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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter IX. And again War


It appears from Cromwell’s letter on his plan to reach Perth and out off the supplies of Charles at Stirling that the possession of Burntisland was indispensable, and Mackay says Major-General Sir John Brown had also this view, but unfortunately seemed to think that it would be taken by landing troops, and therefore had his small Scottish army disposed to meet this. But Oliver would know that though he might reduce the town from the sea there was no room for manoeuvering an army behind Burntisland.

According to Carlyle, Blackness being surrendered (Lamont says in the end of March), Inchgarvie was beset with gunboats previous to the 16th April, and at the same time orders were given to attack Burntisland by sea. As we have seen, on 14th April 40 seamen were keeping sentry in boats outside the harbour. On 19th April there is a report from the correspondent of the Daily Intellegencer:—“We heard the great guns go off: apace from Burntisland. Our men with the boats made two attempts upon it.” Next day he writes: —“The ships with Leith forces continually alarm Burntisland, making shews to attempt the taking of it.” Barbieri says Burntisland was first attacked by a flotilla of gunboats, but they failed. No doubt Cromwell fully intended from the first to carry his troops over at Queensferry, fight a battle on chosen ground, and proceed to the heights in the rear of Burntisland which commanded it. It is evident from Carlyle that though Cromwell lay ill after the Capitulation of Edinburgh that he was having material and transports collected at Leith ready to begin operations at Queensferry after the fall of Blackness Castle.

On the 17th Colonel Overton crossed the Forth at Queensferry with 1400 foot and some horse, and on the 18th and 19th Lambert followed with two regiments of horse and two of foot. On the latter date “baith men and women ” are still working-hard on the “fortlis” at Burntisland. Next day (Sunday) the battle of Pitreavie was fought. Cromwell wrote—“2000 were slain . . . an unspeakable mercy . . . “ and concluded by hoping to be delivered from the oppression of man." Immediately after Pitreavie, Cromwell marched on the south side to Bannockburn, “hearing that the enemy were marched on the other side towards our forces in Fife.” But hearing of Cromwell's movement, they returned hurriedly and reoccupied the works at Bannockburn. Cromwell then finding it not advisable to “attempt the works” returned to Queensferry, and shipped a further portion of his army into Fife, his settled idea now being to interpose his army between Stirling and St Johnstone (Perth) when Burntisland had fallen.

The morning after that awful Sunday at Pitreavie Burntisland Town Council had an attack of the nerves, and forthwith dispatched “Andro Hutchison to the King’s Majestie (at Stirling) to represent ye great danger of this toun being taken be ye enemie” and wanted to know “what we shall doe if we be assaulted.” On the 24th extra soldiers from Dundee arrived, and Barbieri says 100 celebrated archers were sent from Perth, “dead shots at 500 fathoms.” A long bow to draw.

On the 27th Oliver’s army was encamped in front of Kilmundy and Place House in the rising part of the field called the English Knowe to this day. Water stood permanently in the hollows now drained into the trough on the high road. Some communication had taken place, as on the Council meeting, two of their number are “ordained to speak with my Lord Burgly” (perhaps Lord Berkeley), after which they coolly appoint “ a breaker of unfreemen’s flesh,” and a Commissioner to the “General Assemblie” at St Andrews. The town must have capitulated this day, the 27th, as Cromwell dates a letter on the 28th at Burntisland, having crossed from Leith. On that day two Bailies and 13 Councillors met, but no business is recorded—merely their names. On the 29th Cromwell writes another letter from Burntisland to the. Speaker:—

“Sir,

The greatest part of the army is now in Fife waiting what way God will further lead us. It hath pleased God to give us Brunt Island, which is very conducive to the carrying out of our affairs. The town is well seated, pretty strong, but marvellous capable of further improvement . . . Harbour at high tide is near a fathom deeper than at Leith. . . . We took 3 or 4 small men of war and I believe 30 or 40 guns. Commisary Gen. Wlialley marched along the sea side in Fife . . . The enemy’s affairs are in some discomposure. . . . Surely the Lord will blow upon them.”

