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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter VIII. War


As foreshadowed in Chapter II., “Brintelin” from 1540 was something more than Portus Salutus or Portus Gratius; it was building, fitting-out, and repairing war vessels; and so, when the English Admiral Seymour appeared in the Firth in 1548 he “fortified Incdikeith, and destroyed the shipping at Burntisland.” But he did not remain for ever, as in 1560 another English commander, Admiral Winter, reported that he was attacked by the French forts at Inchkeith and Burntisland, and silenced those of the latter in .self-defence. Burntisland was one of the places spoiled by the French troops of Mary of Lorraine, as the Castle was believed to belong to Kirkaldy of Grange, but more probably because he was a friend of the Melvilles, whose Protestant influence may for the time being have ousted the monkly proprietor Durie.

The Privy-Council Records show that in 1549 every town on the Fife coast was ordered to “furniscdi” its proportion of “400 pioneris,” for 16 days at 2s per diem, to build a fort on Inch-keith for resisting “our old enemies of England.” In 1614 the secret Council commissioned Eustatious Robertson to bring with his boats from the Bailies of Burntisland to Leith “suelie peecis of airtaillerie as were within the toun of Bruntyland.’1’ In an improved defence of the East Coast and the Forth was seriously considered. The question was committed to the Earl of Kinghorn (his residence of Glamis Castlett was still standing in 1687, when Sibbald refers to it as “the tower on the bight”), Lord Malvel (of Burntisland and Moni-mail), Sir George Areskine of Invertiel, Earl Morton, and the laird of Balmowto.” They were advised that it was necessary to fortify Aberdeen, Montrose, Burntisland, Inchgarvie, and Leith. Experts sent to Burntisland gave in a report on Sept. 13th:—“We having met at Burntisland . . . haive inclynit to the opinion of James Traill, who thinks thair must be two bastions, ane on ilk side of the entrie of the harbourie . . . and ane fort upon the hill above the tonn, whilk we have viewed, and seen to command Harbourie, bastions, and haill toun and other pairts about it, together with some other little defense within the Harbourie for musketters. And forder he thinkes the mouth of the Harbourie suhl be cloised with ane bomb or chain.” These fortifications were to he paid for by the county.

More and more as time went on the wonders of the Indies and Americas engaged the attention of navigators, speculators, and adventurers. Many items in the Privy Records show that Burntisland was contributing to the success of Britain on the seas. As examples :—In 1620 Andro Watson, captain of the Burntisland ship called “The Blessing” was empowered to arm and attack Spanish ships; and the same year ‘‘one of the 3 war ships his Majesty has bought is now at Burntisland under charge of David Murray waiting for its compliment of mariners.” In 1628 there were constant complaints about the behaviour of the soldiery at Burntisland awaiting transport. Many entries previous to this, and for about 100 years, were about ransomes for captive mariners. In 1620 the Privy-Council directs a letter to the “Archbisliopp, Bishoppes, and Presbiteryes ” as well as all public; bodies:—“Quliairis Robert Cowane, maister of the scdiip callit the William of Bruntylland . . . liaveing laiclint his seliip with a kynd of fisclie callit pilcliertes in Yreland and being bowne thairfrae to Alicante in Spayne ane Turkish carvall of sax peece of ordinance boordit him about the break of day or ever he was war of thame, and carved him his scdiip and equipage to Tittiewane upoun the. coist of Barbarie quliair the said Robert and sax of liis company was sauld to the Moires (Moors) and his scdiip and laidning wes transportit thairfrae to Algeires and despoil it ujion thair and tlie moires to whom the said Robert and liis sax miserabill fellowes was ransomed tliainie to tlirie thousand and twa hundredth merkes . . . and in the meane tyme the said Robert and his company ar used as miserabill slaves and are putt to wark in a milne quhair they are straitlie lialden at worke daylie fra the liclit of day till night. Xotliing but a litell dustie breade and watter, and ar sclioite in a hoile under the earthe without bedding, yea, not as much as a liandfull of stray to ly upoun.” In 1674 the Council was appealed to on behalf of three sailors held by the “ Turks at Salee,” one of whom belonged to Burntisland, and the Council behaved nobly, contributing 600 dollars—^rd of the total ransom. This Salee was a notorious nest of pirates. In 1675 Burntisland received an order from tlie Pri vy-Council to collect for John Kid and other prisoners among the “Turks.” A large sum was collected, but the landwart would give nothing. Probably thought John Kid should have stayed at home. However, it was arranged to try them again “at ye kirk door on Saboth.” This turned out a capital notion. They put their names down for 16 14s. In 1703 36 was collected at the kirk door towards the ransom of Dysart sailors captive in Algiers.

