Argyll and Bute

Mercat Cross, Rothesay
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Mercat Cross, Rothesay

Rothesay is the main settlement and principal ferry-port of the Isle of Bute, situated on Rothesay Bay, an embayment on its east coast. Providing a sheltered anchorage and a popular seaside destination for Victorian Scots, Rothesay is famous for its promenade and pier which have been built on reclaimed land; the original shoreline lies about 200m (656 feet) further inland, just in front of Rothesay Castle. Hotels and boarding houses grew up to meet the needs of visitors, and the town had an aquarium by 1875 and electricity from 1898. By the 1930s there was a music hall, four cinemas and an indoor swimming pool. However the numbers of tourists declined as Glaswegians preferred the guaranteed sunshine of Spain, and by the 1970s the thirty hotels in the town were struggling.

From Mediaeval times, Rothesay was the administrative centre for the County of Bute (or Buteshire), which extended to the islands of Arran, Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae, and the Bute County Buildings date from 1832. With the re-organisation of 1975, Rothesay went from the centre of local government to the periphery at a stroke and this certainly brought a decline in the fortunes of the town. The Bute County Buildings fell from use in 2005, although Rothesay Sheriff Court continued to operate from Eaglesham House until 2013, when the it closed ending the administration of justice on Bute. Projects such as the Rothesay Townscape Heritage Initiative have sought to revitalise the historic town centre.

The ruins of Rothesay Castle are over 800 years old and mark the ancestral seat of the Stuart Kings of Scotland. The Castle was built in a unique circular design that made it difficult for invaders to penetrate. It was, however, taken by the English during the Wars of Independence only to be retaken by Robert the Bruce. English invaders (Oliver Cromwell's troops of 1659) and clan rivalries (the invasion by the Duke of Argyll in 1685) led to the near fatal destruction of the castle which only survives as a result of restoration during the 19th C. Other interesting buildings are St. Mary's Chapel (16th C.), the Bute Estate Office (1681), Glenburn Hydropathic Hotel (1843), the Victorian Toilet on the pier, Isle of Bute Discovery Centre in the Winter Garden (1924) and Rothesay Pavilion (1938). Born in Rothesay were mathematician Matthew Stewart (1717-85), painter Leslie Hunter (1879 - 1931), John Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute (b.1958) - perhaps better known as racing driver Johnny Dumfries - and singer Lena Zavaroni (1963-99).

The Royal Dukedom of Rothesay was created in 1398 for David, eldest son of King Robert III (1337 - 1406). It continued to be given to the heir to the throne of Scotland and is now traditionally given to the heir to the British throne, who uses the title in preference to others when undertaking official duties in Scotland.

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