The Town Of Thurso Through The Ages The Picts The Vikings The River Housing Flagstone Fishing
Agriculture Other Industries Trade Markets World Wars Dounreay Naval Communication Geology

The Town Of Thurso

Thurso is the most northerly town on the British mainland with a population of just under eight thousand - slightly larger than its neighbouring town of Wick. Situated in the county of Caithness, (or the lowlands beyond the highlands as it has also been described), it is placed between two prominent headlands with a splendid view of the Pentland Firth and the Orkneys.

The coastline is made up of high steep banks or dramatic cliffs reaching heights of two hundred feet or more. Within walking distance from the town, large extensive views can be seen in all directions with rolling skies above.

Sweeping inwards and to the west of the town the coastline forms Scrabster Harbour. Once commonly known as Scrabster Roads, the area has long been a popular place for vessels of various sizes to use as a port and for shelter. From there the coastline continues to curve, forming Thurso Bay. The parish of Thurso is surrounded by Reay, Halkirk, Bower, and Olrig.

Thurso has often been looked upon as a gateway to trade in the far north, but its significance grew once more when it was made a free Burgh of Barony by Charles I in 1633. Though the local stone has been used since the first settlers, its peak was during the 1800s and early 1900s when flagstone was exported in large amounts from Thurso Harbour throughout the country and worldwide.

The old part of the town, known as the Fisherbiggins remains in a similar layout as to the original, though replaced with new housing. The new housing which replaced older building around the harbour and Old St Peter's Kirk received a civic award. Looking at a street plan one can see the gentle curves in some of the streets compared to the more organised grid pattern of the New Town as designed by Sir John Sinclair, who was born at Thurso Castle. It was said that when New York was rebuilt, they followed the Sinclair's street plan of Thurso.

Sir William Smith - Founder of the Boy's Brigade

Many people of note have come from Thurso and have made their name nationally or internationally. A very small sample are below:

  • Sir John Sinclair, first Baronet, a politician, a prolific writer on various subjects including agriculture and finances, founder of the Board of Agriculture, town planner, the first person to use the word statistics in the English language and creator of the twenty one voloume Statistical Account of Scotland.
  • Sir William Smith, Founder of the Boy's Brigade.
  • George Bain who practically revived the interest in Celtic art and unravelled the Celtic Knot.
  • Donald Swanson who was the lead detective in the Jack The Ripper case as well as other high profile Victorian cases.
  • Arthur St Clair, First Governor of the Northwest Territory and president of the Continental Congress.
  • Andrew Geddes Bain, a road engineer, geologist, palaeontologist and explorer who carried out much work in South Africa.
  • John Charles "Jock" Campbell who served for the British Army, famed for his actions in the desert during World War II he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

During the 1980s the population slowly declined with a number of job losses at Dounreay and and the closure of the US base at Forss. To counteract this building work began for the creation of a Business Park with a lithium ion battery factory, a BT call centre and the extension of Scrabster Harbour. Other facilities in the town include The North Highland College which continues to expand, attracting new students.

Design and programming by Marc Farr