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Balmerino, Fifeshire

Historical Description

BALMERINO, a parish, in the district of Cupar, county of Fife, 5 miles (W.) from Newport; containing, with the villages of Balmerino, Kirkton, and Galdry, 993 inhabitants, of whom 62 are in the village of Balmerino. This place, the name of which, of Celtic origin, signifies "the town of the sea", or "sailor's town", most probably derived the appellation from its position on the estuary of the river Tay. It appears to have been distinguished at a very ancient period for the mild temperature of its climate, and early in the thirteenth century was selected by Queen Ermengard, widow of William the Lion, and mother of Alexander II., as a place of occasional resort, for the benefit of her health: and subsequently by Magdalene, queen of James V., for the same purpose. A monastery for Cistercian monks was founded here by Alexander II. in 1230, at the solicitation of Ermengard, in gratitude for the benefit she received while resident here; which monastery he dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to St. Edward the Confessor, and in which he placed monks from the abbey of Melrose. This establishment was endowed by Queen Ermengard with lands in the county, purchased from Adam de Stawell, to which Alexander added the church and lands of Lochmure in Angus, and those of Petgornoc and Drumdol in the county of Fife. It continued to increase in wealth, by the liberality of subsequent benefactors, till the Dissolution, when its revenues amounted to £704. 2. 10½. in money, exclusively of a considerable income in grain and other agricultural produce. The abbey was demolished in 1558, by the lords of the congregation, on their route from St. Andrew's: the site, with the lands appertaining to it, was subsequently granted to Sir James Elphinstone, of Barnton; and after the Reformation, the estates were constituted a lordship in favour of Sir James, who was raised to the Scottish peerage in 1604 by the title of Lord Balmerino, which became extinct in 1745 by the attainder and execution of his descendant, the then lord.

The PARISH is bounded on the north by the Firth of Tay, along the shore of which it extends from Birkhill to Wormit bay; and comprises an area of 3400 acres, of which nearly 2700 are arable and in profitable cultivation, 500 in woods and plantations, and the remainder pasture and waste. Its surface is greatly varied, and traversed by two nearly parallel ridges, extending from east to west, and inclosing a lovely valley, in which the village is situated. The highest points of these ridges are, the Scurr hill on the north, which has an elevation of 400 feet; and the Coultry hill on the south, which rises to the height of 500 feet above the sea. There is also a considerable portion of high table land on the southern ridge, on which the village of Galdry stands. The scenery abounds with romantic features, and is every where enriched with woods and thriving plantations: a little to the east of the church, and nearly in the centre of the valley, is a small elevation, on the brow of which is Naughton House, and on the summit are the ruins of an ancient castle; beneath is a picturesque dell, from which a mass of rock rises abruptly to the height nearly of 100 feet. The shores of the Tay are bold and rocky, having in some parts precipitous and lofty cliffs; and on that portion of the shore which rises more gradually are the picturesque ruins of the abbey, overlooking the river. The Tay affords excellent facilities for bathing, being strongly impregnated with saline particles. There are no other rivers in the parish, but the lands are well watered by numerous springs, many of which appear from their names to have been formerly of great notoriety, and from which issue various small streams that attain sufficient power to turn several mills.

The SOIL is generally light; in some parts, a rich black loam; and in others, gravelly; but, under good management, is rendered fertile and productive. The crops are grain of all kinds, potatoes, and turnips: the system of agriculture is improved; the farm-buildings are substantial and commodious, and on all the farms are threshing-machines, some of which are driven by water. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4962. The substrata are chiefly sandstone and whinstone, of the former of which there are two varieties, one extremely compact, and well adapted for building purposes; the other more friable, and abounding with nodules of quartz, and other substances. The whinstone is of different qualities, comprising amygdaloid, trap tuffa, felspar, and clay-stone porphyry; that which is of coarser grain contains amethyst, calcareous spar, chalcedony, and agates. The Scurr hill abounds with mineral varieties; the most beautiful agates occur there, and boulders of primitive rock are found along the shore of the parish, and on the highest ridges. Naughton House was erected towards the commencement of the present century, and has since been enlarged and improved. Birkhill is an elegant and spacious mansion, on the bank of the river, and embosomed in rich and beautiful plantations.

A salmon-fishery was formerly carried on in the Tay, to a large extent, and proved a source of great gain; but since the prohibition of the use of stake-nets, in 1816, it has materially declined. The quantity previously taken in the firth was, on an average, about 30,000 in the season; at present, the number of fish scarcely amounts to one-tenth part. Since this alteration, several who were once employed in the fishery are now engaged in weaving at their own houses, for the manufacturers of Dundee; the principal articles woven are dowlas and Osnaburghs, and about 150 persons are thus engaged, of whom a large portion are women. Great quantities of grain were formerly shipped from the harbour of this place, which was the chief port on the south side of the Tay for that article; but at present only small quantities of wheat are sent by the farmers here, to the bakers of Dundee, by a passage-boat which is kept up by subscription of the parishioners. Considerable quantities of potatoes are sent to the London market; and many vessels with coal land their cargoes here. The village of Balmerino is pleasantly situated on the western declivity of the Scurr hill, already mentioned.

For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is in the presbytery of Cupar and synod of Fife; the minister's stipend is £"239. 9., with a manse, and the glebe is valued at £18 per annum. Balmerino church, a neat and substantial edifice of stone, erected in 1811, is nearly in the centre of the parish. The parochial school affords instruction to about 130 scholars; the master's salary is £34. 4. 4., with £28 fees, and a house and garden. The ruins of Balmerino Abbey consist chiefly of a small portion of the walls, with some clustered columns, and part of the corbels from which sprang the arches that supported the roof, and which are in the decorated English style; and of one cell, still in tolerable preservation. There are also remains of the ancient castle of Naughton, said to have been built soon after the Conquest, by Robert de Lundon; they comprise only some fragments of the side walls, which derive their chief importance from their situation, on the summit of a lofty crag rising almost perpendicularly from a deep and richly-wooded dell. An establishment of Culdees is said to have existed here, in connexion with that at St. Andrew's; and in a field in the parish, still called the Battle Law, an engagement is reported to have taken place between the Scots and the Danes, the latter of whom were driven to their ships: stone coffins, broken armour, and bones have been discovered near the spot. Some years since, two pieces of gold were found in a field on the farm of Peashills, which appear to have formed ornaments of some kind, and were of the value of £14.

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


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