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Parish of Newburgh

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Newburgh
1834-45: Newburgh

Newburgh, a town and a parish in the extreme NW of Fife. A royal and police burgh and a seaport, the town has a station on the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee section of the North British railway, 11¼ miles ESE of Perth, 7½ NW of Ladybank, and 35¾ N of Edinburgh. It mainly consists of the well-built High Street, running ½ mile E and W within 300 yards of the Firth of Tay, but includes some lanes leading down to the shore, and the southern suburb of Mount Pleasant, in Abdie parish. Great part of it is of recent erection; and even the oldest existing portions have nearly all been rebuilt within the last hundred years. Both its shops and its principal dwelling-houses are of a character indicating taste and prosperity. Its situation near the firth is exceedingly pleasant; and both from its own appearance, with gardens and numerous fruit trees among its houses, and from the charming aspect of its environs, Newburgh presents a fine picture either to observers going up or down the river, or to observers on neighbouring vantage-grounds. The views, too, from itself and its vicinity are fine. Even to a traveller on the railway, coming up from Ladybank to Perth, the prospects at Newburgh are remarkably striking and diversified, comprising first a sudden revelation of the whole basin of the lower Tay, and next a close view of Newburgh itself, its upper terrace rising on the S, and the main body nestling below on the N, and projecting into the lake-like expanse of the firth. The principal public building is the town-house, with a spire, erected in 1808; and attached to this is a building of considerable size, built about 1830, for the accommodation of the dealers in the stock market. The parish church, St Catherine's, is an elegant Gothic structure, erected in 1833 from designs by William Burn, and containing 1000 sittings. In 1882 it was adorned with a stained-glass window by Messrs Ballantine, representing scenes in the life of Christ. Other places of worship are Free, U.P., Evangelical Union, and Baptist churches.

Newburgh has a post office, with money order, Savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, a branch of the Commercial Bank, a savings' bank, agencies of 7 insurance companies, 4 hotels, a gas company (1836), waterworks (1877), a cemetery, a public library (1861), a reading-room and coffee-house (1881), 2 bowling clubs, a gardening society, a natural history and archæological society, a lawn tennis club, and a young men's religions institute. A weekly corn-market on Thursday was started in 1830; and a fair is held on the third Friday of June.

In the 17th century, Newburgh was so devoid of trade as to be described in Cunningham's essay on Cross Macduff as 'a poor country village;' and till pretty far in last century, although gradually improving, it remained much the same. Until within a few years of the publication of the Old Statistical Account -1793-its inhabitants had been chiefly employed in husbandry; but the linen-trade had occupied them to a certain extent, and when that Account was published the greater portion of them were engaged in that manufacture. At that time, however, there were only two persons who employed workmen; the greater part of the linen manufactured being woven by individual weavers on their own account, who sold their webs, when finished, at Perth, Dundee, Cupar, Auchtermuchty, and Glasgow. But the trade went on and prospered; and numerous manufacturers arose, not only to employ all the weavers in Newburgh, but also to furnish work for considerable numbers in Aberargie, Abernethy, Strathmiglo, Auchtermuchty, Dunshelt, Cupar, Springfield, Pitlessie, Kettle, Markinch, Falkland, and other places. The principal branch is the weaving of sheetings, partly for the home markets, and partly also for exportation. Malting, quarrying, and the timber trade also afford employment. The harbour consists of a long pier parallel to the river, and five projecting piers at right angles to it. There is always considerable bustle, and not a little real business. The principal exports are linen, grain, and potatoes; and the principal imports are timber, coals, and miscellaneous small goods. The Perth and Dundee steamer touches daily in summer.

Newburgh, in spite of its name, is a town of considerable antiquity; and it probably took that name from burghs being few and new at the time of its erection, there being few older. The present town, or rather its remote nucleus, originated with the abbey of Lindores. In 1266 Alexander III. erected it into a burgh of barony in favour of the abbot with all the usual privileges of such burghs. In the charter it is called 'novus burgus juxta monasterium de Lindores.' In 1457 John, Abbot of Lindores, confirmed by charter the ancient privileges of the burgesses of Newburgh; and on the 4th of July of the same year he granted them the lands of Vodrufe (Wodrife) and the hill to the S of it-about 400 acres in all-for which they were to pay to the abbot homage and common service used and wont, with 40 bolls of barley. These acres originally belonged to burgess proprietors, but are now, with a few exceptions, the property of E. P. B. Hay, Esq. of Mugdrum. In 1593 James VI. and in 1631 Charles I. confirmed the ancient charter, and conferred all the privileges of a royal burgh; but Newburgh never exercised its right of sending a member to the Scottish parliament, and consequently at the Union was not included in any of those sets of burghs which were invested with the right of sending members to the British parliament. The town is governed by a provost, a senior and a junior bailie, a treasurer, and thirteen councillors, with a town clerk. The magistrates and council act also as commissioners of police; and hold courts at regular periods for the decision of questions which are brought before them. The royalty extends 1½ mile to the S and W beyond the town, but excludes the harbour and extensive suburbs. A sheriff circuit court, for small debt causes, is held on the Wednesday after the second Monday of Jan., April, and July, and on the Friday after the first Monday of Oct. Burgh valuation (1874) £4250, 11s. 1d., (1884) £4597, 15s. 7d. Pop. of burgh (1831) 2458, (1851) 2638, (1861) 2281, (1871) 2182, (1881) 1852; of town (1861) 2733, (1871) 2777, (1881) 2374, of whom 1267 were females, and 299 in Mount Pleasant. Houses in town (1881) 417 inhabited, 15 vacant.

