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Guide to the East Neuk of Fife
Cellardyke


“And red-prow’d fisher-boats afar are spied
In south-east, tilting o’er the jasper main,
Whose wing-like oars, dispread on either side,
Now swoop on sea, now rise in sky again.”

As has been already mentioned, most of the inhabitants of the burgh of Kilrenny dwell in that portion of it which is known as Cellardyke, or Nether Kilrenny, and which has recently been made a quod sacra parish. It and the two Anstruthers, although managed by different muni­cipal bodies, form, in point of fact, one long continuous town, stretching along the coast-line for nearly a mile and a-half. By road, Cellardyke is four miles from Crail.

Name.—Mr Beat supposed that Cellardyke derived its name “from a range of cellars along the shore, built for preparing fish for exportation.” In this he was probably right, although, in an Act of Parliament, passed in 1649, it is called Silverdicks. There may sometimes be a good deal in a name, for, in 1585, the council and community of East Anstruther referred to the erection of Kilrenny and “porte of Skynfischtoun.”

Erection of the Burgh.—Patrick Adamson, one of the tulchan archbishops of St Andrews, as lord of the rega­lity of that see, assigned to John Betoun of Balfour on the 8th of July 1578 the port called the “skynfast heavyne,” within the town of Kilrynnie, with the customs, anchorages, profits, and emoluments of the same; and erected the said town into a free burgh of that regality. The reddendo to the Archbishop and his successors was 6s 8d Scots. Betoun seems to have set immediately to the improving of the port. For the King confirmed the infeftment, on the 24th of the fol­lowing January, in respect that he had “buyldit and reparit” the haven, to the comfort and commodity of all seafaring people, being chiefly moved thereto for the preservation of divers of the lieges, whom he had seen with their “schippis and boittis” in great hazard “with tempest of evil! wathir,” and who had their relief by the commodity of the haven. As he intended still further to repair it, at “greit and sumptuus chairges,” the King and three Estates of Parliament confirmed the infeftment and erection into a burgh of regality, on the 11th November 1579.

Dimission of the Burgh.—Though only a burgh of regality, Kilrenny sent a commissioner to Parliament so early as 1612, and consented by its deputy in 1651 to a union with England. But, in the Conference between a Commit­tee of the English Parliament and Deputies from Scotland, on the 28th of October 1652, it was stated that the burghs of Crail, Anstruthers Easter and Wester, and Kilrenny, who had assented at Dalkeith, “being but petty meane burghs,” situated on the sea, and most of their inhabi­tants employed in fishing at the time of the meeting at Edinburgh, thought their presence the less necessary, as they had been ordinarily dispensed with by Parlia­ment in the like case. The absence of the deputies was accordingly excused on the ground of poverty. In 1654, Kilrenny is mentioned as one of thirteen Fife burghs which were to have a joint representative in Cromwell’s Parliament. Dire experience, however, soon proved that it was no empty honour to be numbered among the royal burghs. In 1672, Gideon Murray of Pitkirie was entrusted with “the humble petition of the Inhabitants of Kilrinnie,” signed by nine individuals, two of whom have added bailie to their names, and four councillor. It bears that they did never “compt in Exchecker or make ane AEque as a Burgh Royall,” neither can they find magistrates, nor bear the burden of a royal burgh. They allege that their privileges are derived from the lairds of Balfour, on whose lands their houses are built, and whose burgh of barony they are. Though they had been represented in some late Parliaments, that was ow­ing to “the tumultuariness and rebellion of the late times,” wherein some factious persons, desiring to have votes, did entice some of their inhabitants to sit in Par­liament. The present inhabitants were young men, who, until the last twenty days, had never considered their predecessors’ rights, but continued in the course of those who formerly lived within these bounds. Gideon was instructed to resign in his Majesty’s favour, to remain with him and his successors for ever, all right and privilege which they might be conceived to have as a burgh royal. The King and Parliament understanding their low and impoverished condition accepted of the surrender, and ordained that they be no longer held as a royal burgh, nor liable to any burden as such. But they were not to enjoy the benefit of this Act, until they paid their part of the twelvemonth’s cess just granted to the King, and also their proporfioli of all other burdens imposed before and which they were due. Yet, six years later, the Convention of Estates continued the cess and stent on them as before, and as they were daily threatened to be quartered upon by the collector, they had again to petition Parliament in 1681. They piteously relate that they have not the least trade imaginable, having neither common-good, ship, bark, nor boat where­with to trade, except “three or four hand lyne yoills ;“ and humbly crave the King and Parliament to dis­charge the collector from troubling them for payment of the cess. Their petition was remitted to the Privy Council with power. In 1685, it was ordained that the burgh should be expunged out of the Rolls being now no burgh royal by Act of Parliament.

