As part of the 2020 celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6, 1320, Arbroath Guildry gifted a large bronze Bas Relief sculpture to the people of Arbroath.
This Bas Relief tells the story of Arbroath and its people, from the construction of the world-famous Abbey to the Bell Rock Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. The Bas Relief also depicts the industries which have shaped our town and our people, including fishing, agriculture, weaving and engineering.
History Depicted on the Bas Relief
Local school children researched and recorded information on the different aspects of Arbroath history that are on the Bas Relief. You can hear their recordings below.
To listen to the entire history, please click on the audio player. Alternatively, you can read and play the individual sections below.
Arbroath Abbey History Arbroath Abbey was founded in 1178 by King William the lion for a group of monks from Kelso Abbey. It was consecrated in 1197 with a dedication to the deceased Saint Thomas Becket whom the king had met at the English court. The Abbey was built over sixty years using local red sandstone. The Abbey fell into ruin after the Reformation. From 1590 onward, its stones were raided for buildings in the town of Arbroath. This continued until 1815 when steps were taken to preserve the remaining ruins. On Christmas Day 1950, the Stone of Destiny was stolen from Westminster Abbey. On April 11, 1951, the missing stone was found lying on the site of the Abbey's altar.
Arbroath Abbey Cemetery
The Monastery at Arbroath was consecrated in the name of St Thomas a Becket14.178 and its founder, King William the lion, was buried wOin it ih 1214. After the Reformation, the buildingswere dismantled and no further burials took place in the church and chapter house, but instead in the old cemetery to the North, mentioned in 1517 and which continued to be used until the 20th Century. It has been "tidied" with the headstones now in straight rows.
General facts about the Arbroath Abbey The Arbroath Abbey is a tourist attraction in Arbroath. The Abbey was founded by King William in 1178. The circular window in the Abbey (The round "O") was once used as a light tower. The red sandstone that the Abbey is made from came from local sources. The summer opening times of the Abbey is Mon-Sun 9:30am-5:30pm. The opening times in the winter is Mon —Sun 9:30am-5:30pm.
Arbroath’s first harbour was constructed in 1394 as a port for Arbroath Abbey. The current harbour was constructed in the 1800s. In 1830 Arbroath Town Council invited some fisher families from Auchmithie and this established Arbroath’s first fishing industry.
Fishing was one of the main industries in Arbroath and it was it at its peak between 1900s and 1980. Hundreds of men in town were employed as fishermen. In the winter the main catch was crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs and in the summer the main catch was white fish such as haddock. Many women also played a role in the fishing industry with many men being carried out to the boat on their wife’s back so they could start their journey with dry feet.
The introduction of quotas since the 1980s has led to the decline of the fishing industry in Arbroath. Today the harbour is mainly used by small pleasure boats that take anglers and sightseers out to sea.
Arbroath is well known as the home of the Arbroath Smokie. These are pairs of haddock that are tied at the tail and smoked of burning wood chips in barrels. Despite being known as Arbroath Smokies, they originated in Auchmithie which lies 4 miles up the coast. Smokies can be sampled at the many of the traditional fish stops that are found at the foot of the town.
Arbroath became a minor textile town whose productions of coarse linen was equally as good as those famously made in Dundee. The Abbey House became a thread factory and in 1738, was the first place to make osnaburgs which are a coarse type of plain fabric in Scotland initiating a manufacture which became the staple in the region.
In 1742, Arbroath was believed to be the greatest manufacture of coarse linen. These developing external relationships, based on the duality of coasting and North Sea trade, were typical of the minor coastal centres of the eastern linen region; and Arbroath acquired, with Montrose much local importance as a supply port for eastern Strathmore. By about 1790, the town was already the principal producer of sailcloth in Scotland.
Mill spinning began in Arbroath, using steam-power. This was a start of a new era for Arbroath and this made us a more recognised town.
The streams and rivers in and around Arbroath, where the birthplace of yarn-washing mills and bleachfields. A bleachfield was an open area used for spreading cloth on the ground to be purified and whitened by the action of sunlight.
Because of the American Civil War, 1861-1865, many Arbroath markets increased massively. The trading sector expanded after a post war depression from 1866 until 1875, when the end of the second phase of growth was reached. During this second phase, six power-loom factories and eight mills were built and of these works, eight were along the Brothock.
By 1864 Arbroath was ranked as the second most important linen textile centre in Scotland. However, in 1883, the industry started to seriously decline.
Under the stimulus of increased trade, the port was improved: The New Harbour began being built. in 1839, extending the limited facilities then offered by the Old Harbour, whose construction in 1725 had furthered the commercial development of the town in the eighteenth century.
Between 1878 and 1908 four mills, three factories, six carding and waste works, three rope works, and three flax warehouses were sold; the Hemp, Yarn, and Cordage Company, Ltd., was liquidated.
