Starts and finishes at Earlsferry Town Hall
The following narrative is designed to help you find your way around Earlsferry 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 this Royal Burgh (other tours are also available on this website).
Earlsferry is “olde beyond memorie of man” and the precise date of its foundation is unknown. The original charter was destroyed in a fire in Edinburgh, and the new charter of 1589 granted Earlsferry free burgh status. It is said that Macduff, when fleeing from Macbeth, hid himself at the cave at Kincraig until the fishermen of the place ferried him over the water, not allowing his pursuers to start after him until he was half way across. Friday has been regarded as a lucky day by the folks of the ‘Ferry’ ever since as the ‘escape’ is reputed to have happened on a Friday. This was a form of sanctuary or privilege which existed in ‘The Ferry’ for many years to come. It is thought however that Macduff, as thanks for his escape, induced Malcolm Canmore (who reigned from 1057 until 1093) to elevate the village to a royal burgh with all the advantages that would have (e.g. trade overseas). Macduff was closely associated with the Scottish Royal Family of the time, King Malcolm and His Saintly wife Queen Margaret who ‘donated’ the Ferry at Queensferry. Macduff owned the land at both sides of the Forth at the narrowest crossing point in the mouth of the Forth so he donated what became known as the ‘Earl’s Ferry’.
Earlsferry was written about between 1292 and 1296 and is also mentioned in the Crail Charter of 1306. It is referred to by Duncan Earl of Fife who died in 1154, so it is older than that.
The bell taken out of the Tolbooth in Earlsferry and sold for scrap in 1772, had the date 1092 engraved on it, whilst the “hospice” built at Chapel Green is dated 1093. In the English Exchequer accounts for November 1302 there are details of money paid to Earlsferry on behalf of the Prince of Wales (later Edward II) and similarly in March 1303/04 for bringing money to Edward I who was in St. Andrews whilst occupying the country after the battle of Falkirk (1298).
In 1498, along with Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail, Earlsferry is mentioned as being one of the ports used by merchants trading with England. Merchants continued until at least the 18C.
While it has to be accepted that the precise details of the Burgh are not certain, there can be very little doubt that Earlsferry was an important Burgh being on the pilgrims’ route from the south to St Andrews. This came to an end at the Reformation (1560) and there was a steady decline in the prosperity due to the lack of an adequate harbour and trade appears to have moved to the improved harbour at Elie in the late 16C.
After late 18C the Burgh was populated by various tradesmen:
Cotton Weavers – until about 1846, when they converted to linen using local and imported flax.
Stone Masons – during the 19th C there appears to have been a “building boom” as the numbers on record seem high for a burgh of this size.
Fishermen – both local line fishing and seasonal herring fishing.
Coal Miners – the starting date for coal working is unknown, but probably dates from the time of the Hospice with associated salt making. Coal outcrops existed along the beach near the west pier and at the golf course. By the late 18th C there were at least 30 coal pits, all fairly small. Larger mines were introduced early in the 19thC when steam for pumps and winding became available. Mining suffered due to miners going to the herring fishing. Coal mining ceased about 1860 due to the distorted nature of the coal seams and the availability of coal brought in by the new railway (Leven – Kilconquhar opened 8 Jul 1857 and line extended through Elie to Anstruther on 1 Sep 1863).
Support Trades – as would be expected there were joiners, roofers, bakers, butchers and shopkeepers, along with tanners treating sails, ropes and nets for the fishing boats.
Golf Club Makers – mainly in Links Road (which we will come to later) notably, Scott, Forrester and Crowley (inventor of the ‘Eureka’ club). Another, Reekie, was located in the High Street which we will see soon.
During the 19C the Burgh slowly changed to a holiday village and the houses were altered and new houses built to accommodate this. This increase in trade gave rise to new shops either in converted houses or new build. The holiday business trade survived until about 1970 when the visitors were able to travel to other areas to shop and the local shops closed with the exception of Obarska the hairdresser, which lasted almost until the start of the 21C.
Town Hall – built in 1872; the base of the clock tower (built 1772) is the old town council meeting room and the Town Jail. 19th C records show the latter as being “empty” when recorded. The clocks in the tower are dated 1864 and 1900. The Town Hall was still used, until recently, as meeting place for the Community Council and still functions as a village hall. However, it is no longer used as a cinema.
Note the Earlsferry coat of arms in the stonework above and the memorial plaques to the Polish Troops, who were stationed in the area during the War, and to James Braid the famous golfer. Braid was born in Earlsferry in 1870 and died in 1950. He won the Open five times in 10 years (first 1901).
