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Cupar, Fifeshire

Historical Description

CUPAR, a burgh, market-town, and parish, in the district of CUPAR, county of FIFE; including the villages of Gladney and Springfield, and containing 6758 inhabitants, of whom 3567 are within the burgh, 9 miles (W.) from St. Andrew's, and 32 (N. by E.) from Edinburgh. This place is of considerable antiquity, and was noted at an early period for the strength of its castle, erected at the extremity of a high mound extending along the bank of the Ladyburn rivulet. During their invasion of Scotland in the reign of Edward Baliol, this castle was taken by the English, who retained possession of it till, having exhausted their provisions, and being unable to procure supplies, they were compelled to abandon it, and to return to their own country. There are no remains of the castle, but the site of it is still called Castle Hill. Under this hill was a Dominican convent, the founder of which is not known, and which, after subsisting for a long time as a cell to the monastery of that order on the island of May, was granted to the abbey of St. Andrew's. No vestiges of the building remain, and the site is now occupied by an episcopal chapel. Few events of historical importance are recorded in connexion with the place: the town was erected into a royal burgh by David II., in 1363, and in the Magna Britannia is designated by Camden the Burgus Insignis, which character it still retains as the county town.

The TOWN is situated on the high road from Edinburgh, through Fife, to Dundee, and has a station on the Dundee line of the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee railway. It stands at the confluence of the river Eden and the Ladyburn, over the former of which are three handsome bridges, facilitating the intercourse between the north and south portions. From its situation, it is the great thoroughfare between the ferries of the Forth and the Tay, and consequently, in addition to its trade and well-frequented markets, derives much traffic from the frequent influx of strangers. It is well built, and consists of several principal streets, some of which are of recent formation, originating in the modern improvements of the town, and of several smaller streets; they are cleansed, paved, and watched from the common funds of the corporation, and lighted with gas by assessment upon the inhabitants under the Police act. The town has been considerably enlarged by the addition of the suburbs of Brae-Heads, Newtown, and Lebanon; and the whole has a cheerful and very respectable appearance. A public library has long been established, and is supported by subscription; it contains more than 6000 well-chosen volumes, among which are many scarce and valuable books selected by Dr. Gray, who bequeathed his library to the subscribers. There is also a public reading-room, well supplied with periodicals. A pack of fox-hounds for the Fifeshire hunt is kept here, as the chief place of the meeting of its members; the environs are pleasant, and afford much interest to the sportsman. The principal manufacture is that of linen, which gives employment to about 900 persons in the town and parish, who vvork with hand-looms at their own dwellings. The linen made is of various qualities, and is mostly exported to the East and West Indies, to the continent, and to America. Connected with this manufacture are three mills in the parish, two of which are for spinning flax, and one for thread. Of the former, one is set in motion by water, and the other partly by water and partly by steam, and the latter mill entirely by steam; they employ in the aggregate nearly 240 persons. There are two mills for grinding oatmeal and barley, and two flour-mills, all of which were held under the corporation until lately, when the feu-duty was sold. There are also a fulling-mill and two tanneries in constant use, to the latter of which has been added a manufacture of glue; three public breweries have been established, and there is an extensive manufactory of coarse earthenware, the clay found in the parish being well adapted for making it, and also for bricks and tiles, of which great numbers are made. The market is on Thursday; it is a large market for corn (sold by sample), and is numerously attended by dealers from the neighbouring districts. A number of fairs are also held, for the sale of live stock, of agricultural implements, and various other articles.

