Douglas G Lockhart

The newspaper Northern Scot on 20 July 1929 described Hopeman as one of the most picturesque of Moray’s seaside towns and although little more than 200 years old it has many buildings of architectural interest, representative of those found in coastal planned villages


The early years

Hopeman is situated on the Moray coast about eight miles from Elgin and was founded in the first decade of the nineteenth century when many of the villages in the area were established either in conjunction with agricultural improvement or the development of harbours to promote coastal trade and fishing (New Duffus, Cummingston and Burghead). These had a dramatic impact on the local landscape which is still evident and can also be seen in maps such as the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map. The founding of Hopeman occurred after a local landowner, Sir Archibald Dunbar, began to sell sections of his estates and Lot IV: lnverugie, was purchased in June 1805 by William Young a corn merchant in Lossiemouth and an enterprising tenant farmer on the Earl of Fife’s lands that lay south-east of the town.

The village site appears to have been uninhabited. Roy’s Map shows no settlement on the coast between Burghead and Stotfield, only sand dunes while Leslie his ‘General View of the Agriculture of Nairn and Moray’ published in 1813 described Inverugie as a ‘desolate tract’ on which Young had rebuilt upon the solitary shore one of the ancient fishing villages under the new name of Hopeman. The first indication that Young was planning a village on the Inverugie estate occurs in an advertisement the following year in the Aberdeen Journal (Fig.1), The project appears to have been an instant success and almost seventy building plots were taken up by fishermen and tradesmen in Dunbar Street, Farquhar Street, Thom Street, Forsyth Street and other streets on both sides of Harbour Street between 1806 and 1812.  These streets were named after some of the earliest inhabitants, for example James Dunbar previously in Plewland (sic); John and William Farquhar, shoemakers; Alexander Thom, mason and George Forsyth. Young recorded details of the occupations and often the previous addresses of the heads of households in an Estate Book. The fishermen were mainly recruited from Campbelltown (Ardersier) while many of the tradesmen came from places in the local area such as Keam, Begrow and Burnside and from Burgie, a few miles east of Forres and this pattern of short-distance migration was typical of villages  planned in the North East. A significant number were masons who would have found employment either building houses or in the freestone quarries nearby while other trades could supplement their income from the lotted lands south of Forsyth Street. Young also constructed a small harbour consisting of an L-shaped pier that provided protection from the north and east together with a shorter breakwater on the western side of the basin. An outer harbour or Boat Hythe on the west beach provided an alternative anchorage.


Young earned a reputation as a practical agriculture and estate manager which led to his appointment as Commissioner on the extensive Sutherland estates in 1810.  He was responsible for directing investment and changes in landholdings that became known as ‘The Clearances’ but which also included the development of villages at Brora, Portgower and Helmsdale. The founding of these villages had broadly similar objectives to those founded in Morayshire in the previous decade. Young’s excursion into Highland estate management lasted until 1816 and in this period only an advertisement in the Inverness Journal in 1813 announcing that Hopeman was to be extended hinted that the village continued to grow.

harbour street hopeman

Maybe not too much has changed in Hopeman’s ‘main drag’ of Harbour Street since this photo was taken in the 1870s.

On his return from Sutherland, Young became interested in purchasing Burghead, a much larger port-based village that had been founded almost ten years earlier by a consortium of eight local landowners including himself. He achieved this in 1819 and to pave the way he sold Hopeman, along with the Inverugie Estate to William Stuart, who owned plantations on Grenada in the West Indies. Stuart is thought to have spent several hundred pounds improving the harbour, however in 1828 it was described as ‘in a very dilapidated condition (and) so very small that 9 or 10 boats is the utmost it will contain’.  He had also built lime kilns on the estate and the harbour was used to import coal and export lime. Relatively little is known about the period of Stuart ownership though in 1823 and 1824 to raise capital he negotiated bonds totaling £27,000 from Arthur Anderson of Deebank, (Newton Dee near Cults, Aberdeenshire) with the title deeds of Inverugie Estate as security. The fragility of his finances also extended to the harbour which he had leased in 1826 to William Sinclair, a Leith fish curer for his exclusive use during the herring fishing season. In 1834 his Commissioners petitioned the Fishery board for financial assistance to extend and deepen the harbour. The petition noted that the population was about 400, two-thirds of whom were directly involved in the fishing industry. Aid was subsequently refused, partly because the harbour was in a poor state of repair, sand had been allowed to accumulate and it was within two miles of the larger harbour at Burghead. lt was also said that he was likely to receive £40,000 in compensation for his slaves following the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Heavily in debt on his Grenada properties the compensation was paid to his creditors, the Glasgow merchant house, J and A Smith, The estate was sold in 1837 to Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Archibald Duff of Drummuir who extended the village and invested heavily in the harbour.

