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Kilconquhar, Fifeshire

Historical Description

KILCONQUHAR, a parish, in the district of St. Andrew's, county of Fife; containing, with the burghs of Colinsburgh and Earlsferry, and the village of Kilconquhar, 2605 inhabitants, of whom 566 are in the village, 1½ mile (N. by W.) from Elie. The lands of Kilconquhar and Balcarres belong to two branches of the family of Lindesay, of whom Walter and William de Lindesay, brothers, occupied stations of importance in the reign of David I.; the latter became the head of the family, and one of his descendants was created Earl of Crawfurd in 1398. Kilconquhar is now in the possession of Sir Henry Lindesay Bethune, Bart., a descendant of the family, whose baronetcy was conferred upon him for his services in Persia. John, second son of David, eighth Earl of Crawfurd, obtained the estate of Balcarres in the parish, which, together with other lands, was erected into a barony in 1592; and his son David, who was created Lord Lindsay of Balcarres, built a chapel at this place, in which he was interred. David's son, Alexander, who was the first Earl of Balcarres, was a firm adherent of Charles II., whom he attended while in exile at Breda, where he died a short time before the Restoration, and whence his remains were brought home, and deposited in the family chapel. The estate is now in the possession of his descendant. Colonel James Lindsay.

The PARISH derives its name from its situation at the head of a lake; of which the Gaelic term is descriptive. It is about nine miles in length, and two miles in average breadth; is bounded on the south by the Firth of Forth, and on the west by the bay of Largo; and comprises about 5400 acres, all of which are arable, and under high cultivation, except what is covered with wood. The surface varies greatly in elevation. From the south, where it is mostly flat, the land rises gradually towards the north until it reaches the middle of the parish, in the hills of Reres and Kilbrachmont, points of a ridge extending from Kellie Law on the east to Largo Law on the west, and having an elevation of more than 600 feet above the level of the sea. In the southern portion of the parish is the hill of Kincraig; and in the northern part the hill of Duniker Law, which has a height of 750 feet. From the summit of this hill is an extensive and varied prospect, embracing the estuaries of the Forth and the Tay, and, towards the north and west, the mountains in the counties of Perth, Angus, and Argyll. The Craig of Balcarres commands a diversified view of the adjacent lands, which are beautifully wooded; the towns on the coast extending from Dysart to Crail, with numerous handsome mansions surrounded by plantations; the Firth of Forth and the shipping in the harbour; the rich lands of East Lothian, the city of Edinburgh, the hills of Linlithgow, Pentland, and Lammermoor, and the German Ocean. The home scenery is greatly enriched by the beautiful loch of Kilconquhar, which is about half a mile in breadth and two miles in circumference, abounding with pike and eels, and frequented by swans, teal, wild-duck, and other aquatic fowl. The banks of the lake are ornamented with plantations; and from its proximity to the village, the whole forms an interesting and beautifully picturesque feature in the landscape. A small stream issuing from it falls into the sea at Elie. A burn which in its course drives several mills flows into Largo bay, and some streamlets that rise in the northern portion of the parish join the river Eden.

The SOIL, though generally fertile, varies considerably; in the portions near the sea, it is a light loam intermixed with sand; and in those more remote, a rich and deep loam producing abundant crops. The rotation plan of husbandry in its most improved state is practised, and the system of agriculture has been brought to great perfection; the crops are oats, wheat, barley, beans, potatoes, and turnips, with a small quantity of flax. Much attention is paid to the rearing of cattle, of the Fifeshire breed, with an occasional mixture of the Tees-Water; and in order to encourage improvement in this respect, the East Fife Agricultural Society hold annual meetings at Colinsburgh, for the public distribution of premiums to the successful competitors. The average number of cattle is 1500, and about 500 of them are annually fattened for the butcher. The number of horses employed in agriculture is 200, and about fifty horses are annually sold: the feeding of sheep has been introduced within these few years to a considerable extent, chiefly of the Cheviot breed. The plantations are oak, ash, beech, plane, and larch. Some most valuable timber is found on the lands of Balcarres and Kilconquhar, in which are many trees of majestic growth, more than two centuries old; and in that part of the Balcarres estate called the Den are about 100 acres, chiefly of hard-wood of great height, and which have been planted for above half a century. In general the farm-buildings are substantial and commodious, and roofed with slate; threshing-mills are in use on the various farms, and several of them are driven by steam-engines, which have been lately introduced, and appear to be on the increase. The lands have been much improved by draining; and the fences, usually stone dykes, are kept in good order. The annual value of real property in Kilconquhar is £10,998.

