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Crail, Fifeshire

Historical Description

CRAIL, a royal burgh, a sea-port, and parish, in the district of ST. ANDREW'S, county of FIFE, 10 miles (S. E. by E.) from St. Andrew's, and 40 (N. N. E.) from Edinburgh; containing 1737 inhabitants, of whom 1221 are in the burgh. This place anciently bore the name of Carrail, afterwards contracted into Cryle, Craill, and now Crail; probably from caer, "a town", and isle, "a wing or corner", the town being situated in the corner of the county that is commonly called the East Nook. It is of remote antiquity, and had a royal castle, the date of which is not clearly ascertained, but which was occasionally the residence of David I. A priory and a collegiate church were founded here at an early period, and richly endowed. Of the former, which was suppressed previously to the Reformation, there remain only some vestiges of the chapel, dedicated to St. Rufus; and the latter, in which were eight altars, was at that time stripped of its rich ornaments, and is now the parish church. Mary of Guise, afterwards consort of James V., landed on this coast after a severe storm, and was hospitably entertained in the ancient mansion of Balcomie Castle, whence, accompanied by the king, she proceeded to St. Andrew's.

The TOWN is situated at the mouth of the Firth of Forth. It consists principally of two parallel streets, extending along the shore from east to west, and intersected nearly at right angles by others of inferior note. The houses in the main street are spacious, and of ancient appearance; and though, from the loss of the herring-fishery, of which the town was a principal station, it has been long declining in prosperity, it still retains many vestiges of its former importance. The harbour is both inconvenient and unsafe; but about a quarter of a mile to the east is Roome Bay, which might be converted into an excellent haven capable of affording secure shelter to 200 sail of vessels, and might be rendered available to the increase of the trade of the Forth, and of the eastern coasts of England and Scotland. There are no manufactures carried on, nor any trade of importance, except what is requisite for the supply of the neighbourhood. The government of the town, which was erected into a royal burgh by charter of Robert Bruce, confirmed by Mary, Queen of Scots, by James VI., and Charles I. and II., is vested in a chief magistrate, two bailies, a treasurer, and a council of seventeen, chosen under the regulations of the Municipal act of William IV. There are seven incorporated trades or companies, the blacksmiths, wrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, coopers, and bakers, the fees of admission into which vary, for sons of freemen, from £1. 5. to £3. 19., and for strangers, from £3 to £6. 2. The magistrates, whose jurisdiction extends over the whole of the royalty, hold bailie courts for civil actions and the trial of petty offences, but very few cases come under their decision. Crail is associated with St. Andrew's, Anstruther Easter and Wester, Cupar, Kilrenny, and Pittenweem, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; the number of qualified voters is about fifty. The town-hall, a neat building, is situated in the principal street.

The PARISH, which is bounded on the south and east by the Firth of Forth and the German Ocean, is about seven miles in length, extending to Fifeness, the eastern extremity of the county, and about three miles in extreme breadth; but from its irregularity of form, the precise number of acres has not been ascertained. Its surface, near the shore, has an elevation of about eighty feet above the sea, and rises gradually towards the west, without forming any considerable hills. The soil comprehends every variety of character, from the deepest black loam to a thin wet clay, and the chief crops are wheat, oats, beans, barley, and potatoes, of all which great quantities are sent to London, Leith, &c. In this, as in other parishes, the system of agriculture has been much improved: all the modern implements of husbandry are in use; the farms are of moderate size, and on most of them threshing-mills have been erected. The lands near the town obtain a very high rent, generally from £6 to £8 per acre, and the pastures are luxuriantly rich. Coal is found in the parish, and a considerable work was carried on within a few years; limestone of good quality is also abundant, and is obtained for burning into lime for agricultural use. The annual value of real property in the parish is £10,240. The only plantations are around the mansions of the principal landed proprietors. The ancient houses of Newbhall and Balcomie have been demolished; of the latter, which was one of the noblest mansions in the county, a small portion still remains, forming a commodious dwelling-house for the farmer, and a good landmark for mariners. The principal houses at present are those of Airdrie, a handsome mansion embosomed in thriving plantations; Wormiston, in the gronnds of which there are some trees of stately growth; and Kirkmay. For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of St. Andrew's, synod of Fife. The minister's stipend is £280, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £64 per annum; patron, the Earl of Glasgow. Crail church, formerly collegiate for a provost, sacrist, and prebendaries, still retains some vestiges of its ancient grandeur. The parochial school, with which the burgh grammar school has been incorporated, is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34, with a house and garden, and the fees average about £40. When the number of scholars exceeds ninety, an assistant is appointed, who receives from the corporation £12 per annum, the salary formerly paid to the burgh schoolmaster. The remains of the priory, near the sea-shore, are almost obliterated; the eastern gable, which was the chief portion left, having been destroyed by the sea about forty or fifty years ago. Near Fifeness is a long ridge of stones called the Danes' Dyke, with a cave in which Constantine II. is said to have been murdered by the Danes about 874.

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


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

Postal districtKY10
Post TownAnstruther