Vintage news reporting often includes stories that no one would bother documenting nowadays. These charming stories - of unusually large fish, swarming flies, flowers blooming, birds nesting and the like - show how people were very in tune with their natural surroundings and how life's tiny details were considered 'news'. Here are a few more examples of small-time tales from a bygone age...
A summer hail shower made the news in 1875 (3 July Fifeshire Advertiser).
Wood pigeons found themselves in the firing line in 1870 (22 September Fife Herald above).
An unusual apple was newsworthy on 31 August 1887 (Fife Herald).
A tree root was chosen as a hiding place for counterfeit coins in 1875 (30 December Fife Herald).
The Fife Free Press of 1 June 1935 above harked back to "old world" Largo.
Born on 19 November 1857 in Edinburgh to ironmonger James Douglas and his wife Catherine Watson, George Watson Douglas had the original butcher shop at the Leven Road row of shops in Lundin Links. The above photograph shows the shop a few years after it first opened (circa 1899) when George was in his forties and had already had a butcher shop at Forth Street in Leven for some time. The image shows a very traditional butcher's window display, typical of the days before refrigeration and pre-packaged food. Much of the produce would have been locally sourced - some perhaps arriving at this butcher shop from nearby farms via the slaughter house on Hillhead Lane.
Half carcasses would hang from large metal hooks suspended from the ceiling. The shop's internal walls were lined with tiles. Fresh sawdust would have been spread daily on the floor. Salt and spices would have been used to help preserve certain meats. The advert below reveals that the specialities of the business (and presumably what many locals and visitors were eating back then) were "salted and spiced rounds, pickled tongues, sausages and Douglas's far-famed corned beef".
Many people would shop on a daily basis for meat. The advert further below mentions that "orders called for daily and promptly delivered by van". This shop was built with both a cellar and an outside store (across the rear courtyard) - both of which offered some cooler storage space. The 'back shop' just behind the shop space would be used for preparation and had a large sink on the back wall. The gate to the right of the shop (out of shot) would have been in constant use with incoming and outgoing produce. Although George Douglas died aged only 45 in 1903, the family business continued here in Lundin Links for some time and for even longer in Leven.
James Curr was born at Cupar in 1851 - the eldest son of Thomas Curr (cabinet maker and undertaker) and Christian Simpson. Educated at Madras Academy, James began his career with Thomas Davidson (solicitor and Procurator Fiscal for the Burgh of Cupar). He went on to specialise in estate management (like his uncle before him) and from around 1870 he gained experience on estates around Scotland.
Late in 1882 the Fife Herald reported that James had been appointed agent to Baroness Willoughby-de-Eresby and the Right Hon. Lord Aveland, covering their estates in Lincoln and Rutland. The newspaper noted that his "burly form and cheery voice will be missed in many a Parish around Scotland". On 23rd April 1885, James married Margaret Ligertwood (eldest daughter of another factor - Alexander Ligertwood) at Mount Hamilton, Ayr. Around that time, James relocated to Scotland with his wife - first to Kirkcudbrightshire, where his children Thomas and Margaret were born. Then, around 1890, he became factor on the St Fort estate in Forgan, Fife. His son Christopher was born there. Over these years, James Curr became an acknowledged authority on forestry, dairying and farm buildings.
In 1902, James took up residence in Largo, acting as factor for the estates of Lathrisk, Largo and Monzie for Mr C.J.M. Makgill-Crichton. The following year, the Currs took up residence at 'Homelands' in Lundin LInks (pictured above) and remained there for around four years. Also a member of Fife County Council and a Justice of the Peace, Curr was much involved in local affairs. He was instrumental in the controversial division of Largo Parish into three wards - Kirkton, Lower Largo and Lundin Links in 1904. The newspaper clippings below show that there was considerable resistance to sub-dividing a parish that had been a single unit "for a thousand years".
