- 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, with the village of Kirkton, 2210 inhabitants, of whom 1572 are in the burgh. 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 harbour appears to have been selected as a landing-place for his forces, by the Roman general Agricola, who, with his fleet, explored this part of the coast of Britain; and on the summit of an eminence in the parish, called Dunearn Hill, are the ruins of a fortress in which his army was stationed. Few events of historical importance are recorded: the town belonged to the abbey of Dunfermline, previously to the middle of the 16th century, when James V. exchanged it for other lands, and erected it into a royal burgh, soon after which it became a place of considerable trade, and its harbour was the chief port of an extensive line of coast including the ports of Kinghorn, Kirkcaldy, Dysart, Wemyss, Leven, Elie, St. Monan's, Pittenweem, Anstruther, Crail, St. Andrew's, and South Queensferry. In 1601, a meeting of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland was held in the town, at which James VI. was present, and recommended a revision of the common translation of the Sacred Scriptures, and of the version of the Psalms of David. During the parliamentary war in the reign of Charles I., the town was assaulted by the forces of Cromwell, to whom the inhabitants surrendered it, on condition of his repairing the streets, and improving the harbour, which remained for a considerable time in the state in which he placed them in fulfilment of the contract. During the disturbances in 1715, the town was taken possession of by the Earl of Mar's forces, who, by commanding the harbour, insured the arrival of stores and auxiliaries from abroad.The town, which is situated on the shore of the Frith of Forth, is neatly built, and amply supplied with water, which was first introduced by the magistrates and council, at an expense of £1000, defrayed from the funds of the burgh; a subscription library, containing about 600 volumes, has been established, and there is a regular daily post. A fair is held on the 10th of July; and from the favourable situation of the place, and the facilities of bathing this part of the coast affords, the town is much frequented during the summer months. The port formerly carried on an extensive trade, for which it was chiefly indebted to the convenience of its harbour, which, for its great security and facility of access, obtained the appellation of Portus Gratiæ; and in many old documents, it is mentioned by the designation of Portus Salutis. The trade, which consisted mainly in the exportation of coal and salt, and the importation of wines from France, and timber from Norway, declined greatly after the union, and was almost discontinued for a considerable time; but it afterwards revived, and at present consists principally in the curing of herrings, which are taken in the fishery established here, and exported to the neighbouring towns. The number of herrings annually cured and exported amounts, on an average, to about 18,000 barrels; there are eight establishments for curing, which together employ from seventy to eighty boats, having about 400 men. The season commences in July, when these boats set sail for Wick, Fraserburgh, and Rosehearty, where they remain for nearly two months; and between this place and the several fishing-stations, about ten sloops are constantly engaged in taking out cargoes of barrels and salt, and in bringing home the fish that have been caught at each place, to be cured for exportation. The whale-fishery was established here, but only for a few years, by a company who annually sent out two vessels, of the aggregate burthen of 700 tons, and each a crew of fifty men. During the period from 1830 to 1835, the quantity of oil procured was 1200 tons, and more than fifty tons of whalebone, the preparation of which afforded employment to thirty persons, of whom nearly one-half were oil-coopers, and the remainder women who were occupied in cleansing the bone. The building and repairing of ships were formerly carried on extensively, and at present engage more than 100 persons; but the largest vessel built has not exceeded 450 tons' burthen. A distillery at Grange, in the parish, consumes annually about 11,000 quarters of malt, in the production of nearly 190,000 gallons of whisky; and the amount of duty payable exceeds £36,000. In connexion with this establishment, the buildings of which are situated half a mile from the town, about 700 head of cattle are annually fed, producing to the proprietors a considerable income; and the whole concern affords employment to about 100 men and fifty horses.The harbour is capacious and easy of access, and, from its depth, affords shelter to vessels of great burthen; the pier, on which a light-house has been erected, is commodious, and its extension, with the improvement of the ferry, would render this by far the most secure harbour in the Frith. A dry-dock has been constructed, in connexion with the harbour; it is about 200 feet in length, and seventeen feet in depth, at high water, and is capable