From 1638 the clouds of the great civil war gathered darker and darker over the land. In this year two ships for Aberdeen entered the harbour, suspected of having “ponder and bullnt,” and were detained. The inhabitants at this time went about their ordinary vocations armed with sword and dagger. In 1641—“Eorasmuckle as Sir William Armyne has represented to the Counsell that one William Hamon, Englishman, maister of the ship called the William and Judith of Lunden, has gevin out that when at sea he will turn pyret, the Lords of the Privi Counsell ordains the Baillies of Bruntyland, where the said William Hamon and his ship lies, to arrest the said ship and not to suffer her to go away till first the said William appears that order may be taken with him, and ordains the Baillies to tak the whole sailes of that ship from the roes until they hear further therinent.”I[n 1643 General Leslie was in command of the Scottish troops engaged against the Irish rebels, and various individuals in Burntisland were not slow to back up the expedition. In the Privy Records a “George Jardin burgess in Bruntyland” gives an account of what he had collected in 1643 “to relieve the army in Ireland” :—'Robert Richardson yr (500; merks), Thomas Gourlay yr merks, Andro Watson j (1000) merks, and Patrick Angus ijc (200) merks.” And again in 1649:—“George Garden baillie in Bruntyland 600; Robert Richardson 500 merks — 333 6s 8d; John Lord Melvill 5000 merks = 3333 6's 8d ; Janies Melvill of Halhill 2000 merks = 1333 6s 8d; Andro Watson in Bruntyland on thousand merks ; Thomas Gourlay 200 merks, Patrick Angus 500 merks.”

In a portion of the Records now absent Speed found that in 1639 the fort on West Broomhill was provided with 22 men to man the guns, and 25 men volunteered for the army in the South. At this time the camp of the Covenanters of Fife was formed at Burntisland, and the Duke of Hamilton with 19 ships made a demonstration in the Firth in favour of the King". In 1640 ammunition arrived from Holland, 15 men were sent to Colonel Leslie in the South and others to Colonel Munroe in the Norhi. Every fourth man was ordered out to defend the town, and every person worth 200 merks (49 in number) had to furnish himself with a horse. Some men who ought to have joined the Earl of Dunfermline’s regiment, and did not do so, were made to stand at the Kirk door with rock and spindle, and then banished. In 1641 further additions were made to the fortifications and Kirkcaldy ordered by the General Assemblie to assist. All these guns, ammunition, and men were to help the Covenanters. This becomes plainer and very near home when in 1645 all fit to serve were to be ready to help Dundee against the Atholmen, and shortly after men were sent to Kinross to oppose the “Irish rebels.” Montrose was now carrying everything before him in the Nortli on the side of Charles, had taken Perth and Aberdeen, and wound up by defeating the covenanting army at Kilsyth, killing between 4000 and 5000. From now onwards till Cromwell’s arrival the Records are filled with matter more or less connected with war, and it is strange that these preparations, begun and carried on for years on behalf of the Covenant, should at the end be directed against Cromwell. In 1646 part of Lord Cowper’s regiment, encamped in Falkland wood, was moved to Burntisland, and in 1647 a Captain Logan was appointed over the military in Burntisland. In 1648 all are “invited to help to draw ye guuns off ye earncraig.” George Brown is to be “Captaine of ye fencibles” (town’s militia), who are ordered to meet fully armed at 8 a.m. “ at ye kirk yard.” A very depressing place. On Sep. 9 “ All fencible men were warned to wear their swords, and all the great guns about ye toun to be mountit, and sergeants electit.”

