Walking Tour No 1 – Elie Village
Starts and finishes at Elie Church
The following narrative is designed to help you find your way around Elie village and provide some historical background on some of the interesting things that can be found. It can be used for a self-guided walking tour of Elie central (other tours are also available on this website).
The Church in Elie was built and endowed by William Scott of Ardross. It was opened for worship on 17 April 1639 and the Parish of Elie was disjoined from that of Kilconquhar on 11 September 1641. The steeple was not part of the original church; it was added by Sir John Anstruther in 1726. The Church is one of the many examples of T-plan buildings which were erected in Scotland in the 17th & 18th centuries. In these buildings we see the reformed emphasis on Preaching of the Word with the pulpit being the centrepiece in the middle of the long wall. Two of the ministers of the first hundred years of ElieChurch point us to the turmoil in the ScottishChurch in earlier centuries. Robert Wemyss became minister at Elie in 1649 but he was deprived of the living in 1692 and deposed in 1695 because he refused to accept Episcopacy which had been reintroduced at the restoration of Charles II. James Chalmers, who was minister of Elie for 40 years from 1701 to 1741, was the great-grandfather of Thomas Chalmers one of the leaders of the Disruption in 1843. The four windows on the south side installed in 1831. Outside stairs, which led to the Laird’s Loft, were replaced with internal ones in 1855 After the Disruption a congregation of the Free Church was established in Elie. The Free Church building stood in Bank Street on the site that is now flats in the former Golf Hotel car park more of which you will learn later on. The two churches were united on 5th June 1949 and the Wood Memorial Church was demolished in 1962 when it was decided that the Old Parish Church should be the place of Worship. The tower clock has only three faces as at the time there were no houses on the north side of the Church. The old clock mechanism was used for the Floral Clock in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. Since Elie Church was built there have been a number of alterations each of which has been designed to improve the fabric and the appearance of this place of worship. It stands today as a sanctuary for the residents of Elie, Earlsferry and the many visitors to Elie – a place in which they come together Sunday by Sunday to worship God. In 2009 Elie Parish Church joined with Colinsburgh and Kilconquhar Church and is now known as the East Neuk Trinity Church.
A book – ‘Elie Kirk 350 years 1639 -1989’ by David Thomson is available for sale from the Society.
From the church gates walk east along High Street (moving east)
Elie is fortunate in still having a good range of shops. These have changed a great deal over the years; however, one which has remained constant for over 130 years is the Chemist. This business was established in 1880 and so has seen service in three centuries – 19th, 20th & 21st. Blairgowrie-based pharmacy chain Davidsons Chemists is the current owner having purchased the business in 2013 from McPhersons, immediately following major repairs to the main shop lintel and front stonework. Moving along the north side of the High Street you pass the former Sangster’s Restaurant, which was transformed into Elie Deli Two Doors Down, whilst Elie Deli was refurbished having been destroyed by fire on 20 May 2016. It reopened for business in early 2018.
Cross road to Toll Green [Use map board in centre of Toll Green for orientation]
Toll Green. In 1670 Elie was granted the right to hold three annual fairs and its established weekly market was changed from the Sabbath to Tuesday. In 1755 the population of Elie was 642 but this had fallen to 620 by 1790, probably as a consequence of agricultural improvements carried out by Sir John Anstruther, who owned most of the land in this area. The west end of Toll Green was originally used as a bowling green.
Move to east end of Toll Green by Fountain
Looking East you will see Braid’s Bar on the Northern side of the High Street. This was formerly the Station Buffet and forms part of a building which was once the Queen’s Hotel, built in the 1890s. This hotel was converted to flats several years ago but the bar lives on. The main road through Elie from Balchrystie junction in the west was built as a turnpike road in 1810 and continued out the village and joins the older turnpike road from Kirkcaldy to Crail via Colinsburgh (built 1790-1799) just this side of Pittenweem. Two tollhouses were erected on the new road; one at Broomlees and the other here at the east end of Toll Green. Both appear to have been demolished soon after the abolition of road tolls in Fife in 1878. The cast iron drinking fountain next to the pillar box was made at George Smith’s Sun Foundry in Glasgow in 1869 and is one of only two surviving. It was refurbished by the Community Council as a millennium project, although because of modern health and safety regulations it cannot actually be used for drinking!
