WICK (“VIK” from the old Norse) lies in a strategic position on the northeast tip of mainland Scotland.
Thomas Telford, engineering genius, Thomas Stevenson, father of Robert Louis, who lived in Harbour Terrace, and local man James Bremner, whose distinctive “Round House” overlooks the Inner Basin, and whose memorial stands above the Old Lifeboat shed, were all eminent civil engineers who built the harbour, largely as you see it today.
Plans for the harbour begin1803
The British Fisheries Society was keen to establish a harbour of refuge, serving the rapidly growing herring industry and the town of Wick. An agreement was signed on 10 March 1803 for work to begin surveying and constructing the harbour and new town Pulteneytown. Plans were drawn up by Thomas Telford with Wick Architect George Burn overseeing the works.
Harbour becomes operational1809
The harbour became operational in this year with many fishing and commercial vessels using this new port of refuge. It was clear however that the harbour was too small for the 300 or so boats now working out of Wick and there was the additional problem of lack of water depth due to silting.
822 boats using harbour1818
822 boats were using Wick around this time, mainly all Skaffies – open decked boats.
Plans drawn up to extend harbour1824
Plans were drawn up to extend the harbour and Caithness eminent engineer James Bremner of Keiss was tasked with this project. Bremner built many harbours amongst them – Wick, Keiss and Lossiemouth – all standing the test of time. He successfully re-floated the SS Great Britain where many had failed and was given the name “Ship Raiser”
Harbour extension complete1830
The extended harbour came into service. 98,258 barrels of herring were cured in what can be regarded as the worlds first Industrial Estate – Pulteneytown.
Numbers of both boats and men had increased significantly by this time. Some 800 vessels were operating in the area, supported by approx. 3500 fishermen.
On the afternoon of Friday 18 August, most of the Wick fleet set sail for the fishing grounds. All was calm but by midnight a deadly storm was approaching the fleet. Some boats “ran for home” managing to successfully shelter from the storm. Unfortunately, others were not so lucky as the tide had fallen by the time they arrived in Wick Bay early Saturday morning. As they attempted to navigate the harbour entrance, many boats were thrown onto the rocks and piers due to the ferocity of the storm combined with the low tide.
The event became known as “Black Saturday”. Following this tragedy, an enquiry was held and this led to many safety changes including a deeper harbour, partly decked boats, a barometer in every Scottish port and the River Harbour developed.
The biggest catch in one day recorded1864
The biggest catch in one day was recorded on 23 August 1864. 976 boats landed 24,400 crans of herring. The 3000 gutters processed over 24 million herring on this day. The famous Johnston family had set up their photography business which would prove to be a tremendous pictorial history down the years. Stevenson’s Breakwater to the south side of Wick Bay commenced in 1864.
After failing twice due to storm damage it was finally abandoned in 1873. RL Stevenson, Thomas Stevenson’s son who acted as the resident inspector in 1868 dubbed the project “the chief disaster of my father’s life”.
Pulteney Harbour Act signed1879
The Pulteney Harbour Act was signed and we still to this day work under the auspices of this act. The port was owned and operated by Wick Harbour Trust, a publicly constituted body whose members were elected from local fishing, business and council interests.
Introduction of steam-powered “drifters”1880-1900
These years saw the introduction of steam-powered “drifters”, rapidly replacing the older sail-powered vessels.
Trade at Wick peaked around 1900 when some 1120 vessels were based here, and over two particularly busy days landed 50 million fish!
James Barron (1836-1918) extended the south breakwater and added a north breakwater to the inner harbour. He also formed the river basin, which now has over 1km of quays. Most of his work was in concrete and much of it remains in place today. The Wick Service Bridge was installed over Wick River linking the two communities of Wick and Pultneytown.
War Time and industry decline1910-1950
During WW2 many fishermen left the industry to join the forces. Dotted around Wick Bay you can still see evidence of coastal defence batteries which protected the Wick area and Harbour. Due to its proximity to Scapa Flow, the Caithness coastline was heavily fortified. A flamethrower was positioned between the river piers which when tested from time to time, threw out great red and yellow flames and much smoke. The RAF had two high-speed Air Sea Rescue craft based in the harbour. In addition 2 old drifters the “Lottie” and “Isabella Ferguson” were on standby to be used as block-ships in the event of a German invasion.
By now the herring industry was in decline and between 1940-1945 no herring were landed because of the war. In 1955 herring was landed and cured in Wick for the last time. At the harbour, fishermen switched to Seine net fishing for whitefish and the years from 1930 – 2000s heralded another boom time for the industry.
The harbour suffered some storm damage on 8th December 1959 and was repaired in spring 1960. The harbour was a hive of activity due to the ever-increasing numbers of Seine net boats operating from Wick.
The Oil & Gas Industry1970-1980
During this period Wick Harbour attempted to play a part in the developing oil and gas industry, however, due to a lack of water depth for the ever larger oil vessels being used, this was a short-lived venture.
Further industry decline1990-2005
Another decline in the fishing industry was seen around this time, with many vessels and their owners exiting the industry due to a combination of declining stocks and economic downturn.
Wick Harbour Authority Established2005
Wick Harbour Authority was established as part of the Modernising of Trust Ports initiative. The Wick Harbour Revision Order 2005 was introduced to improve the constitution to enable the port to operate in a more modern way.
Wick Harbour installed a marina pontoon in the outer harbour area.
Inner Harbour pontoons installed2009
The large marina pontoon system in the Inner Harbour was completed and was opened by HRH Princess Anne. This area had to be extended in 2013 due to its success and popularity amongst the yachting community. Dredging of the harbour also took place.
Wick Harbour Authority moves to new premises2012
Wick Harbour Authority moved from our old premises in Harbour Terrace to the new Wick Harbour Office. Various environmental improvements were made around the harbour. A valued addition to the area was the re-siting of the Old Canon (it was previously located at Wick Riverside). It now sits proudly on Harbour Quay and is a popular attraction for visitors to the area.
Removal of disused buildings2013
Removal of the Ice plant and other disused buildings took place to make room for other harbour developments. New Marina showers and toilets for visitors were completed.
Major developments made to marina and commercial quay2014
Wick Harbour Authority spent significant monies creating 2 Heavy Lift pads on the River Commercial Quay. In addition, the Marina was extended and storm damage repairs and improvements were made.
Beatrice Offshore Windfarm lease2017
The signing of a lease between Wick Harbour Authority and Beatrice Offshore Windfarm (BOWL) took place in October 2017. This was the culmination of over 2 years of heavy negotiation following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding where BOWL committed to using Wick Harbour as the long-term operational base for the Beatrice wind farm.
BOWL construction works commence2018
BOWL construction works commenced with the removal of the Old Slipway rails, moving on to piling works for the new BOWL pontoon area. The Old Slipway Winch House and “Kestrel” Tower were demolished late 2018.