FISHING OF THE KNUCKLE
By kind permission of Dr David Summers

BUCHANHAVENFishing Knucle Front Cover

Buchanhaven today, is physically just a  part of the town of Peterhead; yet within living memory, it was a fishing community both geographically and socially separate from the burgh.  It is only during this present century that the housing schemes of Peterhead have sprawled out and engulfed the village -  diluting its identity as a consequence.  However, the warm red granite houses which display a certain variation -  despite the neat layout of the village -  still conveys the fishing village atmosphere, such that the observer feels as if he has suddenly gone back in time whenever he enters.

Buchanhaven  is a ‘new’ fishing village,  having only been laid out from the second decade of the last century;  yet as a place name it is much older.  A plan of Peterhead which was drawn up in 1739, shows a small settlement situated near the mouth of the Ugie bearing the name Buchanhaven.  Again in the 1774 Peterhead Feu Contract, reference is made to the “Buchanhaven Park”, and in 1805, the name is once more mentioned in the soldiers diary {published in Neish’s Old Peterhead).  It is doubtful if any of these references actually refers to a fishing village.  In the rather protracted Statistical Account of Peterhead (written in 1794) no mention is made of the fishing village called Buchanhaven contradicting Robert Neish’s assertion that Buchanhaven was founded about 1780 by squatters.   It is perhaps likely that Buchanhaven was connected with the Ugie salmon fishery as opposed to the white fishing

 The land upon which Buchanhaven stands was formally part of the lands of Blackhouse.  In 1796 Francis Garden of Troup (the then proprietor) sold Blackhouse to James Ferguson of Pitfour, the owner of the lands on the opposite side of the Ugie.  James Ferguson undoubtedly had a plan up his sleeve when he purchased Blackhouse.  The coast there was rocky, and was far more sheltered than any part of his own St Fergus Coast.  Therefore, with a more propitious haven in his possession, he set about establishing another fishing village in order to make up for the loss of Drumlinie.  Exactly when the fishing village was founded is unknown, but on the twenty third of December 1812, and for a few weeks following, an advertisement appeared in the Aberdeen Journal.

WHITE FISHING STATION

Buchanhaven

In the immediate vicinity of Peterhead

 Being advantageously situated for white fishing, having a good landing place, and plenty of various kinds of bait at hand, the proprietor is desirous that proper persons in this line come forward and settle there.  Every encouragement will be given.  There are houses already to accommodate three boats hands. Peats will be got at no great distance. Application may be made at the House of Pitfour

 According to James Findlay’s History of Peterhead, Buchanhaven  was founded by family called Arbuthnot,  who then sold out to the Fergusons.  As we shall see shortly, some confusion has occurred here, but he was correct in saying that the village was colonised around 1814, when a boat’s crew from St Combs settled there.  It is well known from local tradition that the original settlers came from St Combs, and indeed, a perusal of census returns in the middle of last century has unequivocably   proved to the author that this was so. Five families appear to have made the move; two Buchans, two Bruces and one Strachan.  However, they were not the only settlers.  A family from Drumlinie was also early on the scene, and by the 1840s, Buchans from Botany and Inverallochy were also present.  A family of Philips (from Cruden) also settled in Buchanhaven, as did Formans, McDougals and Milnes; who it would seem must have been locals, since such names were not paralleled in any other villages at the time.

 In 1828, George Ferguson of Pitfour sold Blackhouse and some other property to John Morrison of Auchintoul, but in the early 1830s, it fell into the hands of the trustees of John Morrison’s creditors.  Blackhouse was then divided up into lots and sold off -  the major part of which went to Mr Alexander Murray (who already lived in Blackhouse, probably as a tenant) in 1834.  Buchanhaven , and the shore lands stretching to the old fish house at the mouth of the Ugie,  were bought in 1836 by Robert Arbuthnot of Mount Pleasant,  a merchant in Peterhead.  He possessed the village for twenty years or so, until it was finally bought back by the Fergusons.

 Whilst he was proprietor, however, Robert Arbuthnot tried to develop Buchanhaven to its full potential, although he never succeeded in the end. At some point prior to 1840, a small pier had been erected on the western side of the village shore, but in 1850, new developments took place. In that year, work started on a new pier, but unfortunately it was never completed. He planned to build two piers and excavate a basin which was to be capable of receiving herring boats. The Buchanhaven pier, as it is today, was as far as he got.

 However, thanks to their small harbour, the Buchanhaven fisherman of the 1860s were enabled to operate larger small-line boats and those which prevailed in other communities, and often sailed as much as 15 miles off in search of haddocks.  An account of Buchanhaven in 1859, described the village as being in a “flourishing” state, with some of the inhabitants being “supposedly pretty wealthy”.  However, the ubiquitous midden heaps, with their rather smelly tendencies, were regarded as being one rather revolting aspect of village life; one which was in dire need of remedy!

 One William Strachan (a fisherman and 45 years standing)  giving evidence to a Government enquiry into fisheries in 1864,  mentions that when he first came to Buchanhaven ( as a child from St. Combs),  there were only two or three boats in the village.  By that time, however, the settlement had grown considerably, as there were then Twenty-seven boats. In the light of the present-day situation, when old salts tell us that the modern fishing fleet as denuded the sea, it is interesting to note that this phenomenon is definitely not new!  Even in 1864, the grounds were allegedly being overfished!  In Buchanhaven’s early days, fish was so abundant, that the boat came in daily laden with haddocks, caught within hailing distance from the shore.  By 1864, so many boats were fishing, it had become necessary to sail far out to sea in order to secure a good catch; which meant that it was often only possible to make three trips per week instead of diurnal round.  In the 1880s and 1890s (after the Aberdeen trawlers commenced their depredations), the situation was further exacerbated, in that fishermen often caught practically nothing!  All this is mentioned here, simply because in the present period with its depleted fish stocks, it is common for older people to tell of how in their fathers’ day the sea literally abounded with fish, and that it was not uncommon to get a haddock on practically every hook -  on inshore grounds too!  Such references to the good old days are, therefore, nothing new; it being a characteristic of human nature to forget the bad days.

 Buchanhaven, then, was one of the more successful fishing communities on the coast, and yet even to this day, despite being engulfed by the town, older ‘Bucaners” still doggedly maintain their status as a separate village.  However, like everywhere else, most of the natives have died off or have left; with the result that the village is now inhabited by the typical mixture of people, such as inhabit Peterhead.  Fortunately though, as was mentioned at the beginning, the distinctive fisherman’s houses continue to preserve the staid fishing village atmosphere; something which will remain as a testament to the aspirations of the old laird of Pitfour