The following year, the 'Fife News Illustrated Almanac for 1905' featured the photograph of James Curr shown above. Alongside this image was the description that James was "full of energy and enthusiasm, he hides beneath his handsome physical proportions a warm heart that prompts to many a kindly deed the world knows not of. His only relaxation is sailing or fishing in Largo Bay, where with a few friends on board his smart little yawl on a summer evening he may be seen at his best".
However, in 1907 the health of James broke down. He removed to Glasgow - presumably to access suitable medical care. James died from a kidney tumour at Bath Street in Glasgow on 28 December 1908. The 29 Dec 1908 Dundee Evening Telegraph, noted that "he has been cut down in the prime of life by an insidious illness that baffled all medical skill".
The previous post covered Lundin Mill Farm, focusing on the former mill and grain store building. The postcard view above shows a different part of the farm, looking north east across some of its arable fields (the mill building being off to the right). Wheat, oats, barley and potatoes were some of the crops grown over the years, while pigs and cattle were also kept at various times. Part of the Largo Estate, the extent of Lundin Mill Farm is shown below in the blue-grey colour (extract from the estate map of 1866).
The farm and mill were tenanted for many decades and across multiple generations by the Whites. In the mid-18th century it appears that James White and Ann Davidson were at the farm. Next, their son John White and his wife Ann Lethangie had the farm from the late 18th century until c1830. Their son James and his wife Agnes White (who were cousins) followed until James's death in 1869. Their son John White (or Whyte) and wife Eliza Langlands continued the tenancy (as well as that of Largo Home Farm) until John retired due to ill health in 1896.
In fact, at the time of the retirement 'displenishing sale' it was noted that White and his predecessors had farmed these lands for over two hundred years (see 30 Oct 1896 Courier piece below). John White (the last in the line of the White tenants) was also a member of Largo School Board and a Justice of the Peace. He died in Cupar in June 1915. He married fairly late in life and had no children to continue the family farming tradition.
Mr George Bell secured the tenancy of both Lundin Mill Farm and Largo Home Farm following John White's retirement late in 1896. He already farmed at Downfield, Kingskettle. When he died in 1925 at the age of 64, George Bell (pictured below) had farmed Lundin Mill for almost thirty years. He had also been a member of the Largo School Board and a keen member of Largo Curling Club. He was also involved in local golf and was in attendance at the opening of the Lundin Ladies Golf Course in 1910 - see here for images from that event (perhaps he was number 6 or 10 in the photograph of attendees?).
The tenancy next went to George Penrice (who was already farming at Pitcruvie) later in 1925. When he died in 1940, the article below featured in the 9 October Dundee Courier. The farm was continued for some time by his sons. The last tenant farmer at Lundin Mill was Robert (Bob) Ednie who retired from the farm in the early 1990s.
Many will remember the derelict building pictured above which sat on the north side of the Keil Burn at the west side of Largo Road, down in the dip and opposite the former Keilside Bakery. This was demolished in 1995 ahead of the Bett Homes development at Penrice Park. A further development of flats followed a few years later by Thomas Mitchell builders (the later development being more closely aligned to the footprint of the old farm steading). At the time of the demolition (February 1995) archaeological survey work was carried out (just ahead of the digging of drainage and sewage trenches to serve the new housing). Historic Environment Scotland records state that:
"Archaeological watching brief in the course of the demolition programme at the farm steading and mill complex of Lundin Mill Farm, Lundin Links, Fife by GUARD, revealed that the mill with its associated kiln had been the original building on site, followed in the early 19th century by the farm outbuildings. There was no evidence to suggest the existence of earlier buildings at the location, although cartographic evidence indicates that the site was being utilised for milling of grain from at least 1775."
It would seem likely that the building dates to mid-eighteenth century but was renovated in the early nineteenth century around the time that Earnest Cottage was built. Earnest Cottage would appear to have been the farm house before the construction of the newer Lundin Mill Farm House circa 1870s.
John Band has produced a series of drawings to provide an insight to what went on within the building when it was a working mill. To set the scene, please click here to see location maps and some background on 'thirlage' and on water rights. Also, see below for the overall building layout as surveyed in 1995 (source: Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division).
