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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter I. Early Outlines



Cinerary urn found in preparing the foundations for the late Dr Landale’s liouse of “The Binn.”

When I am dead and in my grave,
And all my bones are rotten,
Take up this book and think of me,
When I am quite forgotten.”

So runs the old request, couched in rather an Irish way. Unnumbered ages ago—an eternity before the Binn was born, and that’s some time since—a strange tree fell in the sand near which it grew, and was covered with blown sand from some ancient seashore, as the robins buried the Babes in the Wood. So undisturbed was its last resting-place, and so gradual its decay, its particles, filtering away with the percolation of surface water, and replaced with grains of sand—that in course of time when the sand solidified nothing-but the carbonised sculpture of the bark remained. A portion of the trunk, 4 feet 6 inches in height and 5 feet 5 inches in girth, one of the sigillaria beautifully marked with pits for the leaves arranged spirally, and with vertical moisture channels, is now standing near the entrance to Mr Lamlale’s house of “The Binn.” It was uot found in the adjoining bed of calciferous sandstone, but in the same stratum in a fault at Muir-edge. In the latest volcanic period in Scotland the forces beneath burst through at Burntisland and left this layer of sandstone at an angle of 35 degrees until it readies the foot of the east volcanic vent of the Binn. Here, on the very lip of this old volcano the late Dr Landale felt constrained to build him an house, and preparing the foundations for it in 18G6 the workmen disinterred the cinerary urn depicted at the head of this chapter. It contained fragments of charred bones which are still preserved. The height is 15 indies and diameter 12 A inches. In a collection of these urns, in the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, there is one found at Ceres very like this, the design round the shoulders being the same. Authorities assign these urns to over 7000 years ago. Xo doubt there was a dwelling of some kind beside this place of burial, so that even in those days there were people with an eye for a good site. Previous to the finding of this urn, in building Greenmount—another good site—a number of these urns were found together. They were much broken in excavating, but were given to Mr Patou of Glasgow Museum. Slabs of stone had covered the tops, and Miss Iv. J. Kirke, Hilton, thinks there were also some flint, arrow heads. I have seen an old estate map on which tlie place where these were found is shown as a conical tumulus, described as such. On the same map at the base of the .south side of Craigkennochie there is marked “ an artificial cairn probably a place of sepulture.” About 50 years ago any illness in the neighbourhood of Craigholm was ascribed to the influence of this burial place, a spring near here being much used. The tumulus and cairn may be nearly of the same period, but of races with different burial customs —the cairn usually having the stone cist with unburned bones. And this is all we know of the inhabitants of this corner of Fife in prehistoric times. In the beginning of the 19th century, when a good deal of re-building seems to have been going on, in West Leven Street and the High Street near the Harbour, frequent discovery of human bones took place, grim relics, the gossips darkly whispered in the ear, of the tragic end of some over-rich traveller boastful of his spoils, or fierce seaman in some forgotten brawl. Many skeletons were also found at the Lammerlaws, supposed by some to be the remains of witches burned there, or of soldiers who perished in the siege. More likely most of these bones, had their discovery been postponed till now, would be ranked as prehistoric, from the method of their burial, or the presence of fragments of slab, cist, or urn, which may not have been observed or not understood. .

Ages afterwards, yet 1830 years ago, in the summer of 83, a.d., the Roman Governor of Britain, Agricola,. ‘‘sounded the havens and explored with his fleet the north side of Bodotria” (the Firth of Forth), and, according to Sir Robert Sibbald’s reading of Tacitus, “ found none so commodious for great vessels as that at the town now called Bruntelin.’’ Sir Robert in a letter to his “Honoured nephew, Alexander Orrock, laird of' Orreck,” published in his “Roman Ports, Colonies, and Forts in the Firth of Forth” (ITU), says, speaking' of Tacitus’ account, of Agricola, his father-in-law’s sixth year of administration of Britain, “ the circumstances of the mountains and woods do clearly mark out that it was at Bruntelin and the bays near it . . that Agrieola landed . . . from the Binn-end to Kinghorne the country adjacent to the coast has to this day the name of the Woods.” Sibbald thought it liKely that “ Agricola placed a specula or Tower where the Castle of Bruntelin now stands; this being the largest and most convenient port for ships and easiest fortified because of the rocks on each side of the entry of it: and the rising ground on which the Castle now stands was of singular advantage, both as a specula for discoverie of enemies and invaders, and as a Phunts or height to place night-lights on (nilidac ajtecuhhe castillaque) for the seamen’s better and safer guidance into the harbour.”

