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Doom Park aka Dome Park Earlsferry

Dome or Doom Park Earlsferry

The area of ground stretching from the top of the road at Chapel Green round the point as far as the road down to West Bay across the golf course and the area currently occupied by Earlsneuk and Craigforth houses was at one time the “commonty of Earlsferry”. In effect this was an area of ground owned in common by the residents of Earlsferry and, other than the Chapel itself which was run by the Cistercian nuns from North Berwick, that whole area was common land. It was administered by the Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Earlsferry.   The ground upon which Craigforth and Earlsneuk were built was sold/given away by the Town council at the middle of the 1880 or so.  The remaining area of ground is still common to the residents of Earlsferry.  But there are often questions raised about the circular wall round the corner from the chapel and before the hill known as Lundar Law.  This looks very much like a sort of enclosure perhaps for animals or the like.  Its actual use and history is obscure.  It is known that in the middle ages it was often the burial place for common criminals who may have suffered capital punishment.  It had been  reputed infertile  and indeed haunted as a result and there is a story that a provost of Earlsferry in order to dispel the myth that the area was haunted and infertile tried to grow carrots in the area.  The carrot crop failed perpetuating the story.  We do know that in the 1875 Valuation Roll the area seaward of the circular wall was known as Earlsferry Abbey and was owned by the Earl of Crawford & Balcarres.  It was suggested that when he had fallen out of favour with the monarchy and banished he wished to retain a part of Fife to which he could return.  It is suggested that he was disgraced as a result of backing the wrong side in the 1715 or 1745 rebellions.  There is further evidence that a previous Earl of Crawford might well have forfeited his land holding as a result of backing the Royalist cause in the English civil War of Cromwell’s time.  Either way it seems that he owned this piece of ground or at least paid schedule A tax on it (this was a tax on land holdings from the valuation roll)  It is reported that the area was called Earlsferry Abbey but there were never so far as is known any building in this plot of ground and certainly not an Abbey.  In 1831 however the gentlemen golfers of Earlsferry started the first recognised golf club in Elie/Earlsferry and called it Earlsferry Abbey golf Club.  At one time or another there would have been a large Iron Gate at the western entrance to this area of ground and Sydney Reekie  [see http://www.scottishheritage.net/domepark.html]

gives the following report.

The Dome Park is a circular piece of ground that’s located just above the high water mark at the very west end of Earlsferry.  Nothing grows there but rough sea tolerant bent grasses but many families of bunny rabbits make the place their home.  On the south side the park is contained by the shoreline of the sea, on the east by an outcropping of rock, on the west by the Lunder Law and on the north side by a high and curving man-made stone wall. At the west end of this wall is a pair of stone pillars that, until World War II, supported a heavy wrought iron gate. On the higher level to the north of the wall is an old roadway where observers can see over the wall and into the park. This roadway goes on around and connects to the West Sea road.

The Dome Park is an enigma, a mystery. At some point in the past the park must have been created for some specific purpose.  While it’s called a park it’s never in my time been used like a park. Facing south it’s  a sheltered pleasant sunny place. What was the purpose for the massive stone gateway pillars and the heavy wrought iron gate?

When I was a boy this is what was told to me about the Dome Park. The name is a misnomer. In bygone years the park was The Doom Park.  The park was a place of penal confinement where miscreant prisoners were brought from places further afield to be hanged.  Within the park were arm and leg stocks and several hangmen’s gibbets. The park was also the burial place of those who were put to death there.  In addition to hanging there were other forms of execution, one of which was to tie a large herring on to the top of the head of the prisoner, tie a ring of corks for flotation around the person then deposit the unfortunate into the outgoing tide. Gannets did the rest.  A woman convicted of a serious crime or the charge of witchcraft was dealt with more leniently.  The lady was seated on the rocks at low tide and a boulder was tied to her ankles.

Could things like this have happened or were such stories told to young people to keep us in line and be law abiding? I don’t know.  I’m just passing along what was a generally held belief and was told to me in all earnestness about the Dome Park.

During World War II  when the Dome Park was ploughed up for what turned out to be a futile attempt to grow potatoes a man-made hand hewn rectangular stone with a dome shaped top like a  marker was unearthed.  It was removed and deposited on to the shoreline at the west end of the park. Maybe it’s still laying there.

My Earlsferry friend Albert writes: Re the wall at Dome (or Doom) Park.

