Upper Largo

(Kirkton of Largo)

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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Largo, a parish containing two villages of the same name in the SE of Fife, on the northern coast of the Firth of Forth. It is bounded NE by Kilconquhar, E by Kilconquhar and Newburn, S by the sweep of the Firth of Forth known as Largo Bay, W by Scoonie, and NW by Ceres. The outline is very irregular, and the boundary is purely artificial, except at the SE corner, where, for a little over a mile, it is formed by Johnston's Mill Burn, and along the shore on the S. The greatest length from NE, at the point on Craighall Burn where the parishes of Ceres, Kilconquhar, and Largo meet, to SW, where the boundary line reaches the shore due S of Lundin Tower, is 51/8 miles; and the greatest width, from Kame Bridge on the NW to the mouth of Johnston's Mill Burn on the SE, is 47/8 miles. The area is 7585½ acres, of which 199¾ are foreshore and water, and 7385¾ land; and of the latter over 6000 acres are in tillage, about 600 are under wood, and about 300 are pasture or waste. The coast, extending about 25/8 miles, is fringed for most of that distance close inshore by a reef of rocks, which are covered at high water, and, though low and sandy, rises almost immediately, especially behind the village of Lower Largo, to a height of 100 feet, reaches 165 at Upper Largo village, and from that rises gradually by a series of undulations till, on the northern boundary of the parish, a height of over 600 feet is reached. On the eastern border, in the NE, the ground at Backmuir of New Gilston rises to over 700 feet, and 1 mile N of Upper Largo village Largo Law attains a height of 965 feet. Like all the hills known as Laws it is conical in its shape, rising very steeply on the S and W sides, and more gradually on the N and E. It is green to the very summit, and has two tops, separated by a slight hollow, on the side of which, as well as on the higher top and elsewhere, basalt may be seen. The hill has been a volcano at some period subsequent to the Lower Carboniferous period, the upper part consisting of volcanic ash overlying lower carboniferous rocks faulted and upturned, and with their edges worn down. The tops indicate the bottom of the crater, the basalt there marking the plug filling the pipe up which the lava ascended. A patch of basalt farther down on the S side is either the remains of an outburst from the side of the cone or of a sheet of lava that has flowed down the side. The soft ashy edges of the craters and cone have been worn away, and the hard lava at the bottom having offered more resistance to denudation, now occupies the summit. The hill is a conspicuous object all along the lower reaches of the basin of the Forth, and commands an extensive and magnificent view. The drainage of the parish is mainly carried off by the Kiel Burn, which, rising in the NE at Backmuir of New Gilston, flows S by W for 4¾ miles, inclusive of windings, till it reaches the sea at Lower Largo village. Three-quarters of a mile from its mouth it is joined by Lundin Mill Burn from the W, which carries off the drainage of the western portion of the parish, and 2 miles further up Gilston Burn enters from the E. Above the junction with Gilston Burn the Kiel is generally known as Boghall Burn. To the E of the Kiel are the two small streams known as Temple Burn and Old Mill Burn, and on the extreme E Johnston's Mill Burn becomes the boundary at the point where it crosses the Colinsburgh road, and remains the dividing line till the shore is reached. In its lower reaches the Kiel flows for about 2 miles through a deep glen, the banks being in some places over 200 feet high. The banks are steep, and throughout the greater part of the distance very beautifully wooded, while walks open to the public lead to all the points where the views are best. The soil varies considerably, but is always good. In the SE it is a rich strong clay, but elsewhere it is generally a rich thick black loam, with lighter patches towards the S. The subsoil is clay or gravel, and in the former case is sometimes very wet. The underlying rocks are partly volcanic and partly sandstone, limestone, and shale, belonging to the Carboniferous system. There is plenty of excellent sandstone, and the limestone is in some places 15 feet thick. Coal is worked in considerable quantities in the N.

