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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter II. Some Notes of Dunfermline


THE town of Dunfermline is situated in the county of Fife, sixteen miles north-west of Edinburgh and five and a half miles north-west of North Queensferry.

It has a noteworthy history, chiefly due to its having been an ancient seat of the Scottish sovereigns; and the records in stone that are left of this history may first be noticed. The ruins of the Royal Palace still remain, and a portion of them is believed to date from the twelfth century. The palace was used from very early times until the union of the Scottish and English thrones in 1603. James I. of England held his Court here as James VI. of Scotland, and Charles I. was born within its walls. It was last occupied by Charles II. Only the south-west wall of the palace and a small portion of its eastern end now remain, but these are of rare interest and beauty.

Within Pittencrieff Park is the ruin of the tower of King Malcolm III. The tower was probably erected about the middle of the eleventh century, and here Malcolm Canmore lived with his wife, Queen Margaret. Malcolm was the eldest son of Duncan I., King of Scotland, who had been assassinated by Macbeth. When the latter was defeated and killed by Macduff, Malcolm, who had sought refuge in England, ascended the Scottish throne. Margaret his Queen was the grand-niece of Edward the Confessor, and was compelled to fly from England after its conquest by William I. With her brother and sister she attempted to reach Hungary, but was compelled to take refuge in the Firth of Forth. Her party disembarked near to North Queensferry, and were hospitably entertained by Malcolm, then living at Dunfermline. He married Margaret shortly afterwards, and tradition records nothing but happiness of the union. North of the Canmore Tower Hill a cave exists which is known as St. Margaret's Cave, and there seems no reason to doubt that this was used by Margaret as a retreat for prayer and meditation.

Towards the end of the eleventh century King Malcolm founded the monastery of Dunfermline. Of this only the ruins of the Frater Hall remain. Malcolm also founded the great abbey of Dunfermline. At a later date a second church was built at the east end of the original one. This latter church was opened in 1250, but was destroyed at the Reformation, and its site is now occupied by a barbarous modern structure erected in the early part of last century. The original West Church, though much altered and restored, remains, and forms the most interesting building in Dunfermline. The new church contains the grave of Robert the Bruce.

The Abbot's House, with its old Friars' Garden adjoining the churchyard, is worthy of mention. It dates from the thirteenth century, and was occupied by the abbots of the monastery. It is an extremely quaint and interesting building, and much of the original work remains.

It will thus be seen that Dunfermline is exceptionally rich in historical associations and in remains of buildings of rare educational value. No doubt, as progressive opinion gets stronger in the town, these latter will be more zealously prized in the future than they have been in the past, and in another chapter some suggestions are made with a view to their better protection.

The situation of Dunfermline is extremely happy. It stands on a hill three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and when approached from the south presents a striking aspect. The illusion disappears when the town is entered. The majority of the streets are narrow, lined with closely-built houses, and devoid of any feature of beauty or interest.

The contrast therefore between ancient and modern Dunfermline impresses the visitor with a peculiar sadness j for he sees no recognition of a great past, and no attempt to guide the development of the modern town in a way worthy of that past. The aspect of the town and the lives of its poor are alike gray, and the neglect of both is symbolised by the condition of the Tower Burn, which enters the city from its north side, and passes through its most densely populated districts, impure and defiled, its banks one long midden-heap, full of all foulness, but yet capable of transformation, and, indeed, with the means for effecting this readily available.

The census returns for the town in the year 1901 were as follow:—

The industry upon which the prosperity of the town mainly depends is the linen industry. It is in a flourishing condition, and finds occupation for the bulk of the women workers. Unfortunately, it provides work for only a small number of the men. A rubber works finds work for a few of the latter, the local shops for more, but otherwise the choice of occupations for the workmen of Dunfermline is very limited. The total number of workpeople employed by the various linen factories is about 10,000.

A visitor to Dunfermline would probably be rather sadly impressed with the social conditions, and such impression would have no little justification. The housing conditions are dealt with elsewhere, and need not be considered now. But closely connected with this subject are the licensing arrangements. There is, roughly, a licence to each three hundred of the population. This is a far more serious matter than at first appears, for it means a licence for each sixty-six families, and more than one to every hundred adult males. Public opinion is still largely indifferent to this question, and it cannot be too strongly pressed that no schemes of social reconstruction can hope for success unless they are accompanied by measures to reduce and control the octopuslike dimensions of the drink traffic. One of the saddest of all sights is the long, narrow High Street of Dunfermline on a Saturday evening. It is for the most part densely crowded, and the shortest walk in it reveals an amount of drunkenness with its attendant vices appalling in extent. I have myself seen again and again men and women, many of the former little better than boys, in large numbers helplessly drunk, adding to the misery of the scene by their shrieks and profanity.

Yet Dunfermline is not worse than other Scottish towns; it is better than some of them.

The responsibility for the present swollen state of the drink traffic in Dunfermline, as in the country generally, must largely rest on the shoulders of the licensing magistrates. There is little evidence that as a body they take an exalted view of their functions. There is abundant evidence to the contrary, for no sooner does a working-class suburb spring into being than steps are immediately taken to provide the inevitable public-house. A particularly flagrant case has occurred within the past few months, when a new licence was granted for a large public-house, despite the over-licensed state of the town. [At Confirmatory Court, November, 1904.] This incident must, however, be counted as one making for reform, since it caused an unusual outburst of indignation in the town, which was followed by a general discussion as to the purity of the administration of the licensing laws, and led at least one local minister to make a spirited protest and to ask from his pulpit some searching questions as to alleged improper proceedings in connection with the granting of former licences. The questions remained unanswered.

