The town of Wick lies around the bay where the River Wick enters the North Sea, on the east coast of Caithness in the far north-east of Scotland. Parts of Caithness were under Scandinavian control from circa AD 800 until 1231, and it was the Vikings that gave 'Wick' its name derived from Old Norse Vik, meaning 'bay'. The town of Wick was first mentioned in documents in 1140. In recognition of its growing significance as a trading port, Wick was promoted to royal burgh status in 1589. The town had a post office by 1715 and linen spinning was established in the town by 1749, but it was the growth of the herring industry that most facilitated Wick's development. A new quay was built in 1768 and the British Fisheries Society promoted the area heavily. Harbour improvements were designed by Thomas Telford and in 1808 the substantial planned suburb of Pulteneytown was laid out. By 1862 over 1,100 fishing boats operated out of Wick, and in 1871 the population of the parliamentary burgh was 8,131.
Old man of Wick - David ScottWick Marina - Catherine MacLeodWick - David ScottWick River - Wendy SutherlandWick - Fiona JackWick - Fiona JackWick at night - Fiona JackWick Harbour - Fiona Jack

Many of the craftsmen employed in mid-nineteenth century Wick were involved in secondary industries connected with fishing. These included shipbuilding and boat-building, barrel-making, rope-making and net-making, the latter mainly a female occupation. Many other people were involved in gutting, curing and packing fish, and an iron foundry in the town was principally concerned with manufactures connected to the fishing industry. In addition, Wick contained a distillery, a brewery, saw mills and grain mills. Wick was the market centre for produce from the surrounding countryside, and weekly markets were held on Fridays. Four agricultural fairs were held every year, in March or April, June, July and November.

1589 Wick becomes a royal burgh

1608 The town of Wick was only about one mile long and was very fragmented. Market Place is probably the oldest part of the town.

1665 The population of Wick was no more than 500. One of the first references to a bridge in Wick (glovers and shoemakers were reprimanded for beating their skins upon it!).

1790 Thirty-two local boats fished from Wick.

1795 Up to 200 boats were fishing from Wick.

1803 Telford produced a revised plan for the harbour and town.

1810 The first real harbour - prior to this small jetties were used.

1813 Harbour work completed.

1818 Some seven curing-houses, 12 cooperages and 108 dwellings had been built in Pulteneytown.

1823 As a result of the first harbour, plans for a second harbour were put into being. At this time it was noted that "1500 boats go out in an evening and 200,000 barrels are caught in the season, the very refuse of which will manure several hundred acres of land". Some 12,000 people found employment in the fishing season.

1840 The Rev Charles Thomson wrote: "The herring fishing has increased wealth, but also wickedness...There is a great consumption of spirits, there being 22 public houses in Wick and 23 in Pulteneytown...Seminaries of Satan and Belial". It was not unusual at this time for 500 gallons of whiskey to be consumed in one day. Meanwhile, 55,711 barrels of cured herring were being exported from Wick.

1855 A total of 1489 men and boys were fishing from Wick.

1860 The gross value of herring exporting in one year was between £150,000 and £200,000. The estimated population of the town was approximately 6722 and was home to these traders among many others: 81 fish-curers, 10 fleshers, 46 grocers, 7 bakers, 20 tailors and 13 dressmakers.

1862 A total of 1122 boats were now fishing from Wick.

1868 The telegraph service came to Caithness.

1873 Harbour extension work was so badly damaged that the scheme is abandoned after £150,000 had been spent on it.

1874 The railway was extended to Caithness, connecting Wick and Thurso to southern markets.

1879 The British Fisheries Society ceased to be trustees and the management of the harbour was handed to a local trust of 19 members.

The best place to learn about the history of Wick is at the Wick Heritage Centre http://www.wickheritage.org/ which is an award winning Museum.

Photos on this page by Maciej Winiarczyk, Fiona Jack, Wendy Sutherland, Ken Crossan, Annemarie Dunnet, David Graham Scott.

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