The development of Hopeman now began to follow the same pattern as other places in the region such as Branderburgh (Lossiemouth), Morayshire and Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire.
Hopeman in the Victorian period and beyond Harbour development began soon after Duff’s purchase of the estate and an advertisement in the Aberdeen Journal in 1838 struck an optimistic note. Advertisements in the Elgin Courant in 1840 and 1841 gave details of the improved depths of water at high and low tides, the advantages for fish curers and boat builders to establish yards there and the proximity of Hopeman to the fishing grounds and as an incentive to fishing vessels, no harbour dues would be levied until further notice.  The next significant event occurred in the mid-1850s when Thomas Hutchon (Hutcheon) civil engineer and land surveyor in Elgin prepared a plan for a western suburb of the village. The Elgin Courant was favourably impressed:
We have seen the plan … which seems to be very neatly executed, and the streets appear to be laid off in a manner likely to prove highly convenient to the inhabitants – especially to the industrious fishing population, of which they principally consist.

Hopeman harbour view

The plan was for a grid of streets bounded by Duff Street on the north and Cooper Street on the south which were joined by several shorter cross streets – the present day Hutcheon, New and Gordon Streets (with Park Street to the west added at a later date), whose names have associations with the estate owners, and this became known is the Newtown.

Although laid out in the 1850s many of the plots were not developed until the early years of the twentieth century while several in Park Street failed to attract private buyers and were used for council housing in the early 1950s. Many of the houses in these streets were built for fishing boat skippers and have the building date or occasionally the name of the first owner inscribed above the front entrance.

In the 1880s Hopeman remained heavily dependent on fishing. In a petition of a few years earlier almost 220 of the 320 signatories were either fishermen or were engaged in supporting employment and 1881 census records that is population had grown to 1323.  By this time new types of fishing craft had evolved such as the Zulu that required deeper and larger harbours. Hopeman harbour was also difficult to enter when the wind was from a Northerly or North-easterly direction and to remedy this, a new basin west of the original harbour was proposed. Although proposals were discussed at a public meeting between the fishermen and the land owner in January 1882, it would be 10 years before it was completed with work on further improvements continuing for several years afterwards. Few harbour projects were as difficult and as controversial as that at Hopeman. The provisional order was obtained in 1888 and the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder, George Pirie, whose previous experience was mainly in Railway Civil Engineering. The death of the engineer, John Willett in Aberdeen 1890, alterations to the plans and litigation between landowner and contractor over the issue of silting, allegedly caused by failure to remove soft rock after blasting operations, led to delays and escalating costs.   Silting however was to prove a recurring issue and a steam dredger was purchased in 1898 from the Trustees of Helmsdale Harbour to deal with accumulations of sand in the harbour.

The opening of the new harbour coincided with the extension of the Alves Junction-Burghead railway to Hopeman in 1892. The herring fishery also enjoyed its greatest success in the 1890s   and 1900s in part due to the emergence of the steam drifter and these contributed to a housing boom in the village. The Northern Scot captured the mood of optimism in 1909 observing that:
A number of new houses have been erected by the fisher people, and there are always more building. A movement is on foot with the object of securing a new golf course, and as there is a lovely beach, those who like a quiet holiday could not do better than come to Hopeman.

Residential development on the fringes of Hopeman, particularly along the main road linking Elgin and Burghead (Forsyth Street), also occurred in the years leading up to the First World War. Here can be found several church manses, a villa (Berwyn) built by the local doctor that later served as a branch of the Clydesdale Bank and the impressive mansion known as ‘The Neuk’ built by George Slater, a fish curer that would become a holiday home for orphans from the Aberlour Orphanage,

At the outbreak of hostilities Steam drifters were requisitioned by the Admiralty while large sailing fishing boats were confined to harbour and many did not sail again. After the War steam drifters returned to fishing, however heavy coal consumption and the need for a large crew meant that they were expensive to operate in an unpromising economic environment characterised by low fish prices due to glutted markets and depressed conditions in the early 1930s.   One consequence was the scrapping of many of the aging drifters, some as a result of the Herring Industry Board buying boats with the intention of breaking them up. These were replaced by motor boats that were cheaper to run and which required smaller crews. The inter-war years were also noted for the centralisation of fish landings on a few ports with Hopeman fishermen taking their catches to Lossiemouth, a trend that was virtually complete by the outbreak of the Second World War.

