Parish of Burntisland

BURNTISLAND, a parish, burgh, and sea-port town, in the district of Kirkcaldy, county of Fife, 4½ miles (S. W. by W.) from Kirkcaldy, and 9 (N. by E.) from Edinburgh; containing the village of Kirkton. This place, once called Bertyland, is said, but erroneously, to have derived its present appellation from a small island in the harbour, originally inhabited by a colony of fishermen, whose dwellings were destroyed by fire. The parish is bounded on the south by the Frith. The church, a substantial edifice, with a low square tower, and situated near the shore of the Frith, was erected by the inhabitants, in 1592; it is adapted for a congregation of 900 persons. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and United Secession Church.

The name of this parish was anciently Wester Kinghorn.  But a town (long destroyed) on a small island, which forms part of the west side of the harbour, was anciently called Bartland or Bertiland, which has passed through various forms into Burntisland.  It is probably Gaelic.  The surface of the parish is varied and uneven, and hilly.  There are few streams in the parish.  There are various stone quarries in the south-east part of the parish.

The inhabitants of Burtisland were zealous Covenanters.  In 1638 many of them signified their adherence to the National Covenant, and the minister, who did not, was deposed the following year.  The town was occupied by Cromwell’s troups during the Civil War, and again in 1715 by the English troops of the Earl of Mar, due to the advantageous harbour.  The town was at one time fortified and on the south-east side of the harbour is part of the walls of a fort.  On an eminence overhanging the harbour stands Rossend Castle, erected in the fifteenth century.  It is surrounded by plantations and garden ground and forms a fine object in the foreground of the rich and extensive view commanded by the environs of the town.

There are 2900 acres in the parish of which about 500 are in pasture and about 90 are covered with wood. There are two corn-mills in the parish. There is an extensive distillery at Grange. About 700 head of cattle are annually fed in connection with the distillery. The herring fishery commenced about 1793 and until 1805 was carried on only in the winter season. At its most flourishing period, as many as 500 vessels might be seen at once in the harbour. The trade has now grealy declined, there having been no winter fishing for the last five years. Now about 75 boats go out in July for two months, and employ about 400 men. A whale fishing company commenced operations in 1830 and sends out two vessels, each carrying 50 men.

The town of Burntisland stands on a peninsula which projects a considerable way in the Frith, and is very picturesque in appearance. Prior to 1541, the town belonged to the Abbey of Dunfermline. It was proclaimed a royal burgh in 1568. In the 17th century it was a busy sea-port, and it is still a sea-port for steam-vessels and sailing-boats carrying goods. At Starly-burn is a small harbour where limestone is shipped.

The population in 1811 was 2000 and in 1831 was 2399. Of the latter, 1842 resided in the town and 189 in the village of Kirktoun. The number of families was 537. In 1836 the population was 2100 with 500 families, and this decrease must chiefly be attributed to the great failure in the herring fishery during the last five years. The average number of births for the last seven years is 65, of marriages 18, and of deaths 34. The number of illegitimate births in the last three years is 6.

At the village of Kirktoun are the ruins of the original parish church, surrounded by a small burying-ground. The date of its erection is unknown, but it bears the marks of great antiquity. In the north-west part of the parish are the ruins of a small fort or castle called Knockdavie. The parish church stands on the ridge which rises from the sea. It was built in 1592 and is in a good state of repair. It affords accommodation for 900 or upwards. It once held within its walls between 3000 and 4000 Hessians who were lying encamped near the town in 1746. There is a chapel for the United Secession Synod. Of about 500 families, around 330 belong to the Established Church. There are three or four Catholics.

The nearest market-town is at Kirkcaldy, six miles distant. There is a post-office. There are seven schools in the parish, one of which is the burgh school, but there is no parochial school. The average number attending all the schools is about 300. There is a subscription library and a parish library. There is no savings bank in the parish. There are 2 respectable inns and 15 or 16 alehouses which, as in most other places, have an injurious effect on the morals of the people. A fair is annually held in the town in July. The chief fuel is coal. The chief game is golf. A golf club has been in existence upwards of forty years.

The above extract was taken from the account written in December 1836.

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