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Guide to the East Neuk of Fife
West Anstruther


Like its neighbour, Anstruther Wester is both a burgh and a parish. Not only are the two Anstruthers managed by 1 different Town Councils, but till recently their summer fasts were held on different days. The parish of West Anstruther contains 978 acres, of which 67 are foreshore; but formerly it embraced Pittenweem, and on that account it disputes the claim of Crail to the Isle of May.

Erection of the Burgh.—In the old Satistical Account, which was written by the Rev. James Forrester in 1791, it is said, that “AnstrutherWester became a borough of barony in 1554, and a royal borough in 1583.” The latter date is wrong. For in 1592, Parliament rati fied the royal charter of 1587, by which James the Sixth had erected “Anstruther be wast the burne” into a free royal burgh; and erected it anew, “port and heavinning place thairof,” with all bounds pertaining thereto, as a free burgh royal in all time coming.

The Parish Church, which belonged to the monks of May, was dedicated to St Nicholas, and is said to have been consecrated in 1243. When James the Fourth landed in Anstruther, on the 3d of Jutie 1503, he gave twenty shillings “to the preistis of Anstrother to say ane trentale of messes of Sanct Nicholass.” To Mr Forrester, it ap­peared “to be a very antient building, from the remains of a large choir, and the gothic structure of the steeple.” Alas! the choir and rows of fine arches have entirely disappeared. The old steeple survives, however, and a gilded salmon crowns its slated spire as a weathervane. The stone coffin, which was believed to have floated over from the Isle of May, is kept in a small out-house on the south side of the steeple. The church is now an exceedingly plain, small building, and, like the tower, has been “harled.” On the outside of the south wall of the church there are two old panels. Round the upper one there is a row of “roaring-buckies," and on it there is this inscription :—

ANNO. 1598.
MY. HOVS. IS. THE.
HOVS. OF. PRAYER.

On the lower one, which is larger, there are two gate-ways, side by side—one narrow and the other broad. Figures intended to represent cherubs or angels are seen hovering under the narrow portal, while flames are discernible in the other. We reproduce a sketch of it underneatThe earliest volume of the session-records extends from 1577 to 1601, and, as a note on the title-page informs us, contains the “transactions of the several kirk-sessions of Kilrennie, W. Anstruther, Pittenweem, and Aber­crombie, with marriages, and baptisms, &c., interspersed from 1586 to 1601.” Fully forty years ago, there was a dispute among these kirk-sessions as to the possession of this volume, and on the 31st of January 1844, the Presbytery of St Andrews decided that the custody of it should be given to the session of West Anstruther, and that it should be open to the other sessions. It is now in the Register House at Edinburgh, and there I examined it several years ago. The mere fact of these parishes being under one minister for some time does not altogether account for the common register. It was difficult in those days to get a sufficient number of qualified men to form a session in every parish, and therefore it is expressly stated in the Second Book of Discipline, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1578, that—” When we speik of the elders of the particular congregations, we mein not that every particular parish kirk can, or may have their awin particular elderschips, specially to landwart, bot we think thrie or four, mae or fewar particular kirks, may have ane common elderschip to them all, to judge thair ecclesiasticall causes. Albeit this is meit that some of the elders be chosen out of everie particular congre­gation.” The old minute-book sheds much light on the ways and means used by the early Reforming Church for improving the people. Getting married, for example, was not such a simple process as it is now. On the 25th of March 1588, “Patrik Gib and Katrin Hen­dersoun compeired desyring ther bandes to be pro­clamed, which efter exhortation and admonition yes (i.e., was) granted to them.” When the would-be bride and bridegroom appeared before the session, their reli­gious knowledge was not tested in a merely formal way; for, on the 26th of August 1589, “compeired David Donaidsoun and Margrat Dairsy desyring ther bandes to be proclamed, which efter admonitione vpone conditione that they suld learne better agane this day aught dayes wer granted to them.” Thus the founda­tions of family religion were laid. On the 30th of August 1592, it was ordained that in time coming persons to be married “sail consigne ane pand, which sail be als gud as fourtie shillings or therby, in pledg that ther sal be na dansing nor insolent behavior without ther hous, or at least without the boundes of ther clos and yaird.” The pledge, if forfeited, went to the poor. Other matters were as vigorously and rigorously managed. Visitors were regularly appointed to look after those who did not attend the church. Some­times the parishioners were perverse as well as careless. On the 4th of April 1598, “The Magistrates (were) yet again desyred to tak ordor with Sandie Reid and the rest that was absent fra the kirk the last Sabeth.” The session met every Tuesday, and contumacious offenders were compelled to appear before it. On the 17th of March 1594, “Katrin’ and Bessie Gilgours called, corn­peired not, therfor the Magistrats desyred to impreson them till Tysday.” In 1596, an offender, who had re­lapsed a third time into sin, and who was seriously dealt with by the session with no apparent effect, was shut up for twenty days in the steeple, to see if repen­tance would be wrought in his heart. There are occasional cases of men being cited for “golfing on Sabbeth,” and women for laying out clothes to dry on that day. If children had to be baptised when their fathers were at sea, one of the elders presented them. It is not said whether any of these officials were nervous bachelors or not. The most widely known ministers of the parish have been James Melville, his brother-in-law, Robert Durie, and Hew Scott. Many good stories are told about the last, who in his earlier years had to fight hard with penury. But, perhaps, no other man of this century, has left such a monument of patient, pains-taking, and laborious research behind him, as the Fasti Ecclesice Scoticanae—the succession of minis­ters in the parish churches of Scotland, from the Reformation to the present time. All honour to the man who spent fifty years in pursuit of his object, and who travelled over all Scotland to accomplish it. His is no mere compilation of dry facts, for he knew how to relieve his work by a genuine good story and inter­esting detail. That he was a man of taste—though careless in his apparel—is evidenced by his beautiful book-plate, the motto of which may be freely rendered, “I dearly love old books and worthies.” He entered into his rest on the 12th of July 1872, aged 81. A granite obelisk has been raised over his grave, near the east end of the church, in which he ministered for 33 years. Forrester, who wrote the old Statistical Account, was minister here for 30 years, before he was translated to Kilrenny, where he died after ten years’ service.