Tacitus says that Agric-ola’s fleets were not intended primarily to land troops, but were used mainly to follow, feed, and encourage his army, •which recent writers believe would march along1 the coast from Stirling.

Sir Robert was an eminent physician, naturalist, antiquary, and writer, with great powers of observation, and visited personally the places he describes in his books. His active and enthusiastic nature imbibed eagerly all information bearing on Roman remains—a fascinating fever in his day—and it is this penchant for old-time wonders that we have to keep our weather eye on, and that firmly. He proceeds:—“This hill here on which the Roman Specula stood had an oblong camp upon it, with the Praetorium, that is, the Governor’s Pavilion in the middle square of it, where the court of the Castle is now.” He describes at length the Castilla, -and thinks an assault on it by the Caledonians in the preceding winter was the cause of the sixth expedition. Till then there had been a division of opinion among the Romans as to the advisability of proceeding further north.

He finds “a vestige” of a British Cam]) on Duncarn hill, and “Upon the ascent from the East . . . there are outer and inner square camps with dykes of rough stone about them . . . Barbieri, secretary to Lord Elgin, in his Historical Gazetteer of Fife, also says Dunearn “ has a fort of the Picts of great strength.” I recently visited Dunearn but could not trace the mounds seen by Sir Robert about 1680. It is, however, a weird and awesome scene. The greater part, of the top is covered deep with thousands of whin and other hard stones, about the size suitable for building dykes. One I observed was undoubtedly cut. Were these stones collected, by human agency!" It is too high for a terminal moraine—an accumulation of debris torn from the sides of a valley traversed by a glacier and dropped at its foot where it ceases to be ice. A volcanic vent, in its dying throes these stones may be the last material ejected so imperfectly that they 'fell back aud choked the vent. The lake is used by the Grange Distillery in the manufacture of the cmtur. At the foot of the hill is the summer house of James Stewart, the survivor in the famous pistol duel between him and ’ Sir Alexander Boswell.

A friend, Mr George Blyth, tells me that when a young man he was shooting rabbits at the edge of the loch, and having wounded one, he enlarged a hole in which it had taken refuge, and discovered, at a depth of several feet, a curious bottle, wrapped in what he describes as burned straw, probably straw black with age. It was of dark opacpie glass, one end cigar-shaped like the old style lemonade bottle—the “bothimless” sort that bothered Handy Andy so much—but the neck turned at a right angle. The mouth was closed with what appeared to be wax or rotten cork. It was filled with a dark coloured very sweet wine :—

“On Tintock tap there is a cup,
And in the cup there is a drap.”

The wine was pronounced by a supervisor at the Grange to be very fine, and evidently hundreds of years old, as there was a deposit of an eighth of. an inch on the inside of the glass. My friend has always regretted that the wine was consumed and the bottle broken. Dr Anderson of the Antiquarian Museum informs me bottles of this description were in use in Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sibbald goes on to give “an account of Orrea” (a Homan town in Fife, held by Small in his Roman Antiquities to have been at Cupar), “which I conjecture stood where the house of Orrock now stands: there have been medals found near to it . . . a military way passeth close by it called the Cross-gate . . . many antique instruments and armaments have been found near the Boroughs or Tumidi, near to where the Prnetorum stood . . . many rings were found . . . some of an inch diameter . . . some the ordinary size of a (finger) ring, all these are covered with a green crust, so it does not appear what metal they are of, some have an aperture in the side . . . and seem to have been used as Fibulae” (brooches), (hi page 18 he gives a drawing of a stylus or Roman pen found at Orrock.

Sir Robert had “a crap for a’ corns.” he writes “The lands of Orrock afford British diamonds of various colours, some four, some six-sided, equal to the Bristol stones.” These “diamonds” were rock crystals, and their presence in the vicinity no doubt gave rise to the old tale of sailors seeing-in the night a diamond glittering in the Binn :—

“At lowest ebb yer eliafts ye’l lay,
AŤ laicli’s ye Šail, to Mary pray,
Atween the Knaps and Cot-burn-dell,
Aboon the Green about an ell,
Ye’l see a ferlie;
Whytes blazin’ out a fiery peat,
Noo glowerin’ low as blue’s a slate,
Or flickerin’ marlin o’ the twa,
Syne spluterin’ like a burs tin ’ ba’,
O’ red hot iron ;
But w'hsn the mune her chin has laid,
Across the Bass, slie’l quickly fade,
Wi’ sword? o’ blue, an’ spears o’ gowd,
The Binn she’l leave as cauld’s a shroud,
And black’s a whale.”