Most of the houses on the south side of High Street had feus extending down to high water mark and those on the north side to the ‘Town Muir’ now Links Road, although these have mainly been redeveloped.
Move east along High Street – pause before junction with Ferry Road
East along High Street first house on right is Reekie’s workshop & house.
Formerly two shops on left side; post office (4th (final) site) and general goods and Tony’s ice cream/sweetie shop. There were houses and shops on the adjoining empty site – see gables on buildings. In 1947 Fife County Council were putting in a new drainage/sewage system and had dug a deep trench along the High Street in front of the old houses. There came a period of sustained rain and the houses, being built on a sand base, started to slip into the trench. Sadly, the houses had to be demolished on the instructions of Fife County Council and what had been an attractive entrance to the Royal Burgh became what we see today.
The High Street lined up with Rotten Row until Williamsburgh was redeveloped and the new road built. The Kilconquhar Infant School was in Williamsburgh (now the local Library), as education was a Church matter and this was part of Kilconquhar Parish.
Ferry Road, formerly German Wynd, so called as a German built a house in the north side. In the early part of WW1 it was decided to rename the Wynd. The two councils couldn’t agree on a name and for a while the Wynd had two names – Cavell Place on the east side and Ferry Road on the west. It took a few acrimonious meetings of the then separate Town Councils before it was agreed to rename German’s Wynd Ferry Road.
The Burgh Boundary follows the centre line of the road and extends out to sea being marked by March Stones. This was important as there was an income from salmon fishing and selling seaweed (sea ware). The area of rocks and sand at this location was described as St Ford’s Loch.
Turn right/west along dunes.
Houses tend to be late Victorian and built in a ‘city’ style. One exception being the Old Bakehouse, which is in a local style and is on the site of a former bake house. New house to east of Old Bakehouse is the site of a smoke house thought to have been used to some the salmon and other fish caught locally.
Waldeve, on the west side of the Old Bakehouse, is the name of this recently-built house replacing an older building substantially rebuilt in 1935. Waldeve was associated with the former Tannery which lay to the rear. Waldeve is where Isaac Mackie was born (Isaac S. Mackie House Bank St. Elie).
I mentioned that Earlsferry is a burgh of considerable antiquity and came into prominence in the mid-12th C as a ferry crossing point connecting the important pilgrim route from North Berwick to Earlsferry (7 miles) and on to St Andrews. By the later medieval period it was functioning as a burgh which in every respect acted as a royal burgh, engaging in foreign trade etc.
As a port town engaging in foreign trade, as a ferry town, and having its own small resident fishing community, Earlsferry must clearly have had some harbour/pier facility.
Mapping evidence and historical references are, however, very rare. As a general trend it appears that Earlsferry’s fortunes started to decline from the late 16th century onwards. The Reformation of 1560 must have put an end to large numbers of pilgrims using the harbour facilities and during the 17th century Earlsferry’s maritime trade was largely taken over by its growing neighbour Elie. By the 18th century, the main user of Earlsferry pier was the small local fishing community. However, after major losses at sea in 1776, even this small fleet diminished to a just handful of men.
The first harbour we come to on our walk is in fact the second ‘harbour’, at the place known locally at the “Cockstail” rocks. By the 19th century the pier appears to have become pretty much redundant and by the 1850’s this pier was no longer to be seen… certainly, it is not marked on the OS First Edition of 1856. The remains that are visible on the foreshore probably date from this period, with some 19th century enhancements, though undoubtedly they are built on the site of earlier structures.
The pier comprises two natural rock skerries that have been enhanced to provide an area of sheltered water and a landing place. These run perpendicular to the shore opposite 45 High Street and can be accessed via Cadger’s Wynd or Cross Wynd. The fact that direct access is now blocked by a housing plot strongly suggests that the pier greatly preceded any building and either 45 or 47 High Street now lie directly over the pier access.
More apparent features of this small haven are a number of iron ringbolts set in recesses along the western edge of the eastern skerry set back slightly from the cut edge. These are of no great antiquity being typical of 19thC, and more recent, harbour fittings but their presence show that the haven was used to some degree until possibly 20thC. This ‘harbour’ was used by local men with small boats until just after WW2.
In the late 1930 some thought was given to making a bathing pool at the Cockstail (or tool?) Rocks but this never materialised.
Return to High Street via ‘secret passageway’ or pend.
