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Crail

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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Crail, a seaport town and a parish of the East Neuk of Fife. A royal and parliamentary burgh, the town is picturesquely situated in a gully, beyond which the red-roofed houses rise again. It is 21/8 miles WSW of Fife Ness, 10 SE of St Andrews, and 4½ NE of Anstruther station, this being 38¾ miles NE of Edinburgh; and on the Anstruther and St Andrews railway, now (1882) in course of construction, it is to have a station of its own. It dates from remote times, figuring so far back as the first half of the 9th century as a seat of commerce with the Netherlands, an important fishing and fish-curing station. And still it retains an old-world character; still down towards the sea rise massive, antique dwelling-houses; and though the gates are gone, the name of 'ports' preserves their memory. A royal castle or palace, the occasional residence of David I. (1124-53), surmounted the low cliff a little E of the harbour, but, excepting the merest fragment of a wall, has wholly disappeared. So old, however, is the parish church, that many have fancied the 'sair Sanct' himself may have prayed within its walls-a fancy forbidden by the style (Second Pointed) of its architecture. As repaired in 1828, it contains 900 sittings, and consists of an aisled nave, 80 feet long; a chancel, reduced from 55 to 22§ feet; and a western tower, with stunted octagonal spire. The SW porch has been destroyed, but the dedication cross is yet decipherable on the walls, into which has been built a far more ancient cross, sculptured with animals and other emblems. Till 1517 this church of St Macrubha was held by Haddington Cistercian nunnery, whose prioress, with Sir William Myreton, then made it collegiate, for a provost, ten prebendaries, a sacrist, and choristers. On 9 June 1559, John Knox, attended by a 'rascal multitude,' preached from its pulpit his Perth 'idolatrous sermon,' with the usual outcome of pillage and demolition; and to it in 1648 the Earl of Crawford presented James Sharp, archbishop that was to be. The castle had a chapel dedicated to St Rufus; and the site of another, at the beach to the E of the town, is known as the Prior Walls. A Free church and a U.P. church are in the town, which further has a neat town-hall, a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a branch of the Commercial Bank, a local savings' bank, 7 insurance agencies, a public library, a principal inn, two public schools, a brewery, and gas-works. The neighbouring golf links are small and uneven, greatly inferior to those of Balcomie, 1¾ mile further to the eastward. The harbour is hard to enter, and neither the oldest nor the best; for the ancient haven, Boome Bay, ½ mile eastward, is naturally larger and better sheltered, and could, at comparatively trifling cost, be converted into a deep, safe, and accessible anchorage for fully 200 vessels. But at present Grail's commerce comprises little more than import of coals, and the export of grain and potatoes, for a small surrounding district; and the harbour revenue was only £82 in 1867, £134 in 1874, £190 in 1880, and £126 in 1881. Fishing is carried on to a noticeable extent, but to an extent much less than at some other towns and villages of Fife, or indeed at Crail itself in the days when its sun-dried haddocks were widely famous as 'Crail capons. ' Of late years Crail has become a favourite resort of summer visitors, for whose accommodation several handsome villas have been built. The burgh, first chartered by Robert the Bruce in 1306, is governed by a provost, 2 bailies, a treasurer, and 5 other councillors; with St Andrews, Cupar, Kilrenny, the two Anstruthers, and Pittenweem, it returns a member to parliament; the municipal and parliamentary constituency numbering 190 in 1882, when the corporation revenue and burgh valuation amounted to £226 and £3444. Pop. (1841) 1221, (1861) 1238, (1871) 1126, (1881) 1145. The parish is bounded N by St Leonards and Kingsbarns, NE by the German Ocean, SE by the Firth of Forth, S by Kilrenny, SW by Carnbee, and NW by Dunino. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 6¾ miles; its breadth varies between 1 and 25/8 miles; and its area is 6782¾ acres, of which 399½ are foreshore. The coast, 6 miles in extent, is bold and rocky, and little diversified by creek or headland. Its most marked features are Fife Ness at the N side of the entrance of the Firth of Forth, and the skerries of Carr and Balcomie. Kippo Burn traces 23/8 miles of the Kingsbarns, and Chesters Burn 2 miles of the Dunino, boundary; whilst a rivulet runs to the Firth at the town. The land rises steeply from the shore to a height of from 20 to 80 feet above sea-level, thence swelling gently west-north-westward to 300 feet near Redwells, 400 near Kingsmuir House, and looking all, in a general view, to be fiat, naked, and uninteresting. It has little wood, and not a lake or hill or any considerable stream to relieve its monotony; but commands, from its higher grounds, a very lovely and extensive prospect. The prevailing rocks are of the Carboniferous formation. Sandstone, of good quality for all ordinary purposes, occurs in almost every quarter; and limestone abounds, but lies too deep to be easily worked. Coal and ironstone have both been mined; and clays have been dug for local brickyards. The soil varies in character, from the richest black loam on the immediate seaboard, to thin wet clay in the NW; and the rent has varied accordingly, from £1, 10s. to £8 an acre. Between Balcomie and Fife Ness is an ancient stone work, supposed to date from the 9th century, and popularly known as the Danes' Dyke; other antiquities are the ruined fortalices of Barns, Balcomie, and Airdrie. These are all separately noticed, as likewise are the mansions of Kingsmuir, Kirkmay, and Wormistone. Eight proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 6 of between £100 and £500,11 of from £50 to £100, and 14 of from £20 to £50. Crail is in the presbytery of St Andrews and synod of Fife; the living is worth (1882) £379. The two public schools, East and West, with respective accommodation for 180 and 142 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 110 and 84, and grants of £91,12s. and £56,14s. 11d. Valuation (1882) £11,631,6s. 8d. Pop. (1801) 1652, (1831) 1824, (1861) 1931, (1871) 1847, (1881) 1740.—Ord. Sur., sh. 41,1857. See the Rev. C. Rogers' Register of the Collegiate Church of Crail (Grampian Club, 1877).

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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