Click for Bookshop

Parish of Cupar

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.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Links to the Historical Statistical Accounts of Scotland are also available:
(Click on the link to the right, scroll to the bottom of the page and click "Browse scanned pages")

1791-99: Cupar
1834-45: Cupar

Cupar or Cupar-Fife, a town and a parish of central Fife. A royal and parliamentary burgh, the political capital of the shire, and a seat of considerable trade, the town stands 100 feet above sea-level, amid undulating and richly-wooded environs, mainly on the left bank of the Eden. By road it is 12¾ miles S of Dundee, 10 W by S of St Andrews, and 30 NNE of Edinburgh; whilst by the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee section of the North British it is 5½ miles NE of Ladybank Junction, 25¾ ESE of Perth, 44 ENE of Stirling, 13¾ NNE of Thornton J unction, 29 NE of Dunfermline, 33¾ NNE of Edinburgh, 11¾ SSW of Tayport, and 16¼ S of Dundee viâ the new Tay Bridge. It had a royal charter from David II. in 1363, but prior to that appears to have been a royal burgh, and has made some figure in history. A castle which stood on the eminence now called School Hill, but which has utterly disappeared, was the seat of the Macduffs, Earls of Fife, who first are heard of in the reign of David I. (1124-53). Almost a hundred years earlier, according to Leighton's Fife Illustrated, ` when the castle of Cupar was the residence of Macduff, the lord or Maormore of Fife, it was the scene of that horrid tragedy, the murder of his wife and children by Macbeth, of which Shakespeare has made such a beautiful use in his play of Macbeth.' But Skene has shown that the whole well-known tale of Macduff, ` Thane of Fife '-a title unknown to history-appears first in the Chronicle of Fordun and his interpolator Bower, i.e., belongs to the 14th and 15th centuries (Celtic Scotland, iii. 303-306, 1880). The court of the Stewartry of Fife was held at this castle till the forfeiture of Albany, Earl of Fife, in 1425, when it was transferred to Falkland. The proverbial expression, 'He that will to Cupar maun to Cupar,' alludes to the times when Cupar was the seat of the ancient courts of justice for Fife, and signifies much the same as 'A wilful man must have his own way.' Theatrical representations, called Mysteries or Moralities, professing to serve purposes such as now are served by at once the pulpit and the press, were exhibited on the northern slopes of the School Hill, then called the Playfield, for many ages till the Reformation -among them Sir David Lindsay's Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (1535), that scathing attack on the priests, which has been termed 'by far the greatest interlude in English literature.' Whether Sir David was born in Monimail at the Mount or in East Lothian is a moot question, but there is no doubt that the Mount was his property and frequent residence, and that he sat for Cupar in the parliaments of 1542 and 1543. Many of the kings and princes of Scotland, including nearly all the Jameses, Mary of Guise, Queen Mary, and Charles II., visited the town, and were entertained by its magistrates, Charles getting 'some desert to his foure houres in the Tolbooth, and a musicke song or two from Mr Andro Andersone, scholemaster ther for the tyme,' 6 July 1650. John Knox, in 1560, preached here to the Lords of the Congregation; and a noted conference was held in the previous year, on Tarvit Hill, 1¾ mile to the S, between the Congregation and Mary of Guise, the Queen Regent. The Rev. William Scot, who wrote the Apologetical Narration of the State of the Kirk of Scotland, was minister of Cupar from 1595 till 1642, and at his own expense erected the spire of the parish church, which still exists. A handsome mural tombstone to his memory is still to be seen in the churchyard, though its Latin inscription is quite illegible. In the churchyard, too, is a plain upright stone inscribed:-'Here lies interred the heads of Laur. Hay and Andrew Pitulloch, who suffered martyrdom at Edinburgh, July 13th, 1681, for adhering to the Word of God and Scotland's covenanted work of reformation; and also one of the hands of David Hackston of Rathillet, who was most cruelly murdered at Edinburgh, July 30th, 1680, for the same cause.' Which Hackston was one of the twelve murderers of Archbishop Sharp on Magus Muir in 1679. At Cupar, in 1718, the Archbishop's descendant, Sir James Sharp, Lord George Murray, and Sir David Threipland of Fingask were arraigned for their share in the '15, but the proceedings against them proved abortive. John, Lord Campbell (1781-1861), Chancellor of England, was born in a house still standing in the Crossgate, his father being parish minister; and the Life of him by his daughter, published in 1880, contains much of interest relating to Cupar. Another native was the portrait and landscape painter, Charles Lees, R.S.A. (1800-80).