The parish contains the villages of Lundin Mill and Drumochie, Lower Largo and Temple, Upper Largo or Kirkton of Largo and Backmuir of New Gilston. Of these, Lundin Mill, Drumochie, Lower Largo, and Temple may practically be considered as constituting one long straggling village on both sides of the mouth of Kiel Burn; Upper Largo is ¾ mile NE of this; and New Gilston is in the NE part of the parish. At Lundin Mill there are a number of excellent villas, inhabited by golfers, who find an excellent course over the adjacent Lundin Links to the W; Drumochie is properly the houses immediately to the W of the mouth of the Kiel, Lower Largo immediately E of the Kiel, and Temple farther E still. Upper Largo is warm and well sheltered, and both villages are the resort of a considerable number of summer visitors, though the inshore rocks prevent the full enjoyment of good bathingground. Exclusive of New Gilston, the other villages may be considered as forming a small town, and have a station on the Leven and East of Fife Junction railway 8½ miles E of Thornton Junction. In Upper Largo, which is the centre of trade for a considerable district of surrounding country, there are a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a branch of the National Bank of Scotland, a good inn, a parish church, a Free church, a public school, an endowed hospital for indigent persons, a naturalists' field club with a small museum, and a gas company; while in Lower Largo there are a U.P. church, 2 Baptist churches, a school, 2 inns, and a small harbour. At Lundin Links there is a public school, an inn, and a golf club instituted in 1868, meeting in October to play for the ` Standard ' medal, and twice a year to play for the silver medal. Connected with the parish generally are a ploughing society, a curling club, a company of the 1st Fifeshire Rifle Volunteers, and a Good Templar lodge; and there is a corn market every Thursday. The fast days are the Wednesday before the first Sunday of March and the last Wednesday of July. The inhabitants of the lower village are mostly fishermen,-handloom weaving, which was at one time as in so many other fishing villages a staple industry, now affording employment to only one weaver. The harbour at the mouth of the Kiel is very small, and affords accommodation to a few boats engaged in line fishing, those engaged in the herring fishing now proceeding to some of the great stations at Aberdeen, Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Stonehaven, or elsewhere. It might with very little trouble be much improved. In old times a considerable trade was carried on with Holland in coal, salt, iron, sandstone, and other heavy articles, and more recently with Norway in timber; but all that is now like the weaving at an end, and the industries, besides fishing and the ordinary village handicrafts, are confined to a flour mill and a net manufactory, both in the lower village. About 3 furlongs E of Temple are a few houses known as The Pans, and marking the site of an old salt work. The parish church, mainly built in 1817, was enlarged in 1826 so as to include an old aisle, and a spire with the date 1623, and has 800 sittings. It is surrounded by a churchyard, and there is a new cemetery not far off to the N of the public school. The Free church, erected soon after the Disruption, was repaired in 1880. Wood's Hospital is a Tudor building, standing within a considerable enclosed space a little to the NE of the church. It sprang from a bequest made in 1659 by John Wood, London, who left the sum of £68, 418 Scots to be applied by his trustees in the erection of an hospital for the maintenance of 13 indigent and enfeebled persons, and to pay also for the services of a gardener, a porter, and a chaplain for the institution. The whole 16 must be of the name of Wood, and those belonging to the parish or to Fife have the preference. The first building was erected in 1667, and, it having become decayed, the present building was erected in 1830 at a cost of £2000. A sitting-room and bed-room are provided for each inmate, and there is a large hall where they assemble for prayers every morning and evening, and also a room for the meetings of the trustees. These latter are the Earl of Wemyss, the lairds of Largo, Lundin, and Balfour, and the minister and kirk-session of the parish of Largo. Each inmate has a monthly allowance of £1, 12s. 6d., besides residence. Of the founder but little is known, but he is supposed to have been a cadet of the Largo family. He died in London, but was buried in the family aisle in Largo Church. Other distinguished natives of the parish have been Alexander Selkirk (1676-1723) and Sir John Leslie. The former, the original of Robinson Crusoe, was born in the lower village in a house that remained standing till 1880. In 1704, while serving on board a ship trading to the Pacific, he was punished for mutinous conduct by being set ashore on the small island of Juan Fernandez, where he lived all alone for four years and four months before he was relieved. On his return Defoe is said to have met him about Wapping, and obtained the tale afterwards polished into Robinson Crusoe. His chest and cup, which were long preserved in the neighbourhood, are now in the Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh, while his gun is at Lathallan House. Selkirk afterwards entered the Royal Navy and was, when he died in 1723, at the age of 47, lieutenant on board of H.M.S. Weymouth. Leslie (17661832), famous for researches on heat and cognate branches of natural philosophy, was professor, first of mathematics, and afterwards of natural philosophy, in the University of Edinburgh.

