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Dysart

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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Dysart, a coast town and parish of Fife. A royal and parliamentary burgh, the town is built on the slope of a hill, above the northern shore of the Firth of Forth, 10½ miles NNE of Leith by water, whilst its station on the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee section of the North British is 21/8 miles N E of Kirkcaldy, 8 NE of Burntisland, 17¼ NNE of Edinburgh, 2¾ S by E of Thornton Junction, and 16¼ SSW of Cupar. lts parliamentary boundary includes the three villages of Gallatown (¾ mile NNW), Sinclairtown (¾ mile WNW), and Pathhead (1 mile WSW), which otherwise rather form a north-north-eastward extension of Kirkcaldy, and indeed were incorporated (1876) in the municipal burgh of that ' lang toun; ' so that here we need trouble ourself with little more than the royal burgh, or Dysart proper. This is a place of hoar antiquity, its history beginning with the half mythical St Serf, who is said to have held his famous discussion with Satan in a cave in Lord Rosslyn's grounds above the Old Church, and whose cell, the said cave (Lat. desertum, ' a solitude '), is supposed to have given the town its name. A standing stone, a mile to the N, marks, says tradition, the spot where a battle was fought with invading Danes in 874; in 1470 the neighbouring castle of Ravenscraig was granted by James III. to William, third Earl of Orkney, ancestor of the St Clairs of Rosslyn. Under them Dysart was a burgh of barony, till early in the 16th century it was raised to a royal burgh by James V., who further exempted it from customs' vassalage to Inverkeithing. So long ago as 1450 its - canty carles ' made and shipped salt to home and foreign ports; and other thriving industries of this ' Little Holland ' were fish- curing, malting, brewing, and coal-mining, -thriving, at least, till the Union, which dealt a great blow to Dysart, as to all other ports of Fife. Modern Dysart is just old Dysart at second-hand. The arrangement of the streets-three narrow ducts, uncertain lanes, a few scattered houses landward, and a central square-is much the same; and many of the old houses still live decrepitly within the burgh bounds. On some are the booth-keepers' piazza marks; on others half-effaced pious legends and dates; elsewhere Flemish architecture, outside stairs, roofs banked with grey stone, and suchlike wrinkles of antiquity imprinted haggardly on the town. One largish block of such houses, dating from 1660, was demolished in 1876, to widen the Coalgate; and some of these contained deep hiding-holes for smuggled goods, the contraband trade having arisen as legitimate commerce declined. The town-hall, standing in the middle of the town, was built in 1617, and serving Cromwell's troopers as both a barrack and a magazine, was almost destroyed by an accidental explosion. It lay in ruins for several years, and now is a plain, strong, rubble-work structure, with a tower and spire, a council room, and a disused lock-up. By Cromwell, too, the ' Fort, ' a high rock, nearly in the middle of the harbour, is said to have been fortified, though it shows no traces of fortification works. A fragment of an ancient structure, long used as a smithy, bears the name of St Dennis' Chapel, and by some is held to have been the church of a priory of Black Friars, by others to have been served by a single priest. A little to the E of it stand the nave and saddle-roofed tower of the ruinous kirk of St Serf, Second Pointed in style, and therefore a good deal earlier than the date 1570 on one of its mullionless windows. The present parish church, erected in 1802 at a cost of £1900, is a very plain building, containing 1600 sittings. A cruciform Gothic Free church, rebuilt in 1873-74, is a solid-looking edifice, with a bulky broached spire; and the U.P. church, also Gothic in style, and also with a spire, is seated for 600, and was rebuilt in 1867 at a cost of over £2500. Two public schools, North and South Dysart, with respective accommodation for 246 and 291 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 215 and 175, and grants of £191, 1s. 6d. and £147, 14s. 6d. The town has, besides, a post office under Kirkcaldy, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, a branch of the Bank of Scotland, gas-works (1843), a subscription reading-room and library, and fairs on 6 May, the third Tuesday of June, the fourth Wednesday of August, and 8 November. Nail-making, which towards the close of last century employed 100 smiths and turned out yearly twelve millions of nails of £2000 value, had all but become extinct by 1836; but flax-spinning and the weaving of linen and woollen fabrics, which last, introduced in 1715, produced half a century since some 31, 000,000 yards of cloth a year, worth fully £150, 000, are still carried on in three establishments, though to a smaller extent. The harbour, comprising an outer basin and an inner wet-dock (once a quarry) with 18 feet of water and berthage for 17 or 18 vessels, is ample enough for all the scant commerce Dysart still retains, and has a patent slip capable of taking up a ship of.400 tons burden. Governed by a provost, a first and second bailie, a treasurer, a chamberlain, and 5 councillors, Dysart unites with Kirkcaldy, Kinghorn, and Burntisland in returning a member to parliament. Its parliamentary constituency numbered 1771, and its municipal 399, in 1882, when the annual value of real property within the parliamentary burgh was £35,156, 10s. 9d., whilst the corporation revenue for 1881 was £1152, 3s. 3½d. Pop. of royal burgh (1831) 1801, (1851) 1610, (1861) 1755, (1871) 1812, (1881) 2623; of parliamentary burgh (1851) 8041, (1861) 8066, (1871) 8919, (1881) 10a874. Houses in latter (1881) 2440 inhabited, 166 vacant, 15 building.

