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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter XI. Parish Church


Architecturally, Burntisland Parish Church is unique—-in Britain anyhow. Succeeding generations have ruminated over the origin of its design. Blunt, squat, radical, it seems to flout the schools from the Egyptian to the Gothic. If the so-called pagoda or commemorative tower of the Chinese had been square instead of octagonal, and but a single gallery in its tower, it would have served as a good pattern. This blend of the barbarous and the simple may have crept along the north of Asia to .Norway, where there is a considerable number of ecclesiastical edifices, whose ground plan is square or circular, with the tower rising out of the centre, St Paul’s fashion. This elemental form, comprising indubitably length, breadth, and thickness, appealed to the broad-beamed denizens of Holland, and evidently met with the approval of the Burnt-islanders. Tradition long declared the church to be an imitation of the North Church of Amsterdam, tut it appears on inquiry there is no resemblance. It has recently been told me by two seagoing persons that an exact replica exists in Rotterdam.

I have attempted to verify this by addressing the minister of the Church of Scotland in Rotterdam, but have received no reply, though enclosing a three-penny stamp. It ought to be easy to find if there is such a church there, as it has recently become a local fashion to spend the annual holiday in one or other of the coast towns of Holland, taking one of the vessels now trading between there and Burntisland. I have seen a picture of St Catherine’s at Montfleur, almost identical with our Parish Church.

The church, which was erected at the expense of the town was begun in 1592, and the walls and arches must have been finished in 1595, as the Council then decides on “ye reparation of ye new kirk,” and to “complete ye stepill.” All the same “ye stepill” was not completed till .1749, a small wooden belfry doing duty till then. Sir Robert Sibbald saw the church like this about 1689, when he described it as “a fine square structure with a pavilion roof after the modern fashion.” This inability to proceed with the tower just at once may have been a blessing in disguise, for Sibbald relates elsewhere that “on Thursday, 8th November, 1608,” when the mortar would have been barely set, “there was in Fife an Earthquake betwixt nine an ten hours at even, which lasted about a quarter of an hour, that it terrified all the persons within the towns of Couper, Newburgh, Dunfemling, Bruntislaiid, and others within Fife.” “Ye reparation decided on in 1595 cannot have been carried far, as in 1G02 “Ye bailleis counsall and commitee of ye said burgh being publiclie warnit be sound of drum and convenit in ye kirk . . . all in ane voice . . . that ye kirk salbe dressit and apparrollit within and montit with sufficient stane (pavement in the next minute) and weill furneicit wt sufficient seatis round about for men and wemin” ; and to this end they agreed to put a stent on the “ liaill inhabitants.” But few fixed seats for general purposes could have been supplied. Few existed in the centre of the church till well into the 18th century, this part being reserved for the women folks of the craftsmen, who carried stools with them to each service. Mrs Balingall told me that even in her day there were many loose forms in spaces such as that at the entrance, first seated in 1862, and a good number of high-backed chairs, said to date from Charles First, in the passages. One minister, accepting a call to a better place, took as a memento six of these with him. He was ordered to return them, but if he did there are none now.

The roof was still unceiled in 1606, five years after the visit of the King, and in 1609 the Council contracted with two men "for sclaitting ye kirk roof for auchtfoir libs money scots.” The pulpit said to have been similar to that of Holy Trinity, Edinburgh, and the seat of Sir Robert Melville of Burntisland Castle, now used by the Magistrates, were both built in 1606.