Look west along High Street and point out differing styles of building:
Local stone – the brown stone seen on both sides of road frequently roofed with pan tiles. Stone quarried at Melon Park or old Tidal Quarry at west end of West Bay. This was a large rock near to high water mark.
Whinstone – black or “blue” such as The Gables east end was locally quarried at Chapel Green quarries (still visible) and on what is now the golf course in front of 6th green. This stone required a special skill as it is very difficult to dress and is invariably five sided. Corner stones, doors and windows are usually sandstone (see The Gable & Roseberrie at Cadgers Wynd).
Imported sandstone – usually on later Victorian houses constructed from stone prepared at quarries away from Earlsferry (Methven grocers shop).
Clay biggin – a method of building dry stone walls using clay as the water proofing. This was very common as clay was available on the golf course. The clay was replaced by lime as that became available. Clay walls are still found in older houses. It is thought that Kenilworth is constructed in this manner but has been covered with render imitating stone.
Walk West along High Street:
The Gable – built in two stages, the older east section is whinstone and was formerly an inn (old main door blocked up) and still contains the old cock fighting pit under the floorboards. This is directly inland from East Harbour.
Most of the houses between the Town Hall and The Gable were used as shops or tradesmen’s offices. These have all become dwellings. One of the more obvious ones is the Hairdressers and shop next to The Gable. This shop was the third site of the post office. No25 was a shop (note changes).
Further on North side there is Kenilworth (clay biggin), which was the first post office and telephone exchange. The post office moved to second site at Cumming’s grocer shop (top of Cadgers Wynd).
Opposite this is ‘Pink House’ with the last forestair in the Burgh. These were fairly common at one time but have been removed as houses were renovated. They served as access to the upper part of the house and usually one section was used as the workplace, e.g. the upper floor could have been the loom loft taking advantage of roof lights or perhaps as storage for fishing/boat gear.
Ardsheiling was Greig’s paint shop and his brother was also a painter and had the shop next door. No55 was baker’s shop and No53 Purves’s Chip Shop (1930-1940) (note stonework).
Old Manse formerly for Kilconquhar Parish which included Earlsferry.
No84 was Low the grocer (1930-40) then Alex Birrell the plumber (1940-1960); Westholme was a pub (note cellar access stone).
Glovers Wynd was named after the owners of Earlsferry House which stood on the site of the current (1960s) houses. The kitchen garden was opposite (now Four Winds) and the Small House was converted from original garage/workshop latterly used by David Leitch the Joiner as his workshop up until 2005.
Go down Glovers Wynd to beach, turn right to view site of East Harbour & Chapel.
Pilgrims Pier – Up till a few years ago it was thought that there was no evidence of where the “Pilgrims Pier” had been situated. It is marked on General Roy’s map of the mid-18th century but not on any of OS maps that came into being from the 1850s onwards. This is strange because there was always an obvious pier there which was known locally as “Walker’s pier” because a Jock and George Walker kept their boats there during the summer season and in Boat Wynd over the winter. The old local Ferry people (they are few and far between) still call the remains “Walker’s Pier”. Only in recent years has it been established that the ‘rickle o’rocks’ that lie 60 metres east of the “black wa’” at the west end of the Ferry beach is in fact the site of the ancient pier where the pilgrims would have landed on the north side of the Firth.
There was a path from Chapel to the harbour which has been lost as gardens in Chapel Green Road were extended to high sea wall. In the north end of this wall there is a WW2 machine gun post and the beach protection nearby is made from anti-tank defence blocks laid to hinder invasion. The gap in the houses is Boat Wynd giving access to the harbour. In 1830 there was still a road from this Wynd to the corner of Links Road and then to Grange Road at Cadgers Road (more later) thought to be a “pilgrims way”.
Move to bench on Sea Tangle Rd at path/road jct near 6th Tee viewpoint.
Large mansion houses which can be seen are: (east most) Earlsneuk, the former home of George Watt (Brigadier Sir George Steven Harvie-Watt Bt QC TD 1903-89) who was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Winston Churchill from 1941-45. The Episcopal Church was on the grass opposite the gate until moved to a new site in Rotten Row, Williamsburgh. West-most is Craigforth, used as a military convalescent home during WW1.
The white house is Quarry Cottage associated with the adjoining quarries on headland behind houses and 6th hole in front of Green.
Sea Tangle Road provided access to the beach for removing sea weed as fertiliser and access to the ‘Colbrochie’, which was where the coal seam came to the surface at the beach. This was exploited by the local residents.
West Bay and Kincraig Point – site of WW1 & 2 heavy guns for defence against ships entering the Forth; also McDuff’s Cave and Chain Walk.
