TAMH: Source Material
Arbroath Harbour 1895-6 from Arbroath Year Book, 1896 - 1| 2| 3| 4| 5| 6| 7

Annual 1985

David G. Adams Reviews the Heyday of


The Rise and Fall of Demand

An account of the Scottish burghs in 1691 unfortunately does not give any idea of how many vessels belonged to Arbroath but looking at similar small ports t would be surprising f there had been anything more than one or two singlemasted barks used to carry grain to Leith and to bring back coal and salt from the Forth, so there would have been very little demand for new vessels.

Increased trade, mainly imports of flax, could be handled from 1725 with the creation of a new artificial harbour while capital began to be invested in the linen industry by local merchants who developed it from a purely domestic activity, so causing more demand for flax. Although flax had always been grown locally, by 1800most of it came from Riga in Latvia, since it was cheaper. With the rapid growth of trade, Arbroath by 1742, had twelve vessels ranging from 50 to 120 tons burthen. Half of these would have been single-masted, fore-and-aft rigged sloops used manly on coasting like the earlier barks, the others being two-masted brigantines, brigs and snows which had similar mixed rigs with minor variations brigs becoming more common from the early 19th century. They were primarily used in the Baltic flax trade and in other foreign trade.

By the mid-18th century, Arbroath exported directly to North America, bought-in goods and locally manufactured items being despatched and home timber products and tobacco imported. Timber and iron also came from Norway and Sweden, flax from the Baltic, seed and manufactured goods from Holland and fruit and salt from Portugal and Biscay.

By around 1790, Arbroath had 30 vessels grossing just over 1700 tons, but the most rapid increase took place between then and 1830, by which time there were about 70 vessels grossing 6000 tons registered at Arbroath. This increase was due to another phase of expansion in the linen industry creating more demand for flax and vessels to carry it as steam power began to be applied to spinning. More timber, as well as flax, was imported n an upward spiral, the number of vessels peaking at 118 in 1851, grossing over 13,000 tons. this was the only year Arbroath seems to have surpassed Montrose in shipping despite the comparative lack of industry there. This was because a great deal of flax, later jute, seems to have been brought to Arbroath via the rail link with Dundee created from 1838, although it was another decade until this traffic became an important factor.

Imports of coal and exports of finished goods were also affected by the railway. As the average size of sailing vessels increased, even before steamships began to make an impact, and as the linen industry ceased to expand after the 1870's, fewer vessels were required and so local shipbuilding tailed off from the 1860's. Ironically Arbroath's major textile product had been sailcloth so decline in the local linen industry and shipping was compounded by a lack of demand due to fewer sailing vessels nationally.