Looking east down the High Street towards St Monans a slight rise in the road marks the railway bridge. Elie station, which opened on 1 September 1863, was just down to the right and was part of the extension from Kilconquhar – which had been the terminus of the Leven and East Fife Railway – to Anstruther. The line was taken over by the North British Railway in 1877 and extended to St Andrews six years later. The line was built by Thomas Bouch who was renowned for building railways on a budget. He also built the first Tay Bridge, which was opened on 1 June 1878. On the night of 28 December 1879 at 7.15pm, the bridge collapsed after its central spans gave way during high winter gales. A train with six carriages carrying 75 passengers and crew, crossing at the time of the collapse, plunged into the icy waters of the Tay. All 75 were lost, including Sir Thomas’s son-in-law. The NBR was swallowed up by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923, which in turn disappeared with nationalisation in 1948. The line between Leven and St Andrews closed to passengers on 6 September 1965 and with it Elie station. The site is now a small housing estate, Baird Place. The railway made Elie accessible as a holiday destination and the more well-to-do worthies of Edinburgh and Glasgow built villas around the turn of the 20th century.
Return west to centre southern gate of Toll Green to find Oakum Lane
As you walk between the houses down Oakum Lane you will pass what was an oakum works. Oakum is a preparation of tarred fibre used in shipbuilding, for caulking or packing the joints of timbers in wooden vessels and the deck planking of iron and steel ships, as well as cast iron plumbing applications. Oakum was at one time made from old tarry ropes and cordage of vessels, and its picking and preparation was a common penal occupation in prisons and workhouses. In modern times it is made from virgin hemp fibres. White oakum is made from untarred materials. The fibrous material used in oakum is most commonly a hemp or jute fibre impregnated with tar or a tar-like substance. This “tar” is not road tar, or asphalt, but rather pine tar, also called Stockholm tar, an amber coloured pitch made from pine sap. The word oakum is derived from Middle English okum, from Old English Acumba tow, from A- (separative and perfective prefix) + -cumba (akin to Old English camb comb)—literally “off-combings”. The lane brings you out onto The Terrace and great views of the Harbour.
Move east (turn left) to grassy area on your right (Hyde Park)
Wade House at the east end of The Terrace was built c.1756. It originally had a lookout post on the roof reached by internal stairs which is still there but cut off at roof level. General Wade occupied the house after the ’45 rebellion and used to watch for French and other ships supporting the Jacobites. The area was Jacobite and troops were billeted here to discourage landings. General Wade and later Robert Stevenson (builder of the Bell Rock Lighthouse) recommended that what became the Rosyth Naval Base to be built at Elie Harbour because of the depth of water and ease of entry for sailing ships. This area is known as Wadehaven or Woodhaven Bay. At the corner of Wade House lies Stenton Row where you will find Stenton House a former butcher’s shop and Stenton Laigh the site of the town slaughterhouse. Beyond Stenton Row (where Hycroft Flats now stand) is the site of the
Beach Hotel, which was built in 1931 on the site of Elie Lodge, itself built around 1750 and eventually extended and converted into a hotel by the Beach Hotel Company. This company also at one time owned the Marine Hotel, which stood in what is now a small housing estate known as Marine Park in Links Place. The Beach Hotel was purchased around 1950 by the Scottish Co-operative Society and renamed Hycroft. It was used as a convalescent home for members of the Co-operative but was closed in the late 1970s and redeveloped into the flats you see. There used to be five hotels in Elie!
Looking now to the south east, Elie Mill, Burgh Jail and Shipbuilding Yard occupied the space between Elie Lodge wall and Admiralty Lane. The Mill was built by 1584 and latterly was used as a lint mill. The wheel was turned using water from Kilconquhar Loch which still flows into the harbour. The Miller’s house and jail were adjacent. The shipyard at the foot of the lanes built sailing ships including the “Pharos” the first ship built for the Commissioners of Northern Lights. The site of these is now occupied by The Toft cottages built around 1810 (TOFT – small cottage with land in front leading to water). The Storehouse opposite Admiralty House (sloping green roof) – was once a fisherman’s house and featured in many postcards. In 1794 Elie had eight fishermen (nearly all called Thomson) and they lived rent-free in houses supplied by Sir John Anstruther on condition that they supply the town with fish three times a week. By 1855 there were only six fishermen who manned two small boats less than 18ft in length.
Looking south from Hyde Park from left of lighthouse to the east and pan across in an arc westwards you can see: Woodhaven/Wadehaven/Ruby Bay – between Lady’s Tower and Elie Ness named after the garnets (Elie rubies) which are washed up on its beach. These can still be found amongst the bay’s unusual volcanic sand. Elie Ness Lighthouse – engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses at time of building was David Alan Stevenson, grandson of the famous lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson who gained this fame for the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse lit in 1811. David Alan was a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. Work commenced in 1907 and the light was first lit for the mariner 1st October 1908. Up until 1959, when the light was converted to mains electricity, it was powered by carbide and water generating acetylene gas and attended by HM Coastguard Elie. The actual builder was Mr James Lawrie from Anstruther who was born on a troop transporter at sea coming back after the Crimean War. The light flashes white once every six seconds and is visible at a distance of 17 miles. During power cuts it has backup battery power. The lighthouse was recently refurbished and responsibility passed from NLB to Forth Ports (the NLB (Northern Lighthouse Board) is the general Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man).
