Elgin, Moray

From Academic Kids

Elgin is a city in north-east Scotland, 35 miles east of Inverness and 70 miles west of Aberdeen. The main industry in the area is whisky thanks to the vast number of distilleries in the Speyside area. These include such well known names as Johnnie Walker, the largest selling whisky in the world. The city is also the administrative centre for Moray or Elginshire as it was once known. Mark Gillespie of the boy group Big Fun was born in Elgin.


The foundations for the city of Elgin were set in the early 11th century when a castle was built there. The land soon became a favourite hunting spot for the early monarchs, particularly the infamous Macbeth whose house still stands. In 1224 Alexander II raised Elgin's status to Royal Burgh and it became a city when the Bishop of Moray chose it as the seat of the diocese.

Missing image
Elgin cathedral

At first the seat was simply transferred to an existing church, 'the Church of the Holy Trinity beside Elgin'. In its original form Elgin Cathedral was a simple cruciform building, but after it was damaged by fire in 1270 the choir was doubled in length with aisles added on each side and a Chapter House opening off the north aisle.

In 1390 Alexander Stewart, the illegitimate son of the king, more familiarly known as the Wolf of Badenoch, plundered and burned both Forres and Elgin, including the Cathedral, which sustained so much damage that the western gable, the arcades of the nave, the central tower and the Chapter House had to be rebuilt. There was also widespread slaughter in both places.

In the early years after the Reformation the Cathedral remained untouched, but was finally targeted and stripped almost to the bone in 1567. In 1630 the main roof collapsed, and during the following 200 years stone from the building was cannibalised for housing, leaving what was once known as the 'Lantern of the North' nothing more than a shell.

In the 18th century Elgin became a central staging post for the ill fated Jacobite rebellion. Not only was the commander, Lord Murray, a local lord, but many local clans came out in support of the Young Pretender. Before the fateful Battle of Culloden the Jacobite army spent its last night there, Bonnie Prince Charlie staying in Pluscarden House, built by Macbeth 700 years earlier.

Following the battle, the clampdown by the Duke of Cumberland on the area was devastating. Elgin Castle was demolished (according to Castles of Britain and Ireland it had been derilict since the 15th century) and a large section of the local population were shipped to Canada as part of the Highland Clearances. The area then fell into poverty until a renassiance starting in about 1820.

Between 1820 and 1840 Elgin was transformed with many fine new buildings identifying it as a city worth visiting. Dr Grays Hospital, Anderson's Institute, the neo-classical St Giles Church built between 1825 and 1828, and the Elgin Museum of 1842, reflect Elgin's status. The restrictive gateways (or ports) to the town were removed, with only the Pans Port near Elgin Cathedral now remaining. The ruins of the Cathedral were cleaned up, yielding hundreds of barrowloads of rubbish, and work began on rebuilding, although this has been slow and will take a long time at the current rate.

The coming of the railway in the mid 19th century that had a significant effect on Elgin. The size of the burgh doubled and more communication links were opened up, further strengthening its commercial and administrative importance as the centre of Moray.


  • Hassling-Ketling of Elgin, a notable protagonist of Sienkiewicz's novel The Deluge was a native of Elgin. The historical personality on whose life the story of Hassling-Ketling was based, Heyking, is also said to be born in the city.
  • The Elgin Marbles, some of which are now housed in the British Museum, were originally taken from Athens by the noble family whose title, the Earls of Elgin, is derived from the name of this burgh.

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