While fishing was depressed, Hopeman attracted larger numbers of holidaymakers. Rooms to let with or without attendance were the order of the day together with accommodation in establishments such as the Ben Nevis Inn on Harbour Street that had been built at the close the nineteenth century. Visitors, many of whom had come from central Scotland were attracted by the fine beaches, healthy sea air, coastal walks and golf at the local club or on the links at Lossiemouth. Bowlers would need to wait until after the Second World War was over when the Bowling Club on Forsyth Street opened. There was also pleasure sailing and during the summer months going down to the harbour to watch boats returning was popular. In the late 1920s, beach huts, which were already in existence at Stotfield near Lossiemouth, made an appearance on the West and the Braemou (East) beaches and these can still be seen on the latter today. The early hut owners on both beaches were drawn mainly from the village and from in and around Elgin. In 1935 48% were from Elgin, 39% Hopeman, 10% elsewhere in Moray and 3% other Scottish locations.

The changing landscape in the post-war period

In common with many communities along the Moray Firth coastlands the built-up area of Hopeman has expanded greatly and gap sites have been filled in. Immediately after the Second World War a concerted attempt was made by the County Council to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing. Council housing was built on previously undeveloped land in the Newtown area such as the south side of Cooper Street. Private development in contrast has focused on the extensive expanse of flat land on the eastern outskirts of the original planned village where the Home Farm was located. Some older cottages in the planned village have also been replaced by bungalows. A modest growth in population has done little however to halt the decline of services. Shops today in the main shopping area in Harbour Street are fewer in number and offer less variety than in the inter-war years for example bakers’ shops have gone while on the main road the bank closed in 1998.   Small shops such as that at 13/15 New Street which also had a seasonal outlet on the west beach have disappeared, in this case in the mid-1970s. Visitors with a keen eye for local architecture will be able to recognise the evidence of former retail use in the uncharacteristically large windows in a number of homes today.

Hopeman continued to be a popular holiday destination in the early post war years.  A correspondent in the Northern Scot described 1949 as:
 “bumper” year for visitors. Every available room has been occupied throughout the summer. Many are still here and the bowling club, tennis courts and golf course are kept busy.  Some landladies are already receiving bookings for next summer.

In July1955 it was reported that a large number of visitors had arrived the previous weekend for the start of the Glasgow Fair. This included a large family from Glasgow who were locally called the “Broons” after the comic magazine.  A dance and fancy dress football match between visitors and residents were organized, adding to the holiday atmosphere. The beach huts were very popular with more than 120 in existence; around 80 overlooked the West Beach and about half that number at Braemou.

The railway station near the foot of Harbour Street closed to passengers in 1931 and freight in 1957 became a caravan park. During the 1970s and 1980s this expanded to occupy the entire area between the former station platform, the railway bridge at the west end and the edge of the dunes overlooking the west beach. Its growth also represented a shift from accommodation in the village to self-catering and it also led to the loss of huts on the West Beach when the park owner bought the beach sand dunes.  The huts began to decline in number from the early 1980s with the last hut recorded in 1996.  Huts however, can still be found next to Braemou beach and by the mid-1990s owners were drawn from a wider hinterland than 40 years earlier no doubt reflecting easier access by car and the migration of some owner’s. Finally, the harbour which once supported several hundred fishermen and provided employment in fish curing yards, a cooperage and in boatbuilding is now largely given over to leisure craft. In spite of much investment, the difficult entrance and persistent silting were always a serious handicap. After the war, the fish workers who used to follow the fleet to East Anglia and the fisherwomen who baited lines were no more. Many of the haddock line boats had been broken-up in the late 1930s and only a few small boats were now employed in lobster fishing. The harbour was taken over by the County Council and thoroughly dredged in 1949 but within two years silt had accumulated and proposals in the mid-1950s to re-establish Hopeman as a fish marketing and distribution center came to nothing. The old harbour at the present time is deserted while in the newer (west basin) pontoons installed during 2008 provide moorings for leisure craft. A hand-cranked crane and a small boat storage yard along with several storage sheds are the only reminders of the many ancillary trades that once existed in the vicinity. Hopeman like all Moray Firth fishing communities was badly affected by European Union directives that saw the do-commissioning of fishing vessels during the period 1990 to 2010 and today (2015) there are only two boats operating out of Peterhead about 80 miles away.

Note – This above article on the website is extracted from an article which first appeared in Scottish Local History, Issue 89 Autumn 2014.   Copies of the journal can be ordered from the Scottish Local History Forum website.    In recent years this journal has featured many articles on places in Moray and the most recent Issue 91, Spring-Summer 2015 contains an article on nineteenth century maps and plans of Moray.