Berwick Law, North Berwick, Pentland Hills & Edinburgh (in distance).
East Vows Beacon & Thill Rock Buoy – engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board at the time of building the beacon was Alan Stevenson son of Robert Stevenson (already mentioned) and uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Beacon was built in 1847 and it and a buoy that then marked the Thill Rock became official navigational marks 1st Oct 1848. The Beacon was originally painted black then red and in the 1980s as it now stands as a South Cardinal Mark. The port hand red light ‘can’ buoy that was in the Bay warning mariners of the dangers of the Thill Rock was permanently withdrawn by the NLV Pole Star on the 9th April 2008, a buoy had been on station there for 160 years, except for a period during WW2. The Stevenson Family of Engineers built numerous lighthouse and harbours and was involved in many other engineering works at home and abroad. The family was involved with the Lighthouse Board for many generations. The book ‘Navigational Aids at Elie & Earlsferry’ by Captain Alan Provan (Nov 07) is available from the Society.
Restart Walk westwards along The Terrace
Look up Rankeillor Street and see Wynd Lodge (on left) and Wynd House (on right), which was the retirement home of Admiral Sir William Milbourne James who, amongst other things, was famous as “Bubbles”, the child who featured in the well known painting, by his grandfather (the famous artist John Millais), advertising Pears Soap.
Continue along The Terrace and note:
No6 – Art House – plans to develop into upmarket corporate hotel failed as planning permission refused. It was then sold and refurbished to the high standard you see today. No7 – Cream House – architraved doorpiece & wallhead chimney gable. No8 – Duddingston House – this 4 bedroomed town house was recently sold and extensively refurbished. South Street the Laigh House – home of the former Registrar General of Scotland and author Dr Archie Rennie, who is also a member of our Society and his works include an excellent history of The Harbours of Elie Bay (available from the Society). Look up School Wynd which, as its name suggests, was the location of the village school. Prior to education becoming the responsibility of the Parish individual teachers would run classes from their front rooms in houses throughout the village. You will now enter South Street, which was the original ‘High Street’ and contains the Burgh’s oldest and finest houses, including (on south side) The Castle built in the 17th century and (on north side) Gillespie House which was rebuilt in 1870 it incorporates the doorway of an earlier house the Muckle Yett (the big gate). The doorway bears the date 1682 and the marriage initials of Alexander Gillespie the most successful merchant skipper in Elie at that time and his wife Christine Small. There is a memorial to the Gillespies in the Churchyard.
Continue to Breakwater at west end of South St
On the way you will see the Summer House and West House. The latter was the former home of the Rev Bill Monteith, whose father (Revd William Neve Monteith) was killed in WW1 (commemorated in church). At the Breakwater look for the plaque on south wall of Breakwater House commemorating Bob Haig the Donkey Man. Donkeys and ponies operated from just after WW1 into the 1980s.
Look towards Elie Harbour
The rock on which the granary now stands was formerly an island and could only be reached at near low tide. In 1835 a group of gentlemen and farmers of the district invited engineer Robert Stevenson (yes him again) to survey the harbour which had been in a sorry state for many years. The plans produced were finally implemented to some extent in 1853 when Sir William Baird bought Elie Estate, also in 1853, and the present causeway, road and pier were completed within two years. Much of the traditional activity such as fishing and potato boats did not resume after the Great War. When Sir Michael Nairn of Elie House died in 1955 his son, Michael George Nairn, gifted the harbour to the Town Council. In 1974 ownership was transferred to the non-profit making Elie Harbour Trust, who continue to be responsible for the harbour area. There was a ferry service between Elie and Leith twice a week and the daily Leith to Aberdeen ferry stopped here as well. On the western edge of the rocks you might see the remains of the Apple Rock Pier used by paddle steamers on excursions or as regular ferries from late 1890s to mid 1920s to and from Leith, North Berwick, Dundee and other ports on the coast of the Forth.
Look west to Chapel Ness/Chapel Green
The ruined building on the headland stands on the site of a medieval chapel which is said to have been built by MacDuff in 1093 as thanks for his escape fleeing Macbeth. Until the reformation the chapel or hospice was run by nuns from North Berwick as a resting place for pilgrims to St Andrews.
Look NW towards Earlsferry.
Golf has been played on Earlsferry Links since the 16th century. The present course was laid out in 1895. Across it runs Cadger’s Road along which fish were once taken by cadgers (itinerant salesmen) to FalklandPalace. A local golfer James Braid who was born in Linmara in Earlsferry won the Open Championship five times between 1901 and 1910 and his achievement is commemorated with a plaque at Earlsferry Town Hall (you can see the spire), which was built between 1864 and 1872. As well as the Braid plaque there is also a plaque which commemorates the Polish soldiers stationed locally during WWII, some of whom who stayed and married locally. Earlsferry is a Royal Burgh (1589).
