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Aberdour

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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Aberdour (Gael. abhir - dur, ' confluence of the stream '), a village and a parish of S W Fife. The village lies just to the W of Whitesands Bay, a curve of the Firth of Forth (here 4¾ miles wide), and is 3 miles W by S of Burntisland station, and 7½ NW of Leith, with which in summer it holds steamboat communication from 3 to 6 times a day. Sheltered on the E by Hawkcraig cliff (270 feet), northward by Hillside and the Cullalo Hills, it nestles among finely wooded glades: commands a wide prospect of the Firth's southern shores, of Edinburgh, and of the Pentland range beyond: and by its good sea-bathing and mild climate draws many visitors, for whose further accommodation a terrace of superior villas was built (1880-81) along the Shore Road, on sites belonging to the Earl of Morton. The village proper, standing at the mouth of the Dour Burn, consists of 3 parts, regarded sometimes as distinct villages—Old Town to the NE, Aberdour in the middle, and New Town to the SW. It has a good tidal harbour with a picturesque old pier: was supplied with water in 1879 at a cost of £2000: contains the parish church (erected in 1790: and seating 579), the Free church, 2 inns, 3 insurance offices, a post office under Burntisland, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, and a hospital for 4 widows, founded by Anne, countess of the second Earl of Moray. Here, too, were formerly St Martha's nunnery of St Claire (1474) and the hospital of SS. Mary and Peter (1487), and here, concealed by brushwood, still stand the ruins of St Fillan's church (c. 1178), mixed Norman and Second Pointed in style, with a S aisle, a porch, and the grave of the Rev. Robert Blair (1583-1666), Charles I. 's chaplain, who, banished from St Andrews by Archbishop Sharp, died in this parish at Meikle Couston. Steps lead from the churchyard to the broad southern terrace of Aberdour Castle, a ruinous mansion of the Earls of Morton and Barons Aberdour (1458), held by their ancestors since 1351, earlier by Viponts and by Mortimers. Its oldest portion, a massive keep tower, is chiefly of rough rubble work, with dressed quoins and windows: additions, bearing date 1632, and highly finished, mark the transition from Gothic forms to the unbroken lines of Italian composition that took place during the 17th century. Accidentally burned 150 years since, this splendid and extensive pile has formed a quarry to the entire neighbourhood(Billings, i., plate 12). An oyster-bed in Whitesands Bay employs, with whelkpicking and fishing, a few of the villagers: but the former industries of spade-making, ticking-weaving, and wood-sawing are quite extinct.

The parish, formed in 1640 by disjunction from Beath and Dalgety, contains also the village of Donibristle Colliery, and includes the island of lnchcolm, lying 1¼ mile to the S, and Kilrie Yetts, a detached portion of132¾ acres, 1½ mile to the E. Its main body is bounded N by Beath, NE by Auchtertool, E by Kinghorn and Burntisland, S by the Firth of Forth, and W by Dalgety and Dunfermline. Its length from NW to SE is 4¼ miles, its breadth varies between 1¼ and 3¼ miles: and the total area is 6059½ acres, of which 85 are foreshore. The coast is nearly 2 miles long, but probably comprises twice that extent of shore line. The western part of it rises gently inland, and is feathered and flecked with plantations the eastern is steep and rugged, with shaggy woods descending to the water's edge. From NE to SW the Cullalo Hills, 400 to 600 feet in height, intersect the parish: and the tract to the S to them is warm and genial, exhibiting a wealth of natural and artificial beauty, but that to the N lies high, and, with a cold sour soil, presents a bleak, forbidding aspect. Near the western border, from S to N, three summits rise to 499,513, and 500 feet: on the south-eastern are two 574 and 540 feet high: and Moss Morran in the N, which is traversed by the Dunfermline branch of the North British railway, has elevations of 472 and 473 feet. About 1200 acres are either hill pasture or waste: some 1800 are occupied by woods, whose monarchs are 3 sycamores, 78, 74, and 78 feet high, with girths at 1 foot from the ground of 16½, 20½, and 13½ feet. The rocks are in some parts eruptive, in others carboniferous: and one colliery, the Donibristle, was at work in 1879, while fossiliferous limestone and sandstone are also extensively quarried. Mansions are Hillside, Whitehill, and Cuttlehill: and the chief landowners are the Earls of Morton and Moray, each holding an annual value of over £2000. Five others hold each £500 and upwards, 5 from £100 to £500,4 from £50 to £100, and 19 from £25 to £50. At Hillside ' Christopher North,' the Ettrick Shepherd, and others of the celebrated Noctes, met often round the board of Mr Stuart of Dunearn: at Humbie Farm Carlyle wrote part of Frederick the Great. But (pace Sir Walter Scott) Aberdour's best title to fame rests on the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens. A baron, it may be, of Wormieston in Crail, that skeely skipper conveyed in 1281 the Princess Margaret from Dunfermline to Norway, there to be wedded to King Erie: of his homeward voyage the ballad tells us how-

'Half owre. half owre to Aberdour
It's fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens,
wi' the Scots lords at his feet.'

This parish is now in the presbytery of Dunfermline and synod of Fife: anciently it belonged to Inchcolm Abbey, its western half having been granted by Alan de Mortimer, for leave of burial in the abbey church. The bargain was broken, for ' carrying his corpse in a coffin of lead by barge in the night-time, some wicked monks did throw the same in a great deep betwixt the land and the monastery, which to this day, by neighbouring fishermen and salters, is called Mortimer's Deep.' The minister's income is £435. There are 2 boardschools, at Aberdour and Donibristle, with respective accommodation for 184 and 180 scholars, the latter having been rebuilt in 1880 at a cost of £1500. These had (1879) an average attendance of 118 and 120, and grants of £83,1s. and £80,6s. 4d. Valuation (1881) £12,500, 3s. 10d. Pop. (1801) 1260, (1831) 1751, (1851) 1945, (1871) 1697, (1881) 1736. See M. White's Beauties and Antiquities of Aberdour (Edinb. 1869), and Ballingall's Shores of Fife (Edinb. 1872).—Ord. Sur., sh. 40, 1867.

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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