Culross, pp.279-281.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   CULROSS,1 a parish belonging to Perthshire, though locally disjoined from it by the intervention of Clackmannanshire, and politically conjoined with the shires of Clackmannan and Kinross. It forms nearly a square of 4 miles, containing 8,145 Scots acres; and is bounded on the west by Tulliallan; on the north-west by Clackmannan; on the north by Saline; on the east by Torryburn; and on the south by the frith of Forth. The barony of Kincardine was disjoined from this parish in 1672, and united to Tulliallan. The surface is level, if we except the abrupt ascent from the shore. The northern part of the parish consists of a large moor which is planted with wood; the southern is fertile, and particularly that part of it which is intersected by the Bluther, which, uniting with another streamlet called the Grange, falls into the sea at Newmill bridge, where it forms the eastern boundary of the parish. It abounds with freestone, ironstone, ochre, and a species of clay highly valued by potters and by glass-manufacturers. Coal, the chief mineral product, was wrought here at a very remote period by the monks of Culross abbey, to whom it belonged. Colville, commendator of the abbey in 1575, let the coal to Sir George Bruce of Blairhall, who resumed the working of it, and was the first in the island who drained coal-pits by means of machinery. Below the house of Castlehill, about a quarter of a mile west of Culross, are still some remains of the masonry employed in the erection of an Egyptian wheel – commonly called a chain and bucket – for draining the pits. Sir George carried on these coal-works with great spirit. A pit was sunk here, which entering from the land, was carried nearly a mile out into the sea: the coal being shipped by a moat within sea-mark, which had a subterranean communication with the pit. This pit was reckoned one of the greatest wonders in the island, by Taylor, an English traveller, who saw it in the beginning of the 17th century. There is a tradition, that James VI., revisiting his native country after his accession to the English crown, made an excursion into Fife; and, resolving to take the diversion of hunting in the neighbourhood of Dunfermline, invited the company then attending him to dine along with him at “a collier’s house,” meaning the Abbey-house of Culross, then belonging to Sir George Bruce. Being conducted, by his own desire, to see the works below ground, he was led insensibly by bis host and guide to the moat above-mentioned, it being then high water; and, having ascended from the pit, and seeing himself, without any previous intimation, surrounded by the sea, he was seized with an immediate apprehension of some plot against his liberty or life, and hastily called out, “Treason! Treason!” But his faithful guide quickly dispelled his fears, by assuring him that he was in perfect safety; and, pointing to an elegant pinnace that was made fast to the moat, desired to know whether it was most agreeable to his majesty to be carried ashore in it, or to return by the same way he came; upon which the king, preferring the shortest way back, was carried directly ashore, expressing much satisfaction at what he had seen. It is certain, that at that time the king was sumptuously entertained at the Abbey-house. Some of the glasses then made use of in the dessert are still preserved in the family; and the room where his majesty was entertained retains the name of ‘the King’s room.’ The great coal-pit of Culross was destroyed by a violent storm, which, in the month of March, 1625, washed away the stone bulwark, and drowned the coal. From this catastrophe the Culross collieries never recovered; and the stones of the rampart were afterwards sold to the magistrates of Edinburgh, who employed them in repairing the pier of Leith. – Valleyfield house, in the eastern part of the parish, is a splendid mansion; as is also the house of Blair. The house of Castlehill is built on the site of an ancient castle of the Macduffs, called Dunnemarle, where it is said Macbeth murdered the wife and two children of that nobleman. There are also the vestiges of two Danish camps in this parish. Population, in 1801, 1,502; in 1831, 1,488. Houses, in 1831, 263. Assessed property, in 1815, £5,497. Besides the burgh of Culross, the parish contains the villages of Valleyfield and Blairburn. – This parish is in the presbytery of Dunfermline, and synod of Fife. The charge is collegiate. Both charges are at present in the patronage of Lady Keith and Lady Baird alternately. Stipend of 1st charge, £156 6s. 10d., with glebe of the value of £20; of the 2d, £116 9s. 2d., with glebe of the value of £25. – Salary of parish-schoolmaster £34 4s. 4½d., with £28 10s. fees. There are two private schools. Besides what are properly called the parish-funds, there are the following hospitals and charitable foundations belonging to Culross, or in which it has an interest. In 1637, Thomas, Earl of Elgin, son of Lord Bruce of Kinloss, founded and endowed an hospital in the east part of the town of Culross, for the maintenance of 12 aged persons of the borough and parish of Culross, to be presented by him and his successors, and commissioners appointed for that effect, reserving power to him and his heirs to nominate others, though not of the parish of Culross. In 1639, George Bruce of Carnock founded and endowed an hospital in the west part of the town, for the maintenance of 6 decayed poor and aged women, widows of colliers or salters, some time workers in Culross or Kincardine; and, if these be deficient, to other decayed poor and aged widow-women in the parish of Culross. They had a house and garden for their accommodation, and 24 bolls of meal for their support. – Robert Bill, M.D., who was born at Culross, and died in London in 1738, mortified the sum of £600 sterling; the interest to be applied to the relief of 4 decayed tradesmen, and 2 decayed tradesmen’s widows; the education and putting to apprenticeship young persons of the borough of Culross; and the maintenance of a bursar at the university. The trustees are, the ministers, magistrates, dean-of-guild, and schoolmaster. 

