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Arbroath Harbour

Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Arbroath Harbour

Classification Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Arbroath, New Harbour; Brothock Water

Canmore ID 35557

Site Number NO64SW 28

NGR NO 6418 4044

NGR Description Centred NO 6418 4044

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Angus
  • Parish Arbroath And St Vigeans
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Angus
  • Former County Angus

Archaeology Notes

NO64SW 28.00 centred 6418 4044

For (predecessor) Arbroath, Old Harbour (built 1394 at NO c. 644 405), see NO64SW 25.

For (associated, offshore) Bell Rock Lighthouse, see NO72NE 1.

For discovery of gold ring (at date cited as c. 1825 and location cited as NO 6423 4066), see NO64SW 75.

For discovery of sculptured stone (location cited as NO c. 639 402), see NO64SW 298.

NO64SW 28.01 NO 64244 40349 Beacon

NO64SW 28.02 NO 64277 40390 Pilot Office and Signal Lighthouse ('Arbroath 1': East Pier Lighthouse)

NO64SW 28.03 NO 64075 40478 Beacon ('Arbroath 2': leading light)

NO64SW 28.04 NO 64032 40502 Beacon ('Arbroath 3': leading light)

NO64SW 28.05 NO 64147 40525 Lifeboat Station

NO64SW 28.06 NO 64214 40579 Wet Dock

NO64SW 28.07 NO 64264 40511 Tidal Harbour

NO64SW 28.08 NO 64259 40554 Footbridge

NO64SW 28.09 NO 64227 40526 Fish Market

NO64SW 28.10 NO 64285 40569 Warehouse

NO64SW 28.11 NO 64249 40349 to NO c. 64012 40248 Breakwater

NO64SW 28.12 NO 6422 4043 Capstan [location unverified]

NO64SW 28.13 Cancelled

For access bridge across the Brothock Water at the E point of the harbour (NO 64438 40628), see NO64SW 140.

For associated boatyards, see:

NO64NE 147.00 Centred NO 6438 4060 Messrs Mackay (on E side of harbour)

NO64NE 149.00 Centred NO 6412 4055 Messrs Gerrard (on NW side of harbour)

See also:

NO64SW 244 NO 64172 40649 4-5 The Shore, Harbour House

Harbour [NAT]

OS 1:10,000 map, 1986.


Designer: James Leslie - c.1839 imp. and enlarged

Robert Stevenson - scheme for extension 1826 - not carried out

Mr Buchanan - plan accepted for extension 1826 - appears not to have been carried out

John Douglas (architect) - advised on how to alleviate silting up of harbour 1741

(Undated) information in NMRS.

(Location cited as NO 642 405). Arbroath Harbour. This consists of two parts, the outer, or New Harbour, built 1841-6, a rectangular tidal basin, and a rectangular wet dock rebuilt from the Old Harbour in 1871-7, when a patent slip, now used by a boatbuilder was also constructed. The works are of rubble construction, largely coursed, and there is a neat two-leafed bascule bridge over the entrance to the patent slip.

J R Hume 1977.

(Location cited as NO 642 403). Arbroath: the earliest phases of this harbour's history can be reconstructed tentatively from a record preserved in the cartulary of Arbroath Abbey (NO64SW 18.00). This contains the text of an agreement made in 1394 by Abbot John Gedy and the monks, on the one hand, and the townsmen of Arbroath, on the other, regarding the building of a harbour. From this we can infer a first phase, of earlier date than 1394, in which the town possessed no organised landing-place and ships must have worked off an open beach. It was to remedy this state of affairs that a harbour was now built at the foot of the High Street [name: NO 6438 4081], and the second phase thus introduced. The agreement, in free translation, provided that the Abbey should, at its own expense, build with all possible speed, and in perpetuity maintain, a port for the burgh which was safe in the judgement of local experts, and at which ships could call and find a safe and quiet position irrespective of movements of the tide. The burgesses, for their part, should help in the work by removing, at their own expense, all stones, sands, and other impediments to the construction of the port, clear the port of stones and sand whenever necessary for the work, continuing the said clearance from the beginning of the port's construction until the work was complete. They should also fill, set in place, and weight with stones, at the first building of the port, all the 'archas' ordered for the port at the discretion of the magistrates; and for this find certain instruments, 'namely vangas, tribulos et gavyllox ferreos' at their own expense; the Abbot and monks undertaking the provision of other instruments and burdens.