For further context, a brief history of milling is below, along with a floor plan of what was the lower ground floor of the mill end of the building. To view this as a PDF, please click here. Note that the building was constructed by partially cutting into the natural slope of the land, such that access on the south side (closest to the burn) was made at a lower level than on the north side of the building, where access was from the upper floor.
The annotated drawing below, shows the upper ground floor plan of the mill end of the building (immediately above the lower ground floor layout given above). To view that as a PDF please click here.
Details are also given below of the dam, weir and lade that served the mill. See inset for larger version of the drawing of the dam across the Keil Burn and the lade that ran alongside.
Above are two images from the Canmore collection, showing the building's north elevation (upper photograph) and south elevation (lower photograph). The former having the appearance of a single storey structure while the latter shows two stories.
What follows below are section drawings, showing the upper and lower ground floors together and featuring elements such as the waterwheel, hoppers, kiln and hoist. A PDF of this drawing is available here.
Finally, below are details about millstones and how they were dressed. Also included are a ranged of phrases still used today that derive from the milling process and the days when this was far more central to everyone's daily life. A PDF-version is available here. At the foot of the post is another Canmore photograph - this time showing the west elevation (with the four storey 'Millburnlea' on Largo Road visible on the far right in the distance).
With many thanks to John Band for the detailed research and illustrations.
Back in the mid-nineteenth century, when golf was growing in popularity and new clubs were being established in the area, one man's name seemed to crop up in the context of several local clubs. He was Nicol Baird Malcolm - a farmer from Dubbieside (Innerleven). The photograph of him above was taken by John Patrick and was published in the 1900 Fife News Almanac, some years after his death. Even many years after his death, he gets a special mention as the "ever-famous Nicol Malcolm" in the 22 July 1899 St Andrews Citizen (see below), in the context of the role he played helping in the setting up of Lundin Golf Club, back in 1868. His life story is an interesting one and is interwoven with other local characters.
Nicol's parents, John Malcolm and Janet Glass were married on 2 February 1793 in Edinburgh. John was a gardener at Broughton Loan (an area north east of Edinburgh city centre which was then filled with plant nurseries). Janet was the daughter of a shoemaker and lived in nearby Canonmills. Their daughters Christina and Isabella were born circa 1793 and 1799 respectively. By the time their son Nicol was born, on 24 May 1801, the family were living in the Parish of Scoonie. John Malcolm continued to work as a gardener around the Leven area into the 1840s.
In 1819 Nicol’s elder sister Christina married Alexander Patrick, a linen weaver of Scoonie Parish. They had a son – John Patrick. John eventually became a cabinet maker in Leven and married Agnes Murdoch Patrick c1840. They had at least eight children. On 9 November 1866, John Patrick (who was Nicol Malcolm's nephew) died in a cholera outbreak (see Dundee Advertiser of 10 Nov 1866 below) but before that he had diversified into golf club making. John’s business (and the family home) was at 3-4 Branch Street at Leven’s Shorehead. It was the low building shown on the left in the sepia image below. The building still exists today as a take-away pizza outlet.
John’s eldest son Alex Patrick had joined him in the club making business, before the fatal cholera outbreak, and he went on to continue making golf clubs for the rest of his working life. Alex had shops in Leven and at Lundin Golf Club. Alex’s younger brother Nicol (named after his great-uncle) had become an apprentice golf club maker by the age of 17 in 1871. Youngest brother David Murdoch Patrick also eventually became a golf club maker. He was based in Lundin Links (after a spell as greenkeeper at Royal Wimbledon Golf Club) and a had a house and workshop built on Golf Road around 1896.
So, while Nicol Malcolm appears to have had no family of his own, he had many great nieces and nephews – three of whom were golf club makers. He also seems to have been connected to another John Patrick - the pioneering local photographer - who had a studio in Leven, before he moved to Kirkcaldy and then Edinburgh. Nicol Malcolm married later in life, aged 43. He married widow Ann Christian Gray (nee Wetherspoon) on 2 August 1844. Ann was recorded at Nicol’s Dubbieside residence in the 1841 census – three years before their marriage. Her first husband – John Gray the Cupar ironmonger – had died aged 39 in 1837.
