A Brief History of Montrose

Last Updated 4th Dec 2002
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Ancient Times Iron Age Romans Up to Middle Ages
18th Century 19th Century 20th Century

Ancient Times

At about 8000 - 6000BC people were living in this area in small nomadic groups, harvesting fruit and berries, hunting animals, and eating fish & shellfish. Their tools were made of wood, antler and stone.

Between 4500 - 4000BC, agriculture became more organised; people kept sheep, goats, oxen and pigs and grew cereal crops. They spun and wove wool and made pottery. 2000BC saw metal-working, mainly in bronze, though some personal effects were in gold. Evidence of this lifestyle exists in the stone coffins and cists which are around Angus.

Iron Age

Iron had replaced bronze as a utility metal by 600 - 400BC, and examples of Iron Age architecture can still be seen at the forts of Turin, Finavon, the Caterthuns and Red Head.


In 84AD the Roman Legions came through Strathmore, establishing a series of permanent forts. The Roman camp at Dun, which could be serviced by taking ships into the Basin, was probably a supply base for the fort at Stracathro.

Up to Middle Ages

The first settlement in the Montrose area was a religious one founded around 850AD on Rossie Island. After 1000AD this site was replaced by a settlement called Sallorc on the peninsula to the north. Thus began the town as a trading port, known since Viking times as a safe anchorage. Granted Burghal Status by David I about 1130, William I had changed the town's name to 'Monros' by 1178. By the end of the 13th century, the town had a hospital, windmills, saltpans and various trading rights. The first school was in existence by 1329.

The Middle Ages saw Merchants build fine new houses of stone along the edge of the market place, creating Murray Street and the High Street. Salmon, hides, grain and wool were exported from the harbour and ships brought back spices, wines cloth and other luxury goods. The Plague reached Montrose in 1648, killing hundreds; probably half the population.

18th Century

By the 18th century Montrose was a flourishing market centre with many Jacobite supporters - after the 1715 rising James Stuart (the 'Old Pretender') spent his last night in Scotland here. Towards the end of the century the town was expanding - linen was made with local flax, fishing, shipbuilding, rope & sail making, tanning and starching all took place. Whaling began in the 1790's.

19th Century

The 19th century saw the arrival of steam power, and a dramatic increase in the population (from 4,000 in 1800 to 16,000 in 1880) as people came to the town's mills - working long hours for little money. Large amounts of flax were brought in from Baltic ports to feed the industry, and wood was also imported, Montrose being Scotland's second largest timber port. The Review began printing in 1811, the Academy was built in 1815, Dorward's House in 1838, and the Museum in 1842. By 1828 a new bridge spanned the Esk, gas came to town in 1840 and electricity arrived in 1901. The end of the 19th century saw a decline in many of the traditional industries of Montrose, and some families sailed off to start new lives in America, Canada and Australia.

20th Century

Into the early part of the 20th century tourism and food processing had become important, parks and gardens were laid out and new housing schemes appeared to meet the demand for more and better housing. Shipbuilding ceased but seed potatoes and grain were big exports. Britain's first military aerodrome was built here in 1913 and was operational in both conflicts. Montrose was bombed on numerous occasions, claiming some lives and creating a bunker on the golf course. The arrival of Glaxo in the 1950's and oil in the 1970's, along with Montrose's sheltered anchorage and deep water berths, again brought prosperity to the town.

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