The inhabitants received their first charter of incorporation from David II. It bestowed many privileges, which were extended by Robert II., who also granted the burgesses considerable property in lands; and all the gifts were confirmed by subsequent charters down to the reign of James VI., who conferred upon the burgesses additional immunities, and the lands of the burgh at a fee-farm rent, by charter dated at Edinburgh in 1595. By these charters the government was vested in a provost, three bailies, a dean of guild, treasurer, and a council of thirteen, a convener, and seven deacons of trades, assisted by a town-clerk, and other officers; but the present town-council, composed of twenty-six members, is elected in accordance with the provisions of the Municipal act of 1833. The provost and bailies, and all other officers, are chosen by the council; the town-clerk alone holds office for life. There are eight guilds of trade, the hammermen, wrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, waulkers, bakers, and butchers, who hold their exclusive privileges under a modifying charter of Queen Anne; each of these guilds elects its own deacon, and the deacons make one of their number convener, to preside over all the guilds. The freedom is inherited by patrimony, by marriage with a freeman's daughter, by apprenticeship, or by purchase, the amount of which varies in the different guilds from £20 to £50. The magistrates hold burgh courts for the determination of pleas to any amount, but the sheriff's courts for small debts have nearly superseded the practice, and their criminal jurisdiction, also, though by charter extending to all offences not capital, is by custom limited to misdemeanors and cases of petty assaults, all graver offences being referred to the county magistrates. By the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., the burgh unites with St. Andrew's, Crail, the two Anstruthers, Kilrenny, and Pittenweem, in returning a member to the imperial parliament. The right of election is vested in the householders of the annual value of £10 and upwards, resident within the limits of the parliamentary boundary, which is more extensive than the municipal. St. Andrew's is the returning burgh. The county-hall is very spacious, and affords suitable accommodation for the county meetings, the sheriff and justice-of-peace courts, and for keeping the public records of the county: it contains a portrait of General John, Earl of Hopetoun, finely painted by Raeburn, and one of Thomas, Earl of Kellie, lord lieutenant of the county, by Wilkie. There is also a town-hall. The old town and county gaol, situated on the opposite side of the river Eden, was badly arranged, and has been superseded by a large county prison built to the north-east of the town, under the Prison act of the year 1839. In 1618, the parish of Cupar was augmented by the union of that of Tarvit on the opposite bank of the Eden. At present it extends five miles in length, and nearly the same in breadth; it comprises 5545 acres, all of which, with the exception of a moderate proportion of woodland and pasture, are arable land in the highest state of cultivation. The surface is in some parts gently undulating, in others rising into hills of moderate elevation, and, near the banks of the rivers by which it is intersected, forming extended plains; the scenery is enriched with woods of natural growth, and thriving plantations. Of the two streams, the river Eden, which rises in West Lomond, about fifteen miles distant, flows through the parish from west to east, in the centre of a broad and fertile vale; and the Ladyburn, which intersects the parish from north-west to south-east, flows into the Eden at the eastern extremity of the town. The soil is various, in some parts a light sand, in others a stiff clay, and in the valleys rich and fertile; but even the poorer soils are rendered abundantly productive by diligent cultivation, and a liberal use of manure, which is plentiful. The system of husbandry is in the most improved state; the crops are oats, barley, wheat, potatoes, of which large quantities are grown for the London market, and turnips, with the other usual green crops. Much attention is also paid to the rearing of live stock: the oxen are mostly of the old Fifeshire breed, and at the great cattle-shows have obtained prizes awarded by the agricultural societies; some of the Teeswater breed have been introduced, but they are not generally approved. The substratum of the soil is various. White sandstone is prevalent along the banks of the Eden: on those of the Ladyburn, a conglomerate sandstone is found, in which are embedded quartz and flint; and at a short distance from the confluence of the two streams, is an extensive mound consisting of gravel. Greenstone, trap-rock, and clinkstone are likewise found, above the gravel and sandstone along the banks of the Eden, and are quarried, as is also the white sandstone, for road-making and for building. The annual value of real property in the parish is £18,715. The ancient mansion of Carslogie, for many ages the family seat of the Clephanes, was erected about four centuries since, and, with the grounds, is still kept up. Wemyss Hall was built about the commencement of the last century, and has been lately enlarged. Kilmaron is a modern mansion in the castellated style, after a design by Gillespie. Tarvit, Springfield, Dalyell, Hilton, Carnie Lodge, Pitblado, Preston Hall, Middlefield, Balas, Ferrybank, Bellfield, Blalowne, and Westfield are also within the parish, and are neat residences, pleasantly situated.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Cupar, synod of Fife, and in the patronage of the Crown. There are two benefices: the minister of the first charge has a stipend of £259, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £21 per annum; the minister of the second charge has the same amount, but neither manse nor glebe. Cupar church was erected in 1785, and has been altered and enlarged from time to time. Another church, called St. Michael's, was lately built, at an expense of about £1800, partly raised by transferable shares, which entitle each subscriber to the choice of a seat. There is an episcopal chapel, a very handsome building; also places of worship for members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Synod, Old Light Burghers, Baptists, and Glassites. The grammar and English schools formerly supported by the burgh have been discontinued, and an academy, for which an appropriate building has been erected on the Castle Hill, has been substituted in their place, the patronage and management being vested in the trustees of the late Dr. Andrew Bell, of Madras, who bequeathed some property called Eggmore, in Dumfriesshire, worth between £400 and £500 per annum, for the purposes of education in the town. The late Dr. Gray, of Middlesex, bequeathed £500 for the establishment of a female school here, the management of which is vested in the provost, clergy, and schoolmaster of Cupar. An almshouse for ten or twelve poor persons is under the management of the Kirk Session; it is of very ancient date, and the origin of its foundation is not distinctly known. There is also an asylum for females above fifty years of age, erected under a legacy of £3000 bequeathed by David Knox, Esq., of London, for its foundation and endowment. The poor likewise have the interest of £450 left by Dr. Gray for their benefit. On the bank of the Eden, on the Tarvit side of that river, is a small conical eminence, anciently the site of the parish church of St. Michael, Tarvit, which ceased to exist long previously to the union of Cupar and Tarvit; and in making some improvements in the road near the spot, many of the graves were thrown open, and the remains of the dead exposed to view. Upon the summit of a hill near Wemyss Hall, are the remains of the cross of Cupar, which, on its removal from its ancient site in the town, in order to the formation of a new street, was set up in its present situation by the late Col. Wemyss. It consists of a circular shaft, placed on a massive pedestal hewn from the rock on which it stands; and above the capital are the ancient arms of the town. Lord Campbell, lord chief justice of the court of queen's bench, is the second son of the late Dr. George Campbell, minister of Cupar.

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