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Parish of North Berwick

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: North Berwick
1834-45: North Berwick

Berwick, North, a watering-place of Haddingtonshire, at the entrance of the Firth of Forth, 113/8 miles S of Anstruther, 10 SSE of Elie, 105/8 SW of the Isle of May, and 31/8 WSW of the Bass by water. By road it is 8½ miles N by E of Haddington and 11¾ WNW of Dunbar; and by a branch of the North British railway, formed in 1848, it is 4¾ miles NNE of Drem Junction, and 22½ ENE of Edinburgh. Mainly consisting of the long High Street, running E and W parallel to a modern seaward row, and crossed at right angles to the E by Quality Street, this latter planted with plane-trees, North Berwick fronts a little greenstone promontory, which forms a small natural harbour, and right and left of which are Milsey and North Berwick Bays. Along their splendid sands stretch the East and West Links, the former small, the latter with a 5-mile golf-course; and behind the town conical North Berwick Law rises 612 feet above the level of the sea. Its charming situation, noble views, and healthy climate, its bathing, boating, golfing, and pleasant excursions alike by sea and by land, have made and are making North Berwick a more and more popular summer resort, such popularity being attested by the uprising of villas and hotels -the Royal, Marine, Commercial, and Dalrymple Arms, besides 4 private establishments and over two-score lodging-houses. It has a post office, with money order and savings' bank departments, a railway telegraph office, a branch bank of the British Linen Co., a town-house, gas-works, waterworks (with a storage since 1881 of 179,298 galls.), a library and reading-room, a lifeboat, a volunteer corps, a bowling-green (1865), a curling club, 3 golf-clubs-the North Berwick (1832), Bass Rock, and Tantallon (1874), for the first of which a club-house was erected on the West Links in 1880 at a cost of £1800-and Free Masons', Foresters', Odd Fellows', and Good Templars' lodges. A small debt court sits on the third Wednesday of January and July, and the second Wednesday of April and November; and fairs are held on the Thursday of May after Dunbar and the last Thursday of November. The harbour is dry at low water, and never too easy of access, but possesses a tolerable pier, and carries on a fairish trade in the import of guano and coal, and the export of potatoes for the London market. A steamer, too, plies between it and Leith once a week during summer; and the deep-sea and inshore fisheries received a great impulse from the railway, though herrings since 1862 have forsaken the Craigleith Waters. To the SW, near the station, stand the scanty fragments of St Mary's Benedictine nunnery-an entrance archway, with traces of refectory, kitchen, cellarage, and the E wall of the chapel. Founded by Duncan, fifth Earl of Fife (d. 1154), this nunnery was destroyed in 1565, its revenues, then valued at £557 plus rent in kind, being erected into a lordship for Sir Alexander Home by James VI. (Grose's Ants. Scotl., i. 74-76). The ` Auld Kirk, ' by the harbour, on the sandy eminence that once was an islet joined to the shore by arches, is another interesting but equally dilapidated ruin, with only its arched main doorway and font entire. It was dedicated to St Andrew; and, in the famous witchtrials of 1591, it figures as the place where, in the presence of 94 witches and 6 wizards, who had danced in the kirkyard to Geilie Duncan's playing on the Jew's harp, 'the devil startit up himself in the pulpit, like ane meikle black man, and callit every man by name, and every ane answerit,' 'Here, Master." On his command they openit up the graves, twa within, and ane without the kirk, and took off the joints of their fingers, taes, and knees, and partit them amang them; and the said Agnes Sampson gat for her part ane winding-sheet and twa joints, whilk she tint negligently ' (Chambers's Dom. Ann., i. 211-219). The present parish church, first built in 1670, rebuilt in 1770, and now (Sept. 1881) about to be rebuilt at a cost exceeding £3500, retains an hour-glass and metal baptismal ewer, an iron alms-box, and 4 silver chalices, two of them older than 1670, the date inscribed upon the other two; in its churchyard is the tomb, with quaint epitaph, of John Blackadder (1615-85), the eminent Covenanting minister, who died in captivity on the Bass. Other places of worship are a plain Free church (1844; 400 sittings); a handsome U.P. church, rebuilt in l872 at a cost of £3000; St Baldred's Episcopal church, a Norman structure, after Dalmeny, erected in 1859 and enlarged in 1863, when it was consecrated by Samuel Wilberforce, at that time Bishop of Oxford; and the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady, an Early Decorated edifice of 1879. North Berwick owes its incorporation as a royal burgh to a charter of Robert III. (1390-1406), confirmed by James VI. in 1568, and it is governed by a provost, a bailie, a treasurer, 6 councillors, 2 town-clerks, and a procurator-fiscal; whilst since the Union it has united with Haddington, Dunbar, Jedburgh, and Lander in returning one member to parliament, its parliamentary constituency numbering 212 and its municipal 217 in 1881, when its corporation revenue amounted to £317, and its valuation to £9273,11s. Pop. of parliamentary burgh (1851) 863, (1861) 1164, (1871) 1399, of whom 900 were in the royal burgh, (1881) 1698.

