THE royal burgh of Crail, in the south-east of Fifeshire, is a very ancient town. So early as the ninth century, it is said to have maintained commercial intercourse with the Netherlands. In the castle of Crail – which stood on a rock overhanging the harbour, to the west of the town, but which is now entirely demolished, with the exception of a small portion of wall only a few feet in height – David I., and some others of our Scottish kings, resided. It is highly probable, therefore, that the town was first erected into a royal burgh by that monarch, or by his grandson, Malcolm IV.
Crail was, at the commencement of the last century, the grand rendezvous of the East coast herring-fishery; and at that time, besides a great number of boats fitted-out and manned by the fishermen and others belonging to the town, several hundred fishing-boats frequently assembled here from different parts of the country, particularly from Angus, Mearns, and Aberdeenshire. Immense quantities of herrings were at this period cured here for home-consumption and for exportation; but about the middle of the last century, the fishery began gradually to decline, and has now almost entirely disappeared from the place as compared with its former importance.
The church of Crail, though its beauty has been marred by modern improvements, is still a fine specimen of Pointed architecture. It consists of a central nave with aisles, divided by two rows of pillars, one on each side; and an apsis at the east end which formed the choir. The pillars are Norman, but the arches are pointed; so that it was probably erected at the time that the Early English style began to supersede the Norman. Here, in consequence of a sermon preached by Knox, the mob in Fife, imitating the men of Perth, began that system of demolition which shortly after led to the destruction of the magnificent cathedral of St. Andrews.
Crail, and ‘the East Neuk o’ Fife,’ are proverbial in Scottish song; and have also had due honour done them in Drummond’s ‘Polemiddinia.’