One would like to know the terms of surrender “exacted” from Cromwell. In Lamont’s Diary occurs the following under date July 29tli, 1651: —“Bruntillande did render to the English armie, the garesone ther had libertie to goe foorth with fieeing coullers and bage and baggage.” Farnie gives a local joke that the capitulation was precipitated because the first shot fired entered a china shop owned by the Provost. Every writer has repeated the story that Cromwell promised to build what is called Cromwell’s Pier and to pave the High Street. He certainly originated neither. The pier then named the West Bulwark was therein 1600, and in 1646 the Council Records show that it was undergoing extensive repairs with wood and stone. Speed shows that after the surrender a small amount of national taxation usually paid by the town was allowed to be applied to the repair of the harbour, and—for one year only—a small grant from the exchequer, equal to six months’ assessment. The town’s proportion of the repairs to the harbour came to 584 sterling. Even Sheriff Mackav writes of the paving of the street as due to Cromwell, but I have seen entries about this long before the siege. The County urged it for long, and were to share the expense. In spite of the Council’s hands being full with the fortifications, under great pressure from the County authorities, the Council on 9th December, 1650, “resolved to big ane Calsay from ye Tolbuith to ye eist port, and ordained two loads of stones a day to be brocht in.” All the same, though the paving was begun, it was not until the end of 1651 that a contract was accepted to complete the work. Lamont writes in 1652 :—


Ruins of Lonsdale, Cromwell’s house (with the permission of Miss K. J. Kirke).

“Tlie towne of Bruntileande began to be cassaed opon the towne’s charges; a great part of it was finished this year. It never rains but it pours! in 1659 ‘A Calsay’ was built in the Hack Street with a ‘gutter in ye midis.’ ”

Cromwell could barely have been more than the two days mentioned—28th and 29th July—in Burntisland, as on 4th August he writes from Leith advertising the surrender of Perth, on August 2nd, at which he was present, and saying he was “hasting up” southwards with the main body of the troops now in motion. It was the news of Charles’ dash for the South which obliged him to leave Scotland. Cromwell is said to have lived in a house, now demolished, at the Grange Quarry. His departure was a relief to the Council, and they would have been still better pleased if his works had followed him. On 6th August—first meeting since the surrender—there is a-deep grumble at the great charges “be ye English garison heir.” This grumble continued for nine years, through the Commonwealth, Cromwell and Richard, till some time after the Restoration.

The stereoscope from which the illustration of Cromwell’s house is copied was taken about 1860 by the late Robert Kirke of Greenmount, and is one of a series of the neighbourhood made by him, some of which, like this, are now of great interest. The position of this house, at the Grange quarry, was in the immediate rear of the English Camp, and on the road to St Johnstone, as Cromwell called Perth, and for which he set out probably on the 29th July. It was, therefore, just where a general in the field, with not a moment to lose, ought to have been. The notion that Cromwell slept at the Castle has arisen solely from the fact that the Castle was for many years the headquarters of his garrison.

The garrison of the Commonwealth (1652) consisted at Burntisland of three companies of 100 men each, partly horse, partly foot. The Castle was their headquarters, and the first commandant Colonel Lilburn. He was second in command in Scotland under Deane, and completed the subjugation of Scotland by his invasion of Argyle. He succeeded Deane as Commander-in-Chief in 1654. There was a Captain Rogers in the Castle in 1656.

From 1638 to 1651 = 13 years, Burntisland had been having more than the usual share of war’s alarms, and one would have thought some comfort and peace would be got, but it had still nine long years of military rule. It was a fearful tyranny. No one could cross the ferry in the town’s boats without a permit from the military. These boats were used for military transport under promise of payment which was never made. Forty-two years after the Restoration Bailie Ged reminded the Earl of Leven that nothing had ever been paid Burntisland for these transport services. The Tolbuith and every house in the town was crammed with “Inglishes.” The “maintainance” tax on tlie better class of burgesses, to help to feed these, was very serious. The minute books are filled with cases against the soldiers for “cursing and blaspheming the baillies,” assaults by them, even murders, and petitions to have them removed. gives numerous instances of the raiding done by troopers from Burntisland to different parts of Fife for the purpose of seizing men, horses, and arms. In 1059 Captain Marviell was at the Castle, and a complaint was addressed to him about “ye officers and their wyffs and bairns”—the latter evidently being looked on as the last straw—and the rents of the “courts of yairds” (probably temporary stables) not being enough. As late as 1660 Bailie Moncrief is sent to Major-General Morgan to try once more to get the soldiers removed. It was only in July 1657, four years after the appointment of Cromwell as Lord Protector, that he was. proclaimed as such, and then without outward signs of joy.