Smaller and changed in character, the industry, adapting itself to a lower level of production, from 1910 to 1918 found trading conditions good; particularly in the war years, when, in response to the security of Government orders, some works were extended and improved. But in the post-war years of intense depression, decline continued, touched off by the cessation of flax supplies from North Russia with the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Direct imports of flax had decreased from their peak in 1882, implying industrial decline, but owning much to the cheaper movement of flax from Dundee by rail. In 1883 the Harbour, burdened with debt, raised its rates to the statutory maximum, making charges 75 per cent, in excess of those levied by Dundee and 661 above those of Montrose. Andrew Lowson decided now to bring his flax by way of Dundee
The last cargo of flax was brought to Arbroath on 5 August 1914 by the S/S Orient from Pernau; and on 19 November 1915 a coastal shipment of hemp from Hull was the last direct import of textile fibre to be received.
The cutting-off of flax supplies in 1917 involved a serious readjustment on the part of manufacturers who had been accustomed wholly to the use of Russian flax, though it was not until 1919, when national stocks were exhausted, that the position was felt acutely. High flax prices, due to scarcity, together with the efforts of depression, reduced the textile trade to “a parlous position, in danger of losing its status as the staple industry of the town.” In 1924 the Chamber of Commerce reported that other Countries like France, Belgium, Russia and Czechoslovakia were underselling the British Islands.
Trade revived from 1933 to 1952, particularly in the war and immediate post-war years, but by this time the industry, smaller now than in 1910 to 1918, was set in a town whose character had altered greatly. Boot and shoemaking declined after 1913 and by 1915 was defunct. Emigration from the town and its development as a seaside resort, both of which were features of the late nineteenth century, quickened in the depression years.
The Bell Rock Lighthouse off the coast of Angus, Scotland is the world’s oldest surviving sea wall lighthouse. It was built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevenson on the Bell Rock in the North Sea.
According to legend, the rock is called the Bell Rock because of the 14th century attempt by the Abbot of Arbroath to install a warning bell on it. The bell lasted only 1 year before the bell was stolen by a Dutch pirate.
The rock was the scene of many shipwrecks as it lies just below the surface of the sea for all but a few hours at low tide. By the turn of the 18th century it was estimated that the rocks were responsible for up to 6 shipwrecks every winter. In one storm alone 70 ships were lost of the east coast od Scotland. The loss of warship HMS York in 1804 caused a stir in parliament and Stevenson’s design was approved 1806 enabling construction to begin.
The masonry work that the lighthouse rests was constructed to such a high standard that it has not been replaced or adapted in 200 years.
The working of the lighthouse has been automated since 1988. The lighthouse operated in tandem with a shore station, the Bell rock Signal Tower built in 1813 at the mouth of Arbroath Harbour.
The Arbroath cliffs are made of which dates back 410 million years. At this time Scotland was located south of the equator.
The cliffs are a great location for taking photographs and there are some nice walks along the coast.
The Arbroath cliffs have some spectacular rock formations and some have their own names such as Needle E’e, Seeman’s Grave, Mermaid Kirk and Deil’s Heid. The Deil’s Heid got its name as its mean to resemble a menacing face looking out to sea.
Prior to the growth of the textile industry, Arbroath west of the Brothock consisted mainly of Millgate. Mills formed along the Brothock gaining power from the mighty burn. Arbroath became Scotland’s second biggest flax importer port after Dundee.
Once the main producer of sail cloth for Scotland the industry declined on the 5th of August 1914. The last delivery of flax arrived.
The textile industry nurtured over time leaving the Arbroath we recognise today.
In 1320 the first smokies were made in Auchmithie. Local legend has it a store caught fire one night destroying barrels of haddock preserved in salt. The following morning the people found that the barrels had caught fire smoking the haddock inside. They found it was quite tasty.
It was the end of the 19th century as Arbroath fishing industry died the town council offered the fisher folk from Auchmithie land in the area of the town known as the fit o the toon. It also offered them the use of modern labour.
Smokies take approximately 40-60 minutes to smoke them and they’re smoked in small family smoke houses. Smokies are whole haddock with the backbones still intact.
About the Bas Relief
Thanks to the support of Angus Council and Historic Environment Scotland, the Bas Relief is sited in front of Arbroath Abbey, where it is proudly held aloft by two red sandstone plinths measuring 800cm x 2m. As well as providing a focal point for local people and visitors alike. Arbroath Guildy’s Bas Relief is on view at all times, providing an outstanding timeline of the town and a lasting reminder of the legacies Arbroath has provided to the world over the centuries.
Thanks to the local secondary and primary schools for researching and producing the audio files on Arbroath history.
Arbroath Guildry commissioned top sculptor Alan B Herriot to produce this bas relief, with the aim of having this lasting legacy in place and ready to be unveiled when the eyes of the world will turn to Arbroath for the celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.