As the headsman of the black mask held up the head of Charles the Martyr, on that cheerless winter morning the 30th of January, 1649, a great tide of feeling set in against the roundheads. Schemes for the return of Charles II. were immediately set on foot. There is frequent mention in the minutes of negotiations between the Scottish Estates and Charles on the Continent, and after his arrival in Scotland in 1650. One of these records is a payment on account of “the King’s ship.” Sheriff Mackay notes that at this time Charles made a brief tour round Fife. An entry early in 1652 refers to this tour:—“Sixteen pounds ordered to be paid to John Brown for wine and other furniture expended in his house to the toun when the King was travelling- with his servants.” The same year the town was ordered to pay a month's assessment along with the other burghs for the expenses then incurred. On 29th Dec., 1656, occurs:—100 pairt payment for bringing home ye King.” Charles had again taken to the Continent after the battle of "Worcester. On 16th May, 1660 a letter was sent to the Town Council from the Provost of Edinburgh saying that Parliament had resolved “to bring home the King,” and requesting them to vote for a Commissioner to he sent from the Fife Burghs on 29th May at London (Charles II. entered London that day), and to bring with him the town’s part of 1000 for promoting the King’s interest. A proclamation was also issued beginning—“Forasmickle as .several persons disaffected do wickedly speak opprobrious words/’ etc., they are to be summarily apprehended for treason.

To return to March 1650, the holder of the “Nortli comon lands (East and West Broomhills) petitioned for a reduction in his rent on account of the building of the Forths.” There had always been a fort on west “brumehill,” and the complaint about it would be either because it was extended, or because of its occupation the hill would be liable to more traffic. The plural in itself shows that there was a second fort on the East height or “Hillhend.” They would not be both on the West. On 10th July men are ordained to take ordinance out of ye ships within ye harborie anti to mont ym on ye fortlis.” At the same time 2G men were sent to “ye armie,” and -the militia Captains, Brown and Ged, ordered to call out the fencible men against invasion.” On 7th August “Deals and stanes” are provided “to big houses and courts of yards at the fortlis at ye Clayness (Lammerlaws point) and ye eist.” On 27th August men were sent “to take ye gunns out of ye ships, and place them upon ye hill head, and to man ye fortis.” (Cromwell had now invaded Scotland and, after being repulsed from Edinburgh, retreated to Dunbar, where the Scottish army placed itself in a very favourable position across his road to England. The pressure of civilian, ministerial, and amateur advice obliged Leslie to leave his positions on 3rd September and attack the wily Oliver, when the Scots were totally routed. Four days after this disaster a minute of the Council shows that the military authorities reported that for a proper defence of Burntisland 500 men were necessary, and in October “Captain ----— arrived with a' regiment of artillerie.”

The men were quartered partly in the Tolbuith— which had been fitted up and “whitewashed” for the purpose by order of the “Convention of Burrochs,” who were to pay part of the cost—partly with families in the town, and partly in temporary structures. The Castle was used as headquarters. Some of the minor officers made a to do about the quality of the food provided, and were very troublesome. Peace was restored by the Council threatening to put them outside the town! During the time the quartermasters were being pressed to “keep ye people at wark on ye fortis,” and at length the Council decided to employ women as well as men to expedite the work. But a complaint was now made that the Council had no money to pay the people with, and. on 9th Dec. Colonel Major Leslie visited Burntisland and persuaded the Council to advance 500 Scots for this purpose. For some time “50 poor seafaring men” had been watching “the haill gunns about the toun, etc.,” and were allowed daily “ilk ane twa puud wight of meal out of ye meal magazine”; and on 14th April, 1651, forty seamen were keeping “sentrie in boatis” in front of the harbour. Two or three days afterwards several attacks were made on Burntisland by gunboats, as will appear.