Nicol was a farmer at Dubbieside and had a dairy there. At the time of the 1851 census Nicol’s widowed sister Christina had joined Nicol and Ann (acting as house keeper). In 1861 the three – Nicol (still a farmer), Ann and Christina were still residing together at an address described as ‘Innerleven Cottage’. And in 1871, the household comprised: Nicol ('farmer employing 1 man and 1 boy'), Ann, Ann’s son from her first marriage (William Gray ironmonger) and a servant (Anne Dryburgh). By 1881, Nicol has passed away but Ann continued to reside at ‘Dubbyside Street’ – now with a niece and nephew (Anne and Edward Gray) and servant Mary Brown. Ann was described as an ‘annuitant’.
The valuation rolls also provide an insight into Nicol’s interests. In the 1855 valuation roll he is named against 4 subjects: he is proprietor occupier of a house and garden in Dubbieside and proprietor of another house and garden. In addition he is tenant occupier of both a land holding and the ‘Links of Methil’ – the land owner being James Hay Erskine Wemyss. By 1865, the situation was much the same with Nicol owning two houses with gardens plus a stable and byre – as well as being tenant of ‘Innerleven Acres and Links of Methil’. Golf had been played on these links for a long time. As tenant of the links, and an enthusiast of the game, it is not surprising that one of the nine holes of the golf course at Dubbieside was named ‘Nicol Malcolm’. He was also a member of Leven Curling Club and he hosted other sporting events on Methil links such as 'gymnastic games' in 1874.
In the 1875 census, Nicol Malcolm was still proprietor of the two houses but no longer the tenant of the acres and links – these were now rented to John Lawrie, farmer from Kirkland. Now aged 74, it seems that Nicol had retired. The newspaper archives are full of references to Nicol Malcolm – mainly in the context of golf. He was a member of at least three local clubs – all founded during his adult lifetime: Innerleven (Dubbieside) (1820), Leven Golfing Club (1846) and Wemyss Castle (1857) plus he had a hand in the setting up of Lundin Golf Club in 1868. As well as mentions in connection with agriculture and cattle markets, Nicol was noted in the press for his gardening skills (clearly taking after his father).
Nicol died on 1st March 1881 aged 79 years, having had a full and active life. His wife Ann passed in 1886 in Edinburgh aged 76. However, the legend of Nicol Malcolm lived on after his death - for example in the clip from the 16 Sep 1899 St Andrews Citizen below - which recalls the time that he challenged a man to a round of golf playing with a bottle rather than a club! If you know more about Nicol, please comment.
According to A.S. Cunningham's 1907 book 'Upper Largo, Lower Largo, Lundin Links and Newburn', New Gilston was built around 1700 and owes its existence to coal mining. Its 'coal works' are mentioned in the 1773 advert in the Caledonian Mercury (below) advertising the lands for sale. Historic Environment Scotland consider it to be a 'planned village', The 1854 map below clearly shows its linear layout and fairly uniform plots. It also shows that some of buildings are ruinous by this time. Clearly marked on the map are the village smithy and the school. There is also a coal pit situated to the north of village (there were few others not much further away). And there were many quarries in the area. The 1845 Statistical Account on Scotland specifically mentions that "to the north of New Gilston a singular mass of rum coal is found, under the mass of overlying trap to the south. It is an inflammable bituminous shale, and is extensively used for lime burning. It is known to be eighty feet deep, and is wrought in an open quarry."
Situated to the north of Largo Law, New Gilston is credited as being the highest inhabited place in Fife. It is well-documented that the name of the village has fluctuated over the years - for example:
The 1841 census data for the village shows that the majority of adult males in the village were employed either as agricultural labourers or as coal miners (with a small number of hand loom weavers and carters and a couple of blacksmiths and stone masons). At that time the village had had a school for a number of years - a subscription school having begun in 1832 (see advert below from the 1 November Fife Herald that year.