During the war with the Dutch, 1664-1674, the Council books are thick with demands for recruits for the army and navy. In 1664 the Privie Council orders the names of' 12 men to be submitted for the navy, of whom 10 are selected; and in 1672 another 12 men. These are only examples of many. Early in 1668 arms were procured and paid for by the town for 45 men, of whom two-thirds were armed with “muskitts and bandolliers” and one-third with sword and pike. These men were part of 205 militia provided by the town, 160 being armed by the Government. They had a uniform with colours, drums, and halberts. The name “militia” was now officially used for the first time, and while formerly the service was strictly local, the body might now be moved elsewhere. Its first march out was to Wuektertool. There were two captains—Bailies Ged and Dewar. The first step in the movement was taken on June 10th, 1667, when “the haill Burgesses and inhabitants feneible men” were “warned to eoiupeir before the magistrates wi' their arnies in the kirk-yard, at two houres in ye afternoone,” or bring 20 of penalty. The town seemed to enter into these measures with enthusiasm, and for good reason; Burntisland itself, two months earlier, had been the special objective of a Dutch Squadron. The following is from the town’s records:—“Munday 15 April, 1667, This Burgh being assaulted be ye eomon enemie Sunday to witt ane squadron of ye Dutch shipps who being by God’s providence removed” the Council appeals to the Lord Commissioner his grace to provide ye inhabitants with arms and ordinance and ammunitione for ye fortis.” Pepys in his diary under May 5th says:—“Sir W. Coventry tells me the Dutch fleet shot some shot, four or five hundred into Burnt Island in the Firth, but without any hurt, and so are gone.” Even fireside fire-eaters were startled at this unlooked-for attack, as the minute sets forth that “some fensible men did fiie furth of' this Burgh burgesses of this Burgh, some with arms some without arms.” There was one man not caught, napping, Captain Robert Dewar, who was able to supply the authorities with sufficient ammunition to assure the Dutch that if they landed there would be opposition. Shortly afterwards the inevitable account appears from Dewar “for poudre and balls for the defense of the town from the Dutch.” New great guns and ammunition were immediately supplied by the Government.

The people yearned after peace to keep their shops, and in spite of their experience in unpreparedness for war, the first rainbow’s lovely form banished dull care. In 1714, probably in view of the expected Jacobite revival, a committee was appointed to examine the town’s arms. They reported that of 84 guns, 74 had no locks, 70 of these were otherwise not mendable, and of 12 guns of a different pattern with “12 pykes” most were bad: The whole rousted spoylled and altogether out of order.” The year following—that of the Jacobite rising—a Government ship was in the harbour with warlike stores, and Lord St Clair of Dysart, who commanded some troops in the Stuart cause, getting wind of this, brought some men from Perth and managed to walk off with two stand of arms. This was not the only service Burntisland rendered, if unwillingly, to the “Old Chevalier.” In 1715 the Earl of Mar, in his successful attempt to cross the Firth at Cail with 1600 Highlanders, occupied Burntisland, and made a great show of increasing the defences there, which had the intended effect of drawing the fleet of Sir George Byng to Burntisland, “where he cannonaded a battery formed on a height, and shelled the old Castle of the Duries of that ilk.” There is a picture of this event in Cassell’s British Batties by Land and Sea. Perhaps Burntisland may claim to be the last town in the British Isles to have suffered bombardment. Paul Jones visited the Firth in 1779, but, I understand, he never fired a shot. A providential storm drove him seawards and answered the prayers of the good Mr Shirra on Pathhead sands. The prayers of the righteous availeth much. If there were any righteous, Shirra was one. Mr Russell, of Edinburgh, tells me his great-great-grandfather, who was a bailie of Burntisland, often walked with his wife to Kirkcaldy to hear Shirra. On one occasion he fell asleep, when Shirra stopped and cried out: “Stand up, Bailie Scott, and that’ll pit the sleepin’ aff ye.”

It is thus plain that privilege and penalty are complimentary, and side by side like the nettle and the “docken blade.” The burdens imposed by the necessities of war were very serious from 1638 to 1715, both for local and national defence. The damage from Cromwell’s occupation was immense. For raising the two companies of militia in 1668 the town paid 616 9s 10d. This was by voluntary contribution from the inhabitants, and it did not square accounts. Every year men were demanded for the army and navy. In one year (1670) 16 men were sent to the army. In place of a man the Government accepted 48. So that 16 men worked out at 768. The price of a man was sometimes paid by charging those liable so much per head. On one occasion this share was 10s. The men were balloted for with dice. As an example of what went on:—the fensible men were divided into 6 companies of ‘50 men each, and one out of each balloted for the army. Sixteen of their fellow-townsmen, fully armed, took them to Colonel Mackay’s regiment at Cupar, but 8 of them were pronounced unfit. Other 5 were then “seized” (probably good men—the ballot does not distinguish). These were sent to the same regiment, now at Stirling, when one was found unfit. “On which the bailie who accompanied the recruits gave Major Arnot 2 guineas “when the man was found to do.”


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