Old Cupar lay all on the left or N side of the Eden, and had six gates or ports at thoroughfares which mostly retain their ancient names. The West Port stood at the W end of Bonnygate; the Lady Port towards the northern extremity of Lady Wynd; the East Port almost opposite the Town Hall; the Bridge Port at a point where the Eden now is crossed by the South Bridge leading to the North British station; the Mill Port at Millgate; and the Kirkgate Port at the W end of Kirkgate. The present town comprises three principal streets, several lanes and alleys, some suburbs on the N and E and W, and a considerable suburb on the S side of the Eden; containing many new houses, it presents a well-built, cleanly, thriving appearance. It has been lighted with gas since 1830; and in December 1876 a new water-supply was introduced from two storing ponds at Clatto and Skelpie, about 4¾ miles SSW of the town. The Town Hall stands at the junction of St Catherine Street and Crossgate, and is a plain, neat structure, surmounted by acupola and belfry. The County Buildings, in St Catherine Street, were enlarged in 1836 and again in 1872, present a neat though plain façade, and contain the county hall, the sheriff court - room, and offices for the public clerks. In the county hall are a fine portrait of John, Earl of Hopetoun, by Sir Henry Raeburn; a very valuable portrait of Lord Kellie in his official robes, by Sir David Wilkie; portraits of George II., George III., and Queen Charlotte, by Ramsay, son of the ` Gentle Shepherd; ' besides a copy of a good portrait of Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India, and marble busts of his lordship and of the late J. H. E. Wemyss of Wemyss and Torrie, M. P. The old county prison, on the S side of the Eden, now serves as the Fife Artillery Militia storehouse. The new prison occupies a conspicuous site a little to the NE of the town, and built, at a cost of over £3000, on a greatly improved plan, is now under Government management, and has accommodation for 33 male and 13 female prisoners. Opposite the Town Hall stood an ancient cross, which, comprising an octagonal base and a round pillar surmounted by a unicorn, was taken down in 1817. Its pillar was presented, at his own request, to Colonel Wemyss of Wemyss Hall, and by him was re-erected on the lower northern slopes of Tarvit Hill (to the S of the town), at the very spot on which, it is believed, the treaty between Mary of Guise and the Lords of the Congregation was subscribed. The Corn Exchange, built in 1862 at a cost of £4000, is an edifice in the Gothic style, with a spire 136 feet high; it contains 46 stalls for market business, and was designed to serve also as a music and lecture hall, but has not good acoustic qualities. The railway station stands on the S side of the Eden, and is handsome and commodious; near it, on the Kirkcaldy road, is a statue by Mr Howie of Edinburgh, of the Disruption worthy, David Maitland Makgill Crichton, Esq. of Rankeilour (1801-51). One piece of ground for a public park was gifted to the town in 1871 by Provost Hood, another, adjoining, in 1872, by Provost Nicholson. The Lady Burn, intervening, was then arched over, and the two gifts, with the original cart-haugh, now form a continuous park, comprising some 15 acres of green meadow, and forming one of the most valuable amenities of the burgh. The original parish church stood 3 furlongs NW of the town, but within the old walls, on a rising ground near Springfield House; became a ruin in the early part of the 15th century; and was completely obliterated in 1759. Its successor, in Kirkgate Street, built in 1415, is said to have been a beautiful Gothic structure of polished sandstone, measuring 133 feet in length by 54 in width; but it, too, fell into decay, and was taken down in 1785. The present church, then erected, partly on the same site, is a plain unattractive building, containing 1300 sittings. The church of 1415 had a tower, to which the spire already mentioned was added by Mr Scot in the beginning of the 17th century; and this tower and spire are separated from the present church by an intervening vestry or sessionhouse, into which part of one of the aisles of the former church was converted. The ancient church of St Michael, on the S side of the Eden, crowned a a small conical eminence, St Michael's Hill, now mostly covered with the plantation that shelters the NE entrance to Tarvit House, the seat of James Home Rigg, Esq. of Downfield. The present church of St Michael stands in the town, was erected in 1857 at a cost of £1800, and, altered and improved in 1871, contains 810 sittings. With a legacy of £7500, bequeathed by the late Sir David Baxter of Kilmaron, a fine new Free church, mixed Gothic in style, with tower and spire 135 feet high, was built (1876-77) on the N side of the Bonnygate. Other places of worship are Bonnygate U.P. church (1866; a handsome structure), Boston U.P. church (1850), a Baptist chapel, a Roman Catholic chapel (1879; the upper flat of a dwelling-house), and St James's Episcopal church. The last stands on or very near the site of St Mary's Dominican friary, which, founded by one of the Earls of Fife, was by James V. annexed to St Andrews, and the last remnant of which, a part of its church, consisting of fine sandstone masonry, was removed at the forming of St Catherine Street, now containing the Episcopal church. This, as rebuilt about 1870, is a neat Gothic structure of white freestone, with nave and one side aisle, and with a new organ, erected in 1876, that far surpasses any other in the county. Two burgh schools, dating back to the reign of Charles I., were in 1823 superseded by an academy, which in turn gave place, in 1831, to a Madras academy, founded and endowed by the late Dr Andrew Bell. New buildings were then erected, but the old ones also were retained; and the whole may be described as sufficiently good and commodious, though the playground is somewhat small, extended about 1865, but since curtailed by the erection of additional class-rooms and sheds for shelter of the pupils. In the middle of the original playground there stood till about 1860 an old one-story building, occupied as a sewing school at one end, and at the other as a class-room for pupils whose fees were provided by the parochial board or other local charity. This was superseded by the erection in Kirkgate of a modern suite of class-rooms, which in 1881 were greatly enlarged, mostly out of accumulations of an annual sum of £40 bequeathed by the late Alexander Bogie of Balass and - Newmill ` for the education of poor children ' in Cupar parish. This Kirkgate school and the academy are both under the management of Dr Bell's trustees (the lord-lieutenant of the county and Cupar parish ministers, provost, and dean of the guildry), in whom is vested the estate of Egmore in Galloway, which in 1881 yielded £746 towards the expenses of the institution. The upper school of the Madras Academy gives instruction in English, classical and modern languages, mathematics, drawing, etc., to 200 pupils; whilst its lower school and South Side or Kirkgate school, with respective accommodation for 288 and 450 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 296 and 211, and grants of £246,9s. and £153,6s. The Baxter Institute, at West Port, for the education of young ladies, was built and endowed in 1871 by the late Sir David Baxter. The Duncan Institute (1870), in Crossgate, founded for the working classes of Cupar, Dairsie, and Kilconquhar by the late Miss Duncan of Edengrove, is a handsome edifice in the Scotch baronial style, with a spire 114 feet high; and contains 2 reading-rooms, a library, a recreation room, a lecture hall, a museum, and a billiard room. A handsome and commodious Parish Sabbath School Hall, lately erected at a cost of over £2000, contains a memorial window to its founder, the late John Pitcairn, Esq. of Pitcullo. Other institutions are a local association of the Educational Institute of Scotland, 2 amateur musical associations, a young men's Christian association, an Established Church young men's mutual improvement society, a floral and horticultural society, chess, curling, golf, cricket, bowling, and athletic games' clubs, 4 masonic lodges, a property investment company, 2 friendly societies, a temperance society, and Good Templars' and Foresters' lodges.

