THE parish of Auchtermuchty – better known than it would otherwise have been from its being the scene of the incidents detailed in that inimitably humorous Scottish poem, ‘The Wife of Auchtermuchty,’ first published by Pinkerton – lies on the north bank of the Eden, occupying a part of ‘the How of Fife,’ and stretching towards the north, over a portion of the range of the Ochils.
The lands of Auchtermuchty proper – from which the name of the parish appears to have been derived – belonged originally to the Earls of Fife, and formed part of the estate conveyed, with the earldom, to Robert Stuart, son of Robert II., afterwards Duke of Albany; and which, on the forfeiture of his son, came, with the other estates, to the Crown. James V., during his minority, with consent of the regent, John, Duke of Albany, granted a charter, of date 25th May, 1517, by which he ‘gave, granted, and in feu-farm heritably let, all and haill his foresaid lands of Auchtermuchty, &c., to his tenants, inhabitants of the same, and to every one of them for their own part, according to his new rental of feu and assedation, &c.; as also for the increase of buildings, he made, created, and infefted all and haill, &c., into a free burgh royal, to be called in all time coming the burgh of Auchtermuchty.’
The burgh is situated near the middle of the parish, where the ground first begins to swell towards the Ochils, at the distance of about a mile from the Eden. A small burn, which takes it rise partly from Lochmill in the parish of Abdie, and partly on the north-western corner of the parish, and which may easily be imagined to have been the scene of a portion of the disasters which befell ‘the Gudeman of Auchtermuchty,’ flows through the burgh toward the Eden, which it joins near Kilwhis. The public road from Cupar to Kinross, and that from Kirkcaldy to Newburgh, both pass through the burgh, crossing each other at right angles, and forming two of its streets. A third street, in which is the Town-house, runs parallel to the Newburgh road; and besides these there are a great many narrow and irregular lanes intersecting and connecting the principal streets in different directions. The town has altogether a confused and irregular appearance, but it contains some well-built houses, which show that it must have formerly possessed a greater number of wealthy inhabitants than it probably now does; while the number and respectability of its drapers’ and grocers’ shops gives it a more lively appearance than it would otherwise have, and indicates that it is still the centre of an important district of the country. The view of Auchtermuchty given in the engraving is taken from the high ground to the north, where the New burgh road descends towards the plain, not far from Messrs. Crambie’s saw-mill. The two most conspicuous buildings seen in the town are the Church, which appears between the two trees rising on the fore-ground; and the Town-house, with its tower and spire, to the right of the tree nearest the point of view. The middle distance of the picture is occupied by a portion of ‘the How of Fife,’ through which flows the river Eden; and in the centre of the extreme distance is the East Lomond Hill, with the town and palace of Falkland indistinctly seen at its base.
The Town-hall is an old building, having the hall on the upper floor, and two shops on the ground-floor. It is ornamented by a lofty tower and spire, containing a bell, which is one of the finest toned in Fife. The Church stands on a rising ground within the burgh. It is a plain structure, erected in 1780, with an aisle recently erected at the back.
The population of the parish in 1841, was 3,356; and the number of inhabited houses, 817. The population of the town itself was 2,394; houses, 569. Weaving of linen and cotton cloth, and woollen shawls, is the chief employment of the greater portion of the working population of this parish. The greater part, however, are engaged in weaving linen for the manufacturers of Newburgh and Dunfermline; and a few in weaving cotton cloth for the Glasgow manufacturers.
Besides the burgh and its suburbs, there is a large village called Dunshelt, or Daneshalt, at the south-eastern extremity of the parish, on the banks of the Eden, the population of which in 1841, amounted to 646. It is built on feus from Bruce of Falkland, and is mostly inhabited by weavers. Near this village there is an ancient circular fort obviously of British origin. In the neighbourhood it is supposed to have been constructed by the Danes, who having made an incursion into the country, and being defeated on Falkland-muir, fled hither, and constructed this fort to protect themselves. It is more probable, however, that the work was constructed by the Celtic people of the country. Immediately south of the burgh, and between it and the Eden, is the Castle of Myres, the property of Bruce of Falkland. It is a fine old building, and still habitable.
In the upper part of the burgh there is an old house in which it is popularly believed the great Macduff, Maormor of Fife, resided; but the house, though ancient, has obviously been built some hundreds of years after the death of that great warrior.