Wemyss

   WEMYSS, a parish, in the district of Kirkcaldy, county of Fife; containing, with the burgh of West Wemyss, and the villages of Buckhaven, East and West Coaltown, Methill, Kirkland, and East Wemyss, 5403 inhabitants, of whom 859 are in the village of East Wemyss, 3 miles (N. E.) from Dysart, and 947 in the burgh of West Wemyss, 2 miles (N. E. by E.) from Dysart, and 4 (N. E.) from Kirkcaldy. This place appears to have derived its name, which in the Gaelic language signifies "a cave," from the number of caverns in the rocks that form its boundary towards the coast. It extends about six miles in length, and about one and a half in average breadth, comprehending an area of nearly nine square miles; it is washed on the southeast by the Frith of Forth, and comprises 5000 acres, of which 3556 are arable, 600 woodland and plantations, and the remainder rough pasture and waste. The surface is irregularly raised; the sea-shore is strongly defended by abrupt rocks stretching boldly into the Frith, and the land rises gradually towards the northern and western portions of the parish. The scenery is richly ornamented with thriving plantations of modern date, and with some natural woods in which are many ancient trees of stately and majestic growth. The soil, also, is generally fertile, and the system of husbandry improved; but the parish is more of a manufacturing than of an agricultural character. The substratum forms part of the great coal formation of the district, and consists also of sandstone, clay-slate, and argillaceous ironstone, with boulders of green or whin stone. Numerous fossils are found in the shale above the seams of coal, including some very fine specimens of forest-trees. The coal is extensively wrought; four pits have been opened, and are still in operation. The Wemyss coal-works are on the principal seam, which is nine feet in thickness, and has been wrought to a depth of 300 feet below the level of the sea; the annual produce is about 40,000 tons, and several powerful steam-engines have been erected for draining the water, and expediting the working of the mines, in which more than 200 persons are employed. Some pits for the parrot or gas coal are worked without the assistance of machinery, and employ twenty men; and the two other coal-works, the produce of which is principally for the supply of the neighbourhood, employ together about eighty persons. The ironstone has also been wrought with success, and affords occupation to about forty persons; and a vein of yellow ochre has recently been discovered, and brought under operation. The rateable annual value of the parish is £7802.
   The weaving of linen employs a great portion of the population, and works have been established at Kirkland, Buckhaven, and other places, the particulars of which are given under their respective heads in other parts of the work. A very extensive salt-manufacture was once carried on at Methill, and at West Wemyss, which, since the removal of the duty, has been altogether discontinued at the former place, and at the latter very greatly diminished; the whole quantity made at both places was formerly 50,000 bushels annually. The quantity now made at the latter is about 6000 bushels, of the average value of £500; the salt is of excellent quality, and finds a ready sale in the neighbouring markets. A fishery, also, is carried on at Buckhaven, which has long been celebrated as one of the most important fishing-stations on this coast; and at West Wemyss, a very convenient harbour has been constructed for the accommodation of the vessels employed in the coal-trade. The sole proprietor of the parish is Captain James Erskine Wemyss, R.N., whose magnificent mansion, Castle Wemyss, is situated near the burgh of West Wemyss, on the summit of a cliff rising abruptly from the rocky shore of the Frith, and commanding an interesting and extensive view of the sea, and the adjacent country, which abounds with picturesque and romantic scenery. Near it is the residence of the agent for the estate, beautifully situated among the woods and plantations on the demesne surrounding the castle. The village of West Wemyss, which stands pleasantly on the sea-shore, about a mile distant from East Wemyss, is a burgh of barony under the government of two bailies, a treasurer, and council; it is chiefly inhabited by persons employed in the coal-trade and the manufacture of salt. A subscription library has been established, which is well supported, and contains a good collection of volumes; and a savings' bank has also been opened. The village of East Wemyss is likewise situated on the coast, and is principally inhabited by persons engaged in the weaving of linen, for which it has been long distinguished. There are four extensive factories established here, which, including one at Buckhaven, consume nearly 250,000 spindles of yarn: the chief articles at present manufactured are, ducks, dowlas, and sheeting. The annual produce on the average is more than 1,200,000 yards, which are partly used for home consumption, and the remainder exported; and the amount of wages paid annually to weavers and winders exceeds £10,000. The church and the parochial school are situated in this village: the former, a venerable and ancient structure, forms an interesting feature in the scenery. A subscription library has been established for more than thirty years; it contains about 300 volumes, and is well supported. A savings' bank has also been long established, in which the deposits amount to above £2000. A post-office has been opened in the parish; and facility of intercourse with the neighbouring towns is afforded by good roads kept in repair by statute labour, and by a turnpike-road from Kirkcaldy by Kennoway to Cupar, which passes through the northern part of the parish.
   Wemyss is in the presbytery of Kirkcaldy, synod of Fife, and patronage of the Town-council of Edinburgh: the minister's stipend is £253. 11.3., with a manse, and the glebe is valued at £25 per annum. The church, a cruciform structure, is in the early English style of architecture, displaying some interesting details, and is adapted for a congregation of 1000 persons. A church was recently erected in the village of Methill; it is a handsome edifice of stone, raised at an expense of £1030, and is adapted for 853 persons. There are also places of worship at East and West Wemyss for members of the Free Church, at Buckhaven for the United Associate Synod, and near Methill for the United Christian Congregation. A catechist for the instruction of the colliers and the persons engaged in the salt-works in the parish, is appointed by the family of Wemyss, according to a bequest of the Earl of Cromarty, who, in honour of the memory of Margaret, Countess of Wemyss, and afterwards of Cromarty, appropriated a sum of money from which the catechist derives a salary of £50 per annum. The parochial school affords a liberal course of instruction; the master has a salary of £34. 4., with £25 fees, a house, and a garden, for the deficiency of which last he has an equivalent of £1. 15. 7. There is also a school in Kirkland, the master of which receives, in addition to the fees, a salary of £30 per annum, paid by Messrs. Neilson and Company, proprietors of the linen manufactory of that place. The late Mr. Archibald Cook, of Kirkcaldy, a native of this parish, bequeathed property to a considerable amount, which, after the decease of his widow, is to be vested in the presbytery of Kirkcaldy, in trust for the education of children of Wemyss. There are also Sabbath schools, the children attending which are supplied with books. A society called the Generous Society was established in 1793, for the relief of sick and indigent members; its funds are ample and well administered, and it has contributed greatly to diminish the number on the poor's list. There are some remains of chapels at Methill and near West Wemyss. To the east of East Wemyss are the ruins of an ancient castle said to have been built by Macduff, created Earl of Fife by Malcolm, King of Scotland, about the year 1061; they consist chiefly of two square towers, and portions of the walls of the fortress, and are situated on an eminence overlooking the Frith. Sir Michael Wemyss, of this place, was sent, in conjunction with Sir Michael Scott, of Balweary, as ambassador, on the decease of Alexander III. in 1290, to Norway, to escort Margaret, his grand-daughter, and heiress to the Scottish crown, on her return to Scotland: the princess died at Orkney, on her passage. In Castle Wemyss is still preserved a silver basin which was presented by the King of Norway to Sir Michael Wemyss on that occasion. The Earl of Wemyss and March takes the former of these titles from this parish.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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