Published: 16/03/2012 10:01 - Updated: 16/03/2012 10:09

Elgin at heritage crossroads

Written byby Chris Saunderson

ELGIN is at a crossroads in terms of preserving its historical fabric.

Architectural historian Andrew Wright says  that Elgin has a rich heritage which must be protected for the future.

Architectural historian Andrew Wright
Architectural historian Andrew Wright

It is likely to cost in excess of £3 million for conservation area works in the centre of Elgin. Funding bids to Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund will be prepared by Moray Council.

Mr Wright has taken more than 2,000 photographs of many of the historical buildings in Elgin in producing a conservation area appraisal, management and action plan commissioned by the local authority.

In a presentation to councillors on his appraisal, which will form the basis for the development of the ‘Elgin Heritage Trail – Castle to Cathedral to Cashmere’ project, Mr Wright said: "I don’t know of any small burgh or city that displays the archaeology we have in Elgin."

He said that retail was at the heart of some of the finest of the town’s architecture, much of which people are unaware of today. That includes a former merchant’s building at the east end of Elgin which dates back to 1694.

From the 17th century right through to the 20th, retail was vital to Elgin, he added.

Many of the streets today remain largely unchanged in terms of their buildings, a good number of which are listed. And the closes are a "remarkable resource" which Elgin could make much more of, Mr Wright said.

Elgin had great historical character. "The stone carving found in Elgin is of incomparable quality," he told councillors.

There was tremendous expansion in the size of Elgin, largely on the back of its retail sector, from 1875 to 1919, and that is reflected in the high number of listed buildings. However, many of the older buildings and structures, such as the Muckle Cross on the Plainstones, are in need of repair to protect them for the future.

Much was done in the 1970s to preserve Elgin’s heritage, said Mr Wright, but Elgin was now at a crossroads in terms of preserving the wider fabric of the city.

Alistair Campbell, libraries and museums manager, said that the aim in commissioning Mr Wright to produce his appraisal was to "look with fresh eyes at Elgin’s rich heritage".

He described the report, which went out to public consultation earlier this year, as a wonderful updated history of Elgin.

Mr Wright has identified four interpretive themes – protection, power, philanthropy and prosperity – as being representative of Elgin’s development over the last 900 years.

Moray Council previously agreed to put £120,000 towards the development of an Elgin Heritage Trail, which it has been estimated could cost around £350,000.

The final proposal could include features such as MP3 downloads, an Elgin app, printed materials, public panels, murals, pavement signs and a Ladyhill virtual interpretation.

The council is also progressing a £2.5 million redevelopment of Grant Lodge as an archive and local history centre.

Mr Campbell said that Elgin’s rich heritage could be a key element in the regeneration not only of Elgin but of the whole of Moray, with the potential to boost tourism.

Councillors welcomed Mr Wright’s work as fascinating.

"It shows just how much we have to lose," said Speyside councillor Pearl Paul.

Elgin South member John Divers said that all generations should take an interest in Elgin’s history, while Elgin North colleague John Russell said he would like to see Mr Wright’s work published in a booklet.

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