Standing: alone architecturally, Burntisland Church has claims to interest not to he shared in the fact, that within its walls King- James first indicated his intention of having a new translation of the Bible. In another respect it stands alone. It is tlie only Scottish church where the positions of all the guild seats remain distinctly marked, and where the insignia or appropriate pictures used by them still exist in their original positions, though in several churches the situations of one or two of the guild seats are roughly known and accounts remain of what the insignia or mottoes were. One only original painting of this nature of all these has been discovered—that preserved in the Session-house of Crail Parish Church. It had been used face down to repair the floor of the church in 1815, and was discovered there in 1878. A Mr Scott remembered it to have been in the sailors’ loft. The picture, which is in oil, on a panel 11 inches by 11 inches, represents, according to “ Memorials of Crail Churchyard,” in which a photograph of it may be seen, a sailor “ with an astrolabe.” The instrument is, however, a quadrant. Though the loft of which this picture formed a part existed in 1656 the painting is assigned to 1756, I suppose mainly on account of the nightcap the figure wears. In the first half of the 18th century the wearing of nightcaps and other night-wear during the day became a fad. Even the fair sex got infected and enthusiastically decked themselves' in spiritualised nigh I gear of various sorts. But seafaring folks, to circumvent the winds, have worn semi-cowls, resembling the well-known Kilmarnock nightcap, from time immemorial, and fishermen do so yet.

Had there been no Secession in 1736 and no Disruption in 1843, . Burntisland Church would have been structurally altered out of recognition. At these dates the church was packed, and without this timely emigration must have been extended. And had the Session been financially fit when tlie alterations of 1822 were made, involving the erection of a new north gallery, the destruction of the carved and gilded canopies above the heritors’ seats, a new pulpit, new pavement, painting, etc., at a cost of 800, they might have renewed the remaining three galleries to make them uniform. Most fortunately they could not afford even to have the pictures scraped off, and merely painted them over. The fact that plenty paint was used, and in repeated doses, in the effort to obliterate the pictures, served only the better to preserve them.

Of the carved canopies and pulpit there remains only one small piece, its preservation being due to the antiquarian instincts of Miss Kirk, Hilton, in whose possession it now is. Miss Kirk has kindly given me permission to photograph it, and a far si mile is here shown. .

It has been the general belief that the summer house at Starleybank is of a similar design to the original pulpit and lined with part of it. The proprietor, D. T. Moir, Esq., was kind enough to show me this interesting house, lined with beautiful old oak panels of various patitions.

many of the pews had their fronts renewed, and tin* use of these for lining was an afterthought. Still, it is possible Air Hutchison, deeply attached to the church with which he had been so long connected, may have possessed some portions of the pulpit destroyed in 1822 and have used these as well as those of 1802, which might account for so persistent a rumour.


Ground plan of Burntisland Parish Church, 1822.
Key to Plan

A. Passage to stairs F and 8.
B. Minister's seat.
C. Aytoun of Grange.
D. Alexander Chaplin’s seat.
E. Dunearn.
F. To tailors and schoolmaster’s loft.
G. Grange,
H. Grange—later Dick’s Trust
I. Provost Speed.
J. Newbigging.
K. Ged’s Mill.
L. Temporary sacramental table.
M. Route followed by communicants.
N. Seats used at the Lord’s Supper.
O. Burntisland Castle.
P. Proprietor of National Bank.
Q. Lammerlaws vitriol works. R. Grange.
S. Dick’s Trust.
T. Wliinnyhall.
U. Sea Farm and Mills.
V. Nether Grange.
W. Weavers.
X. Fleshers.
Y. Binnend.
Z. Dodhead.

1. Grindlay
2. Council seat.
3. Shoemakers.
4. Stair to Guildry, sailors, maltmen, and Baxters lofts.
5. Position of “Old r.'.an’s seat.” .
6. Baptism administered in the passage here.
8. Hammermen’s stair.
9. John Watson’s seat in this pace. Strangers’ seat.
10. Prime Guild stair (page 149).

From descriptions of people still alive or recently dead, a plan of the church seats of 1862, and books of the Guildry, Hammermen, and Town Council, I am able to present an almost complete plan of the church seats previous to the alterations of 1822. The present pulpit and pulpit stair were built then. The old pulpit was not so high nor did the stair come outside the pillars. As the alterations or renovations did not change the .sittings, we may consider that this plan shows verv closely the state of the church sittings in 1727. Between 1700 and 1727 the seats D., H. and those from Y. to the south wall, those behind B. and C., and several in tlie unknown space 9, were built. Those marked “X ” were probably built after 1727. Were all these left out we would have a picture of the sittings on the ground floor as far back as 1683, when the weavers’ and fleshers’ seats were built. As shown in a preceding chapter, the Burntisland Castle seat (O)


Magistrates’ Seat—Formerly that of Burntisland Castle.