In the foregoing we have the forts at the harbour, the forts at the Clayness and the East, and the forts on the North common lands. The exact position of several of these forts is known. That at the East Head existed as late as 1843, as it appears on a map of that date, In my possession, drawn by the late Walter Davidson. I have spoken to those who were present at the firing of guns from it in 1822 on the occasion of the arrival of George IV. at Leith. I believe two of the guns then in it are those at the Town Hall and Port. Some have thought these date from the Crimea, but that at the Town Hall was there earlier, and the other seems similar in design.

I reproduce a portion of a map made for the late Provost Fernie, in a case against the town in 1804, which shows the East Head fort to have had three embrasures. On the same map, on the further side of the words “road in lieu of original,” are the foundations of another fort, probably that spoken of in 1621 as. necessary for “musketters.” The lie of it is just suitable to resist landing parties, and more particularly to sweep the only level portion, On the left flank of the defenders, by which a body successful in landing could gain access to the town. This fort appears on Davidson’s map and is marked fort on the map in the Public Library presented by Mr Stevenson. The third fort was on the high part of Laniinerlaws point—anciently Clayness. Mrs M‘Omish, now in her 99th year, remembers when the slight mound round the edge was several feet higher with apertures for guns, and was variously called Oliver's Knoll or the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Those were the days of punch bowls. The Devil, “that patron saint of leisure hours,” followed the fashion magnificently, and we no longer wonder that using a bowl of this capacity he required the “lang toon” of Kirkcaldy for a lair; we rather wonder he got so far. It is said the witches were burned on Crallotcs Hill near by, but I think Gala is more likely. Anyhow “it was meet” that this headland should be thought suitable for a vitriol works. These works, occupying with their workmen’s houses a great part of the Lammerlaws, were of considerable importance, and pains were taken to keep the methods of manufacture secret. The Company had a copper coin or token, now known as the Burntisland halfpenny, with the date 1797 on the reverse. The Gateway, a house, and ruined kiln are still to the fore. There is nothing to show where the other fort on the east of the town was, nor of that on East Broomliill, but the glacis of that on West Broomliill is plain enough, a natural slope near the summit having been artificially evened so as to allow 110 foothold, and the crest in front of the guns being sloped like that of a ravelin, to command the foot of the hill. It is not clear if the fort on the West Head or Island, advised in 1627, was built, but tradition has it that the name Half-Moon given to the house at the entrance to Cromwell’s Pier was derived from a defence there called the Half-Moon Battery.

As regards the number of guns in the forts, Cromwell’s statement that he had taken three or four small men of war and 30 or 40 guns, is very indefinite. Were the guns in the men of war or in the forts was already seen, the Harbour mouth and West Broomhill were permanent fortifications dating from 1627, and the latter was manned in 1639, and must have had its complement of artillery, so that the guns dragged from the Earn Craig in 1648 and those taken out of the ships in July and August 1650, to be mounted on the “Fortlis” and “Hill Head,” were not for them. Then the forts at the “Clayness and ye eist” appear to have their guns on August 7th. In Sept., 1650, there were four known forts for great guns, with possibly other two, the West Head and Half-Moon—say six. Six forts with three guns apiece is 18 guns. But it can be seen in the Council Records that after the Dunbar rout great efforts were made to make the place truly formidable. As Cromwell came nearer these efforts increased. I find from the Privy Council Records that in 1651 fourteen more guns were added to the fortifications:—“Anent ane supplicature presented be James Hill, skipper in Queensferrie, desyring a warand to Major General Morgan for causing de-lyver to him fourtein gunns, taken out of the vessel called the Hopeweill of Ivirkcaldie, in anno jr vj and fiftie ane (1651) and placed upon the forts of Bruntihind . . . which being seized uiion be the Inglishes are now in the cittiedaill of Leith . . .”The estimate of 18 added to these 14 makes 32, a number so suggestive of Cromwell's, as to make it almost certain he was speaking of the guns in the forts when he gave "30 or 40".


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