Alexander Fraser, 8th Lord of Philorth founded and financed a University to help to bring the town into the mainstream of public life in Scotland, its charter granted in 1592 – but it seems to have been very unlucky.
Fraser’s development plans however incurred huge debts forcing him to sell part of his estate, immediately reducing the university’s income.
The first and only University Principal was Edinburgh-born Charles Ferme, who soon after arrival in 1598 was imprisoned by the crown for his involvement in a series of protests within the church. Daring tales of escape followed – twice from Doune Castle – before exile on the Isle of Bute. Ferme was restored to his position in 1609, but died in 1617.
The University was closed by 1616, having failed, unsurprisingly, to survive these managerial and financial challenges.
The building itself is described as 3 storey and ‘quadrangular’, its exact location long forgotten. The most likely location is thought to be at College Bounds, between the site of the now demolished Alexandra Hotel, and Barrasgate Road, because sculptured stones, including the ‘Moses Stone’ – dated 1613 – found in earlier buildings here are thought to be relics of the University.
|This relief depicts Moses receiving the ten commandments, and we don’t, of course, know who carved it.|
It was at one time set above the door of the parish school, then incorporated into the wall of the South Kirk. In 1969 the stone was finally re-positioned inside the kirk, where you can still visit it.
It’s well worth a look – you can see where the artist has planned and revised the layout and wording of the commandments – reminding us that this stone did not drop from the sky, but was made by a living person.
1613 was the date of Sir Alexander Fraser of Philorth’s contract with the feuars of the Broch. The town council and merchant guild were established and the right to hold markets and annual fairs awarded. I like to think that the model for ‘Moses’ was Alexander Fraser himself, in the act of handing over the contract.
Another carved stone thought to be from the University can be seen in Fraserburgh Heritage Centre.
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