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Parish of Wemyss

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: Wemyss
1834-45: Wemyss

Wemyss, a parish on the S coast of Fife, is bounded NW by Markinch, N by Markinch and Scoonie, E by a detached section of Markinch, SE by the Firth of Forth, and SW by Dysart. Its greatest length, from NE to SW, is 6¾ miles; its greatest breadth is 2¼ miles; and its total area is 4891¾ acres, of which 154½ are foreshore, and 4¾ water. The coast-line of about 6 miles is bold and very rocky, though not bounded by any very lofty cliffs. On the coast, between the villages of West Wemyss and Buckhaven, there are eight or ten rock caves, some of them of large extent, and all above highwater mark. One of the largest, the Glass Cave, was used as one of the earliest glass-works in this country, while the Court Cave, to the E of East Wemyss, derives its name from an encounter said to have occurred in it between James V. and some Gipsies. In several of the caves there are a number of curious inscriptions, which have been fully described in a pamphlet by the late Sir James Y. Simpson. The name of the parish is derived from the Gaelic uaimh, ` a cave.' Between the villages of East and West Wemyss, close to the shore, there is a narrow stretch of links, which is used as a golfing ground.

The surface of the parish in some places immediately above the shore is considerably elevated, and rises in a general slope towards the N and W, attaining 215 feet at Bowhouse, 260 at Earl's Seat, 147 at Perceval, and 121 at Muiredge. The river Leven runs along its N boundary for 1¼ mile. The rocks belong chiefly to the Carboniferous formation; those in the NE and centre are mainly dark red sandstone. The beach between East and West Wemyss is covered with blue whinstone ice-borne boulders; in the SW and E a large quantity of coal and some sandstone are found. The coal is worked in about 13 mines. The soil is in some places sandy and shallow, but in others of a strong, darkcoloured, clayey character, and of great depth. Fishing is an important industry along the coast, especially at Buckhaven; and the linen manufacture employs a good number of hands, chiefly at East Wemyss, where there is a factory. The coal and mineral trade formerly centred in West Wemyss; but a wet dock with a draught of 32 feet at low water is at present being constructed at Methil by Mr R. G. Erskine Wemyss, at an estimated cost of over £100, 000, which will attract much of the shipping, especially since most of the coal is now raised in pits in the E of the parish. The chief landowner in the parish is Mr R. G. Erskine Wemyss of Wemyss and Torrie, who is superior of all lands in the parish.

The parish contains the towns of Buckhaven (2952) and West Wemyss (1178), the villages of East Wemyss (895), Coaltown of Wemyss (422), Methil (819), Kirkland of Methil (331), and Methilhill (483). The principal mansion is Wemyss Castle, the seat of R. G. Erskine Wemyss, Esq., situated on a cliff about 35 feet above the level of the sea, a little to the E of the village of West Wemyss. It is a large and weather-beaten building-part of it of considerable antiquity-and forms a fine feature in the landscape as seen from the sea. Mary Queen of Scots met Darnley for the first time within its walls in 1565. Charles II. spent a day in it in July 1650, and slept a night there in July 1657. There is preserved in it a large silver basin, which was given in 1290 by the King of Norway to Sir Michael Wemyss of Wemyss, on occasion of that knight and Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie appearing at the Norwegian court as ambassadors from Scotland to bring home the Princess Margaret. More accounts than one are given of the origin of the family of Wemyss; but all agree as to their being derived from the family of Macduff, Mormaer of Fife in the reign of Malcolm Ceannmor. The family of Wemyss, therefore, is one of the very few Lowland families which, through the male line, can claim kindred with Celtic blood. The lands now forming the parish of Wemyss are said to have been part of the estate of Macduff, Shakespeare's well-known thane of Fife, during the reign of Malcolm Ceannmor; and a little to the E of East Wemyss, immediately above the Well Cave, there is an extensive ruin, of red sandstone, known as Macduff's Castle, which, according to tradition, was a stronghold of the great thane. The present proprietor of the Wemyss estate, Robert Gordon Erskine Wemyss, Esq. (b. 1858; suc. 1864), is said to be the 27th in direct descent from Hugo, the second son of Gillimichael, who was third in descent from Macduff. The Fife estates of the family comprise 8925 acres, valued at £17, 806 per annum. Wemyss gives the title of Earl of Wemyss to a scion of the noble family of Douglas. (See Gosford.)

The Rev. George Gillespie, who figured in the ecclesiastical affairs of the 17th century, was minister of Wemyss for about 4 years. Besides Macduff's Castle the antiquities in the parish include the ruins of an ancient chapel within the grounds known as ChapelGarden, ¼ mile W of West Wemyss.

A branch railway from Thornton Junction of the North British railway traverses the parish to Buckhaven, with intermediate stations called West Wemyss and Wemyss Castle. This branch line, 4¼ miles long, was opened in 1881, and cost about £20, 000. A short reach of the North British railway (about 6 furlongs), between Dysart and Thornton, also falls within the boundaries of the parish in the extreme W.

Wemyss parish is in the presbytery of Kirkcaldy and synod of Fife; the living is worth £480. The parish church is at East Wemyss; and there are quoad sacra churches at Methil and West Wemyss. There are Free churches at East Wemyss and Buckhaven, and two U.P. churches at Buckhaven. The accommodation, average attendance, and government grants of the schools in this parish in the year 1884 were as follows: Buckhaven amal-gamated public school, 800, 490, £425; Cross Roads public school, 300, 297, 3260; East Wemyss senior and junior departments, 400, 192, £172. Coaltown and West Wemyss schools (both the property of Mr Wemyss) together accommodate 390.

A water-supply was introduced all over the parish, under the Public Health Act, about 1877, at a cost of £25, 000; and a gaswork midway between Buckhaven and East Wemyss supplies both places with gas. Valuation (1856) £14, 484, 18s., (1885) £33,727, 16s. 5d., exclusive of £1767 for railways. Pop. (1801) 3264, (1831) 5001, (1861) 5970, (1871) 6400, (1881) 7307, of whom 3808 were in Wemyss ecclesiastical parish.—Ord. Sur., sh. 40, 1867.

Wemyss Bay, a small watering-place in Innerkip parish, Renfrewshire, on the Firth of Clyde, immediately N of Skelmorlie in Largs parish, Ayrshire, and at the terminus of the Greenock and Wemyss Bay railway (1865), 8 miles SW of Upper Greenock and 30½ W of Glasgow. It has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a branch of the Clydesdale Bank, an hotel, a steamboat pier, and an English Episcopal church (1879)-a pretty Gothic red sandstone edifice, with a fine chime of 8 bells.—Ord. Sur., sh. 29, 1873.

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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