Hopemans Lost Trade



Oldest Woman’s Memories – “Mrs Mary Stewart born 1839”

 Extract from The Northern Scott – 1932

 The decline which the past half-century has brought to the lesser towns and villages of Moray and Nairn is a subject which has been common to practically every one of the old people who I have interviewed in the course of this series. With a touch of pride in their voices they have told of the days when the mantle of prosperity enshrouded these little communities, which are now struggling for their very existence against many forces, the chief of which perhaps may go under the general term of centralisation.  With a sad shake of the head they dismissed the subject of the present bad times and go back to the days when the wheels of the two main industries of the area, agriculture and fishing, moved smoothly and well, when there was employment for all, and when the streets of rural and coastal towns presented as busy a spectacle as those of the country town itself.

This week, Hopeman’s oldest inhabitant, “Mrs Stewart, Farquhar St, painted for me such a picture of the pleasant Moray Firth village, where she has spent 88 of her 93 years. The Hopeman of her young days provides a comparison with present day conditions, which support the story of the decline in the village and in similar places in the country.

Mrs Stewart is not a native of Hopeman. She was born at Bishopmill and can remember “flitting” down to the coast town when only 4 years of age. The village, as she knew it as a lassie attending Keam School and for many years after, was one of the most important of the Moray Firth Ports. As she expressed it, it was not Lossiemouth Burghead and Hopeman then, but Hopeman, Burghead and Lossiemouth.

marystewart - cropped

Picture of Mary Stewart courtesy of Jacqueline Gray and is a copy of a painting from circ 1860

Two fleets of boats were attached to the port, the larger of which was away most of the year at the English and West Coast fishing’s, while the other prosecuted line fishing in the bay at home. Frequently there were not enough men in the village to man the boats, so markets similar to the present day; feeing markets were held. Those were attended by a great many Highland men, and scores of them used to stand at the bottom of the town waiting to be employed.

Mrs Stewart said that her late husband, who was a stone mason and originally belonged to the highlands (Loch Carron), was very fond of conversing in Gaelic with these sturdy fishermen, and she recalled happy evenings spent in the house in which she still stays, listening to the lilt of lovely Gaelic melodies sung by those who her husband entertained. On Sundays they used to gather round the fire and sing the Psalms and Paraphrases in the same language.

Curing Hustle  –   “The splendid success with which the boats met at both the herring and the white fishing” she told me “was at the root of the prosperity with which Hopeman was blessed at that time”. Close by the harbour there were long curing sheds, where the majority of the local women found employment as gutters, etc.

One curing firm alone employed as many as seventeen coopers at one time, and I have seen barrels piled up from the harbour to almost the post office waiting to be loaded into the cargo boats which called at the port regularly. These boats, as many of five of which have been in the harbour at once, brought supplies of coal, salt and other commodities and got the cured herring as return cargo. It was a very busy harbour in those days.

On the arrival of a cargo of English coal the householders would order a cartful (about 18cwt), for which they paid usually between 16/- and 20/- and which was emptied in a heap at their door. They had then to carry it into the shed, usually in a tub. Poor people who could not afford to buy a load were able to purchase it in as small quantities as a quarter of a cwt (which they got for 4d), at any of the big stores, which were, then in the village. It was real coal that we got at that time. All you had to do in the morning was to set fire to an empty matchbox and put it in the heart of the coal, and you had a splendid fire in no time.

The only illumination we had was from tin lamps, which burned a filthy black fish oil which we got from the curers. We went down with a bottle and got a fill of oil whenever it was needed. My mother used to make me carry the bottle in a stocking so that I would not make a mess of my clothes. Later, we had what we called naphtha lamps, and these in turn gave way to paraffin lamps.

Mrs Stewart said that Hopeman had always suffered from a shortage of water for domestic purposes. The crofters and farming section of the population had a well of their own from which none of the fisher people were allowed to draw water. A number of wells were opened by the fishermen, but most of them had to be closed for one reason or another. So for many years the fisher people drew water from the ‘Braemou Well’ on the foreshore about a quarter of a mile from the village. They carried two pailfulls at a time with the aid of an iron hoop slung over their shoulders, and Mrs Stewart said it was not an uncommon sight to see women fighting for first places in the queue at the well.

Legend states that the well was formerly a holy one and that the monks had a road made to it from Pluscarden Abbey. At any rate Mrs Stewart recalls having seen visitors throwing coins into its depths before taking a drink from the water.

Mrs Stewart is the only one now living in Hopeman who was present when the foundation stone for the Free Church was laid. She remembers clearly having seen one of the platform party placing details of the building in a bottle, knocking home the cork, and placing it underneath the foundation stone. On many occasions she has walked to Elgin and back an afternoon when there was no other means of getting there.



  1. 16/- Represents sixteen shillings (£.s.d currency) or 80pence.
  2. 4d   Represents four pence (£.s.d currency) or 1.7 pence today.
  3. The cost of coal as proportion of earnings, is less today than it was during the late 19th century and early 20th century the increasing prosperity in the North of Scotland allowed most households to buy English coal. It was much sought after because of its better combustion. It left a small residue of fine ash, which was easily removed, from grates. Other coals tended to leave rather crusty cinders.
  4. Mary Stewart (nee McKenzie) lived in a stone house which has since been demolished at the corner of 28 Farquhar St and the lane. Opposite No 27.
  5. She was the grandmother of Jessie Stuart and Ann McKimmie (Stuart) and the great grandmother to Sandy, Alan, Billy & Stuart Reid and their sister Jessie Bruce. — The family name of Stewart changed to Stuart when Jessie & Ann’s father married a Hopeman girl in Perth Australia during the early 1900s and the registrar made a mistake which was not noticed at the time.

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