THE manufacturing town of Dunfermline, in Fifeshire, owes its origin to the palace and the monastery which for ages graced its immediate vicinity, and for a long period was only a burgh-of-regality holding of the abbot and monks. In 1588 it was erected ito a royal burgh by James VI. At this time it could be little more than a village, as in 1600 it is said to have contained only about 1,000 inhabitants.
Dunfermline stands on an eminence of considerable extent, stretching from east to west, about 270 feet above the level of the frith of Forth, from which it is three miles distant, and having a pretty steep and uniform declivity to the south. It is about sixteen miles north-west from Edinburgh; six from North Queensferry; thirteen from Kirkcaldy; and thirty from Cupar. The prospect towards the south, south-east, and south-west is extensive and varied; extending over the frith of Forth to the opposite coasts of Lothian, with all their rich and varied scenery. The greater part of the town is situated on a rising ground having a pretty bold declivity towards the south; the ground, however, soon flattens, so that what is called the Nethertown stands on a plain. It commands an excellent view of Edinburgh, its castle, Arthur’s seat, and the elevated grounds in the vicinity of the metropolis, Binnylaw, the pleasure-grounds northward of Hopetoun, and the borough of Queensferry. The frith itself, from near the North Ferry up towards Culross, – sometimes concealed by an elevated shore, but here and there breaking forth in varied openings, – greatly enlivens and diversifies the beauty of the scene. In approaching the town from any direction it had a fine appearance, and its splendid church forms a most imposing object in the landscape. In the business-parts of the town the streets, though generally rather narrow, are well-built, and care has been taken to improve them. The greatest improvement, however, was that made by the late George Chalmers, Esq. of Pittencrieff, who threw a bridge 297 feet in length across the glen in which the Tower-burn flows, solely at his own expense. This bridge now forms one of the best streets in the town, having good shops and well-built houses upon it. The houses along the principal thoroughfares are generally well-built, and have the appearance of respectability and comfort; and within late years the town has been greatly enlarged by a handsome suburb on the west, and by numerous additions to the cross streets. Several neat villas and houses, surrounded by gardens and pleasure-grounds, occupy the outskirts of the town. The principal public buildings are the abbey-church, the town-hall, the guild-hall – an elegant building with a fine spire, partly fitted up as an inn, the academy – and several churches and chapels.
From the industry and enterprise of the inhabitants, and the advantage of a large supply of excellent coal in the immediate neighbourhood, it seems probable that the population and manufactures of Dunfermline will continue to increase, and the town to extend itself in proportion. The population appears to consist almost entirely of persons actively engaged in business. At the commencement even of the eighteenth century it was almost without trade; but in 1718 a small factory for the weaving of table-linen was established, and since that time the increase of its manufactures has been steadily progressive. In 1740 the Dunfermline society of weavers was instituted, and manufactures were increasing; but in 1745 it was found difficult to raise a sum of £80, the cess laid upon the town by Prince Charles. About 1749, the British Linen company – then just established – began to employ a number of looms in the town for weaving table-linen; but the weavers wrought chiefly at ticks and checks during the winter, and only in the summer at table-linen. In 1763, the table-linen of Dunfermline first found its way to the London market. From this latter period the manufactures and wealth of the town began more rapidly to increase; great improvements have been made on the mechanism of the looms; much skill and taste displayed in the devices introduced into the cloth; and a variety of new fabrics have been brought into the market through the enterprise of the manufactures of Dunfermline. The spinning of linen yarn has been extensively carried on since 1806, when it was first introduced; but table-linen is still the chief manufacture of the place.
From the time of the Reformation the nave of the old abbey-church, having been repaired, served as the parish-church of Dunfermline, while the choir remained a complete ruin. The necessity of additional church-accommodation having been long felt, a new church was begun in 1818, and opened for divine service in 1821. It is an elegant building, in the pointed style, and is surmounted by a fine tower, terminated by a balustrade, on which the name of ROBERT BRUCE, King of Scots, has been introduced in open letters.
The abbey-church was long the place of sepulture of our Scottish kings. Here Malcolm Canmore, and his queen Margaret, were interred, also their eldest son, Edward, who was killed in Jedwood forest, Edmond their second son, and another named Ethelrade, who was Earl of Fife. King Edgar, Alexander I. with Sibilla his queen, David I. with his two wives, Malcolm IV., and Alexander III., with his queen Margaret, and his son Alexander, were also here entombed. The great Bruce, too, the saviour of his country, was here laid at rest from his many toils, with his queen Elizabeth, and his daughter Christina, the widow of Sir Andrew Murray. The remains of these distinguished individuals were all interred in the choir, which forms the site of the present church. In digging for the foundation of the new parish-church in February 1818, the tomb of Robert Bruce was discovered, and his skeleton found wrapt in lead. On a subsequent day, the tomb was again opened in presence of the Barons of Exchequer, several literary gentlemen from Edinburgh, the magistrates of the town, and the neighbouring gentry. A cast of the skull having been taken, the stone-coffin in which the remains lay was filled with melted pitch; it was then built over with mason-work, and the pulpit of the new church now marks the spot where all that remains on earth of the patriotic warrior is deposited. Many of our nobles were also buried in this church; among whom may be mentioned, the great Macduff; Constantine, Earl of Fife; William Ramsay, Earl of Fife; the Earl and Countess of Athole, in the reign of William the Lyon; Randolph, Earl of Moray, the compatriot of Bruce; and Robert, Duke of Albany, governor of Scotland. Many churchmen also of power and influence were interred here.
Among the most eminent Scotsmen of the 15th century was ‘Maister Robert Henryson, scholmaister of Dunfermling.’ He was a poet of considerable fancy, and successfully attempted various styles of composition. His longest poem, – ‘The Testament of the Fair Cresseide,’ – “contains,” says Dr. Irving, “many strokes of poetical description, which a writer of more than ordinary genius could only have produced.” He wrote a number of fables in verse, which convey useful lessons, but are rather prolix: of these, probably the best is ‘The Borrowstoun Mous, and the Landwart Mous.’ His pastoral ‘Robin and Makyne’ displays a love of nature and great sweetness of versification; and his ‘Abbey Walk’ is full of serious reflections. The learned civilian, Edward Henryson, LL.D., seems to have been the grandson of the poet. George Durie, abbot of Dunfermline, was made an extraordinary lord of session in July 1541, and keeper of the privy-seal in 1554. He died in 1561. Robert Pitcairn, abbot of Dunfermline, was secretary-of-state in 1570, which office he held during the regencies of Lennox, Mar, and Morton, and afterwards under James VI. Two of the family of Seaton, Earls of Dunfermline, were extraordinary lords-of-session; and three of the abbots of Dunfermline held the office of lord-high-chancellor of Scotland. In 1839, the Right Hon. Mr. Abercrombie, late speaker of the house of commons, was called to the house of peers, by the title of Baron Dunfermline of Dunfermline, – a title which had become extinct in 1694. Sir Henry Wardlaw of Pitreavie founded an hospital at Mastertown. His lady, Elizabeth Halket, of the family of Pitferrane, is now admitted to have been the authoress of the fine ballad of Hardyknute, which so long puzzled the antiquaries of the day, and to which Pinkerton wrote a second part, which gave rise also to much controversy. She is buried in a vault on the outside of the church of Dunfermline.