The drink evil is intensified in Dunfermline by the town's situation. It is near a mining district, and many little mining villages are within easy reach. The miners come into Dunfermline on Saturdays and other "play" days, and succumb in large numbers to the temptations to drink which the town offers. Neat spirits are largely drunk. The writer was in court on the occasion of the confirmation of the licence referred to above, and listened with surprise to an argument by one of the justices that there was no evidence that the public-houses caused the drunkenness so visible in the streets. It is a point which could be easily ascertained if there was a genuine desire to do so. It would only be necessary to agree to the renewal of all licences on condition that the existing opaque windows to the public rooms were replaced by windows of plain glass so that the interior rooms on the ground floor would be open to inspection from the street. This simple innovation would probably give a greater impetus to the reform of the drink traffic than we have any conception of.

There has been one attempt in Dunfermline at a constructive policy of licensing reform. Its result is seen in a solitary "Trust" public-house; but the experiment on such a scale is of course almost valueless. Nor does the " Trust" system appear to diminish drinking. The public-house in question makes large profits, which, after the payment of a 5 per cent, dividend, are distributed at the discretion of the managers or shareholders. The solution of the problem will come when the licences are reduced to a number which forms a reasonable ratio to the population, when the remaining licences are controlled by a public board free of even the smallest interest in the financial success of the trade and actuated only by the welfare of the community, and, above all, when a wise system—after, it may be, long years of failure and trial—of counter interests and attractions has been built up and has provided for those needs of the people which are at present ignored or denied, and satisfied in part, but at a terrible cost, by the public-house.

Some reference should be made to the village of Townhill, two miles to the north of Dunfermline, though within the burgh. It is entirely a mining village, being the centre of the mines worked on land owned by the town itself. The amount of the coal royalties received by the town averages .£7,000 per annum; yet the village itself has received so little attention at the hands of the community that it is to-day in a condition which can only be described as a disgrace to the body civic which allows or tolerates it. The houses provided for the miners in many cases rather resemble lairs, and in some instances are devoid of any sanitary arrangements whatever.

Undoubtedly the greatest public asset of the community as a body is the noble Park of Pittencrieff, recently given to the town, and vested in the Carnegie Trust. It is within a few moments' walk of the heart of the town, and should become its true cathedral. Pittencrieff is a noble combination of park, garden, moor, and glen. It is not lacking, too, in human and historic interest. Reference has already been made to the ruins of Malcolm Canmore's tower, but it contains also Pittencrieff House, a typical and most interesting Scottish mansion of the seventeenth century, in excellent condition so far as the fabric of the building is concerned.

It is not necessary for the writer to discuss details connected with Pittencrieff Park. A year ago Professor Patrick Geddes was commissioned by the Carnegie Trustees to report upon the laying out of the Park and the erection of needed buildings. His report, fully illustrated, has now been published, [A Study in City Development: Park, Gardens, and Culture-Institutes: a Report to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, by Patrick Geddes. 1904.] and it is of so elaborate a nature that it would be entirely superfluous to attempt to cover the same ground. I may, however, be allowed a word in passing. There is a tendency, which I cannot regard as other than lamentable, on the part of some of those responsible for the care of the Park to urge that little need be done to it beyond the provision of paths, with railings and notice-boards to prevent the public leaving them. This restricted view must be resolutely set aside, and some attempt must be made to understand the quite unique opportunity which is now presented of making Pittencrieff Glen and Park the most important, purifying, and educational influence that this town can ever hope to possess. Particularly important is it, too, that the claims of the children should be recognised. It is not sufficient for them to have an open space, however beautiful, to walk through and about. They must be allowed to live their own lives in their own imaginative world. The value of play must be appreciated. These may sound commonplace remarks enough, but it is necessary to utter them. In the summer of 1904 a crowd of happy children were to be seen each day wading and playing about a circular pond in the north-west corner of Pittencrieff Park. The pond was twelve inches deep, fed by fresh running water, and there was no happier sight in the Park than this of child-joy. The privilege was suddenly withdrawn, the reasons given being that the children made a mess, and that their mothers would be grateful that they were prevented from getting wet! Pittencrieff Park must be administered on larger lines than these.

The condition of the Tower Burn, which runs through the glen, has now attracted so much attention as to lead to the hope that its present state will not long be tolerated. Coming in all purity from the northern moors and hills, the burn enters the glen a sluggish, polluted mass of ink, stink, and malaria. The cause of this transformation is mainly due to the discharge into the burn of the sewage from the villages of Wellwood and Parkneuk. The Dunfermline District Committee are responsible for this, and the gravity of their responsibility is increased by the fact that representations were made to them on the subject some years ago, but it appears from a letter just published [4th January, 1905]. by the Town Clerk of Dunfermline that, despite these representations, no steps have yet been taken by the District Committee to prevent the discharge of the sewage into the burn or to alter a condition of things "prejudicial and dangerous to the health of the community."

The only other open space possessed by the town, in addition to Pittencrieff Park, is the Public Park to the east of the town. This was the gift of a private citizen, and has been opened since i860. It is, however, largely neglected, and its magnificent possibilities remain undeveloped. Indeed, one of the local newspapers has more than once suggested the feuing of the whole or a portion of it as being no longer required by the town.

It will be seen from these brief notes on the present state of Dunfermline that the town needs some agency through which local needs can receive consideration. The Town Council are mainly occupied with matters of official routine. The trustees of the Carnegie Trust are largely the same men. They are not subject to election, and therefore to progressive influences from outside, and they meet with closed doors. An organisation is therefore needed which, whilst in no way hostile to the bodies mentioned, will be free of all interest save that of the community, and will devote itself with a singleness of purpose to the consideration of the many pressing problems and needs of the town with a view to the adoption of wise methods of social advance and the realisation, at least in measure, of the quite unique possibilities before it. Such an organisation may be found in a Civic Union, which the writer will therefore venture to place first for consideration.


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