour was consequently constructed by the British Fishery Society, at a cost of £14,000, towards which £8500 were granted by government. This was capable of receiving 100 vessels of considerable size; but from the great increase of the fishery, subsequent to the erection of Pulteney-Town by that company, a more capacious harbour has been formed, at an expense of £40,000. There are also small harbours at the villages of Sarclet, Broadhaven, and Staxigoe. A salmon-fishery is conducted in the bay and river of Wick, and about 150 men are generally engaged throughout the year in the white-fishery off the coast; but the principal trade arises from the herring-fishery, which was first established here in 1767, by two or three individuals who fitted out two sloops for the purpose. In 1808, the British Fishery Society granted lots of land in perpetual feus, on low terms, for the encouragement of the fishery, which since that time has rapidly increased, and is now carried on to a vast extent, affording employment to nearly 8000 persons during the season. The season usually commences about the middle of July, and continues till the end of September. About 900 boats are engaged, and the average quantity of fish taken is 88,500 barrels, of which 63,500 are of fish cured for exportation, chiefly to Ireland and the Baltic, to the former country 50,000, to the latter 5000; the remainder is either consumed at home, or sent coastwise. The custom-house for the district has been removed from Thurso to this town. The post-office has a daily delivery; and the revenue, previously to the reduction of the postage, averaged £1200 annually. A branch of the Commercial Bank has been established, and a handsome building of freestone, with an Ionic portico, erected for its use; also a branch of the Aberdeen Town and County Bank. The market, which is abundantly supplied, is on Friday; and fairs are held annually, for cattle, at Kilminster on the first Tuesday of March, at Wick on the first Tuesday after Palm Sunday, in June, and about the end of November, and at Hill of Wick on the Tuesday after the 20th of July. Facility of intercourse is afforded by good roads, which pass for many miles through the parish; and a steam-boat plies weekly, from the month of March till November, to Lerwick, Kirkwall, Aberdeen, and Leith, for goods and passengers.
   The town was erected into a royal burgh by charter of James VII. in 1589; and in 1828, the courts of the sheriff, previously held at Thurso, were removed to this place as the county town. The government of the burgh is vested in a provost, two bailies, a treasurer, a dean of guild, and seven councillors. There are no incorporated guilds. The fee for admission as a burgess, originally £8. 8. for a stranger, and half that sum for the son or son-in-law of a burgess, has since been reduced to £4. 4. The jurisdiction of the magistrates extends throughout the royalty; and in the session of 1844, an act of parliament was passed, conferring the requisite powers for enforcing police regulations in the district of PulteneyTown, and for supplying it with water. The town and county hall is a neat building of stone, with a campanile turret terminating in a cupola and dome; the hall is a spacious and well-proportioned apartment, of which the walls are hung with well-painted portraits of the late Earl of Caithness, the late Sir John Sinclair, of Ulbster, James Traill, Esq., and Kenneth Macleay, Esq. The town house and gaol were erected in 1828, at an expense of £2000, of which the greater part was paid by the burgh; and the gaol is sufficient both for the burgh and the county: it is well ventilated, with the advantage of airing-yards, and is under good regulation, and visited by a chaplain who has a salary of £20 per annum. The burgh, with Kirkwall, Dornoch, Tain, Dingwall, and, since the Reform act, Cromarty, returns a member to the imperial parliament: the number of £10 householders within the parliamentary boundary, which extends beyond the royalty, and includes Pulteney-Town, is 233.
   The parish is bounded on the east by the Moray Frith, and is about sixteen miles in extreme length from north to south, and about six miles in average breadth, comprising an area of above 60,000 acres, of which about one-fourth is arable, and the remainder rough pasture, moss, and waste. The surface is generally flat, with a gradual slope in some parts. From the bay of Wick, the vale of Stircoke extends in a western direction for nearly nine miles to the lake of Watten, without attaining an elevation of more than sixty feet above the level of the sea. About half a mile above the town commences a similar valley, stretching in a southern direction, almost parallel with the coast, and at its southern extremity rising to a moderate height; while on the north-west, a third valley, in which is the deep and extensive moss of Kilminster, separates the parish from that of Bower. The only rising grounds that can he called hills are the heights of Yarrow and Camster, towards the south-west. The coast is indented with numerous bays, which make it about twenty-six miles in extent, and presents a great variety of features. To the north it is rocky; thence the land gradually slopes to the bay of Keiss, the shores of which are low, and formed of flinty sand; and to the south of this extensive bay is the boldly-projecting promontory called Noss Head, on which are the ancient castles of Sinclair and Girnigoe. Between this and Broadhaven is the small bay or harbour of Staxigoe. Between Broadhaven and the bay of Wick is the headland of Proudfoot, constituting the north boundary of the bay, of rugged and precipitous aspect; and on the south of the bay appears a projecting rock between two immense chasms, on which are the remains of the tower of Auld Wick, forming an excellent landmark to mariners. Still further to the south are the fishing-haven of Hempriggs, and the harbour of Sarclet.
