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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter V. Education, Amusement and Worry


To fill the office of a Councillor in those (lays required backbone. An honour it iva*, and one that was dearly earned. But there turned up now and then an unexpected but welcome supply of “beer and skittles.” One of these pauses came round on the annual perambulation of the marches. The marches are wider now, but the horse is not yet extinct, and I am sure owners of these, for the mere pride and pleasure of seeing1 our Town Council “on horseback richly caparisoned,” would be delighted to provide their quietest and safest mounts. In 1594 it was enacted that “on Monan-day ye Baillies, burgesses, and friemen of ye sd burgh attend ye perambulation of ye marches, ’ under pain of 6j- a head ; and in 1655 “All burgesses to accompany ye Baillies and Counsell yeirly at Witsornionday to perambulate ye marches of vis burgh.” Another annual ceremony, which seemed to provide some consolation, was the visitation of the school, after which the schoolmaster and doctor appeared at the Tolbuith and delivered up the keys of the school and schoolhouse, acknowledging their dependence on the Council, who graciously returned the keys with the invariable advice to be “more diligent than heretofore,” and often reminding- them to take special care of the scholars in the kirk on the Lord’s day, and prevent them from making- a noise and distraction, and to keep them from playing on the “shoar.” This “slioar” seemed to have an irresistible and melancholy attraction for that perverse generation of youngsters. In 1673 Bailie Hackston promised to send one of his officers to the “shoar at the Tolbuitli” and one to the “ Port to prevent children after sermone making a tumult and clamour, and to stop men from meeting and frequenting taverns and tippling.”

The “Doctor” was the taker up of the psalm, keeper of the kirk records, and reader of prayers, for which he had a small salary and house. He also assisted tlie schoolmaster during the week, and received l-3rd of the scholars fees. There was a schoolmaster in 1596, and the Council nominated certain of the “honestest men of the burgh” for him to lodge with. At this time the schoolmaster, who had a monopoly of the teaching in the burgh, received 100 merles, a free, house, and 2-3rds of the fees. A school and schoolhouse were built in 1620 to the south of the present church hall. The salary must have increased before 1723, as on the death of the schoolmaster in that year his widow sued the Council for 120 for salary due. 'Phis after many legal ins and outs was “payed.” Some time after the town’s bankruptcy, there being no schoolmaster, one came forward and offered his services for 6 months free.

The present Episcopal School was originally the Burgh School, built in 1803. This school, through a succession of able masters, was famous for the teaching of navigation. One of these, John Davidson, was the author of a standard book on “Practical Mathematics.” Mr Allan Rodger, F.E.I.S., Barrhead, possesses a copy of the fifth edition, dated 1852, extending to 509 pages of letterpress, and 137 pages of Logarithms. He says it is a far more comprehensive book than any one now issued. John Davidson was followed by his able son, Walter, whose pupils have described to me the walls and ceiling of the school as painted blue, and marked by himself with the positions of the constellations. He had a fine reflecting telescope, used a magic lantern in his lectures (over 70 years ago), and had a printing press. Another master, the late Mr David Low, well maintained the character of the school, and was a man of feeling as well as originality. He was deeply conversant with such subjects as the Scotch fisheries, poor laws, and bi-metalism. “I knew him well,” though never a truant. The following beautiful lines, of which he made me a copy, are worth quoting. They were written to assist the agitation in favour of the site for the present cemetery, where he now lies:—

“Bid them lay me away in yonder nook,
In the pure and kindly soil,
Where heath and harebell decked of yore,
A retreat from care and toil.

Where the rocks shall sentinel my bed,
And the woods will softly sigh,
And the living lend a chastened look,
As they flit or linger by;

Where affection’d tear may fitly fall,
And tender memories rise,
'l’o relink this changeful earth to heaven.
As hops recounts each prize;

Ye will lay me away in that sweet spot,
And awake again the flowers,
Where heath and harebell bloomed of yore,
God’s acre claims such bowers.”