The town has a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and railway telegraph departments, offices of the Royal, National, Commercial, Clydesdale, and British Linen Co.'s banks, a national security savings' bank, 23 insurance agencies, 5 hotels, and 3 weekly newspapers-the Thursday Liberal Fife -Herald (1822), the Thursday Conservative Fifeshire Journal (1833), and the Saturday Fife News (1870). A weekly corn market is held on Tuesday; a horse and cattle market on the first, and an auction mart for cattle on the first and third, Tuesdays of every month; fairs and feeing markets on the first Tuesday of August and either on 11th November or the following Tuesday. Large trade is done in the selling and grinding of corn; and other industries are brewing, malting, dyeing, tanning, flax-spinning, and the weaving of all kinds of linens; whilst much business accrues from the town's position and character as the political capital of the county. It was distinguished, too, at one time for the production of beautiful specimens of typography and the publication of many useful books, Cupar being then the seat of publication for St Andrews University. The earliest extant charter constituting Cupar a royal burgh is David II. 's of 1363. The burgh is governed by a provost, 3 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 12 councillors, who also act as police commissioners; and it unites with St Andrews, Crail, Kilrenny, the Anstruthers, and Pittenweem in sending a member to parliament. A guildry exists apart from the dean of guild court, a shadowy relic of the old times of monopoly, that lingers on chiefly or solely because its president is ex officio a trustee of the Madras academy. Five incorporated trades-hammermen, wrights, weavers, tailors, and fleshers-also prolong a formal existence from the past. The municipal constituency numbered 725 and the parliamentary 733 in 1882, when the annual value of real property within the burgh amounted to £20,830,10s. 4d. (£15,178 in 1871), whilst the corporation revenue for 1881 was £193. Pop. of parliamentary burgh (1851) 5605, (1861) 5029, (1871) 5105, (1881) 5010. Houses (1881) 1118.