The general coal formation extends throughout the whole of the parish; and in its various sections are found basalt, greenstone, clinkstone, trap tuflTa, amygdaloid, wacke, and [xirphyritic claystone, sandstone, shale, ironstone, and coal. The basalt is of a gr<-yish black colour, and extremely hard, and is found in columnar groups of great beauty, on the south-west extremity of the parish. Kincraig Hill, ascending abruptly from the beach to the height of 200 feet, abounds with all these varieties, comprehending every species of trap formation; and Balcarres Craig, which rises from a deep ravine to a similar height, and is completely detached from all the surrounding hills, displays near its summit a beautiful specimen of columnar formation, of a dark blue colour, exceedingly close-grained and hard, and which, though possessing the properties of felspar or clinkstone rock, is frequently supposed to be basaltic. The Balcarres coalfield comprises four distinct seams, two of which are splint and two common coal. The seams of splint coal are respectively six and two feet thick; and the seams of common coal, one of which is subdivided by an intermediate layer of marl, are about three feet in thickness. Coal is likewise found at Lathallan, Largoward, and Falfield, in the upper division of the parish, in which is also cannel coal of very superior quality. Limestone is not plentiful, but is found at Kilconquhar, Balcarres, and some other places; and large boulders of greenstone, mica-slate, and granite occur along the sea-shore. In this parish the principal seats are Balcarres, Kilconquhar House, Charleton, Lathallan, Falfield, and Cairnie, all handsome mansions, situated in tastefully-disposed and richly-embellished demesnes. The produce of the agricultural districts is more than requisite for the supply of the population, and large quantities are consequently conveyed to the neighbouring towns, with which an easy intercourse is maintained by turnpike-roads kept in excellent repair. The village is neatly built and pleasantly situated: of its total population, namely 566, 232 are in that part called Barnyards. The inhabitants of the parish are chiefly employed in agriculture, and in weaving for the manufacturers of Dundee and Kirkcaldy: the articles of manufacture are checks, sheetings, dowlas, &c., in the production of which about 230 persons are employed, of whom 120 are females; all working at handlooms in their own dwellings. There is also a tannery, in which a few men are engaged.

This parish, which formerly comprehended the whole of the parish of Elie, and the barony of St. Monan's, both separated from it in 1639, is in the presbytery of St. Andrew's and synod of Fife, and in the patronage of the Earl of Balcarres. The minister's stipend is about £300, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £27. 10. per annum. The church, erected in 1821, is a handsome edifice in the later English style of architecture, with a lofty tower, and is adapted for a congregation of 1030 persons. At Largoward is a chapel of ease, built in 1835, for the accommodation of the northern part of the parish; the service is performed by a missionary appointed by the presbytery. There are also places of worship in the parish for members of the United Presbyterian Church, Independents, and Baptists. Kilconquhar parochial school, situated in the village, affords a liberal course of instruction; the master has a salary of £34, with £60 fees, a house and garden, and the privilege of taking boarders. There is also a school at Largoward, to the master of which the heritors pay 100 merks per annum; and at Earlsferry and Colinsburgh are schools with upwards of 100 scholars each, but without endowment. Under Kincraig Hill is the picturesque and romantic cavern called Macduff's Cave, in which that thane, in his flight from the usurper Macbeth, is generally supposed to have concealed himself for some time.

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