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Guide to the East Neuk of Fife

The Village of Abercrombie, if the few houses which cluster round the manse can be dignified with such a title, lies a mile to the northward of St Monans, and is said to have been “pretty populous” before 1646. The manse was built in the seventeenth century, and, like other old buildings, underwent “several expensive repara­tions;” but towards the end of last century, it was in such bad condition, that it was rebuilt from the founda­tion. Then, it would probably have been removed nearer / to St Monans’ Church, where the great bulk of the parishioners reside, but Mr Gillies was attached to Aber­crombie, and did not wish to move. Additions were made to it in 1819.

The Old Church, which was becoming ruinous even in 1646, when St Monans was annexed to the parish, stands about half-a-mile to the north-east of the manse, and within the beautiful policies of Balcaskie House. The chapel of Abercrombie was granted to the Abbey of Dunfermline by William the Lion in 1165, by Alexander the Second in 1227, and by Alexander the Third in 1276. In the long list of churches dedicated by David de Bernhame, Bishop of St Andrews, the Ecclesia de Abercrumbin is mentioned on the ninth Kal. of November 1247. By the Act of James the Sixth, in 1617, “anent the restitutioun of chapteris,” the vicar of Abercrombie was included in the chapter of St Andrews. The little roofless, ivy-clad ruin is a plain parallelogram, measuring only about 47 feet by 21 over the walls. Through the door on the north, a view of the interior may be had with its mural marble slabs, briefly recording some of the noble deeds of several members of the Anstruther family. The fragments of two or three ancient sculptured stones, more or less entire, are built into the sides of the door-way for preservation, but most of them are upside down. There are also some interesting old grave­stones round the church; and several modern ones in the small burying-ground, for families of long local standing are still gathered here to their kindred dust, “where the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.”

The Parish.—Abercrombie is a very old parish, and it does seem hard, that, possessed of such a long pedigree, she should have lost her name, after being united to St Monans, and all the more so, as she was not a penni­less lass. The parish contains 1282 acres, including 79 of foreshore. “The soil in general is a light loam, and friable, very little clay, all quite free of stones, and very fertile and manageable.” It is barely 110 years since “the old Scots plough, of a very heavy and clumsy construction,” was the only one used in the parish. “It was drawn some­times by 2 oxen, and 2 horses; and sometimes by 4 oxen and 1 horse.” Things are greatly changed since then; but not in every respect for the better. In 1837, Mr Swan had to lament that “the spirit of independence,” which shrunk from receiving parochial aid, was “greatly broken down.” He had still to complain, although not in such pathetic language as his predecessor, of the number of the ale-houses, and their demoralising effects on his parishioners. And, in spite of the healthiness of the place, bachelors did not seem to thrive or live long. “I do not know,” he says, “more than one bachelor above fifty years old in the parish; but there are at least 12 widowers of that age, and there are 19 unmarried females (he was too gallant to call them old-maids or even spinsters) above forty-five.” But in those days, there was not a post-office in the parish, far less a railway-station, or telegraph-office.

Population, &c.—In 1837 the rural inhabitants were only about 130, and it has steadily decreased since then. In 1881, the population of the whole parish, including St Monans, was 2054, but only 54 of these dwelt in the landward part of the parish. The valuation of the whole parish in 1855-6 was £3556 3s. It is now, 1885-6, £6280 16s. The Records of the Kirk-Session go as far back as 1597; and a family of Cowpers, whom Mr Swan believed to be related to the poet, had resided in the parish from a still earlier date.

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