Largo barony was in 1482 conferred by James III. by charter under the great seal, on Sir Andrew Wood, who had in 1480 in the ellow Kervel attacked and beaten a hostile English squadron that had been sailing in the Firth of Forth. From Sir Andrew's descendants it passed first to a family named Black, then to Gibsons, an d in 1663 to Sir Alexander Durham, to whose descendants it belonged till 1868, when Mrs Dundas-Durham sold it to G. Johnstone, Esq. of Lathrisk, to whom it now belongs. Largo House, the mansion of the barony, to the W of Upper Largo, was built in 1750, and is a very roomy building, on a charming site with a southern exposure, and commanding a fine and extensive view. The grounds are large, and, like many other parts of the parish, have a large number of fine old trees, some of them of considerable size. Within the grounds to the N is a circular tower, which formed part of the old castle inhabited by Sir Andrew Wood, and said traditionally to have been previous to that the residence of several of the widowed queens of Scotland. A runic cross found in the neighbourhood used formerly to stand on the lawn; but when the estate was sold it was unfortunately removed to Polton, near Lasswade. One of the guns of the Royal George, which sunk in 1782, which used to stand in the grounds, passed at the same time to James Wolfe Murray, Esq. of Cringletie, Peeblesshire.* The other mansions in the parish are Balhousie (Thomas Buchan, Esq.) and Strathairly (General David Briggs). The mansion-house of Lundin was pulled down in 1876; but the old square tower which was built into it, and which is the remnant of an old castle of Lundin, and dates from the time of David II., has been carefully preserved. Close to it are a number of very fine old trees. The castle belonged to a family of the name of Lundin, who at an early date held a large extent of property in the district. One of William the Lyon's sons is said to have married the then heiress, and in their line it remained till 1670, when another heiress took it into the Perth family by marriage with Sir John Drummond, second son of the second Earl of Perth, with whose descendants it remained till about 1750, when it was sold in consequence of attainder against the family for connection with the rebellion of 1745. Besides the antiquities already mentioned, there is on the banks of Kiel Burn N of Largo House a fragment of the old castle of Balcruvie or Pitcruvie, which is separately noticed. To the SE of Lundin House are three standing stones about 12 feet high, known as ` the standing stones of Lundin.' Two and a half miles N by W of Upper Largo, near Teasses, is a tumulus called Norrie's Law, concerning which a local tradition maintained that it covered the remains of a great chief who had armour of silver. A hawker stealthily opened it up about 1817, and found that something of this sort was actually the case, for he discovered a large number of ancient Celtic ornaments of silver. What they exactly were cannot be ascertained, as he carried them off and sold them to various dealers in old silver, who consigned them to the melting pot. By the exertions of General Durham of Largo and Mr George Buist of Cupar a few were recovered, and those that still remain are so extremely valuable as to cause all the more regret for what is lost. In 1848 two beautiful twisted gold armillæ were found in a bank at Lower Largo, immediately behind the well near the ninth mile-post on the railway. A number of stone coffins, formed of slabs, have been at various times found in the sandhills skirting the shore from Drumochie eastwards, over the site of the lower village to Old Mill Burn.

The parish is traversed for 2¾ miles along the coast by the Thornton and Anstruther branch of the North British railway system; and there are stations at Lundin Links and Lower Largo. The S end is also traversed by the main road from Burntisland along the edge of the Firth of Forth to the East Neuk of Fife, which passes through Lundin Mill and Upper Largo. From Upper Largo district roads pass also northwards to Ceres and north-eastwards to St Andrews. Largo is in the presbytery of St Andrews and synod of Fife, as part in the NE being given off to the quoad sacra parish of Largoward. The stipend is £396, with £10 for communion elements, and a manse and glebe worth respectively £30 and £32 a year. Kirkton public, Lundin Mill public, and Durham female schools, with accommodation respectively for 150, 178, and 143 pupils, had (1881) an average attendance of 87, 104, and 69, and grants of £83, 0s. 6d., £84, 5s., and £59. Four proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 7 hold each between £500 and £100, 3 between £1v00 and £50, and there are a number of smaller amount. Valuation (1879) £15, 784, 8s. 6d., (1883) £15,608, 5s. 5d. Pop. of village of Upper Largo (1861) 365, (1871) 353, (1881) 362; of Lower Largo and Temple (1861) 428, (1871) 521, (1881) 562; of Lundin Mill and Drumochie (1861) 593, (1871) 537, (1881) 477. Pop. of whole parish (1755) 1396, (1801) 1867, (1831) 2567, (1861) 2626, (1871) 2315, (1881) 2224, of whom 1049 were males and 1175 were females, while 211 were in the quoad sacra parish of Largoward.—Ord. Sur., shs. 40, 41, 1867-57.

See also The Chronicle of Fife; being the Diary of John Lamont of Newton, from 1649 to 1672 (Edinb. 1810); The Diary of Mr John Lamont of Newton, 1649-71 (Maitland Club, Edinb., 1830); for the geology of the Law, a paper by Dr Archibald Geikie on the ` Carboniferous Volcanic Rocks of the Basin of the Forth ' in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. xxix ; and for the Norrie's Law relics, Wilson's Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, edition 1863, vol. ii., pp. 250 et seq.

* Admiral Sir Philip C. Durham of Largo was signal officer of the Royal George at the time of the accident, and was one of the few persons rescued.

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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