The town of Arbroath is home to 24,000 residents and nestles on the east coast of Scotland 80 miles north of Edinburgh. It was originally known as Aberbrothock because of its location at the mouth of the Brothock Burn but, by the mid 19th century, the more colloquial pronunciation of Arbroath was formally adopted.
The town has a unique claim to its place in Scottish and world history. It gave its name to what is widely considered to be a masterpiece of political rhetoric – the Declaration of Arbroath.
This letter, declaring independence, was signed and sealed in the Abbey by the nobility of Scotland in the presence of the king, Robert the Bruce, on 6th April 1320. That date is now celebrated as Tartan Day in America and Canada in recognition of the Scots’ contribution to the development of these nations.
William the Lion founded the Abbey in 1178 and was buried there in 1214. Up to and until the Reformation, the Abbey and the Abbots flourished and it was the centre of influence both locally and nationally. A harbour was constructed in 1394 to allow trade to develop with other ports in Scotland and further afield.
After the Reformation in 1560, the importance of the Abbey faded. Post Reformation saw the influence of the Church becoming more prevalent throughout Scotland and emphasis was placed on the provision of education, schooling and tending to the poor in the parishes.
As with other burghs, this combination of secular and non-secular interests served the town well from the 16th to the 19th centuries. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, a new harbour was constructed in 1725 by the Arbroath Guildry to again improve trade and fishing.
Rapid expansion of the flax, linen and later the jute industries saw a population increase until it numbered 23,000 in 1891. Engineering works to support such developments came into being and this engineering tradition continues today. The once-thriving textile industry had largely disappeared by the mid-20th century.
In 1811, the world-renowned and oldest sea-washed lighthouse, the Bell Rock, 12 miles off the coast, was first illuminated. It was designed by the famous Scottish engineers James Rennie and Robert Stevenson, and its shore base in Arbroath is now a museum dedicated to the construction of the lighthouse and its history.
The fishing industry suffered a decline during the 20th century and prawn and lobster inshore fishing has replaced the deeper water activity, once the mainstay of the harbour. Part of the harbour is now a popular marina.
Links to the maritime heritage continue today with fish processing factories as well as production of the traditional “Arbroath Smokie”, a gourmet delicacy protected under European Law. Other industries in the town include oil industry-related engineering, boat repairing, malting, packaging products, and jam, soft fruit and vegetable packaging.
A contemporary Tourist Centre sits alongside the harbour marina. At the Abbey, a new interpretation centre provides historical insight for the locals as well as the many tourists who visit the town. Hospitalfield House, an historic building in its own right, is an internationally known and recognised arts and culture centre, adding another rich strand for residents and visitors alike.