(sometimes termed the Royal pew, though not in existence on the King’s visit) was built in 1606. Through the generosity of Mr Thomas A. Wallace this quaint and interesting piece of cabinet work has been carefully renovated and redecorated, under the direction of Sir R. Rowand Anderson, LL.D. The arms under the canopy are those of Sir Robert Melville, who as an extraordinary Lord of Session in 1601 went by the (law) title of Lord Burntisland, and Dame Jean Hamilton, daughter of Gavin Hamilton of Raplock, and widow of Robert, 4tb Lord Ross. This lady was always spoken of in Burntisland as Lady Ross. Sir Robert Melville had been previously married, and died without issue. Yet Speed says he was succeeded in the Provostship of Burntisland by his son, Sir William Melville. As seen in another chapter Speed was mistaken. When the Castle passed from Sir James Melville of Halhill in 1664 to Sir James Wemyss, the seat must have been overlooked, as 1 find the Council addressed in 1673 by “The Right Potent and noble Karl of Wemyss’’ to “ratify the old agreement regarding the seat in his favour." .

Exactly how this seat appeared previous to its renovation may be seen in my picture of the “Kirking of the Magistrates,” in the possession of ex-Bailie Ferguson. The Burgh Arms on the canopy are an addition. The colours used in these arms are those of Fife, suggested by the late Marquis of Bute “ because the arms of Fife are the arms of the Earl of Wemyss and therefore those of Sir James Wemyss of Caskieberry, husband of Margaret Countess of Wemyss in her own right, and who was created a Peer in 1672 with the title of Lord Burntisland.”

Among the books in this seat is a fine Bas-kerville Bible dated 1772, presented by William Ferguson of Raith in 1778, when he was Provost.

This is the only seat left which gives an idea of what the canopied seats along the foot of the galleries were like. It has often been stated that the woodwork of this seat, the canopies of the heritors’ seats now lost, and the carved fronts of tlie galleries, were imported from Holland, carved and ready to fix up; and I have some confirmation of this from Mrs M'Omisli, whose progenitor, Alexander Chaplin, shipmaster, brought tlie wood of seat D from Rotterdam cut to size. It had a canopy of which one stump is left.

Where the Magistrates sat before 1646 is not known, but in that year it is agreed to build “ane seat in ye kirk upon ye south eist pillare for ye baillies.” Yet on Oct. 12, 1657, it is “ ordained that ye baillies sit at a table befoir ye pulpit.” Afterwards another motion is carried that “ a seat be built in ye kirk for ye magistrates,” etc. This was the seat 2 of tlie plan, and here they sat (with the whole Council on occasions) till a comparatively recent date, when the seat was given to the proprietor of the Castle in exchange for his marked O, and in 1862 turned so that tiie long side should be against the wall, where it now is.

From time to time applications were made to build seats iu the centre of the church, but with one or two exceptions, until the beginning of the 18th# century, these were always refused, the idea being to retain this space for the women relatives of the guilds. After Cromwell's disappearance the families of the gentry ventured back from their retreats on the Continent, and this is evident from the offers to build seats. But the Council (1652) would allow 110 seats outside the “ breast of ye loft,” and the only seat in the body of the church at that time other than O, P,* and was “ye old man’s seat,” sometimes termed “ the range about ye pulpit.” There were repeated complaints about it being crammed. In 1673 it was “ordained” that five persons named “and no others shall sit there without permission,” and “the officers” were instructed to keep the door locked. This seat dated from 1633, when King Charles I. visited the town. Tremendous preparations were made in anticipation of his coining. “ Xew suits of clothes were ordered for the two burgh officers, wines, comfits, and eatables provided for His Majesty, streets cleared of middings and red, and women and children ordered to keep within doors from morning till night.—(Speed’s notes). So very reminiscent of the Sultan’s proclamation when the Princess Badroulboudour passed to the bath, that all shops should be shut and all persons retire to their houses during’ her progress. Let us hope tliai as Aladdin stole a sight of the Princess through the lattice, so the women and children of “Bruntylin” would take a peep at their King, little thinking that in a few short trouble-filled years that head of curls would be laid on the block.

