Historical description of Fifeshire, Scotland

FIFESHIRE, a maritime county in the east of Scotland, bounded on the north by the river Tay, on the east by the German Ocean, on the south by the Firth of Forth, and on the west by the counties of Perth, Kinross, and Clackmannan. It lies between 56° 3' and 56° 25' (N. Lat.),and 2° 35' and 3° 38' (W. Long.), and is about 48 miles in length and 18 in extreme breadth, comprising an area of 504 square miles, or 322,560 acres; 30,548 houses, of which 29,036 are inhabited; and containing a population of 140,140, of whom 65,715 are males and 74,425 females. This county anciently formed part of the extensive district of Ross, which derived its name from its peninsular shape, and included the present counties of Kinross and Clackmannan, with portions of the counties of Perth and Stirling, all under one common jurisdiction. The lands of Clackmannan were first separated from this district and erected into a distinct county; and subsequently, in 1425, that portion forming the head of the peninsula was made a county under the appellation of Kinross. The remainder, including a small part previously belonging to Perthshire, almost entirely constitutes the modern county of Fife, the name of which is of obscure and doubtful origin. Originally inhabited by the ancient Caledonians, the district became subject to the Romans, who penetrated into its most secluded retreats, and subsequently to the Picts; but the particular details of its history during these distant periods are not distinctly recorded.

After the subjugation of the Picts, and the union of the two kingdoms under Kenneth II., that monarch, in acknowledgment of the eminent services rendered to him by Macduff, a powerful chieftain who had contributed greatly to his victory, conferred upon him all the lands he had conquered from the Picts. These extended from Fifeness to Clackmannan, and from the rivers Tay and Erne on the north to the river Forth on the south; and of this territory the king also appointed him hereditary thane. Though occasionally subject to Danish incursions, the district, from its central situation between the northern and southern divisions of the kingdom, enjoyed almost undisturbed tranquillity under its thanes, of whom Duncan Macduff, having aided in the destruction of the usurper Macbeth, and in the restoration of Malcolm Canmore, was created Earl of Fife by that sovereign, and invested with many privileges, which were made hereditary in his family. Among these the most important were, the placing of the Scottish kings in the chair of state at the ceremony of their coronation, the honour of leading the van of the royal army, and the liberty of compromising for manslaughter by the payment of a fine proportioned to the rank of the victim. This last immunity was commemorated by the erection of a stone pillar called Macduff's cross, a certain area around which afforded sanctuary. After the death of Duncan, the twelfth earl, Murdoch, Duke of Albany, by marriage with his only daughter, succeeded to the earldom of Fife, which, on his attainder in 1425, reverted to the crown. It was subsequently revived as an Irish peerage in the person of William Duff of Braco, who was created Baron Braco of Kilbride, and Earl of Fife, in 1759; James, the second earl, was made Baron Fife in the peerage of Great Britain in 1790, and the title is now vested in his descendant, the present earl.

In times of episcopacy the county was included within the archdiocese of St. Andrew's; it is at present in the synod of Fife, and comprises the presbyteries of St. Andrew's, Cupar, Kirkcaldy, and Dunfermline, and about sixty parishes. The shire is divided into the districts of Cupar, Kirkcaldy, St. Andrew's, and Dunfermline; a sheriff's court is held at Cupar for the three first-named, and one at Dunfermline for the last-mentioned district. The justices of the peace hold petty sessions in all the districts, their decisions being subject to revision by the courts of quarter-sessions, which are held at Cupar, the county town. Besides the county town, Fife contains the royal burghs of St. Andrew's, Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, Burntisland, Kirkcaldy, Kinghorn, Pittenweem, East and West Anstruther, Dysart, Kilrenny, Crail, Auchtermuchty, Falkland, and Earlsferry; the towns of Leven, Largo, Limekilns, Pathhead, Ferryport-on-Craig, Newport, Aberdour, Markinch, and Newburgh, with numerous smaller towns and villages. Several of the towns have been royal residences, and many of them are sea-ports with tolerable harbours at high-water; the best harbour is that at Burntisland, where a pier was built in 1844, at which steamers and other vessels may laud goods and passengers at all times of the tide. The principal port of the county is Kirkcaldy. At Dysart is a wet-dock, in which vessels are always afloat. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., Fife returns one member to the imperial parliament; and there are also two districts of burghs within the county, each of which sends a representative; while the burghs of Dunfermline and Inverkeithing join with those of Culross, Stirling, and South Queensferry, in other counties, in sending another representative.

The SURFACE, which is pleasingly diversified with gentle undulations, and in some parts with hills of lofty elevation, is separated by ranges of hills into several beautiful and extensive vales, the principal of which, called the Howe of Fife, is watered by the river Eden, described below. The chief hills are the East and West Lomond, the former having an elevation of 1260, and the latter of 1280 feet above the level of the sea; the Largo Law is 1020 feet in height, and the Kelly Law 800 feet. Most of the hills are covered with verdure almost to the summit. Among the streams are the Leven, the Eden, the Orr, and the Lochty: the river Leven issues from the lake of that name, in the county of Kinross, and flowing through a richly-cultivated strath, falls into the Firth of Forth at the town of Leven. The river Eden has its source in the confluence of several small streams in the parish of Strathmiglo, and taking an eastern direction, runs by the town of Cupar, and joins the German Ocean at St. Andrew's bay. The river Orr rises in a lake now drained, and pursuing a south-eastern course, in which it is joined by streams from Loch Fittie and Loch Gellie, and by the river Lochty, flows into the Leven near Cameron Bridge. The principal lakes are, the loch of Lindores, about a mile in length, and varying in breadth, abounding with pike and perch, aud beautifully situated in a richly-wooded spot; Kilconquhar loch, in the parish of that name, about two miles in circumference; Loch Gellie, three miles in circumference; and Kinghorn loch, a natural reservoir situated near that town, which supplies the mills with water.