The Earl of Balcarres had that wall built when he ‘got his hands smacked’ after his support for the 1715 rebellion. He wanted to retain a foothold in Fife whilst he was in exile so he built the wall round the piece of ground we call Dome Park. He called it “Earlsferry Abbey.”  The top layer of finished stanes have been removed from the wall long ago and probably used to finish off the newer wall that borders the “big” houses.

 

This is the best we can do.

 

Graham Johnston January 2017

Comments

  1. Ron Oliver

    26 January 2018 at 14:57

    I recall, not personally you understand, that at the completion of any trial that resulted in the death penalty the judge had the black cap placed on his head said the words “hanged by the neck etc” and finished by saying “and this sentence is pronounced for doom”.

    perhaps that might be the origin of the name for the place. clearly the term Boot Hill had not been thought of then!

  2. Graham Johnston

    27 January 2018 at 09:13

    ok that’s the doom but what about the dome – presumably a name for the heid.

  3. Ron oliver

    6 March 2018 at 20:19

    Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)
    Hide Quotations Hide Etymology Cite this entry

    †DOOM, n. and v. Also doome. Sc. law.

    1. n. A judicial sentence; formerly used in both civil and criminal cases, but now only in the formula of the death sentence.
    Sc. 1699 in Bnffsh. Jnl. (13 Sept. 1887) 2:
    Ordaines your haill moveables to be escheat and inbrought and this for doome.
    Sc. 1714 D. Hume Commentaries (1797) II. 343:
    This doom was afterwards mitigated into transportation.
    Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xxiv.:
    “And this,” said the Doomster, aggravating his harsh voice, “I pronounce for doom.”
    Sc. 1950 Sc. Daily Mail (16 March) 3:
    In respect of the verdict of guilty of murder . . . I decern and adjudge you to be . . . hanged by the neck upon a gibbet until you be dead, and your body thereafter to be buried within the walls of the city prison, and ordain your whole moveable goods and gear to be escheat and inbrought to His Majesty’s use, which is pronounced for doom.

    2. v. To pronounce sentence against, to condemn.
    Sc. 1702 D. Hume Commentaries (1797) II. 103:
    On the 17th of the same month, Janet Syme is doomed in the same terms.

  4. Douglas Speirs

    17 February 2021 at 15:05

    The word ‘doom’ (Scots = sentence, as in a trial; doomster = the court officer who pronounces the judge’s sentence, ie pronounces doom) does not seem to be the root of this place-name. Many books and old newspapers present this reasoning, suggesting that this is where those ‘doomed’ to die or to be executed as per a court sentence ended up being buried. But I doubt this.

    Instead, the place-name ‘Doom Park’ appears to have been used in the sense that the land here was doomed, ie abandoned, not usable ground for spiritual reasons.

    I have never heard of the word ‘Doomed’, or ‘Doomed Croft’ used in this way, but 19th century newspaper reports clearly understand the name in this way and pieces of land taken out of use for spiritual reasons are very well known in Scottish history, the concept/practice being more commonly known from the 16th to 19th centuries as ‘Clootie Crofts’ or’ Gudeman Crofts’.

    Indeed, patches of land are very commonly do described in the records of 16th to 18th century Scotland. Clootie comes from ‘cloven’, and is shorthand for the Devil, ie the Devil’s Croft.

    The Dictionary of Scots Language defines Clooty as:

    CLOOTIE, Clooty, Cluty, Cluttie, adj.3, n.2
    [′kluti]

    †1. adj. Cloven.
    Rxb. 1824 J. Telfer Border Ballads 62:
    The sabille gowne hang owre his tayle, And hid his cluty heele.

    2. n. The Devil. Often preceded by auld. Gen.Sc.
    Ork. 1883 R. M. Fergusson Rambling Sketches xviii.:
    I saw auld Cluttie up in the rafters . . . writing down the names of everybody that was asleep during the sermon.
    Ags. 1905 D. L. Duncan Hameart Rhymes 17:
    Noo’ ‘tween us twa, I think, frien’ Clooty, ‘Twas you that gied her a’ her beauty.
    Ayr. a.1796 Burns Reply to a Trimming Ep. (Cent. ed.) iv.:
    I’ll gie auld Cloven-Clootie’s haunts An unco slip yet.

    Comb.: Clootie’s craft, a small piece of land, sometimes also called the “Goodman’s field,” set aside, by way of propitiation, for the devil, and never tilled or encroached upon by the villagers. See also Aploch.
    Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 111:
    The moss is saft on Clootie’s craft, And bonny’s the sod o’ the Goodman’s taft.