Speed continues:—“Two boats were provided to ferry the King and his attendants from Newhaven, and all were to receive the freedom of the Burgh !"’ The method adopted by the King to avoid swearing fealty to himself is not recorded. Unfortunately it was stormy on the 10th July, and the rolling deep must have made a mess of the programme. Two men were lost on the passage, one of whom was John Ferries, the King’s cook. The bodies were recovered on the 3rd of August. On that of Ferries was found in dollars and other white money, 5 twelve pund pieces in gold, ane single angel,’’ etc., in all 107 0s 4d ; gold ring, rapier, belt and hinger. Item ane cot and breeks of camblet.” With that in came the inevitable bills, and “ the baillies think meet that the sums bestowed on his burial be paid to the following persons:—

To Andro Orrock for making his graif, 16 shillings.
Item to John White for ringing the bell, 16 shillings.
Tteni to .T;met Mair ami Flspat Coasin for winding him, 13 shillings.
Item to 'William Mitchel for washing his cot and breeks, 16 shillings.
Item to James Brown tayleour for 5 elms of linen to be his winding sheet, five pund 8 shillings.
Item to David Stirling for making his kist, 3 lib 10 shillings.
Item to warkmen for carrying him to the Tolbuith, 32 shillings.
Item to Alexander Barnie for first spying him in ye wold, 31 .shillings.
Item ane dollar to pay for the winding sheet of the other man found with him."

The Bailies would be somewhat taken aback on Sept. IT when the “Lord Admiral” came to anchor in Burntisland roads, and “ desired the money and other effects to be given up to him.” Negotiations went on till Dec. 14th, when the Council obtained the property found on Ferries “deducting alway 40 libs to be given to the Lord Admiral for his glide will.” Verily! the want of money is the root of all evil. The “Lord Admiral ” and the Council appear to have courted absolution by offering the balance—over rapier, ring, etc.—to the Kirk Session—“and the. Council think it expedient that the Session build .ane seat round the pulpit for sick (such) aged men as cannot well hear the minister’s voice.”

On March 28tli, 1659, ‘Jon Watson,” who instituted “ Watson’s Mortification,” was permitted to build a seat on the “ west side of the range .about the pulpit.” On 1Tth Dec., 1723, another was permitted near here which was to come to a door on the north side of the south-west pillar by which the minister entered the pulpit. An entry in the Council Records of 6th April, 1702, gives a great deal of information about the space under the south gallery. David Bonnar of Binnend was given liberty to build “a seat or pew”—

Y on plan—in front of a round seat situated to the east of the magistrates’ and strangers’ seats—2 and A2. It was to be “ level in front” with the magistrates’ seat and straight east to the Wabstev’s seat—Y; and the .entrance was to be by the east end “breasting” the Fleslier’s seat—X. The strangers’ seat appears to have had the property of entertaining unawares and in excess. In 1711—“ Discharges any town’s person, man or woman, hereafter to sitt in that seat commonly called the strangers’ seat .unless they agree wt the town’s treasurer for to pay him twenty shillings Scots yearly each of ym for this liberty of the sd seat.” Another seat “at the back of Binnend’s” belonging to the town was let for “4 lib yearly.”

In 1683 the “Wabsters” were granted the portion Y for a seat. They had never been able to find enough accommodation in tlie spaces in tlie gallery unfilled, but belonging to other guilds. On 14th May, 1683, “Ye baillies and Counsel all in ane voyce approve that ye weivers pay twentie marks tor their seat in ye Kirk in ye south eist end of ye Kirk” on their representing that they were “ hardly abell to pay ye warkmen for building of ye seat.” About 60 years ago William Gairns, the last of the Weavers’ Corporation, and his wife occupied the centre seat of this block—AY.