The SOIL is exceedingly various; along the Firth of Forth, a deep rich loam alternating with clay and gravel; from the mouth of the Eden, along the shore northward, a fine light, dry, and sandy soil; to the south of the Eden, of inferior quality. West of St. Andrew's are tracts of moor and moss, with some intervening portions of fertile land; towards the river Tay, a rich soil, resting on whin rock; and on the slopes of the hills, a productive clay, with loam and gravel. The system of agriculture is in a highly improved state: the extent of the farms varies from fifty or sixty to 400 or 500 acres; the buildings are generally substantial and well arranged, and on most of the farms are threshingmills, some of which are driven by steam. The lands have been drained thoroughly to a great extent, and are inclosed with stone walls, or hedges of hawthorn. The chief crops are oats, wheat, barley, turnips, and potatoes. Much attention is paid to the rearing of cattle and sheep, and the number of sheep is much greater than formerly. The number of horses employed in agriculture in the year 1844 was 8158, and otherwise, 2466. Occasionally, numbers of pigs are fed for the London market. The plantations are very extensive, but chiefly of modern growth: on the lands of the Earl of Leven is a forest of Scotch firs, several miles in length; but little ancient timber is found except in the grounds of some of the principal mansions. Fifeshire abounds in coal and limestone, both of which are of good quality, and largely wrought. Freestone of different colours, from a dark red to a beautiful white, of compact texture, and susceptible of a high polish, is also abundant; and in the northern districts whinstone is predominant, of excellent quality for the roads. Ironstone is found in various parts; in some places in seams too thin to remunerate the labour of working it; in others in veins of greater extent, and yielding from thirty-three to forty per cent, of ore, wrought for the Carron Iron Company. Lead and copper have been found in several places; the former, principally in the Lomond hills, has been wrought, but not with any profitable result, and the works have been discontinued. The seats are Falkland House, Leslie House, Melville House, Crawford Priory, Donibristle, Balcarres, Broomhall, Dunnikeir House, Raith, Wemyss Castle, Balcaskie, Bethune, Balbirnie, Craigsanquhar, Dysart House, Elie House, Pitmilly, Dunbog, Rankeillor, Lathrisk, Pitferran, Torry, Inchdairny, Strathendry, Mugdrum, Rossie, Pittencrieff, Largo House, Newton-Collessie, Durie, Innergelly, Mount Melville, Kelly House, Cambo, Scotscraig, Fordel, Balgarvie, Lochore, St. Fort, Kemback, Fernie, Kilconquhar, Charlton, Kilmaron, and others. These mansions are for the most part handsomely built, and, with their surrounding grounds, form striking features in the scenery.

The principal manufacture is that of linen, which is carried on throughout the county; the fabrics are damasks, diapers, Osnaburghs, Silesias, and the plainer kinds of brown linens, ticking, checks, and sail-cloth, which are made in most of the villages. Flax-spinning is carried on to a great extent; and at Dunfermline, Kinghorn, Abbotshall, Leven, and other places are large mills for the purpose. The manufacture of paper, soap, candles, and glue is also extensive. There are several iron-foundries, tanneries, potteries, brick and tile works, numerous bleachfields on the Leven, a vitriol-work, breweries, distilleries, malting establishments on a large scale, and various other works. Ship-building is carried on at the several sea-port towns on the south. The commerce of the county consists chiefly in the export of cattle and sheep by the ferries, and, at the other ports, of grain, potatoes, and other agricultural produce, coal, limestone, and lime; and in the importation of timber, bark, hides, tallow, flax, hemp, tar, iron, slates, groceries, and other articles. Facility of communication is afforded by good roads, and by the great Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee railway. At Newport is a ferry across the Tay to Dundee, and at Ferryport-on-Craig one across the same river to Broughty. There are two ferries, also, of great importance across the Forth; one connecting Burntisland, in Fife, with Granton; and the other, higher up the Firth, connecting North and South Queensferry. The total annual value of real property in the county, assessed to the Income tax for the year 1842, was £508,923, of which amount £381,572 were for lands, £74,654 for houses, £22,564 for mines, £4797 for quarries, £1159 for fisheries, and the remainder for other kinds of real property not comprised in the foregoing items. There are numerous remains of antiquity, among which are the ruins of the ancient abbey and palace of Dunfermline, the abbey of Lindores, the palace of Falkland, the tower and chapel of St. Regulus, Cardinal Bethune's Castle, the Castle of Macduff, the Castle of Ravenscraig, Rosythe Castle, and the Castle of Lochore, with various others, which are noticed in articles on the places where they are situated.

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