Nearly all of the golf course west of Ferry Road was the Grange Coalfield and was extensively worked. There were at least 30 pits and no doubt many other surface workings. Starting date is unknown but probably dates back to the days of the Chapel with associated salt pans.
Sites of workings are still visible. Starting from the beach looking over golf course the most obvious are:
Rough ground near to green keepers huts, which is the spoil from early pits. Next to right is ‘Coal Hill’, a small hill with marker the site of later ‘engine pit’ – steam driven pumps and coal winding. There was another engine pit at west end of Grange Road and several gin pits along length. The two large sandstone houses at east end with elevated plots may well be built on the spoil from mines.
A Gin Pit was operated using horse power. Nearer the ridges on the approach to the 5th green are spoil heaps from adjoining mines. Grange House, the Estate house for Grange, burned down in 1868. It was occupied by Keddie the Tacksman for Grange Coal, i.e. he leased the coal and farmland c1830–60.
Golf has been played on Earlsferry Links, possibly as early as the 15th century as it was deemed necessary for an Act of Parliament to be passed in 1471 banning the game! However some 100 years later a royal charter in 1589 affirmed the “ancient servitude right of golf” for the villagers over the Links.
By 1770 there was put in place a sort of formal layout of a course, which was then severely challenged by the owners of the Grange Estate who clearly were not golfers and promptly laid claim to a part of the course and ploughed up a section in the middle!
Legal action ensued which took some 20 years before judgement was found in favour of the golfers, decreeing that the disputed strip of land should be as wide as the best golfer could hit a ball. The identity of the “best” golfer is not known but, suffice to say, he was not on form resulting in the narrow strip of land which encompasses the current 4th and 17th holes
The first Club, The Elie and Earlsferry Golf Club, was formed in 1832. However in order to provide permanent facilities a clubhouse or what was known as a golf house was built in 1875, and the opportunity was taken to use this name to form a new club in the same year, The Golf House Club. By 1896 more land had been leased enabling an 18 hole course to be laid out, which bar a few minor alterations is the course played today.
The original club The Elie and Earlsferry Golf Club was disbanded in 1912. Elie and Earlsferry Ladies Golf Club which shares the course and clubhouse was formed in 1884 and the Earlsferry Thistle Golf Club which also has playing rights was formed in 1875 the same year as the Golf House Club.
James Braid, five times winner of The Open, was born and grew up in the village of Earlsferry and was a member of the Thistle aged 15. He considered the 13th hole, nestling beneath the towering cliffs of Kincraig Point to be “the best hole in golf” and the 4th as needing “twa guid dunts wi’ a wood” to reach the green into the prevailing wind.
Move east to Links Road
Links Road was the boundary of the Town Muir, the historic term for the area of land lying to the north of Earlsferry High Street. This area saw gradual spread of new buildings in the late 19th century, many being built on the former pigsties located at the bottom of the various gardens extended from the High Street properties. This road contained two garages for cars, brakes, etc. to accommodate visitors. West End Garage (Mackie) now ‘Fairholme’ and East End Garage, up until recently used as a workshop for green keepers, who moved to a purpose build facility near the quarry.
Allan Place, formerly Cadgers Wynd, was named after the developer who built the terraced villas. Cadgers Wynd (also known as Way and Road) formed part of a road from the beach near to the East Harbour going straight over the golf course and over the hill to Muircambus where it is now part of the road to Balchrystie. It was also joined by the road from Boat Wynd described earlier.
Balchrystie was a religious establishment associated with the Chapel and it seems reasonable to assume this was the direct connecting road between these two places and perhaps the pilgrim’s road to St Andrews via Rires and Largoward. The Chapel lands extended to Kennoway and presumably there was a connecting road which became the Cadgers Road which was extended to Falkland so that fish could be delivered to the Royal Palace quickly.
Links Road east was home to several golf club manufacturers, e.g. Scott and Forrester (mentioned earlier). There was also a golf shop, now ‘Cleek Cottage’ a holiday home. Scott was on the site of the ‘Bouncy Castle’ and Forrester at Georgeville, whilst Crowley, inventor of the ‘Eureka’ club was at Ravenscraig next to the 19th Hole.
Finally the 19th Hole (Golf Tavern) is a long-establish pub which was altered internally recently but still has the bar and gantry dating to at least 1900. It contains many interesting features, including two very large and very old pub mirrors.
Ferry Road ends the tour.
(Updated 03/04/2015 by GJM)