The Town Hall is a very small, modest, dingy building, adjoining the steeple of the church. But, to Mr Milligan, of Elie, who drew up the New Statistical Account of this parish, it seemed “a large and handsome room !" Two centuries ago a third of the town was destroyed by a high sea. Scarcely a vestige of the Fore Street was left, and the rock on which the old town-house stood is now covered by every spring tide. Formerly there were three bailies, a treasurer, and any number of councillors from six to eleven. Like Kilrenny, West Anstruther was among the nine burghs in schedule F, which were excepted from the Burgh Reform Act of 1833. In the New Statistical Account, which was drawn up in 1838, it is said that “the municipal authorities still continue to be appointed according to the old system, under which, notwithstanding all its alleged corruption and abuse, the corporation lands have been preserved entire; not an acre having been alienated since the issuing of the royal grant in its favour, upwards of 250 years ago.” By the Act 15 and 16 Vict., C. 32, passed in 1852, the number of councillors was limited to 9, including 2 bailies. And, by the Municipal Elections Amendment (Scotland) Act of 1868, the old form of election was entirely abolished.

The Civil War was severely felt in West Anstruther. In August 1641, the burgh advanced £540 Scots, which was afterwards ordered to be re-paid with interest. “They were zealous covenanters,” says Mr Forrester, “and there are few old inhabitants of the parish who do not talk of some relations that went to the battle of Kilsyth, in the year 1645, and who were never afterwards heard of.” The English usurpers paid them a visit in 1651, and were outrageous enough to cast the pulpit Bible into the sea, and to carry off the sand-glass with their plunder. By an Order of Cromwell’s Council in Scotland, on the 21st of December 1655, for raising a monthly assessment of £10,000 for 6 months, towards “the maintenance of the forces, which must be kept up for the preservation of the peace, and security of the good people of this Common­wealth, and for the defraying of other necessary charges,” the undermentioned burghs were thus assessed

                                                                                   £   S. D.