On 23rd April, the same year, the “Counsel ordaines ye fleshers to give in twentie merks. (yearly, I believe) to ye treasurer for ye libertie of yer seat on ye south syd of ye weivers seat.” About GO years ago “Sandy” Hutchison, the last of the Fleshers' Corporation, occupied one of these seats—block X. Something of a (diameter, he brought a candle with him to see the small print, and complained openly of the low temperatures in winter, preferring then, he said, to read Burns at the fireside. Sandy had a disturbing habit of thinking audibly. O11 one occasion, in the middle of the sermon, he made some stir by suddenly remarking—“ Man, Kobin (the minister), ye're a haiverin’ body.”

It is not known when the shoemakers built the .seals 3, 3, but application was made for their enlargement beyond the north wall of the vestry in 1600. Mrs Wiliam.son, lientfield, when a child was several times in them. She savs they were notorious for being rut her harrow to get into or to sit comfortably in. If shoemakers err it is on the side of neatness.

The seat was attached to the houses 14 and 15 Cromwell Road, belonging 50 years ago to a Mr Grindlay. Mary Somerville after her marriage to her cousin, Lieutenant Greig, is said to have resided in one of these houses, and may then have occupied this seat.

In 1721 “John Durie of Grange” wanted his seat made square. This was probably that marked V and named Nether Grange, though not yet square. Sibbaid visiting Burntisland in 169!) writes—“Nether Grange hath a neat house and enclosures belonging' to a gentleman of the name of Durie.” As early as 1552 “George Durie gave to his brother Peter the lands of Nether Grange called le mains.”

The square seat was made by John Leslie of Quartier in 1655, with permission of the Countess of Wemyss, proprietress of the Castle. Quartier was the old name of a district between Dodhead and Whimiyhall belonging to the Castle, and appears in Blaeu’s map, 1662.

The two seats U.V. behind were used by the tenants of the Castle Flour and Saw Mills.

On the seat R (the Orange) may be seen the stumps of the pillars on which the canopy was supported.

On 23ril Dec., 1723, “Robert Ged the laird of Ualdrig” got the Council's grant to extend his seat K east to the north-east pillar of tlie gallery. The passage between his seat and that of Newbigging I was not to be interfered with. This Ged was a depute bailie of the Court of Regality of Dunfermline. He had been fined for attending a conventicle in 1674, and yet in his maturer age appears to have been a strong supporter of the “Old Chevalier.”

It was in the seat behind Xewbigging that Provost Speed, so often quoted in these lines, and his sister sat. The back of the seat was removed, and placed on the wall behind, on the abolition of the hammermen’s passage in 18G2. It bears the inscription :—17.-TL.JH.42.

Seat D is interesting as having the inscription :— 17.A.C.-E.C.27—Alexander and Euphemia Chaplin. Alexander Chaplin was a shipmaster, and a Councillor often referred to as absent with his ship.

The fact that only members of the guilds and their apprentices were allowed to sit in the guild scuts accounts for the resistance to proposals for pews in the centre of the church, which was the only place available to the women. The only family pews, even under the galleries, were those of the heritors and minister until the beginning of the 18th century, when several bailies were granted the right to make pews for their families. One of these was that blocking the passage on the south of Q.&.L.

The year .1725 was a record for these family pews, and those obtaining’ permission petitioned to have the right to their “‘airs’ and successors for ever.” The Council thought this somewhat protracted, but ultimately took the risk, with the proviso, that in the event of their “remottest airs fail-ling” the seat shall return to and be at the full disposal of the Magistrates and Council with the concurrence of the minister and Kirk Session.

At this period the seats behind B and C were added, leaving the passage A. In course of time the centre of the church was seated as exhibited in the plan, but in such a way as to allow of the communion being celebrated after the manner of the Bereans. L is a table, present only at communion, to support the elements, the ministers sitting’ in front of Gr and J. The dotted line M shows the route taken by the communicants. The seven square seats X were entered from the sides ordinarily, but on communion their detachable ends and partitions were removed, leaving two long seats with a centre table. This continued till about1860.


Ladle for tokens.