of receiving vessels of 1000 tons. The road-stead affords good anchorage, and is much frequented in stormy weather; the bottom is deep, even near the shore, and the high grounds on the north, and a sandbank extending considerably into the sea on the east, provide shelter for vessels in distress. A regular communication with Newhaven, about five miles distant, is maintained by steam-boats and sailing vessels, the latter principally for carrying goods; and there are about eight vessels belonging to the port, the aggregate burthen of which is 900 tons. At Starly burn is a small harbour, from which is shipped the limestone found on the lands belonging to the Carron Company, and where also ships frequently touch, to take in a supply of fresh water; there is also a pier to the east of the town, chiefly used for the shipping of lime for neighbouring districts. The town was, in 1541, erected into a royal burgh, by James V., whose charter was confirmed by his successor, James VI., with additional grants; and a new charter was bestowed upon the inhabitants by Charles I., under which the government is vested in a provost, three bailies, a treasurer, procurator-fiscal, and a council of twenty-one, assisted by a town-clerk. The provost and bailies, with all the other officers, are elected by the council, who are chosen by the resident householders. The magistrates exercise jurisdiction within the burgh, and the bailies hold courts for the trial of civil cases to any amount, and for the decision of criminal offences, chiefly misdemeanours; there is also a court of guild, under a dean of guild chosen by the council. The trading companies consist of the hammermen, tailors, weavers, fleshers, shoemakers, and bakers. The burgh unites with those of Kirkcaldy, Dysart, and Kinghorn, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; the right of election is vested in the resident householders occupying premises of the value of £10 per annum.The parish is bounded on the south by the Frith, and comprises about 3000 acres, of which 500 are meadow and pasture, 100 woodland and plantations, and the remainder arable land. The surface is exceedingly irregular, being broken into parallel ridges of various eminence, and, throughout the whole of its extent, is finely diversified with hills and dales; the highest of the hills is Dunearn, which rises to the height of 700 feet above the level of the sea, commanding a most extensive and richly-varied prospect, embracing portions of nearly fourteen counties. The soil is very various, consisting of rich deep loam, of great fertility, with lighter loam, gravel, sand, clay, and moss; the principal crops are, wheat, barley, oats, beans, and potatoes, with the usual green crops. Great improvement has taken place in draining the lands, and the system of agriculture is in a very forward condition; the cattle are of the old Fifeshire breed, and the sheep generally of the Cheviot. The rateable annual value of the parish is £8846. The plantations are but of modern growth, and there is comparatively little ornamental timber, though the soil seems well adapted to hard woods of every kind. The substrata are chiefly limestone, sandstone, iron-stone, clay-slate, shale, greenstone, trap-tuffa, and basalt; and coal is supposed to exist, though none has hitherto been wrought: in the strata of sandstone, limestone, and shale, are various fossils, and amethysts, agates, and chalcedony are found in great variety. Limestone and sandstone are extensively quarried. Collinswell, Grange, and Newbigging, all handsome edifices, are pleasantly situated in grounds tastefully embellished.The parish is in the presbytery of Kirkcaldy and synod of Fife; the minister's stipend is £185. 17. 4., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £50 per annum. 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 burgh school affords instruction under a master appointed by the council, who pay him a salary of £26; he also receives a fourth part of the rent of lands bequeathed in the year 1689, by John Watson, Esq., provost of Burntisland, and now producing in the whole £63 per annum, of which the remaining three-fourths are divided among widows, under the direction of the magistrates and council. There are several vestiges of the fortifications of the town; and on the south side of the harbour, are portions of the walls of an ancient fort. On a knoll projecting boldly into the sea, at Lamberlaws, are traces of an encampment said to have been occupied by Cromwell; and on an eminence overlooking the harbour, are the remains of Rossend Castle, built in the fifteenth century; it has been greatly improved within the last few years, and forms a pleasant residence, surrounded with gardens and plantations. There are several tumuli in various parts, in one of which were found coffins, of rudely squared stones; on an eminence in the north-west of the parish, are some remains of the fort called Knockdavie, and about a mile to the east of it, of another of similar construction.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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