       St Andrews,                                                         50   0   0
       Crail,                                                                   16 10   0
       Kilrenny                                                                2   5   0
       Anstruther.Easter,                                                12   0   0
       Anstruther.Wester                                                  4 10   0
       Pittenweem,                                                         10   0   0

This shows the relative position of the burghs at that time. “Ever since the battle of Kilsyth,” says Mr Forres­ter, “the people here have a strong aversion to a mili­tary life; in the course of twenty-one years there is only a single instance of a person inlisting.”

Dimission of the Burgh.—On the 23d of August l6e 2, David Wilson, one of the burgesses, humbly suppli­cated Parliament, as he had been empowered to do, that he might be allowed to resign, renounce, and overgive all their privileges as a royal burgh in favour of the King and his successors, so that the burgesses and inhabitants might be free from bearing charge or burden with the other royal burghs. The reason urged was “ther poor and indigent condition to which they are reduced by the late troubles and severall other accidents.” The petition was granted in similar terms as that of Kilrenny (see p. 39) on the same day. The Convention of Estates, in 1678, having continued their cess and stent as formerly, and the collec— tor threatening to quarter upon them, “the poor touns of Anstruther-Wester and Kilrinnie” jointly petitioned Par­liament in 1681, stating that they were altogether un­able to pay, “albeit their whole goods and gear were rouped!" West Anstruther had no vessel of any kind, except “one small bark of the burding of six lasts or therby. . . which is onlie for carieing peats and coalls!" The petition was remitted to the Privy Council with power. A commissioner, however, was regularly sent by West Anstruther to Parliament from the Revolution until the Union. Harbour.—The ports of Amestroder and Pednewem are mentioned by William the Lion in a charter granted to the Prior and monks of May. The harbour of West Anstruther was greatly damaged by violent storms in the seventeenth century. It was about 1670, according to Forrester, when the sea “destroyed or chocked up the harbour, washed away the bulwarks, and rendered many of the houses unsafe to dwell in.” He says that it was about the end of the same century that Fore Street was washed away. The great storm of 1655 was severely felt along the coast. Lamont, in his Chronicle of Fife, says :— “1655, Dec. 10. Being Moneday, all that day, for the most pairt, it did snow, bot at night ther fell extraordinar mutch snow, and all that night ther blew a great wynde, which occasioned great losse and damage to the shyre of Fyfe, both by sea and land. As for the sea, it did flow far above its . . . . banks.” There “were many small barkes and other vessells that perished, laying in harbrees, as in Enster, Dysert 28, Craile 30            Also piers were doung downe in severall places, as in St Androus, Enster, Craill, Weyms, Leith; a pairt of the salt-girnell in Leven broken downe; many shipes in seve— rall places overbiowen by the snow and perished; some lesser houses blowen downe ; several: tries, in severall places, blowen over and broken by the violence of this storme; also severall salt-panns wronged both in Fyfe and Louthian syde.” Perhaps, the piers were not very difficult to “ding doune,” for, in the map of the East Part of Fire, in Blaeu’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, pub­lished in Amsterdam, in 1654, a wooden-looking barricade extends along the coast in front of Anstruther, and a pier of a similar kind shelters a harbour from the east and the south. Ships cannot enter the harbour, which is only used now by a few small boats. A little to the westward, there is a creek called West Haven or Hyne; where, it is said, a Dutch company, who had leased some coal pits in the neighbourhood, built a harbour. Traces of the landing place can still be seen at low tide.

