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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter. VII. Tolbooth and Cross



The Tolbooth in 1843.

“Before 1600 houses wore along the shore and continuous on both sides of ‘King High Street’ (I find the expression in 1607 ‘Ye prineipall King hie Streit’); not so continuous in Back Street, and detached houses at South Hill.” In the records in 1592 is the phrase “To mak patent ye Tolbuith of oure Burgh,” and in 1604 a proclamation was made “at ye Tolbuith dore.” Whether this was a building merely adapted to the purpose does not appear, but in 1605 it is proposed to “big ane new Tolbuith,” and in May 1606 contracts are entered into for “bigging ye Tolbuith,” Council house, ward houses, ‘'iron for wimlocks (six to be gla'ed), stane, water, lime, and wark-men.” The stone work was to cost 1600 nierks, but it cost more. In 1609 ”Ye buiths and ye clappe under ye Tolbuith” were let for the first time to various individuals. In 1612 James Thompson, wright, contracted to line the interior of the Council chamber with “aik, and range pillaris,” and to build a stair to “ye loft is.” This interesting structure was removed in 1843 on the building of the Albert steamboat pier and the road to Kinghorn. Farnie stigmatises it. as “that nbominable old court house with its outside stair.” It would see many a stirring scene in the 230 odd years of its existence, especially in the three years before and nine years after Cromwell’s arrival, during- which period it was fitted up for soldiers. When the Council patriotically vacated it in 1648 they little thought it would be 12 years a barracks. My illustration of it has been constructed from a small woodcut, a water-colour of my own of the old “Green Tree,” and the descriptions of the people who have seen it. It has been shown to several of these who are still alive, who recognise it as being correct. The doors of the cells were of strong iron grating throughout, so that the prisoners could always be kept in view. It was no uncommon thing to see a string let down from the window of a cell to which friends would attach some luxury denied by the authorities. The kind-hearted Town’s Officer winked at this and other. liberties, but he went too far when he took “half a crown” from “a gentleman” incarcerated for debt who wanted a bottle of whisky. While absent on this errand of mercy, the prisoner got out of his cell and escaped, and the Town’s Officer lost his berth. “There’s many a slip ’tween the cup and the lip." There was a large hall used for trials, public meetings, entertainments, and dinners.. Off this hall at the west end was the Council chamber. The booths on the ground floor were at first used by their tacksmen for storing and exhibiting goods on market days.

Due to the blank in the records, the first mention I found of a dock is in 1658, when Henrie Crawford was appointed in room of James Anderson “for attending to ye toun clock." In 1680 a clockmaker was appointed at 8 yearly. In 1727 “The toun cloak is altogether irregular and out of order, and the “Tolbuith steiple" so shaken and ruinous that the bell cannot be rung “ without the hazard of dinging the sclats and endangering peoples lives.” So after repairing the steeple they tried a clockmaker from Dunfermline as a change. (It was not till 1789 that the town could boast a resident “watchmaker.”) In October, when the “Hon. Charles Leslie, Lord Provost,” took the oath of allegiance to His Majesty George II., a motion was made, either by chance or good guiding, “that for the credit and honour of the toun it was necessary to have the toun’s horologe on the Tolbuith repaired, and the deal (dial) plates gilded and made bright." The “Lord Provost” took the hint and “undertook to doe the same upon his own chairges.” This word horologe seemed all the go at this time. The mocking challenge “Yoak yer orlitch”—look at your watch, implying the unlikelihood of' your having one, was peculiar to Fife.

I have not discovered when the bell was first obtained, but fortunately chanced on entries in the records of 1677, when having got cracked it was sent abroad to be mended. The expense was met by public subscription. This date corresponds with one on the bell. This beautiful and interesting bell, now resting in the lobby of the Town Hall, is said to have been purchased from Berwick, where it hung in the tower of the Castle. The following inscription makes a circuit of the shoulder, but it is not clear whether I-EX-LAX- is the beginning or end. It may be “First, in the year” 1595. I am told there is an estate near Berwick called Claster“ I - EX - LAX - 1595 - SOYPLIF - SYIS - XOXSIFE - PARLES - HABITAXS -HE - CLASTRE - 1677 - BEX' - YCK - AYER -HER - GORTEX - DOR - G - H - S . .

The authorities at the Scottish Museum could make nothing of this. On the side of the bell is a fine relief of an antique ship.

It had been thought till 1912 that the accepted position of the Market Cross, marked by paving stones in the shape of a cross, a little to the west of the Town Hall, might only approximately mark its position, especially as it is not central but considerably to the north side. However, in relaying it then Mr Waddell, Burgh Surveyor, took the opportunity of examining the foundations, and found that these had been substantial, of cut freestone, circular, and 16 feet in diameter. There can be no doubt that this is the original position of the “Croce lions,” “House of Cunzie,” or “Tronhouse,” so frequently mentioned 1604-1612 and 1646-1663. I am inclined to think there would never be a sculptured cross. Speed says some erection in the shape of a pillory stood near the centre of the High Street. It would probably be attached to this Cross House. Some of these circular cross or market houses still survive in England. In 1609, apparently this house is spoken of, when James Baltrame is “put in ye Tronhonse for 24 hrs.”; and when in 1646, on the death of George Mareton, Town Clerk, the Council directs that the town’s seals, books, and writs be recovered from the house of Cunzie. In 1604 it is termed “Ye Mercat Croce,” in 1606 “Ye Voce lious,” in 1663 “Ye A\est Croce house.” (Part of the Customs may have been collected at some supplementary house at the East Port.) This Cross house was demolished in 1663, and in 1666 “Calsay” was ordered to be laid “where ye old croce house stood.” Where the new house was built is not clear, but it was nearer the Tolbuith. It was again removed in 1689 and a new one built “opposite the end of Bailie Ged’s dyke.” For several reasons I think this would he still further west, one of which is that in 1711 the Cunzie is spoken of as if quite close to the Tolbuith.


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