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Inverkeithing, Fifeshire

Historical Description

INVERKEITHING, a parish, sea-port, burgh and market-town, in the district of Dunfermline, county of Fife, 12½ miles (N. W. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing, with the village of Hillend, 2530 inhabitants, of whom 1674 are in the burgh. This place is supposed to have derived its name from its position at the influx of the river Keithing into the Firth of Forth, and the parish at present includes the ancient parish of Rosyth, so called, in the Gaelic language, from its peninsular situation. Inverkeithing appears to be of considerable antiquity; and the adjacent ferry was, on her flight from England, the landing-place of Margaret, who afterwards became the queen of Malcolm III. Several battles have at various times occurred in the immediate vicinity, the last of which was between the Scots and the forces of Oliver Cromwell, in 1651; and there are still the remains of a redoubt, said to have been thrown up by Cromwell's army while it was encamped on the Ferry hill. The TOWN is pleasantly and advantageously situated on an eminence overlooking the bay of St. Margaret's Hope in the Firth of Forth, and consists chiefly of one principal street, from which a smaller street and some lanes branch off in different directions. In general the houses are well built, of sandstone or greenstone; and many of the older buildings have been taken down, and replaced with others of more modern and handsome appearance. There are a public subscription library, a circulating library, and a library exclusively for religious works, all of which are well supported. The environs are pleasant, and abound with objects of interest; the place has, on the whole, a clean and cheerful aspect, and has lately been lighted with gas.It appears that the trade of the port in stone was formerly very extensive, but declined for some time, until its revival within the last few years. Large quantities of whinstone or trap rock used to be shipped here for paving the streets of London, but this stone has for some years been to a great extent superseded for that purpose by the use of granite from Aberdeen. The trade, however, has of late revived, and upwards of a hundred men are employed in working the stone, principally for government works at Chatham, Woolwich, and other places, as well as for the London market, railways, &c. There is also a considerable trade carried on in the export of lime, sandstone, corn, and the produce of the manufactories, and in the importation of timber, bark, and bones for grinding. But the principal feature in the trade of the port, which is very extensive, is the export of coal for the foreign and home markets; this being the shipping-place for the coal from not less than six different collieries, namely, Cuttlehill, Lochgelly, Townhill, Crossgates, Halbeath, Cowdenbeath, and Hill of Beath. The coal raised at these works is of the best quality for the use of steamers. There is a railway from Halbeath and the Dunfermline coal-fields, six miles in length, for conveying coal, stone, lime, and bricks to the shipping. In 1843 there were twenty-eight vessels, varying from twenty to 160 tons' burthen, registered as belonging to the port, and mostly employed in the coasting-trade. Steam-boats sail from the village of North Queensferry, in the vicinity, to Leith, Stirling, and other ports, affording a facility of intercourse with the principal towns in this part of the country; and several lines of good turnpike-road, also, serve to maintain an easy communication with the neighbouring market-towns. The market, on Monday, for grain and live stock, is held in a handsome and commodious market-house. Five annual fairs are held in the town for horses, cattle, and various kinds of merchandise, which used to be numerously attended by dealers from different parts; but very little business is at present transacted, except at the cattle-fair in May, and the Lammas fair on the first Friday in August, which latter is resorted to by considerable numbers of people from the neighbouring districts, when horse and foot races regularly take place. A branch of the Eastern Bank of Scotland has been established.

The inhabitants at a very early period received a charter of incorporation, which is recited in a charter granted by William the Lion, and was confirmed and enlarged by charters of Robert III. and James VI., giving to the burgesses certain land customs, and the customs on vessels navigating the port from the great stone near Milnathort on the north to the middle of the Firth of Forth on the south, and from the river Leven on the east to the river Devon on the west; with certain tracts of land, and various other privileges. By these charters, the government is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and a council of ten burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk and other officers, all chosen under the regulations of the Municipal Reform act. The provostship was made hereditary, by a grant of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the family of Henderson of Fordel; but the burgh successfully resisted this grant as an invasion of their independence. The provost of this burgh was, in public processions, next in precedence to the provost of Edinburgh. By their ancient charter, the magistrates had power of jurisdiction in capital offences; and a rising ground near the town still retains the name of Gallowhill, being the place where criminals were executed. The provost, bailies, and the other officers of the corporation, were formerly all elected by the council; and the council filled up vacancies as they occurred from the burgesses, by a majority of their own body. There are five incorporated trades, viz., the hammermen, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, and weavers, which are severally governed by deacons; and the freedom of the burgh is obtained by becoming a member of any one of these companies, on the payment of certain fees. The jurisdiction of the provost and bailies, the former of whom is a justice of the peace by virtue of his office, extends over the whole of the royalty of the burgh, and the magistrates hold courts for the determination of civil actions to any amount; but all criminal cases, except trifling misdemeanors, are referred to the county assizes. Inverkeithing unites with Culross, South Queensferry, Stirling and Dunfermline, in returning one member to the imperial parliament the right of election being vested, by the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., in the householders and owners of property of the annual value of £10 or upwards, resident within seven miles of the royalty. The number of electors is ninety, of whom thirty-four are burgesses; and the number of persons whose houses are below the value of £10 per annum, is forty-five, of whom six are burgesses. There is a town-hall, a neat building of stone, well adapted to the use of the corporation, and for holding the courts: the prison, which is only for the temporary confinement of offenders, is small and insecure. The market-cross is a neat, and rather lofty, pillar of stone; and between the town and the village of North Ferry, is a handsome building originally erected for a lazaretto, but which has been superseded by stationing a frigate in the bay of St. Margaret's Hope, for the quarantine service. The annual revenue of the burgh is between £600 and £700, and is increasing.

