THE town of Newburgh, on the Fifeshire margin of the Tay, consists chiefly of one long well-built street, about half-a-mile in length, a range of houses fronting the harbour, and some lanes leading down to the “shore.” To the south of the town, but within the parish of Abdie, a considerable number of houses have been recently erected, in consequence of the increased trade and manufactures of the town. In passing through Newburgh, the stranger will at once perceive, from the number of handsome dwelling-houses, and the appearance of the shops, that it is, for its extent, a wealthy and increasing town; and on inquiry will perhaps ascertain that its wealth and the enterprise of its inhabitants are even greater than its appearance would indicate. The situation of the town on the Tay is exceedingly pleasant, and from the gardens attached to the houses, and the numerous fruit-trees which they contain, few small towns have a more beautiful appearance, seen either from the river, in going up or down, or from any prominent part of the neighbouring coast. The only public buildings are the town-house, which is surmounted by a spire, and was erected in 1815; and the parish-church, which was erected in 1833. This latter elegant structure, designed by William Burn, Esq., of Edinburgh, is in the pointed style, and is a great ornament to the principal street, in the line of which it is placed. The view of the town given in our engraving is taken from the river.
Newburgh is a town of considerable antiquity, and owes its origin to the abbots of the monastery of Lindores in its neighbourhood. It was erected into a burgh-of-barony by Alexander III., in 1266, in favour of the abbot and convent, with all the usual privileges of burghs-of-barony. In the charter it is called “novus burgus juxta monasterium de Lindores;” it seems, therefore, probable that there was a more ancient burgh in the neighbourhood belonging to the abbey. On the 4th July, 1457, John, abbot of Lindores, granted to the burgesses of Newburgh the land of Vodriffe, and the hill to the south of it, for homage and common service used an wont, with forty bolls of barley. Besides this payment, “it appears,” says Dr. Anderson, “from the register of the abbey, that the inhabitants were bound to pay to the abbot a merk yearly for every brewhouse with an acre of land in the burgh.” In the year 1631, Charles I., by royal charter, erected the town into a royal burgh, with all the immunities and privileges usually conferred on such corporations; but it never exercised the right of sending a member to the Scottish parliament, and at the Union was not included in any of those sets of burghs on which was conferred the right of sending a representative to the British parliament. At the passing of the Reform bill, it might have been expected that the wealth and importance of Newburgh would have entitled it to be conjoined with some of the other burghs of Fife in the election of a member; but this appears to have been overlooked, and such of its inhabitants as possess the requisite franchise vote only for the county-member.
The linen manufacture is extensively carried on here, and has made great progress of late years. In the seventeenth century, Cunningham, in his essay on Cross Macduff, describes Newburgh as “a poor country village;” and till pretty far in the last century, although gradually improving, it might have still borne the same title. Until within a few years of the publication of the first Statistical Account (1793), the inhabitants of Newburgh had been chiefly employed in husbandry; but the linen trade had begun to occupy them to a certain extent, and when that account was published, the greater portion of the people were employed in the linen manufacture. At that time, however, there were only two persons who employed workmen; the greater part of the linen being woven by individual weavers on their own account, who sold their webs at Perth, Dundee, Cupar, Auchtermuchty, and Glasgow. The two persons above alluded to as employing weavers, were the only persons who had any direct communication at that time with the English market; but “no trader,” says the Rev. Mr. Stewart, “has yet appeared in Newburgh, whose extensive transactions in commerce would entitle him to the name and character of a merchant; though perhaps the time is not far distant when many will be found here of that respectable description.” “That time,” says the Rev. Dr. Anderson, in the last Statistical Account, “has arrived, and Newburgh can now boast of a considerable number of spirited individuals, who are engaged in extensive commercial speculations, and fully entitled, as others of their countrymen, to the honourable appellation of British merchants.”
The principal branch of manufacture is the weaving of what is called dowlas, for which a ready market is found in London, Leeds, and Manchester; but besides what is there sold, large quantities are exported to the West Indies and South America, directly by the merchants of Newburgh. The copartneries who carry on this manufacture, not only employ the weavers in Newburgh, but also considerable numbers in Cupar, Springfield, Pitlessie, Kettle, Markinch, Falkland, Freuchie, Dunshelt, Auchtermuchty, Strathmiglo, Abernethy, Aberargie, Kentillo, and other places. the merchants of Newburgh also carry on a very considerable trade in grain, which has been much increased and facilitated by the establishment of a weekly stock-market to which the farmers of the surrounding district bring in their grain. Here, not only the Newburgh merchants make their purchases, but merchants from Kirkcaldy and other places regularly attend. Barley for the distillers is the grain most inquired after; but wheat, oats, beans, and potatoes, also find a ready sale. The merchants of Newburgh ship annually about 20,000 quarters of grain, and about 6,000 bolls of potatoes. Malting was at one time carried on here to a considerable extent, but has been discontinued for some time past.