   There are several lakes. The principal in the north are, Loch Wester, within less than a mile of Keiss bay, about a mile long and less than half a mile wide, and from which an outlet flows into the bay; Loch Noss, on the promontory of that name, and which, notwithstanding its elevation and the absence of any inlets, is seldom dry; and Loch Kilminster, in the centre of the moss of that name, about three-quarters of a mile in breadth. To the south of the last is Loch Winless, connected with it by a rivulet which eventually flows into the river Wick. In the southern part of the parish are, Loch Dhu, three-quarters of a mile in circumference; Loch Hempriggs, about a mile in length and half a mile in breadth, from which an outlet is cut into Pulteney-Town; Loch Yarrow; and Loch Sarclet. The principal river is the Wick, which issues from Loch Watten, in the parish of that name, and, flowing through the rich and fertile valley of Stircoke, after receiving various tributary streams falls into the bay of Wick. The scenery of the parish, however, with the exception of a few pleasing spots near the mouth of the river, is tame and uninteresting.
   The soil is various; in some parts light and sandy, in others a rich loam, but for the greater part a stiff clay. The system of agriculture, previously to 1790, was in a most neglected state; and the lands were in the hands of middlemen, by whom they were sublet in small portions, and at extravagant rents, to tenants utterly incapable of managing them with profit. Sir Benjamin Dunbar, however, who in 1782 succeeded his father in the property, entirely changed the system, divided his lands into commodious farms, and let them to tenants at a moderate rent on lease; and since that time a rapid and effectual improvement has taken place. The crops are, grain of every kind, potatoes, turnips, and the different grasses. The lands have been drained and inclosed; the farm-buildings are now substantial and commodious, and all the more recent improvements in implements of husbandry have been adopted. The cattle are of the pure Highland breed, and a cross with the short-horned; and the sheep generally of the Cheviot, with a few of a cross between that and the Leicestershire breed. There is very little natural wood. Plantations have been made to a considerable extent around the houses of the landed proprietors; but with the exception of the elder-trees, to which the soil appears favourable, they are not in a thriving state. The rocks are chiefly of greywacke and greywacke-slate; and the substrata, sandstone of various colours, limestone, and flagstone, which are extensively quarried; and the last, after being dressed for pavement, is exported in large quantities. Veins of iron, lead, and copper ore, have been discovered in some places. The rateable annual value of the parish is £17,028. Hempriggs House, the seat of Lady Duffus, and of considerable antiquity, is a spacious and handsome mansion, finely situated, and surrounded with plantations. Ackergill Tower, the seat of Sir George Dunbar, fourth baronet of Hempriggs, anciently the baronial castle of the Keiths, stands on the southern bank of Keiss bay, and is a noble and commodious rectangular structure, eighty-two feet in height, and of which the walls, crowned with battlements, are thirteen feet in thickness. The whole edifice, though bearing throughout the hoar of antiquity, is in a state of entire preservation. Stircoke House, the seat of William Horne, Esq., of Scouthel; Thrumster House, the seat of Robert Innes, Esq., and Rosebank, the seat of Kenneth Macleay, Esq., of Keiss, are also good mansions.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Caithness and synod of Caithness and Sutherland. The minister's stipend is £232. 1. 8., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £50 per annum; patron, Sir George. The church, erected in 1830, is a spacious structure of blue stone with dressings of freestone, in the early English style of architecture, with a spire, and contains 1981 sittings, including 146 on forms; it is conveniently situated at the western extremity of the town. There is a preaching station at Bruan, where a building has been erected which contains about 600 sittings; the station is now connected with the Free Church, and the minister has a manse and glebe, granted by the family of Sinclair, baronets of Ulbster. A church was built by government near the bay of Keiss, at an expense of £1500, in 1827; and in 1833 a quoad sacra parish was assigned to it: the minister has a stipend of £120, and a manse, by endowment of government. A church, also, of which the foundation stone was laid in 1841, has been erected at Pulteney-Town. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the United Secession, Reformed Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, Original Seceders, and Wesleyans; and during the fishingseason, a Roman Catholic chapel is open for strangers, chiefly from Ireland. The parochial school is numerously attended, and well conducted; the master has a fixed salary of £34. 4. 4., and the fees average about £55 per annum. There are schools at Keiss, Noss, and Ulbster, each of which is endowed with £7. 10. from a bequest by the Rev. William Hallowall, to which an equal sum is added by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. There are also schools at Thrumster and Stircoke, for each of which the proprietors have built houses, and have given an endowment in land to the master, to whom, also, a salary of £25 each is paid by the General Assembly. At Pulteney-Town is a school supported by the British Fishery Society; there are numerous Sabbath schools in the parish, and also many private schools. Among the monuments of antiquity are, the ruins of Pictish houses scattered throughout the parish, and the ruins of two ancient castles called Linglass, with which it is said a village was connected; they are both of conical form, and are said to have been destroyed by fire. At Ulbster is an upright stone, inscribed with illegible characters, supposed to have been erected to the memory of a Danish princess, married to the founder of the clan Gun, and wrecked on her arrival at Caithness. Along the coast are the remains of the baronial castles of Auld Wick, Girnigoe, Sinclair, and Keiss. In the churchyard, and opposite to the door of the parish church, are the roofless walls of Sinclair's aisle, part of the ancient church of St. Fergus, in which was deposited the heart, cased in lead, of George, fifth earl of Caithness, whose body was interred in the church of St. Giles at Edinburgh. There are also still some remains of several places of worship thought to have been originally built by the Culdees. The parish confers the title of Baron on the Marquess of Breadalbane.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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