There was also in 1656 a school for “lassies and small boys,” kept with the permission of the magistrates, by a Mary Malpas, and afterwards by other women teachers. This school is said to have been kept in a room of 35 High Street. This fine old building' has coats of arms over two of the windows with the date 1626 and the initials R.R. and A.M. This date may only mark a renovation of the structure, as there is a tradition that its name of Cross Keys had been used when it was an inn or hospice in Roman Catholic times. It was an inn 60 or 70 years ago. When the Albert Pier was built there existed in addition to the “Cross Keys,” “The "Waterloo,” on the site, of the new Council Chamber; “The Perth Hotel,” where “The George” now is; “The Black Hull,” north of the present “Steamboat Tavern” ; “The


The “Old Ship'’ Tavern.

Old Ship,” at the hack of the “Steamboat Tavern”  and “Tlie Green Tree,” in old Dock Place —anciently there were trees there. “The Green Tree” depicted on the left of the Tolbuith in Chapter 1 was its successor. All older tavern was “The Castle o’ Pox,” or pocks, which stood where the first house on the High Street now stands, and which has inherited this peculiar name, supposed by some to be derived from its having been a store for sacks. I have 110 doubt that the name is a corruption of Castor and Polina•, a favourite sign in old days for seaport taverns. Sailors believed that the twin balls of electric fire playing round the ma,st heads in a storm and named Castor and Pollux, promised good weather. In Brewer’s Dictionary, under tavern, a long list of corrupted titles may be seen. Here are several:—“The cat and fiddle,” the popular rendering of the Latin Caton Fidel<’\ “The Bag o’ Xails”—Bacchanals', “The Iron Devil”—Hirondelle (a swallow); “The Bully Ruffian”—liclleropium (a ship).

Although James VI., Charles I., and Janies VII. were golfers, the Bailies do not seem to have amused themselves with the game which became so popular on Burntisland links in later days. They indeed frowned on such frivolity. In 1G08 some impertinent innovators had been measuring the suitableness of the links for such purposes, and a complaint was made to the Council of “ persons playing at bulletis on ye lynks.” 'This was not golf, but a kindred game at which a ball was used. After grave deliberation the Council concluded that “ye grass was likely to be destroyed,” and a warning was given that anyone “doing ye lyke again ” would be mulcted in “Fyve Pounds.” However, the desire for relaxation found vent in an annual horse race as early as 1652. This was run on the sands from Burntisland to Pettycur, and though patronised by the Magistrates may have originated with Cromwell’s horsemen, billeted in the town at that time. A cup won at these races is said to be in the possession of an old Burntisland family now in Australia.

Occasionally a coronation, a royal birthday, or other notable event, was the excuse for a day off.

*On Charles II. being crowned, 25th March, 1661, “bonfyres for ye coronation in England” wore ordered. In 1679, on the arrival of the Duke of Monmouth, half a barrel of gunpowder was burned “to compliment the Duke on his return from the 'Wemyss.” On 28th May, 1683, “ordaines each person to put bonfyres in front of thair houses to-morrow in honour of his Majesty’s birthday,” and the Treasurer is to “advance poudre for fyrring of gunes at oight of ye cloik.” The Tolbooth bell was to be rung from 6 to 10. On 26th Tune, 1688, there was a similar ongoing on the birth of a son (the “Old Chevalier”) to James VII. He is called in the records “ane heich and mighty Prince and Stewart of Scotland.”

There were outings, too, for the “Commissioner” to Parliament, conventions, and assemblies:these could hardly be classed as pleasure excursions, when we remember the comparatively slow and uncomfortable travel, and the distances covered—from Ayr on the one hand to Aberdeen on the other. But there was one treat in the exercise of which they were “past masters”— the “banquet,” the contemplation of which should make the teeth of a modern Councillor water. A Burgess on his admission, which cost as much as 30 Scottis, according to agreement, and on his swearing to be true to the King, the Magistrates etc., the bargain was cemented by the new burgess “ standing his hand.”