    The same online Dictionary defines Guidman/Gudeman/Goodman’s Crofts/fields/folds… as:

    5. A name used euphemistically for the Devil. Also Auld Gudeman. Hist.
    Sc. 1817 Scott H. Midlothian xviii.:
    She’ll hae had some quarrel wi’ her auld gudeman — that’s Satan, ye ken, sirs.
    Edb. 1828 D. M. Moir Mansie Wauch (1898) xv.:
    After a’ thochts of finding her were gi’en up, and it was fairly concluded that it was the auld gudeman that had come and chappit her out.
    Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 111:
    The Goodman will catch you in his net.
    ne.Sc. 1929 J. M. McPherson Prim. Beliefs 135:
    In the North-East of Scotland, so numerous were the fields dedicated to the “Auld Goodman” that the Church resolved to apply to Parliament for an Act to deal with the owners of these uncultivated lands.

    Hence (1) Guidman’s craft, see first quot. and Craft, n.1; (2) Goodman’s faul(d), -field, id. (Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 111, -field; ne.Sc. 1929 J. McPherson Prim. Beliefs 134, -fauld), see also Fauld, n.2; (3) Goodman’s taft, id., see also Taft.
    (1)
    Edb. 1779 H. Arnot Hist. Edb. 80:
    Farmers left a part of their lands perpetually untilled . . .; this spot was dedicated to the Devil, and called the Goodman’s croft.
    Bnff. c.1780 J. F. S. Gordon Chrons. Keith (1880) 53:
    At Killiesmont . . . there was a Rig of uncultivated land called The Guidman’s Craft, alias The Gi’en Rig . . . given to the Diel, to obtain his good will!
    Lnl. 1872 J. Y. Simpson Archæol. Essays I. 41:
    A relative of mine bought a farm in a district not very many years ago . . . Among his first acts . . . was the enclosing a small triangular corner of one of the fields within a stone wall. The corner cut off — and which still remains cut off, was “The Guidman’s Craft,” an offering to the Spirit of Evil, in order that he might abstain from ever blighting or damaging the rest of the farm.
    Per. 1895 R. Ford Tayside Songs 118:
    A howl gaed up frae the “gudeman’s craft,” An’ a wail frae the Witches’ knowe.
    n.Sc. 1919 M. Maclean From Croft and Clachan 11:
    Fivescore witches sailing aloft Headed their steeds for the Goodman’s Croft.
    Sc. 1945 Scots Mag. (Sept.) 468:
    Only a couple of centuries later [19th c.] was the last Guidman’s Croft invaded by the plough, and then to the accompaniment of much heart-searching and a good deal of ritual designed to avert the wrath of its supernatural occupants.
    Ib. 470:
    In the Guidman’s Croft at Earlsferry, in the parish of Kilconquhar, Fife, known as “the Dome,” or “Doom Park,” those were interred who had forfeited the right to Christian burial.
    (2)
    Bch. c.1780 J. M. McPherson Prim. Beliefs (1929) 141:
    In revenge he drove his twelve-oxen plough with all the earth it would hold off the farm and unyoked it on the neighbouring farm of West Affleck on a part called “the Goodman’s Faul.”
    (3)
    Bwk. 1856 G. Henderson Pop. Rhymes 111:
    Bonny’s the sod o’ the Goodman’s taft.

    My guess is that locals knew there was something old and spooky going on in this area. There was/still is, a 12th century pilgrim chapel here, surrounded by burials. This was the north Forth landing stage of a pilgrim ferry service endowed by the Earl of Fife in the 12th century and managed by the nuns of North Berwick. There are a lot of medieval burials associated with this chapel.

    I imagine that by the 16th century, locals regarded this place as old and spooky, and bones no doubt turned up from time to time, but they wouldn’t have known the exact history of the place. This, added to the propensity of the natural conditions of this grassland in this area to produce fairy rings ie natural circular growth rings in the grass, sometimes many metres in diameter (this is reported in 19th cent newspapers) probably led, after the Reformation of 1560 (when the new Protestant regime engineered a belief in/fear of, witches and witchcraft) to the local belief that this place was Devilish and dodgy, ie that it was the Devil’s Croft.

    Consequently, it was left uncultivated until the 19th century when superstition subsided enough for the ground to be brought back into cultivation and sown with carrots (the sandy soil was no doubt good for carrot-growing). 19th century accounts certainly reference the widespread finding of human burials when the ground was brought back into cultivation which in turn, restricted some farming activities and made the ground all the more suitable for recreation, which is why the burgh of Elie bought the ground in the 1890s, for ladies gold and general recreation.

    Douglas Speirs
    Fife Council Archaeologist
    Feb. 17th 2021

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