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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter XII. A Schedule of Buildings of Historic Interest


IN the early part of the present year a proposal, which is still under the consideration of the Carnegie Trust, was made by the chairman of that body to demolish the old houses in St. Catherine's Wynd, facing the Old Abbey, in order to build upon their site a public library. This proposal, following on one made a year earlier to demolish the historic mansion of Pittencrieff, shows how necessary it is for there to be such an educated public opinion in the city as to prevent the irreparable loss to the town and community which would follow the adoption of such ill-conceived projects. The case against the demolition of the historic houses in St. Catherine's Wynd was well-stated in a memorial recently presented to the Trustees by leading artists, men of letters, and public men. The memorial so admirably covers the whole question of the value of the ancient buildings of the city that no apology is needed for reproducing it here. Unto the Trustees of the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust the (Memorial of the Undersigned Parties interested in the Historical Aspect of the City of Dunfermline.

Humbly Sheweth,—

That your Memorialists understand that it is proposed to take down certain old houses situated in St. Catherine's Wynd and nearly opposite the west end of the Abbey Church, Dunfermline, and to erect large library buildings in their room.

That the buildings which it is proposed to remove are of educational, picturesque, and historical value, and that these therefore should not be destroyed unless it can be shown that there is the most urgent necessity for doing so. That in support of the prayer of this Memorial the following statement is submitted, videlicet:—

Your Memorialists are aware generally of the objects of your Trust and of the great work already done and in contemplation for the furtherance of these objects by bringing into the lives of the workers of Dunfermline the ameliorating influences of the best available literature, art, and music, and the opportunity of enjoying at their doors the beauties of nature in the grounds of Pittencrieff, and it is submitted that the historical buildings of the City, having value for the purposes of your Trust comparable with that of books, paintings, and concerts, their removal would imply the destruction of an existing means admirably adapted to the ends in view. Pictures, sculpture, music, and books can be imported, but old buildings belong to the place of their origin and cannot be imported. Moreover, their nature is such that if once destroyed they can never be replaced.

Further, the existence of the Abbey and Palace of Dunfermline and of the other vestiges of the past life of the ancient City, make it a place pre-eminently fitted for the great Trust conceived by the fertile brain and sympathetic spirit of your famous townsman, and to remove these buildings, or any other of the evidences of the ancient grandeur of their home, is to rob the citizens of the fitting setting for the gift which he has bestowed upon them. Other great industrial centres would be infinitely benefited by the operation of such a Trust as Dr. Carnegie has constituted at Dunfermline, but in few could work of the kind be undertaken with the same prospect of great results, simply because so few cities possess natural and historical surroundings in any way comparable to those of Dunfermline. No money could give to a modern manufacturing town objects possessing the living interest of these old buildings.

Your Memorialists believe that nowhere in Scotland is there such a group of ancient Scottish architecture, so grand and varied and yet so completely harmonious, as is seen from the PittencriefF Park looking towards the Palace and the Abbey, and nothing could be more in keeping with the surrounding architecture than the buildings now under consideration. The substitution of other buildings would alter and detract from some of the best views now to be obtained of the Abbey.

The Trustees are aware of the important position occupied by Dunfermline in the history of Scotland during a period of about nine hundred years, and this long, continuous history cannot fail to be a subject of just pride to the citizens, while it is certainly the aspect of Dunfermline of greatest interest to strangers who visit the City. To retain therefore whatever the City may have to show of antique character seems to your Memorialists to be a matter of the utmost importance, and it will probably be found that this antique character of the City will form one of its most valuable assets.

As your Memorialists understand that the buildings in question are said to be in a ruinous and uninhabitable condition, certain of their number, who are practical men, have examined with some care their structural condition. The southmost house which dates from the eighteenth century, is a favourable example of the period, and a most substantial building, carefully and beautifully planned; altogether one of the best old houses in Dunfermline. The two houses adjoining extending up to the arched gateway, are in part of pre-Reformation date, and, along with the back wall of the ruined building to the north, form a portion of St. Catherine's Chapel and the "Eleemosynary" referred to in a Charter of 1327. In a Charter of 1566 the place is called St. Catherine's Yard, and there is further mention of the mansion or Chapel of St. Catherine, which Chapel was in the patronage of the great adjoining monastery. All these buildings may be described as substantial, and cannot be regarded as insanitary or unfit for habitation, and at the cost of a trifling outlay, without any material alteration, they might be made desirable residences. It may be left as a matter for further consideration what should be done with the ruined Chapel of St. Catherine. This is at present in an extremely uncared-for condition, and makes a most unfavourable impression on the visitor, but your Memorialists are satisfied that something satisfactory could be made of the place. Your Memorialists recognise that the library which it is proposed to erect, is, as representing the first of the many libraries endowed by Dr. Carnegie's liberality, worthy of a fine site, and they submit that there should be no difficulty in securing another site, in every way worthy and suitable. They would venture to question whether the sloping nature of the ground at this spot would not render the construction of a building of sufficient size and dignity a matter of great difficulty and expense. In any event it is submitted that no building, especially no building of architectural grandeur, could be erected in place of the present houses without irretrievably destroying the balance of what is now a most pleasing and well-nigh unique architectural composition, which, by the mellowing of time, has been blended into a colour scheme of perfect harmony.

In conclusion, your Memorialists venture to urge that no conclusive reasons exist for the destruction of these buildings; that they are in themselves well worthy of preservation, and that their demolition would inevitably involve injury to a beautiful and historic scene, and the loss of interesting and valuable types of ancient Scottish architecture.

Your Memorialists would therefore humbly pray that you should reject the proposal to remove these buildings.

No doubt this memorial, and the weight attaching to the list of its signatories, will, for a time at least, save St. Catherine's Wynd from the threatened destruction. But steps should be taken to guard the town against further vandalism in the future, and this can most effectively be done by creating throughout all sections of the community a genuine knowledge of, and consequent appreciation for, these great treasures of former ages. This could be achieved in a large measure by the proper guardians of the civic welfare—the Town Council. This body should prepare an official schedule of the historic buildings and ruins in the town, with a description of their present state and ownership, and a brief record of their history. The schedule should then be issued as an official publication of the city, with an endorsement by the Town Council, pointing out their great educational value, and urging owners and citizens to co-operate in guarding what are really common treasures. The schedule should also be permanently exhibited in all the schools of the town, and every opportunity taken to inculcate in the children of the town a patriotic pride in their great heritage. Perhaps this latter matter is the most important of any, and the writer earnestly trusts that at no distant date there will be within a school museum in the town, an attempt to show, by means of models, the Abbey, the Monastery, the Royal Palace, as they were in the far-gone days. Even the city itself as it was in, say, the days of the Bruce could be so shown, and this method would appeal to the youthful imagination as the printed word would never do, and once this imagination had been touched, not for long would Saint Margaret's Cave remain a dust-bin, or the wind and rain sweep through the mansion of Pittencrieff, or the banks of Malcolm's Tower be washed by a sewage-polluted stream.


 


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