This indispensable rite was sometimes innocently called “the spire and wine,” but was, as Speed implies, something more than a mere “fastin'.” It. is followed in the records by spaces of eloquent silence and poorly attended meetings. In this way producing a sobering effect. The sons of Burgesses were admitted gratis, saving the banquet, whi(d) was never omitted.

The saying “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” was eminently applicable to the Bailies of Burntisland. Their privileges were enjoyed at a high figure. Greed and envy from the rich proprietor, the blackleg trader or craftsman, the out-of-work or jrrofessional beggar, tortured them ceaselessly. Inventing taxes to pay off bonds; appealing to tlie seductive labyrinth of the law on matters sometimes serious, sometimes trivial, or in despair taking- refuge in arbitration; fighting the plague or terrified by witches; worried for want of a minister, or the possession of one to be kept for better or worse; threatened from high quarters against the holding of conventicles; commandeered by the military authorities, and ultimately ruined by them and disfranchised. Deep is the debt we owe them. They had perforce to wear the wrinkled brow of care that we might smile in blytlier days. I often ponder on the battles they fought for us as I read the fast disappearing names on their tombstones.

There was one pleasure pure, without money and without price, valued and shared by the meanest inhabitant—Burntisland if poor was beautiful. I have spoken to those who could tell me how it looked over 100 years ago. Poor and rich were enthusiastic in its praise. Xo battering Bound House, roaring express, thundering coal hoist, or cursed syren outraged the ear, “The echoes of the mountain repeated the murmur of the winds or the dashing- of the waves on the vermillion (lifts. Framed in the hills, the Links rolled in green waves from Xellfiehl to the Delves, broken only by the crags of Craigkennochie and the dubs at the Lochies. The sands, a white and glittering bracelet, clasped the blue bay from Lammerlaws to Kingswood neb. At low tide the broad sands were crowded with cockles and spouts, now, alas! extinct: poisoned by the refuse from oil and coal. From the harbour to the Lammerlaws point stretched a range of embattled rocks crowned with a rampart of green. In front of the Kirk the top had many green knolls to which on Sundays the country hearers adjourned between sermons to eat their lunch, the banks here inviting visits to the beach by many winding paths among the whins. Xear was a rock-liewn stair called the “Mare’s (mer=sea) Delves,” by which fishers usually descended to the rocks. The point of the Lammer-laws alone is left, and soon its last divot will be kicked into the sea by the united efforts of this pieriod, football, and School Board fed generation. The long imprisoned sand will then be blown away, if not secured by some contractor. There are a good many cartloads. The rock may then be turned into a few hundred tons of road metal, and a natural shelter to the shipping and beach and an ornament to the town, finally got rid of. Previous to the blasting of a rock projecting in front of the Steamboat Tavern and the building of “The Provost’s L’ier,” the banks sloped to the water and were coveiled with trees.

Sweet Burntisland’s -snugly fenced,
Wi’ friendly lulls arooud the north ;
There’s no a toon aae circumstanced
For health or beauty on the Forth.

The Delves, Dodhead, and Kingswoodend,
Temper the bitter Russian gale,
Duuearn and the Binn defend
When Boreas’ icy blasts assail.

Yet in the hottest days of June,
Half-circled in the summer waves,
Cool breezes fan the burning noon,
Released from Neptune’s crystal cave;.

By Alexander’s Monument
We skirt the silver sand-girt bay,
To rest a-while among the bent,
Or in the Delves recesses stray.

Let’s gain Dunearn’s lake-tipped crown,
And view the prospect far and wide,
The Pentlands, Baas, the Law, and down
The Firth of Forth’s resplendent tide;

Inchkeitli, Inclicolm, old Aberdour’s
Romantic avenues and dens,
To distant Stirling’s cloud-tapped towers,
And far away, the Grampians.


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