The parish, containing also the villages of Brighton, Springfield, and Gladney, comprises the ancient parish of St Michael-Tarvit, annexed in 1618. It is bounded N by Kilmany and Dairsie, E by Dairsie and Kemback, S by Ceres and Cults, W by Monimail, and NW by Moonzie. Its greatest length, from N to S, is 35/8 miles; its greatest breadth, from E to W, is 3¼ miles; and its area is 5737 acres, of which 1½ are water. The river Eden winds 4¾ miles north-eastward and east-north-eastward along the Ceres border and through the interior; it originally traced all the boundary between Cupar proper and St Michael-Tarvit, but, in consequence of an artificial straightening of its course at the town, has now a small portion of St Michael's on its N bank. Lady Burn, coming in from Monimail, and receiving an affluent from the confines of Dairsie, drains most of the northern district, and falls into the Eden at the E end of the town. The surface is beautifully diversified by undulations or rising-grounds, and makes a rich display of culture and wood. In the extreme E the Howe of Fife or Stratheden declines to less than 80 feet above sea-level, thence rising to 313 feet at Hawklaw and 400 at Kilmaron Hill on the left, and to 600 at Tarvit Hill on the right,- side of the Eden. A ridgy mound of fresh-water gravel, commencing at the School Hill, the site of the ancient castle of Cupar, strikes northward up the flank of Lady Burn, and runs in a serpentine direction till it culminates in a sort of peak-the Mote or Moat Hill, traditionally said to have been the meeting-place of councils of war and courts of justice under the ` Thanes of Fife.' Sandstone conglomerate prevails along the Lady Burn, and elsewhere white sandstone of excellent building quality; whilst trap rocks, chiefly greenstone and clinkstone, form most of the rising-grounds. The sandstone is worked in four quarries, the greenstone in two. The soil, in the N and the E, is chiefly a friable loam on a gravelly subsoil; in the S and the W, is more inclined to sand; but, almost everywhere, has been highly improved, and produces the finest crops. The mansions are Kilmaron, Tarvit, Springfield, Wemyss Hall, Dalgairn (formerly Dalyell Lodge), Hilton, Cairnie, Pitbladdo, Prestonhall, Foxton, Ferrybank, Belmore, Bellfield, Bonville, Blalowan, and Westfield, and most of them are separately noticed. Six proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 28 of between £100 and £500,43 of from £50 to £100, and 93 of from £20 to £50. Cupar is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Fife; and it includes the greater part of the quoad sacra parish of Springfield. The charge is collegiate, the two ministers officiating alternately in the parish church and St Michael's, and the living of the first charge being worth £448, of the second £411. An ancient chapel stood on the lands of Kilmaron. Brighton public school, with accommodation for 67 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 37, and a grant of £26,4s. Valuation (1866) £25,280,6s. 5d., (1882) £36,480,8s. 4d., plus £1680 for railway. Pop. (1801) 4463, (1831) 6473, (1861) 6750, (1871) 7102, (1881) 7404.—Ord. Sur., shs. 48,40,1868-67.

The presbytery of Cupar comprehends the quoad civilia parishes of Abdie, Auchtermuchty, Balmerino, Ceres, Collessie, Creich, Cults, Cupar, Dairsie, Dunbog, Falkland, Flisk, Kettle, Kilmany, Logie, Monimail, Moonzie, Newburgh, and Strathmiglo, and the quoad sacra parishes of Freuchie, Ladybank, and Springfield. Pop. (1871) 30,679, (1881) 26,693, of whom 7507 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.-The Free Church also has a presbytery of Cupar, with churches at Newburgh, Auchtermuchty, Ceres, Collessie, Cupar, Dairsie, Falkland, Flisk, Kettle, Logie, Monimail, and Strathmiglo, which together had 2307 communicants in 1881.-Lastly the United Presbyterian Synod has a presbytery of Cupar, with 2 churches in Auchtermuchty, 2 in Ceres, 2 in Cupar, and 6 in respectively Freuchie, Kettle, Lathones, Pitlessie, Rathillet, and St Andrews, the 12 having 2746 members in 1880.

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

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better