The parish of Dysart, containing also Gallatown, Sinclairtown, and Pathhead, with most of Boreland village, is bounded N by Kinglassie, NE by Markinch, E by Wemyss, SE by the Firth of Forth, and W by Kirkcaldy, Abbotshall, Auchterderran, and Kinglassie. Its utmost length, from NNW to SSE, is 4 miles; its width, from E to W, varies between 1¾ and 2¾ miles; and its area is 4197 acres. Lochty Burn flows 2½ miles east-by-southward along all the northern boundary, on its way to the sluggish Ore, which itself winds 3 miles east-by-northward across the northern interior and along the Markinch border. The bold and rocky coast-line, 2¾ miles long, rises steeply to 178 feet at the north-eastern extremity of the town; inland, the surface undulates gently, attaining 226 feet near Gallatown, 300 near Carberry, 271 near Bogleys, 218 near Middle Balbeiggay, and 227 near Wester Strathore, whilst dipping slightly towards the above-named streams. The rocks, belonging to the Carboniferous formation, include excellent sandstone, claystone, limestone, ironstone, and coal, all of which have been largely worked. As a coal district Dysart has long been famous. Four centuries have passed since first the coal was worked in shallow mines, the excavations increasing to their present gigantic extent. The coal has been often on fire; and in the burgh records for 1578 we read that 'ane evil air enterit the main heuch, the door being then at the west entrie of the toun. ' This evil air set the mine on fire. Again and again combustion took place -in 1622, 1741, and 1790-fissnring and scorching the earth, causing Regent Buchanan of St Andrews to write Latin hexameters on its startling effects upon the scenery, and giving commemorative names to streets and lanes in the vicinity. The soil is generally good, and the entire area is in tillage, with the exception of afew acres of pasture and some 400 under wood. An antiquity, other than Ravenscraig Castle and the standing stone, was a so-called Roman camp at Carberry, which, however, has long since wholly disappeared; the Red Rocks, too, to the E of the town, are associated by legend with the burning of certain witches. Three natives of Dysart were Robert Beatson of Vicarsgrange, LL.D. (1741-1818), an author; David Pitcairn, M.D. (1749-1809), an eminent physician; and William Wallace (1768-1843), a mathematician. The title Earl of Dysart, conferred in 1643 on William Murray, son of the Rev. William Murray, minister of Dysart and preceptor to Charles I., passed to his elder daughter, who married first Sir Lionel Tollemache of Helmingham Hall, in Suffolk, and secondly the celebrated Duke of Lauderdale; it now is held by her eighth descendant by her first marriage, William John Manners Tollemache, who, born in 1859, succeeded as eighth Earl in 1878, and has his seats at Ham House in Surrey and Buckminster Park in Leicestershire. Dysart House, a little W of the town, is a plain but commodious mansion, with beautiful gardens, commanding a splendid view across the Firth; and is the Scottish seat of Francis Robert St Clair Erskine, fourth Earl of Rosslyn since 1801 (b. 1833; suc. 1866), who owns 3221 acres in Fife, valued at £9673 per annum, including £1224 for minerals. (See Roslin.) Six other proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 17 of between £100 and £500, 17 of from £50 to £100, and 92 of from £20 to £50. Dysart is in the presbytery of Kirkcaldy and synod of Fife; and the charge is collegiate; the first minister's stipend being £373 with manse and glebe worth £71, 10s., and the second's £317, 8s. 6d., whilst ecclesiastically the parish is divided into Dysart proper and Pathhead. The four public schools of Gallatown, Pathhead, Sinclairtown, and Boreland, with respective accommodation for 205, 375, 300, and 87 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 240, 361, 379, and 46, and grants of £197, 11s., £315, 8s. 6d., £331, 12s. 6d., and £25, 13s. 11d. Valuation (1865) £15,489, 8s. 2d., (1882) £42,707, 9s. 2d. Pop. (1801) 5385, (1831) 7104, (1861) 8842, (1871) 9682, (1881) 11, 627.—Ord. Sur., sh. 40, 1867. See Notices from the Local Records of Dysart (Glasg., Maitland Club, 1853), and W. Muir's Gleanings from the Records of Dysart, 1545-1796 (Edinb. 1862).

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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