The PARISH extends for six miles along the shore of the Firth, including the bay of St. Margaret's Hope, so called from the lauding of Queeu Margaret. It comprises about 2500 acres, chiefly arable, with a moderate portion of pasture, and a few acres in plantations. The surface is greatly varied, consisting of hills of considerable elevation with intervening valleys, and level sands stretching along the coast and often interrupted by cragged heights. In the Firth are the rocky island of Inch-Garvie and the rock of Bimar, which latter has been the cause of frequent shipwrecks. The streamlet called the Keith or Keithing, as already stated, here falls into the Firth; and two small burns, after intersecting the parish, unite their streams, and also join the harbour. The scenery is marked rather with features of romantic character, than of picturesque beauty; and the want of ornamental timber gives an appearance of bleakness to the landscape. In this parish the soils are various, but fertile, and much waste and mossy land has been reclaimed by draining, and brought into profitable cultivation; the system of husbandry is of the most approved kind. The crops are wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, potatoes, and turnips; the little pasture there is, is on the acclivities of the hills. The plantations are chiefly of recent growth; they consist of larch and fir, interspersed with oak, ash, beech, and elm trees, and on the banks of the streams there are some alder and willow. For the most part the farm-buildings are substantial and commodious, and several, of modern erection, are very superior: steam-power is generally used for threshing-mills. The lands are inclosed principally with hedges of thorn, which are kept in good order; but a few of the fields are fenced with stone dykes. The substratum is generally greenstone, or trap rock, in the southern part of the parish, and coal, limestone, and sandstone in the northern part. Among the minerals are quartz, steatite, felspar, sulphate of barytes, calcareous spar, ironstone, and pyrites of iron; and boulders of chlorite and mica-slate are frequently found. The greenstone is quarried extensively for building, paving, and for mending the roads; and large quantities are shipped from the port: the sandstone is also quarried, and sent to the towns on the neighbouring coast; and there are quarries of limestone of excellent quality, of which great quantities are forwarded to distant places. The coal is worked to the extent of 30,000 or 40,000 tons annually in the parish. The yearly value of the real property in the parish is returned at £7431. On the estate of Duloch is an ancient mansion; also a modern house, the occasional residence of its proprietor; and on a promontory near St. Margaret's Hope is a handsome marine villa.

Inverkeithing is ecclesiastically in the presbytery of Dunfermline, synod of Fife, and in the patronage of Lady Baird: the minister's stipend is about £300, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £40 per annum. The church, which is situated in the centre of the town, is a handsome edifice in the later style of English architecture, built, with the exception of the tower, in 1827, to replace the former structure, destroyed by an accidental fire in 1825. It is a conspicuous feature in the view of the town, and is adapted for a congregation of nearly 1000 persons. There is a place of worship for a congregation of the United Presbyterian Church. Inverkeithing parochial school, for which an elegant building has been erected, and which is also the burgh school, affords a liberal education to 170 scholars: the master, who is appointed jointly by the town council and the heritors, has a salary of £34, with £100 fees, and a house and garden. A female school has been established for teaching reading and sewing, the mistress of which is appointed by the council, who give her a salary of £5 and a school-house, in addition to the fees.

There are some Druidical remains on the summit of Letham hill; and in the north of the parish is a stone pillar, about ten feet in height, on which are rudely-sculptured figures of men and horses, much defaced by time: it is supposed to have been raised in commemoration of some successful conflict with the Danes. On the summit of a rock in the bay connected by a narrow isthmus with the main land, are the remains of the ancient castle of Rosyth, consisting of the walls of a square tower, which, from the traces of foundations, appears to have been at the north-east angle of a quadrangular range of buildings. The castle is said to have been anciently the baronial seat of the Stuarts of Rosyth, descendants of Walter, high steward of Scotland, and father of Robert II.; it is now the property of the Earl of Hopetoun. Over the gateway is a coat of arms, those of Queen Mary, surmounted by a crown, with the inscription M. R. and the date 1561; and near the door on the south side is a couplet in the Scottish dialect, having allusion to the bell, as summoning the guests to the banquet. On the transoms of the windows in the hall, also, are engraved the initials M. S. and M. N. An old building in the town is said to be the remains of the residence of Annabella Drummond, queen of Robert III., in which she died in 1403; the tenement, though in the centre of the town, is exempt from the jurisdiction of the magistrates, who, under their charter from that monarch, were obliged to pay her 100 shillings annually. Near it are numerous ruins, among which were lately discovered the foundations of an ancient chapel belonging to one of the monasteries founded here for brethren of the Franciscan and Dominican orders. In the town are also some old houses that were the residences of the families of Fordel, Claverhouse, and Rosebery. During the repairs of the former church, there was found a beautiful hexagonal font of sandstone, richly sculptured on each face of the shaft with the bust of an angel with expanded wings, bearing on its breast a shield of antique form, in which were the arms of Scotland and of several of the monarchs: it had apparently been buried with care.

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