Tain's Urban Past

Discover more about the history of Tain and working with Scotland's Urban Past in this blog post by Richard Littlewood.

Submitted by on 16-07-2015 12:32:05


Tain is a small town with a precious but unknown past, little has been written and there has been very little archaeology undertaken, to uncover its entire heritage. Tain has enjoyed two phases of rapid economic growth over the last few centuries, firstly the pilgrimage phase which ended with the Reformation in 1560 and secondly as a business centre for the agricultural revolution.

Due to its largely unrecorded past, Tain has been chosen as one of the pilot projects for the Scotland’s Urban Past (SUP) project being run by Historic Scotland and RCAHMS. The Tain & Easter Ross Civic Trust and Tain and District Museum are working together with the SUP team to bring Tain’s history to the fore.


Due to the size of the task, we decided to begin by concentrating on three properties, which reflect this long history. All three properties are likely to have had religious related buildings on the sites in the period of Catholic pilgrimage which lasted until 1560.

Since being chosen for the pilot project, the group have attended meetings and training sessions with the SUP organisers, paid several visits to the three sites, recording, measuring and photographing, then followed that with writing up descriptions of the buildings, preparing base maps, delving into museum records, searching the internet for information about the use of the buildings and the people associated to construct a historical profile of each building. One or two visits have also been made to the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness.

Project findings

The following is a brief summary of what we have found out so far:

  • The building which is currently partly occupied by the Bank of Scotland, plus a private dwelling, began its existence as the British Linen Bank office and agent’s house, which opened on these premises, adjacent to the Collegiate Church, in 1845. Previously, the site was occupied by a property called Corbat’s House, referring to an old local landowning family from the 15th to 17th centuries. The British Linen Company was in Tain from 1747, because of the expanding flax growing and linen weaving industries. The Tain British Linen Bank in Tower Street became the Bank of Scotland branch in 1971, leading to the High Street branch closure in 1972.
  • Manse House in Manse Street was built in 1720 and was on the site of a previous manse, which may have been on the site going back to pilgrimage days. Manse House was the Parish Church Manse from 1720 to 1823 and Alexander Stronach, the builder of the Tolbooth was involved in its construction. For the last 200 years, the Manse House has been a private residence and the building and property has been considerably altered, particularly in the nineteenth century. Its occupants have included Alexander Wallace a well-known businessman and burgh councillor.
  • The St Duthus Hotel has been a hotel since 1876, but was previously an important town house. The fireplace in the bar is marked 1730 and the house may be even older, the initials on the fireplace are JM and MMC. It is highly likely that the Manson family owned the property in the 18th Century and JM refers to John Manson but we do not know who MMC is. Later, prior to it becoming the St Duthus, we believe that local farmer and businessman, Malcolm Fraser of North Glastullich owned or lived in the house.

Celebrating Tain

The materials we have produced so far were forwarded to the SUP organisers to be used for demonstration purposes at the official launch of Scotland’s Urban Past, held on Saturday 6th of June in Paisley. This event was attended by two of our group, where a slide presentation of Tain’s work had pride of place in the event area. We made one or two useful contacts and the SUP team are planning further visits to Tain.

The members of the group have thoroughly enjoyed taking part and everyone has been able to contribute according to their various skills and interests.

Ideally we would like to eventually cover the whole of the older parts of Tain. Also, if anyone has any old photographs or documents relating to the three properties or any of the occupants, they could contact the Museum at tainmuseum.org.uk. During most of the summer months, there will be a display of the work on the three properties in the Collegiate Church.

Events are being held in July to remember Tain’s pilgrimage past. The Civic Trust hosted a talk on St. Duthac by Tom Turpie at 7.30pm on 6th July, Tom is an expert on iconic Scottish medieval saints and he attracted an audience of 56 people. He gave a fascinating talk on the legend of St Duthac and his rise to Scottish cult status between 1450 and 1560.

The annual Deanery Pilgrimage will come to Tain this year to coincide with the celebration of the digitisation of the Papal Bull of 1492 confirming the Collegiate Church status by the Vatican. On the 22nd July, a special service is to be held in the Collegiate Church followed by, weather permitting, a procession to the ruined chapel in the Old St Duthus Cemetery. The event will be open to anyone who wishes to attend. The digitised version of the Papal Bull will thereafter be on permanent display in the Museum.


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