Sibbald presses on to mention a “vitriolic spring” at Orrock; chronicles a hailstorm he experienced, in the summer of 1687, at Burntisland, when the hailstones were “ A an inch in diameter, the thickness of a rix dollar, and hexagonal”; and expatiates on the wonder of a horn growing out of a lady’s toe. A dangerous weapon ! This vitriolic spring reminds us that there used to be a medicinal spring near Alexander’s monument, called tne Waliacepaw (Well o’ the Spa—Spa well), frequented by the patients of the once famous Dr Anderson, physician to Charles I.

According to Bohn’s Tacitus, after Agricola's great victory of Mans Gnunpus he retired southwards “to the confines of the Horesti” (natives of Fife). At the same time his fleet starting' from the Forth or Tay circumnavigated Britain, “and returned entire to its former station.” To Tacitus he described Caledonia as covered with forest, and the Caledonians as being' large limbed, and having-ruddy hair indicating a German origin. In fighting at Mons Grampus they used chariots and horses, the foot being armed with long' swords and short targets.

The derivation of the name Burntisland has occasioned some debate. To many it presents no difficulty.—There’s a little island in the harbcur and the rocks look “burnt.” This tendency to swallow plain English in these latitudes is common. Silverbarton, for instance. Sibbald quotes: —“Richard, Abbot of Dunfermline, on 3rd June, 1458, gave a charter to David, eldest son and heir of * William de Orrock, of Silliebabe et Dunliern.” And Silliebabe it remained till comparatively recent times. Then there’s lvinghorii—King and horn. So evident! Yet the word is Kin-gorne, pronounced so by the aged natives to this day, spelt Kingorn in the 12th century, and undoubly Members of this ancient family were bailies, tacksmen, and litigants in Burntisland for hundreds of years. The family owned Orrock previous to 1458, over 450 years since.

Sibbald refers to the legendary burning of fishermen’s huts on the island, and a supposed attempt of the Homans to destroy the town by fire, and quotes the lines of a “native poet” :—

“Brave ancient isle, thy praise if I should sing,
The habitation of a Pictish King,
Dreftus, who made against the Roman strokes,
Forth’s snakie arms thee to enclose with rocks,
They often pressed to vanquish thee with fire,
A- Macedon did the sea embordering Tyre,
But thou did’st eoorn Rome’s captive for to be,
And kept thyself from Roman legions free.”

Sibbald says “Brintlandt” is a place-name in Denmark, but his pet theory is that “elen in the old language signifies a bay bowed like the flexure of the elbow, and brunt, in the Gothic tongue, a fire burning—that is the Homan night light on the tower at the harbour.” The name often occurs without the d in early Council records—Jirintilun and Hrint llun—and in this form is very like the sound given to it by old residenters now. It is written variously in the early Council Records and Exchequer Rolls:—“Ye 1Briiit Eland” and “Ye said I hind” (1040), “Ye Brynt Yland” (1540), “Brint Iland” (1592) “ Brintiland” (1592). At first sight these seem proof positive that the name was derived from “ Burned” and “ Island.’ But the name existed previous to 1540 in the form Bertiland, probably pronounced Bert ilund. The names given above, written by Edinburgh clerks under the growing influence of English, were lieadiugs to accounts of the harbour works, Avliich involved what we call the green island at both ends, and with this in their mind it was easy to change Bert ilund into Brint Hand. Speed shows that, in 150G when the town was a Burgh of Regality under the monks of Dunfermline, the name was Byrtiland, and it is Byrtiland in the second Burgh Charter of 1585. Fernie, who had powers, quoting an old document, spells it Bertiland. Miss Blackie in her Etymological Geography gives Bertiland as the earliest form, and considers it of Scandinavian origin. The harbour would be useful for those robber Danes. “Ye said Hand ” is very misleading. It is common in Fife to prefix the definite article to the name of a place:—The Raitli, the Kettle, the Metliil, the Elie, and even to leave out a portion of the name, as “the Dour” for Aberdour, “the Horn” for Ivinghorn ’

In 1538, in the Cliartulary of Dunfermline, there is a grant of the fort of "Wester Ivingorn and the lands of “Erefland and Cunyingayrland ” adjacent to it. Eref may be the Gaelic araf—gentle or quiet water, and elin a bay or haven. Cunning-ayrland has been thought to mean rabbit warren (cony, a rabbit). It may be a form of Erefland adapted to an adjoining- portion of land at the harbour—Cyni ng (a King’)—arland (Erefland contracted—a haven)—Kings Haven.


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