The parish comprises, besides four or five tinier islets, the barren greenstone island of Craigleith, 5 furlongs in circumference, 80 feet high, and 7 furlongs N of the harbour; and it contests with Whitekirk a claim to include the Bass, which rises 313 feet. Bounded N by the Firth of Forth, E and SE by Whitekirk, S by Prestonkirk, and SW and W by Dirleton, it has a length from E to W of from 2½ to 3½ miles, a width from N to S of from 21/8 to 3 miles, and an area of 5372¾ acres, of which 304 are foreshore and 1¾ water. The seaboard must be fully 5 miles long, reckoning all ins and outs; and to the E, from Canty Bay to Tantallon, is bold and rocky, rapidly rising to over 100 feet. Inland, the surface presents one and one only prominent feature, ` North Berwick Law, with cone of green, ' whose height * and isolation make it conspicuous for 20 miles and more; whilst from its summit, gained by a zigzag or M road, and crowned by a ruined signal station and by the jawbones of a whale, one looks away southward to the Lammermuirs, west-south-westward to Arthur's Seat and the Pentlands, north-westward to the Lomond Hills in Fife. And round its western and northern base the little Mill Burn wanders, on through a wooded and secluded glen, 'The Ladies' Walk,' to Milsey Bay. The interesting geology of this parish is thus epitomised by Mr Ferrier: -'North Berwick stands in a trap district, extending along the coast from Aberlady Bay to Dunbar, and interposed between two coalfields, with isolated patches of Old Red sandstone here and there, which, having been upheaved by volcanic forces from their original site, have not been carried away by denudating agencies. But although hills of trap properly so called are numerous — greenstone, basalt, clinkstone, or porphyry, a good quarry of which last on the S side of the Law has furnished the town's materials-and though the neighbouring islets are all of this character, the prevailing rock of the district is trap-tuff, of which Hugh Miller says it is "a curiously compounded rock, evidently of Plutonic origin, and yet as regularly stratified as almost any rock belonging to the Neptunian series."' The soils, which range from deep free loam and stiff alluvial clay to stretches of the lightest sand along the coast, are highly fertile and well cultivated, steam-ploughing having been introduced to the Lothians on Ferrygate farm. Remains of a crannoge or lake-village at Balgone, and the desolate shell of Fenton Tower are as nothing compared with Tantallon Castle, whose annals are closely connected with those of the parish, North Berwick barony having passed under Robert II. from the Earls of Fife to the Douglases, and been sold with the castle by the Marquis of Douglas to Sir Hew Dalrymple, Bart. (cre. 1697), third son of the first Viscount Stair, and himself Lord President of the Court of Session. Its fifth descendant, Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple of Leuchie House, divides much of the property with Sir George Grant Suttie, sixth Bart. since 1702, of Balgone and Prestongrange, the Dalryinple estate within the shire comprising 3039 and the Suttie 8788 acres, of a respective value per annum of £8857 and £10,958. Leuchie and Balgone stand amid finely-wooded parks, 2 and 2¾ miles SSW of the town; the former, dating from 1777, has been almost rebuilt by its present owner. One other proprietor holds a yearly value of £500 and upwards, and 7 hold each between £100 and £500,17 between £50 and £100, and 67 between £20 and £50. North Berwick is in the presbytery of Haddington and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale; the living is worth £510. A public school at the town, and a subscription school at Halfland Barns, 3 miles ESE, with respective accommodation for 400 and 68 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 250 and 49, and grants of £233,18s. and £52, 0s. 6d. Valuation, exclusive of burgh, (1881) £17,510,14s. Total pop. (1801) 1583, (1811) 1727, (1821) 1694, (1831) 1824, (1841) 1708, (1851) 1643, (1861) 2071, (1871) 2373, (1881) 2686.—Ord. Sur., shs. 41, 33, 1857-63. See G. Ferrier's -North Berwick and its Vicinity (10th ed. 1881).

* A correspondent of the Scotsman (June 10, 1880) drew attention to the fact that this height is given, not at 612, but as 940 feet, in well-nigh every work on Scottish topography. The fons erroris seems to have been the New Statistical.

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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