Decay and Revival of Trade.—” The old people,” says Forrester, “date the decay of the towns on this coast to the Union with England. It is evident that that event did undoubtedly give a great shock to the trade of these towns. Their staple commodities were malt, herrings, and cod. Before the Union, there were 24 ships belonging to Easter and Wester Anstruther, and 30 boats employed in the fishery. In 1764, there were only two ships, each 40 tons burden, and three fishing boats belong to Anstruther­Easter, and one of 20 tons, and two fishing boats to Anstruther-Wester. At present (1791), the number of ships belonging to Easter and Wester Anstruther is 20; their tonnage, 1172; men employed, 94; of which six in the foreign, thirteen in the coasting, and one in the fishery trade; eight of these belong to Anstruther-Wester, whose tonnage is 532, and they employ 36 men. At present there is not a single person in the parish who can properly come under the denomination of a fisherman; yet in the herring season there are four boats, which are manned by the tradesmen of the place, and some mariners, and fitted out for fishing.” It is difficult to see how the Union could affect the herring and cod fishery; but the malt-tax was so obnoxious that it seemed to involve the dissolution of the Union. In a rare pamphlet entitled, Reasons for improving the Fisheries, and Linnen Manufacture of Scotland published in 1727, it is said :—“The fishing of herrings and cod, by bushes in deep water, has been since the battel of Kilsyth, in anno 1645, entirely laid aside.” in the same pamphlet it is stated that a vessel of proper size for deep-water fishing, sufficiently equipped and provided, could not be put to sea for less than £1000, that is, £83 6s 8d sterling. The remarkable decay in the fisheries is strikingly brought out by a few facts which Forrester further mentions. The minister drew the teinds of the fish as part of his stipend, and the town had generally farmed them at £10, £12, or £15 a-year. But for twenty years they had not let for more than 13s, and they had been as low as 5s. In East Anstruther, a somewhat similar tale could be told. Mr James Nairne had drawn £55 yearly for the teinds of the herring fishery alone, while his son let them for £22 4s Sd. But even when Forrester wrote the tide had again turned. The population was increasing, “owing to the revival of the coal and salt works at Pittenweem, and the consequent increase of shipping.” Within the previous twenty years, four new houses had actually been built, but one of them was unlet, as the enormous rent of £10 was demanded for it! Wages, too, had risen. In 1764, a day-labourer received sixpence in winter and sevenpence in summer; whereas in 1791 he got tenpeuce in winter and a shilling in summer, and in harvest time men were paid ninepence per day and their food, and women seven-pence. They were also more constantly employed than at the former period. All sorts of provisions, except pork and rabbits, had risen one-third in twenty years. Yet, when the people were frugal and industrious, they lived very comfortably, and their children were well fed and educated. Agriculture was much improved, the cattle employed were of a better breed, and in finer order, and the tenants enjoyed more of the comforts of society, and were more affluent than their predecessors. The great prices of cattle and grain, and the opening of the Forth canal, had given a spur to industry. The young cattle were more liberally supplied with turnips than before, and consequently, Forrester says, “a young ox of 20 months old sold lately for 7 guineas. It was much stouter, and fitter for work, than a three-year-old one fed in the common way, with straw in the winter.” Land had also risen greatly in rent within the preceding twenty years—to wit, from 7s and lOs per acre to 21s and 30s. The sea-weeds growing on the rocks were farmed likewise, and were cut and burned into kelp. Osnaburghs and green linen were exported. Haddocks were sent to Cupar; and lobsters to London. And there were three ale-houses in the parish, which did not seem to have any bad effect on the morals of the people. Altogether, things were looking better in 1791 than they had done for some time.

Chesterhill is the name of a mound, supposed to be partly artificial, and ten acres of land around it, which belonged to Mr Conolly, the industrious and kindly compiler of the Eminent Men of Fife and Fifiana. Chesterhill, he said, meant Castlehill. It is at the west end of the town, and there was a fine well in the middle of the mound. A century ago, when a foundation was being dug for a house on the side of the mound, “two skeletons were found in the most perfect preservation, at a small distance from each other. They were inclosed in a kind of coffin, con­sisting of a large stone at each end and side.”

Population, &c.—In 1755 the population of the parish was only 385, and in 1191 it had decreased to 370, but in 1811 it was 405, in 1831 it was 430, and in 1881 it had risen to 673. Nearly all the parishioners live in the burgh. In ancient times a weekly market was held on Sabbath, and there were, two yearly fairs in March and December; but, in 1705, Parliament changed the weekly market to Thursday, and the fairs to the first Tuesday of July, and the second Tuesday of October. Now, however, they are all given up. Mr Milligan, in 1838, thought the people enjoyed more comforts than before, and that hard drinking was dying out; but he had to bewail the dis­content introduced by the new notions, the wearing out of the spirit of independence, and the pernicious effects of the inn. There are some handsome villas at the west end of the town. The burgh seal bears three salmon.

Click here to see pictures of Anstruther


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