Here is given a block of a curious ladle used in Burntisland Church to collect the tokens after the communicants had taken their seats. For offerings I believe the “brod” at the door was always used. The church possesses a number of these bronze collection plates, of which three are has reliefs of the Annunciation, Glorification of the Virgin, St Christopher carrying the infant Saviour, respectively. There is an inscription on each, one of which the Rev. Mr Ruggan has discovered to be, “I bring happiness always.” Some years ago I sent casts of these to the Scottish Museum, but the authorities there could not say what the inscription was, thought they dated from "William of Orange, and did not seeiu to place much store by them. However, in the Glasgow Exhibition of 1911, there was a collection plate identical with ours of the Annunciation, said to date from the K>th century.

This would tally with the tradition that these plates were in use at the Ivirkton Kirk, and are of Roman Catholic origin. It indicates an improved outlook that the Session have withdrawn these plates from use at the doors, where they were being battered flat by the weekly pecks of pennies and halfpennies.

It is said that not so very long ago the sandglass, used to time the sermon till about the Disruption, was sold at a bazaar. It was about 12 inches high.

There is no inscription on the church bell, but it was recast by Mrs Isobel Meikle, of Edinburgh, in 1708, and the cost defrayed by public subscription.

It has often been said that a model ship was suspended from the hook above the east gallery. Mrs Ualingall told me her father, for 59 years Session-Clerk, often spoke of it. It was not the model now in the old Council Chamber.

About 6T years ago three large chandeliers were used for lighting the church—one each in the north and south galleries, and one in the centre. That in the centre was lowered for lighting by means of a rope Prom the tower, and had two large circles uf candles, one above and smaller than the other. Mrs McOmish tells she was present one night when the worshippers got a great fright. The chandelier made a trial attempt at aerial nagivation. flying rapidly up and down. The boys who rang the bell, having skipped the sermon, and suspecting their absence would not pass unrewarded, concluded they might as well be hanged for a sheep’s lamb, and began dancing the candles up and down. These chandeliers were introduced in 1634. There have been single candles on the pillars and hanging from the front of .the galleries. There was the end of a steel shaft through the centre of panel 8 south loft, from which a lamp might hang.

The south-east pillar was where offenders were placed. Speed writes that women convicted of having illegitimate children were condemned to stand there on a stool, in a white sheet, for as many as 26 Sabbaths! More hopeless cases were sent to the Cross. In 1601 Gill Watson, for calling the pastor a devil,' was ordained to stand at the Cross with a paper on her head setting forth her offence. In dire emergencies the authorities could still make “the punishment fit the crime,” as in 1660 two women were imprisoned till they would tell who were the fathers of their children. (Speed’s Notes).

The plan of the galleries shows where the different guilds were located from 1613 to 1833, with the exception of the Hirers, who are said to have rented the seats in the West Gallery marked Guildry. This portion belonged to the Session and Prime Gild from 1621 to 1822, when it was resigned to the Session. It was only at a late date the Guildry used these seats, (hie probably to the hirers becoming less numerous or using the seats of the Maltmen, which body about the end of the 18th century was almost non-existent, and because of a great increase in numbers of the Guildry. Heading Hirers, then, for Guildry in the West Guildry in the South Gallery we will have an almost exact view of the frontage of the Gild seats from the completion of the galleries, which Speed gives as 1613. This unseated space between the Guildry and Prime Gild belonged to the Session and Prime Gild, and was let for loose seats, along with spaces behind, to several of the crafts not fully seated—the Shoemakers, Weavers, and Fleshers, who had no frontage. Due to the increase in numbers of the other gilds, space had to he found for these three gilds in 1683 on the ground floor. Since 1862 the division between the Tailors and Hammermen has slightly altered from that in the plan.

The passage to the “Pryme Gilt” lofts from the south-west stair continued until about 50 years ago, though the picturesque outside stair was made in 167!). In 1673 the Council agreed to pay part of the expense of making tliis stair to the '‘masters’ and seamen’s lofts” on condition that a landsman be allowed to stand at the collection plate there. Could anything be fairer Y The proposal to build the stair was opposed on a number of grounds— that “the Kirk was over-well built to be deformed;” that '‘it was rather a decoxment,” whatever that is; “that it would let the east wind and rain into the church.” As a last dangerous resort, “warkmen” were called in to see if this impossible thing could be done. They reported that it could, and would be a great improvement.


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