The Parish of Carnbee
lies to the northward of Anstruther-Wester, Pittenweem, Abercrombie,
and part of Kilconquhar. Its extreme length from east to west is five
miles, and its greatest breadth from north to south, four and a-half
miles. It contains almost 8396 acres.
The Name is
supposed to mean the birch-hill, and, like others of long-standing, it
has been spelt in many ways.
prominent hill, from which an excellent and extensive view may be
obtained, is in the centre of the parish. In Playfair’s Description of
Scotland, and also in the New Statistical Account, its height is given
as 810 feet; but it is only marked as 500 on the Ordnance Survey.
Besides being a “kindly nurse of sheep,” it serves to some extent as a
“When Largo Law puts on
Let Kellie Law beware of that.
When Kellie Law gets on his cap,
Largo Law may laugh at that.”
which was formerly the seat of the Earls of Kellie, stands fully
half-a-mile to the southward of the Law. This fine specimen of an old
Scotch baronial house has been leased by Professor Lorimer, of
Edinburgh University, who has repaired it, and spends the summer
months within its substantial walls. Archibald Constable, the eminent
publisher, was born here in 1776, his father being overseer to the
Earl of Kellie.
The Parish Church,
which belonged to Dunfermline Abbey before the Reformation, is about
three-quarters of a mile due east from the Law. The present building
was erected in 1793, and accommodates about 500 people. I remember
reading, when a boy, in one of the local newspapers, that an old
mason, who was working about the church, discovered a finely carved
head—probably a wall-boss—and that, after eyeing it for a moment, he
seized his largest hammer, and with one blow smashed it to atoms,
declaring that no Popish idol would ever “girn” in his face. The
school and a few other houses are hard by, and the manse is not far
off. In the list of the members of the first General Assembly, which
met in 1560, there is— “Mr David Weyms for the Kirk of Carnbie.” The
first Protestant minister of the parish, however, was David Spens,
who was appointed in 1567. He also had the charges of Kilconquhar,
Newburn, and Largo. His successor Carnbee was Thomas Wood, who is
supposed to be the same Thomas Wood, vicar of St Andrews, whose
beautiful MS. Psalter has been partly re-produced in fac-simile, in
the seventh volume of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries,
and also in Macmeeken’s History of the Scottish Metrical Psalms.
Andrew Hunter, who was here from 1582 to 1588, pronounced the sentence
of excommunication on poor Patrick Adamson, the tulchan Archbishop of
St Andrews. Henry Rymore, who was admitted in 1644, was deposed in
1664, because he would not conform to Episcopacy. His fourth
successor, John Falconer, was deprived in 1689 for not praying for
William and Mary, and twenty years later was consecrated a non-jurant
Bishop. In 1690, Rymore returned to his charge at Carnbee, being one
of the faithful few who survived the period of persecution. He died in
1694. Mr Johnstone, the present popular minister, is known in the
literary world by his beautiful poem an Patrick Hamilton.
A Long-Winded Native.—James
Thomson, who was born in the parish, became a chaplain in the
Cameronian Regiment, and was afterwards ordained at Dunfermline, where
he remained for 47 years. While there, he imprudently named some of
his parishioners in a sermon, and denounced them to the face as liars.
The offended parties raised an action against him in the Court of
Session, and were awarded damages. A report of this instructive and
amusing case will be found in Morison’s Dictionary of Decisions.
Thomson was a wonderful man, for when administering the Lord’s Supper
in his ninetieth year, he preached an action sermon two hours in
length. He died in 1790.
The village of
Arncroach, or, as it is locally designated, Eirncroch, is
half-a-mile to the westward of Kellie Castle. The parish minister,
writing in 1844, said:- There has not hitherto been any dissenting
meeting-house in the parish, the few Dissenters who reside within the
bounds attending the Relief chapel at Pittenweem, or the Burgher
chapel at Largoward (Lathones). A Free Church meeting-house is at
present erecting at Arncroach, but it would be premature to pass any
opinion as to the support which it will receive from the
parishioners.” Full forty years have come and gone since then, and the
Free Church is still to the fore, and there is an excellent manse in
connection with it. It also had a school, but that has been taken off
its hands by the School Board. A little to the north of the village,
and close beside the road, are the
Elie Water-Works, which
are well worthy of inspection. Their simplicity, efficiency,
compactness, and completeness are truly admirable.
Balcormo House is
half-a-mile south from Arncroach. It was the seat of the eccentric but
talented advocate, Hugo Arnot, who died in 1786, in his 37th year. He
was the author of a History of Edinburgh, a Collection of Criminal
Trials, an Essay on Nothing, and many pamphlets. He was remarkably
long and lean. Harry Erskine, who found him on one occasion eating a
“spelding,” complimented him on being “so like his meat.”
Balcaskie House is in
that southern angle of the parish, which penetrates between
Abercrombie and Anstruther-Wester, until it touches the parish of
Pittenweem. It is the residence of Sir Robert Anstruther, M.P., the
Lord-Lieutenant of the county, and the worthy representative of a
family long connected with the district, whose members have been as
ready to serve their country with their sword as with their counsel.
In the Bannatyne Miscellany, it is stated, that, the unfortunate
Slezer prepared a drawing of Balcaskie House, “with its respective
stories and general ground-plot,” which he estimated would cost £15
sterling to engrave.
the south-west corner of the parish, not far from the farm-steading of
Easter Pitcorthie, there is, in a field, a standing-stone, measuring
seven and a-half feet high by four feet in width. On its face there
are several depressions resembling cup-markings, but they are so faint
that it is impossible to say whether they are artificial or not.
The Population of
the parish, in 1752, was 1290; in 1801, it had decreased to 1083;
and, in 1881, it was only 1058.
The Valuation of the
parish for the year 1874-5 was £15,680 4s 7d; but agricultural
depression has reduced it since then to £12,882 1s.