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Aberdour, Fifeshire

Historical Description

ABERDOUR, a parish, in the district of DUNFERMLINE, county of FIFE; including the island of Inchcolm, and the village of Newtown; and containing 1916 inhabitants, of whom 307 are in Easter and 469 in Wester Aberdour, 8 miles (S. W.) from Dunfermline. This place takes its name from its situation at the mouth of the Dour, a rivulet which flows into the Forth near the village. It was anciently the property of the Vipont family, of whose baronial castle there are still considerable remains. The castle, with the lands, passed in 1125 from the Viponts, by marriage, to the Mortimers, of whom Allen de Mortimer granted the western portion of the lands to the monks of Inchcolm, in consideration of the privilege of being allowed to bury in the church of their monastery on the isle, about a mile distant from the mainland. When conveying the remains of one of that family to the abbey for interment, a violent storm is said to have arisen, and compelled the party to throw the coffin into the channel, which, from that circumstance, obtained the appellation of "Mortimer's Deep." The ancient castle is a stately pile of massive grandeur, situated on an eminence, on the east bank of the Water of Dour, and commanding an extensive view of the Firth of Forth: in front is a spacious terrace, overlooking the gardens, into which are several descents by flights of steps. It was partly destroyed by an accidental fire, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, since which time it has been abandoned, and suffered to fall into decay; but the roof is still entire, and several of the apartments are in tolerable preservation, though used only as lumber-rooms. At a small distance is the old church, now a roofless ruin; it contains the ancient family vault of the Morton family, and is surrounded by a small cemetery.

This parish, which is bounded on the south by the river Forth, is about three miles in length, from east to west, and nearly of equal breadth, comprising about 6240 acres, of which 3240 are arable, about 1800 woodland and plantations, and the remainder meadow and pasture. The surface is broken by the ridge of the Collelo hills, which traverses the parish from east to west, and the summits of which are well wooded, and the southern acclivities in profitable cultivation. Towards the river, along which the parish extends for more than two miles, the ground is for the most part tolerably level; but on the east, the coast is rocky and precipitous, rising abruptly into eminences that are wooded to the margin of the Forth. On the face of the hills, walks have been laid out, commanding diversified prospects; and on the west is a rich bay of white sand, surrounded with trees, whence the ground rises towards the west into eminences crowned with thriving plantations, which, stretching southward, terminate in a perpendicular mass of rock washed by the sea, by which, and by the headlands on the south-east, the harbour is securely sheltered from the winds. To the north-west of the harbour, the surface again rises into a hill finely wooded, adding greatly to the beauty of the scenery, and commanding, on the right, a view of the island of Inchcolm, with the picturesque ruins of the abbey, and, on the left of it, the town of Burntisland, with the coasts of Lothian, the city of Edinburgh, and the Pentland hills in the distance.

The soil on the north side of the ridge of hills, which has a considerable elevation above the sea, is cold and sterile, but on the south side more genial and fertile; and generally a rich black loam, in some parts alternated with sand. The chief crops are wheat, oats, barley, beans, potatoes, and turnips; the system of agriculture is much improved, and the farm-buildings are substantial and commodious. The substratum abounds with coal, of which an extensive mine on the lands of Donibristle, belonging to the Earl of Moray, is in operation, about two miles and a half from the village; and coal is also wrought on Cottlehill. Freestone of a white colour, and of compact texture, was formerly quarried to a great extent, and much of it sent to Edinburgh and Glasgow for ornamental buildings; and on the lands of the Earl of Morton is a quarry producing stone admirably fitted for piers and other purposes where great durability is requisite: large blocks from this quarry were used in the construction of Granton Pier. The annual value of real property in the parish is £5581. Aberdour House, the seat of the Earl of Morton, is a spacious mansion on the west bank of the Dour, opposite to the ancient castle, and surrounded with pleasure-grounds richly wooded, and tastefully laid out. Hillside is a stately mansion commanding views of the Firth of Forth, the opposite coasts, and the adjacent scenery; and Whitehill Cottage and Cottlehill House are also finely situated. The village of Aberdour is divided into two portions called Easter and Wester, by the river Dour, over which is a handsome bridge; and to the south of the western portion is the village of Newtown, consisting of Sea-side-place and Manse-street. The beauty of the surrounding scenery, the numerous retired walks in the neighbourhood, and the fine sandy beach, have rendered these villages places of favourite resort during the summer months, for bathing; and for the accommodation of the numerous visiters, lodging-houses are extensively provided. Steamers ply twice a day from Edinburgh, during summer, and pinnaces daily from Leith harbour, throughout the year. The manufacture of coarse linen was formerly carried on extensively by hand-loom weavers; but it has greatly decreased. On the Dour, about a mile from the old village, is an iron forge, in which spades, shovels, and other implements are made, and of which the great hammer is worked by water power. There are also a brick-work, and some saw-mills of recent establishment. Considerable quantities of coal are shipped from the harbour, for exportation; and several foreign vessels arrive weekly for freights of coal from the mines. Between the harbour and Burntisland is an oyster-bed belonging to the Earl of Morton, which is leased to the fishermen of Newhaven. A fair is held on the 20th of June, chiefly for pleasure.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Dunfermline and synod of Fife. The minister's stipend is £207. 14. 6., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £13 per annum; patron, the Earl of Morton. The church, erected in 1790, and repaired in 1826, is a plain building. There is a place of worship for members of the Free Church. The parochial school is attended by about 100 children; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average £30 per annum. An hospital was founded in Wester Aberdour by Anne Countess of Moray, who endowed it for four aged widows, of whom three are appointed by the family, and one by the clerk of the signet; each of the widows has a separate apartment, with an allowance of coal and candles, and £5 per annum in money. On the summit of a hill on the farm of Dalachy, was a cairn, on the removal of which, during agricultural improvements, were found a stone coffin containing a human skeleton, several earthen vessels containing human bones, a spear-head of copper, and various other relics. The field adjoining the garden of the old manse is called the "Sisters' land," from its having been anciently the site of a Franciscan nunnery. Aberdour gives the title of Baron to the Earl of Morton.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis


Online maps of Aberdour are available from a number of sites:

Postal districtKY3
Post TownBurntisland