Some of the buildings shown in the circa 1900 postcard above still survive to this day. But many are long gone, replaced by more modern homes. One of the most dramatic events in the history of New Gilston took place in 1953 - more on that in the next post.
Back in August 1918, the flax harvest was underway in Fife. Due to the First World War, many women were involved in the harvest (including Evelyn Baxter and Leonora Rintoul). The small piece above from the 12 August Dundee Evening Telegraph paints a lovely picture of one particular gang of harvesters.
Despite the hard labour involved, the group seem to have remained upbeat and able to blend in with those who had spent their day in more leisurely fashion. The flax flowers mentioned are the five petal light blue flowers shown. "Stookies" or "stooks" of flax (or other crops) are bundles or sheaves. The flax was stooked by hand, as seen in the photograph below, and left standing on end to dry out. When first harvested they are still green hence "wee green stookies".
Image from First World War in Yeovil - http://www.yeovilhistory.info/bunford-flax.htm
Tomorrow (28 April 2018) will be the Balcormo Races (Fife Point-to-Point). Billed as the UK's most northerly Point-to-Point meeting, the event has been held at Balcormo Mains (a couple of miles north of Lundin Links) since 1910. However, this year is actually the 126th anniversary of these races. Originally the races took place at Bruntshiels Farm near Ceres, over a three mile course, with twenty jumps over water, dykes and ditches, as well as other "obstacles of a rough hunting country". The event was inaugurated by Captain Middleton and other members of the Fife Hunt in 1892. It got off to a difficult start - the first date fixed (10 March) had to be abandoned late in the day due to frost and snow. Many visitors travelling long distances had made it all the way to the field before learning of the postponement.
When the inaugural event did come off, on 19 March, the St Andrews Citizen of a week later reported that:
"spectators came trooping by rail, brake, waggonette, landan, phaeton, chapel-cart and every conceivable conveyance - the endless cavalcade on the main highways to Bruntshiels famous grass parks presenting between one and two o'clock, a most varied and animated picture....every horse available for hiring purposes was engaged, and many visitors who came to town by subsequent trains were obliged to walk to the rendezvous on foot, a distance of seven miles - most of which is uphill."
Once again the weather would not be kind to the 2,000 attendees:
"As the place of meeting drew in sight, a cold wind blowing steadily from the east and driving clouds of mist before it, did not augur well for the comfort or pleasure of the onlookers....The east wind, instead of abating, grew keener and colder as the afternoon wore on, and the surroundings ultimately submerged in a sea of mist."
In spite of this challenging start, the event returned the following year and this time "the weather was delightful for the season" according to the Courier of 31 March. The event continued at Bruntshiels annually until 1897, before lapsing for eight years, then returning 1905 to 1909. In 1910 the move to Balcormo was made - see St Andrews Citizen piece of 26 February 1910 below and subsequent advert from the 5 March Scotsman.
The Balcormo event took place again in 1911 then went into abeyance until 1923 (see Courier piece below from 16 April 1923).
Now the races entered their heyday, as the photo collages below show. Over the years cars and buses replaced horses and brakes, crowds rose to as much as 10,000 and, of course, the weather continued to vary considerably from year to year.
[Sources: St Andrews Citizen, Dundee Courier, Dundee Evening Telegraph]
The reporting of local news has evolved greatly over the decades. As the sample of articles from Largo and Lundin Mill below illustrates, there was once a much greater emphasis on the natural environment and our use of it. I find it quite charming that clouds of flies, swarms of bees, nest building and potato shaws were all considered newsworthy....and all very eloquently reported too.
Sources (from top): Fifeshire Advertiser 27 June 1874 and 1 Oct 1870; Fife Herald 13 April 1865; Fifeshire Advertiser 24 Feb 1872; Fife Herald 22 Aug 1867; Fifeshire Advertiser 9 April 1870; Fife Free Press 31 June 1936
This blog is about the history of the villages of Lundin Links, Lower Largo and Upper Largo in Fife, Scotland. Comments and contributions from readers are very welcome!
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