The parish of Newburgh, disjoined from Abdie in 1632, and subsequently enlarged by an annexation from Abernethy, is bounded N by the Firth of Tay, E by Abdie, SE by Collessie, and W by Abdie (detached) and Abernethy in Perthshire. Its utmost length, from N to S, is 3¼ miles; its utmost breadth, from E to W, is 21/8 miles; and its area is 1399 acres, of which 23 are foreshore. The coast-line, 17/8 mile in extent, is low; and the firth, with a width here of 11/8 mile, is divided by Mugdrum island (7½ x 1¼ furl.) into the North and the South Deep. The northern part of the parish is a beautiful and finely wooded level; the southern, crossed by the ridge of the Ochils, is an alternate series of hills and valleys, rising to 777 feet at Ormiston or Blackcairn Hill, and 640 near Easter Lumbenny. The predominant rocks of the low level traet in the N are Devonian; whilst those of the hills are eruptive-chiefly greenstone masses, with boulders of granite, gneiss, quartz, and mica-slate. The soil in the eastern part of the low grounds is rich carse clay, in the western is gravelly, and on the hills is either a loose black loam or a more compact ferruginous mould, generally shallow yet very fertile. Nearly two-thirds of the entire area are in tillage; rather more than one-ninth is under fruit-trees or wood; and the rest of the land is either pastoral or waste.

About a mile from the Tay, on the slope of the Ochils, in a pass leading up from the N of Fifeshire to Strathearn, is a small cairn of stones, known by the name of Sir Robert's Prap. This marks the place where a fatal duel occurred towards the close of the 17th century, between Sir Robert Balfour of Denmiln and Sir James Macgill of Lindores. A little way W of the town stands a curious antiquity, called Mugdrum Cross, which, together with Mugdrum House and Mugdrum island, is noticed in the article Mugdrum. In the pass leading-to Strathearn, 200 yards E of Sir Robert's Prap, on high ground, overlooking Strathearn westward to the Grampians, stands another antiquity, similar to Mugdrum Cross, but far ruder, and greatly more celebrated. This is Cross Macduff, mentioned by Wyntoun in his Cronykil (eirca 1426), and anciently bearing an inscription which, though preserved in record, has greatly puzzled philologists. The cross itself is said to have been broken in pieces by the Reformers, on their way from Perth to Cupar (1559); and nothing now remains but the large square block of freestone which formed the pedestal. This is 3½ feet high, and 4½ in length by 32/3 in breadth at the base. There are several holes or indentations on its different faces, which really have been formed by nodules of iron pyrites falling out, but which a comparatively recent tradition says were nine in number, and at one time contained nine rings. There is no appearance of any socket in which the cross had been fixed; so that it must have been placed upon the surface of the stone, without any other support than that of its own base. The cross formed the girth or sanctuary for any of the clan Macduff, or any related to the chief within the ninth degree, who had been guilty of 'suddand chaudmelle,' or unpremeditated slaughter. Any person entitled to this privilege, and requiring it, fled to the cross, and laid hold of one of the rings, when punishment was remitted on his washing nine times at the stone, and paying nine cows and a colpendach or young cow. The washing was done at a spring still called the Nine Wells, emitting a stream so copious as now to be employed in the operations of a bleachfield; and the oblation of the nine cows was made by fastening them to the cross's nine rings. Such is the current account, repeated time after time; but the nine rings and the nine washings have not the slightest support in record. In every instance, we are further told, the person claiming sanctuary required to give proof of belonging to the clan Macduff, or of possessing consanguinity to the chief within the given degree; and whenever any claimant failed to produce this evidence, he was instantly put to death, and buried near the stone. There were formerly several artificial cairns and tumuli around the cross, and one rather larger than the rest about 50 yards to the N, which were all popularly regarded as the graves of those who had been slain here in consequence of failing to prove themselves entitled to the sanctuary, but which have all been obliterated by the levelling operations of the ploughshare. 'Superstition,' says Cant, 'forbids the opening of any of them; no person in the neighbourhood will assist for any consideration, nor will any person in or about Newburgh travel that way when dark, for they affirm that speetres and bogles, as they call them, haunt that place.' With the removal of the traces of the graves, superstitious fears attached to the spot have died away. Sir Walter Scott has made the traditions and antiquities of this place the subject of a short dramatic poem, entitled Macduff's Cross, in the course of which he has very accurately described both the cross itself and its accidents. Says he,-

'Mark that fragment,
I mean that rough-hewn block of massive stone,
Placed on the summit of this mountain-pass,
Commanding prospect wide o'er field and ell,
And peopled village and extended moorland,
And the wide ocean and majestic Tay,
To the far distant Grampians. Do not deem it
A loosened portion of the neighbouring rock,
Detach'd by storm and thunder. 'Twas the pedestal
On which, in ancient times. a cross was reard,
Carved with words which foiled philologists;
And the events it did commemorate
Were dark. remote, and undistinguishable,
As were the mvstic characters it bore.'

Lindores Abbey and the mansion of Pitcairlie are noticed separately. Two proprietors hold each an annual value of more than £500, and three of between £100 and £500. Newburgh is in the presbytery of Cupar and the synod of Fife; the living is worth £494. The public and the Madras female school, with respective accommodation for 309 and 155 children, had (1883) an average attendance of 179 and 139, and grants of £171, 5s. 6d. and £121, 12s. 6d. Landward valuation (1860) £3142, 17s. 2d., (1884) £3155, 17s. 4d. Pop. of entire parish (1801) 1936, (1841) 2897, (1861) 2693, (1871) 2529, (l881) 2191.—Ord. Sur., sh. 48, 1868. See Alex. Laing, LL.D., Lindores Abbey and the Burgh of Newburgh (Edinb. 1876).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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