The foregoing interpretation of a far from lucid text suggests the construction of a solid breakwater-pier by means of timber cages reinforced with piled-up stones and boulders. (For what it may be worth, one of Slezer's drawings shows part of the 17th century version of this pier as being of masonry and timber). On this showing therefore, the statement of the Statistical Account that the harbour was poorly built of wood could not have been correct; but a mistake might very well have been made as the author, writing in 1793, could have been deceived by, say, stumps of rotten timbers still surviving on the site some 70 years after the pier had gone out of use. Such remains of an old pier were noted at Waterfoot (NY16SE 16), near Annan, in 1975, after what must have been nearly a century of disuse.

Whatever the method of its construction, the first harbour was most probably a modest affair. A document of the late 17th or 18th century records that Arbroath possessed a shore, some shipping, and 'a little small trade'. Applications for financial help in repairs were made from time, Parliament authorising the burgh to exact shore-dues for the support of the harbour in 1698 and the Convention of Royal Burghs making grants, or recommending voluntary contributions from the burghs in general, between 1582 and 1704. In 1716 a crisis seems to have been reached; the term 'ruinous' had been used in 17092, and now a petition was submitted which laid blame on former magistrates and also cited exceptional storm-damage suffered in the preceding winter.

An inspection was made, much work was found to be necessary, and in 1723 the place was still ruinous, but by 1724 work had begun on a 'new pier and harbour', with a grant of £30 in cash from the Convention and voluntary contributions recommended from the individual burghs. Such expressions as 'building a harbour' and 'the new harbour' are frequently used, but the new arrangements are usually dated to 1725. The site chosen was a fresh one, on the opposite (W) side of the Brothock Water; the new work was of stone with an entrance 31ft [9.5m] wide which could be closed with booms operated by a crane. It was dry at low tide, but the water of the Brothock could be sluiced into it to flush out silt; the depth at the entrance was up to 16ft [4.9m] at high springs and down to 9ft [2.7m] at neaps. Before 1736 the harbour did little trade except in smuggling and fishing, though the place was of sufficient importance to be marked on Roy's Map (1747-55). In the 1790's about 30 ships seem to have been owned in the town, although two passages in the Statistical Account give slightly divergent figures.

In 1839, the harbour of 1725, now regarded as the 'old' harbour, was considerably improved, and was enlarged to contain an area of 6 acres [2.4ha]. New works included the construction of a sea-wall and outer harbour, the outer entrance being 100ft [30.5m] and having a depth of 12ft [3.7m] at the pier-heads; the inner one was 27ft [8.2m] wide and provided with booms. The piers were founded on rock, which permitted dredging; a point which suggests a contrast with earlier and less stable foundations simply resting on the foreshore. The sea-wall was of red-sandstone ashlar. The plans, by J Leslie, could not be realised in full for lack of funds, but further work was recommended. In this connection, it is interesting to see that an Admiralty plan of 1833 shows, in addition, a disconnected stretch of breakwater outside the outer harbour, creating, as it were, an outer compartment for it. The harbour of 1725 was made into a wet dock in the 1870's.

A Graham 1979.


Publication Account (2007)

The present harbour, built 1841–46, was largely designed by James Leslie, and included modifications to an earlierharbour built by John Gibb. The main work associated with the harbour was the construction of a massive rubble-filled,

ashlar-faced seawall founded on a rock strata that shelved gently towards the sea. The seawall was constructed of trenailed and dovetailed sandstone masonry with ashlars that varied in size from 5 to 30 cu. ft each. The slip for boat repair may date from this time. A Morton’s Patent Slip of earlier date is shown on Gibb’s plan of 1838.

The area enclosed by the breakwater totalled 7 acres and included the Old and New Harbours of 2 and 3 acres respectively, and a new outer harbour of 1 acre. These harbours provided 800 yards of wharfage and had a depth of 12 ft at spring tides. The Old Harbour was reconstructed in 1871–77 to form a wet dock, and the

depth of the tidal harbours was increased by dredging.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007b

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Highlands and Islands' with kind permission of Thomas Telford Publishers.

Publication Account (2013)

The harbour, medieval in origin, was improved by John Gibb in 1838-9 and then enlarged by James Leslie in 1841-46 to contain an area of 2.4 hectares within sea-walls of red sandstone. The old harbour of 1725 was converted into a wet dock in 1877 - the wrought iron gates are now kept open. A patent slip by Morton of Leith (the name cast into the rails) uses original gearing, coupled to a motor, in place of the engine cylinder, to haul fishing boats at McKay’s boatyard. This and a mass concrete sail loft was repaired through a Townscape Heritage Initiative. Note also the corrugated iron roofs of the “Black Shed” and of the Lifeboat House (lifeboat station was founded in 1803: slip and building are c1900).

M Watson, 2013


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