Resume walk north along Fountain Road towards Links Place/Bank Street junction.
Fountain Road, formerly Soap Work Lane, contains several old and interesting houses. Apart from a soap works, there was also a brewery in this area. In the long wall on the east (right) side you can see – if you look carefully – the remains of cottage frontages. Behind this wall is the Manse for Elie, Kilconquhar and Colinsburgh Parish.
Cross Bank Street to stand at entrance to The Park (Elie Letting)
With you back to the wall and looking from whence you came, you will see on your right Westerlea (white house on corner) which was built around 1846 and later was purchased by the GPO as the Subpostmaster’s residence. Up until the early 1960s it housed the village telephone exchange, until replaced by a new modern exchange located at the north entrance to the village next to the school. The former Post Office adjoins Westerlea and the old Sorting Office (now a holiday home) is to the right again. This building was erected just after WW1 to a standard GPO design and was originally entirely flat-roofed with decorative stone pediments along the roof frontage. The original PO in Elie opened in 1797 and closed here on 18 July 2008. Looking further down Links Place on the left is a large house called St Regulus (latterly The Studio, now flats). This was previously the doctor’s surgery prior to moving to a new facility in Wadeslea (via Kirkpark Road).
Move along north side of Bank St and note the house Allan Bank, a former farmhouse, then pause at entrance to Golf Court on your left.
The Golf Hotel opened as the Kirkbrae Golf Hotel in May 1920. Originally the private house of a Professor William Smith Greenfield, born Salisbury 1846. In the early 1880s he did much work to make the medical faculty at the University of Edinburgh the powerful combination of teachers it was; he was a pathologist and held the professorship chair from 1881-1912 when he retired to his country house in Elie. He died in 1919, a son and daughter (in India) were doctors and another son a UF minister in Madras, India. The Golf closed as a hotel in late 2001 and was converted into flats and new builds on the adjacent car park. Work started late 2002. On the site of the Golf Hotel Car Park previously stood the original United Free Church Elie, completed in 1844. This church proved to be too small and in 1887 the Wood Memorial Church, named after Rev Walter Wood, was established on the site. A covered walkway was constructed between the two churches and the old church was used as a church hall, vestry, meeting rooms etc. The congregation of this church – then known as the NewParishChurch – and the Old Parish Church were united in 1949. Both structures on this site were demolished in1962 and became the Golf Hotel car park.
Continue along Bank St for a few yards to driveway just before the former Royal Bank (Bank House) to face Isaac Mackie House (opposite).
Isaac Sutherland Mackie was born at Beachfield, The Shore, Earlsferry on 23 September 1880. From an early age he was a very keen and good golfer. He crossed to America on 17 January 1901 on the ss Laurentian from Glasgow to New York and became a very successful professional golfer. He had 3 brothers who also went to America to become golf professionals. After much celebrated success he eventually owned his own golf course in New Jersey, which he sold for housing development. This is the reason he had money which was left in his will for good causes in his homeland and community, including this sheltered housing development. Isaac Mackie died 22 June 1963 and his and his wife’s ashes were scattered from a Pittenweem fishing boat in Elie bay opposite his birth place on 1st May 1966. A resident still living in Elie, Eric Smith, was on that boat as a representative of the Earlsferry Thistle Golf Club, which was also mentioned in Isaac’s will. His wife Annie died in 1965; there were no children. The Isaac S Mackie Trust purchased Henderson House which stood on the present site in 1972. It was demolished and the present development was built and the flats were first occupied in the summer of 1978. The complex was officially opened on 29th September 1978 by Mr Jack B Mackie a relative of Isaac who came from North America for the ceremony. From this position also take a look at 18 Bank Street (across road to left of IMH) and note the memorial tablet on RHS of front door to James Horsburgh, who was born in Elie in 1762 and served as Hydrographer to the East India Company.
Continue along Bank Street – you will pass the former Royal Bank of Scotland (formerly the National Bank) which closed in 2017, then Rose Cottage, which is amongst the oldest houses in Elie.
Cross main road (Park Place) to War Memorial. In 1921 the War Memorial was inserted into the corner of the perimeter wall and has the unusual feature of listing the peacetime occupation of those who fell in The Great War [see Alan Provan’s website www.eliewarmemorials.org.uk for details of the war memorials in E&E]. If you look across the road towards the sea you will see the former Victoria Hotel. There has been a hotel on the site for more than 150 years. The original stables at the rear are now lock-up garages. It closed as a hotel in 2006 and was converted into three town houses during 2007-08. It was latterly called ‘The Vic’ and advertised as ‘close to St Andrews’, probably in an attempt to attract golfers.
Continue along High Street and return to church to finish.