Re-exaltation—At the meeting of Estates in 1689 the burgh was represented by George Beaton, and having continued to send a member to Parliament without being objected to, it was grouped with the four neigh­bouring burghs, in 1707, by the Act settling the manner of electing the 16 peers and 45 commons to represent Scotland in the Parliament of Great Britain. Like some of its neighbours, however, it proved unworthy. In 1767, according to Morison’s Dictionary, the Town Councils of Kilrenny, Pittenweem, and West Anstruther, “and of Kilrenny in particular, were composed of low indigent persons incapable to resist any money tempta­tion. And it is proved against them, that they were unanimously resolved not to neglect the opportunity of the ensuing election to sell themselves to the highest bidder.” In these degenerate days, by the sett of the burgh, the old Council elected the new. In 1828, the burgh was disfranchised, and managers were appointed by the Court of Session. Brighter days have more than revived its former prosperity, and now it is under the enlightened government of a provost, two bailies, a treasurer, and five councillors, who also act as Police Commissioners and Local Authority.

Fishing.—Reference has already been made (see page 5) to the petition presented to Parliament by Crail and Kilrenny in 1661. Mr Beat, who wrote the old statistical Account of Kilrenny, and who was born in the parish in or about 1711, and spent the greater part of his life in it, says that “within his remem­brance, vast quantities of large cod, ling, haddocks, her­rings, holibut, turbot, and mackarel, have been caught here; but the fisheries are now miserably decayed. He can remember, when he was a young man, that he numbered no less than 50 large fishing boats, that required 6 men each, belonging to the town of Cellar­dykes, all employed in the herring fishery in the summer season. He can recollect that he saw such a number of boats throwing their nets at one time as he could not number, but heard that the collector of the customs at Anstruther at that time, who kept an account of them, said they amounted to 500, being gathered together from all quarters to this shore; and the winter fishery was proportionally great. He has seen 10 or 12 large boats come into the harbour in one day, swimming to the brim with large cod, besides 30, 40, or 50, strung upon a rope fastened to the stern, which they took in tow; and, what will hardly be credited, many a large cod’s head lying for dung on the land. At that time, a gentleman in Dunbar had the largest cod in tack for 4d. each, on this proviso, that every inhabitant of the parish should be at liberty to pick the best fish for their own use at his price; and of all the thousands he ever saw; the largest were bought for 4d.            So strong is the contrast between that time and this, that not only few or no fish are caught, but, to the amazement of every body, the haddocks seem to have deserted this coast; and for two years past it has become a rarity to see one.” It is said that fish, even after being cooked, prefer to be swimming. Perhaps that may be one of the reasons why the 24 small brewers in Cellardyke, whom Mr Beat remembered, dwindled down in his latter days “to two or three, owing to the decay of the fishery.” Had he been told, in the midst of his gloomy outlook, that, in less than a century, Cellardyke was to hold a foremost place among the fishing towns of the country, that it was to have a great fleet of splendid sea-going boats, that it was to have a magnificent harbour close at hand, and that its sons would be famed for their skill and daring, the old man would have thought that it was all too good to be true, and that it was even more incredible than his own reminiscences about the big cods’ heads.

Harbour.—The port of Skinfast-haven and its’ im­provement by John Betoun have already been referred to. It is situated at the eastern extremity of the town, and is incidentally mentioned by John Betoun of Balfour, some time captain of the Castle of St Andrews, in a narrative concerning his title-deeds and property seized by Norman Leslie, at the slaughter of the Cardinal in 1546. Writing in 1710, Sibbald says that Cellar­dyke “hath a little har­bour.” It was reported, in 1833, that £1200 ad­vanced by the Board of Trustees for the improve­ment of fisheries, and £500 raised by the town, had been expended in building new quays, to the injury rather than the improvement of the har­bour. Several prominent rocks, to the eastward of the haven, are known as the Cardinal’s Steps.

Town Hall.—Cellardyke is indebted for this roomy and handsome building to the generous liberality of Mr Stephen Williamson and Messrs David and George Fowler, who erected it at a cost of fully £3500. Messrs Hall & Henry, St An­drews, were the architects. The day on which it was opened—Wednesday, the 19th of September 1883—will long be remembered in the burgh. It is partly built on the site of the old Hall and grim Jail. The old Cross has been re-erected against the west front.

Population, Public Institutions, &c.—In 1811 the population was only 804, in 1861 it had increased to 1893, in 1871 it was 2285, and in 1881 it was 2628, of whom 464 were fishermen. There are two schools, an Established Church, a Free Church Hall, a branch of the National Bank, a cod-liver-oil work, an oil-skin factory, a saw-mill, and 3 fishing-gear factories. Though the whole town is redolent with the odour of tar, bark, and fish, the prevailing sea-breezes are refreshing, and an air of homely comfort and thriving industry pervades the place. Rodger Street, which is newly finished, is entirely occupied by fisher-folk. Considering the nature of their calling, this street may be almost described as—grand! The fishermen as a rule are shrewd, intelligent men. One of them, William Smith, has just published a small book, entitled, The Lights and Shadows of a Fisher’s Life, which conveys a great deal of interesting information, in a very simple, unpretentious manner. Those who are interested in this great branch of our national food-supply should consult the Annual Reports of the Fishers, Board for Scotland. They are eminently readable and instructive. Those who like more “swing and go” will enjoy Mr George Gourlay’s Memorials of Cellardyke. He is gifted with a free fancy and a flowing pen.

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