   CULROSS, a royal burgh in the above parish, 4 miles east of Kincardine, 6 west of Dunfermline, and 22 west by north of Edinburgh, is a place of considerable antiquity. It was erected into a royal burgh by James VI. in 1588; and was governed by 3 bailies, a dean-of-guild, a treasurer, and 15 councillors; and is now governed by a chief-magistrate and 19 councillors. The revenue, in 1832, amounted to £118 11s. 5½d., chiefly arising from feu-duties and shore-dues; the expenditure was £93 9s. 10½d. Revenue, in 1838-9, £52 13s. About 80 acres of the common muir are feued to Sir James Gibson Craig, and upwards of 500 to the Dundonald family. The amount of cess annually raised is £7 5s. 2½d. The burgh joins with Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, South Queensferry, and Stirling, in returning a member to parliament. Parliamentary constituency, in 1839, 22. The town is built on the face of a brae; the principal street running north-east from the shore, and the other buildings being irregularly, scattered along the shore. It presents a pleasing appearance from the sea; but the houses, with a few exceptions, are of a mean appearance, though some of them appear to be of great antiquity. It formerly carried on a great trade in salt and coal; at present this trade is wholly annihilated. At one period there were above 50 salt-pans here, which made about 100 tons of salt weekly; and before the Union, there have been 170 foreign vessels in the roads at a time, loading coal and salt. About 60 years ago, the Earl of Dundonald erected very extensive works here for the extraction of tar, naphtha, and volatile salt, from coal; but, being an unproductive concern, it was given up, and the works are now in ruins. The remains of an old pier are visible; but the harbour would never have been a good one, and now a landing can only be effected here at high-water. The fishing on the coast has been nearly destroyed by the floating down of peat-moss. Culross, by virtue of two royal grants from James IV. and Charles II., enjoyed the exclusive privilege of making girdles, a kitchen utensil well-known in Scotland for baking cakes; but in 1727 the court of session found that no monopolies of this kind could be granted in prejudice of any other royal borough, and before this decision, and the more general use of ovens, besides the cheaper mode of casting girdles, the manufacture has long since ceased to be of any value.2 The chief occupation of the inhabitants now is the weaving of linen for the Dunfermline manufacturers, and of muslins for the Glasgow merchants. The population of the burgh is about 700. – At the north end of the town, on the Kincardine road, is the parish-church, which was formerly the chapel of the monastery. The chancel and tower are still entire, but the transept and body of the church are in ruins. Adjoining to the north wall of the church is an aisle, the burial-place of the Bruce family, in which is a fine white marble monument of Sir George Bruce, his lady, and several children. In this aisle was found enclosed in a silver box, the heart of Lord Kinloss, who was killed in a duel in Flanders by Sir Edward Sackville, as related in the Guardian, No. 133. – At a small distance to the eastward of the church stands the Abbey-house, built by Edward, Lord Kinloss, in 1590, and so called, perhaps, from its being built in the vicinity and of the materials of the ancient abbey. It is a very large building, in a delightful situation, and commanding an extensive prospect of the frith of Forth, Stirlingshire, and the Lothians. This house was nearly demolished after it became the property of Sir Robert Preston, but was afterwards rebuilt by him. – The abbey of Culross was founded in 1217, by Malcolm, Thane of Fife, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Serf. It lies at the head of the town, on a rising ground commanding a beautiful and extensive prospect of the frith. Considerable remains of it are yet to be seen. On the north side was the Abbey church, which had a tower or steeple in the middle, still entire, as is also a part of the church now made use of – as already noticed – for the parish-church. Grose has preserved a view of it. At the Reformation, the rental of this abbey amounted to £768 16s. 7d. Scotch, in money; 3 chalders, 3 bolls wheat; 14 chalders, 10 bolls, 2 firlots barley; 13 chalders, 12 bolls, 3 firlots, 3½ pecks oats; 1 chalder, 2 bolls salt; 10 wedders, 22 lambs, 7 dozen of capons, 28½ dozen poultry, 7½ stone of butter; 79½ stones of cheese, and 8 trusses of straw. At that time, there were nine monks of the Cistertian order in the convent. – At the east end of the town, on the sea-coast, the high road only intervening, are the remains of a chapel called St. Mungo’s chapel, of which tradition relates, that it was erected on or near the place where St. Mungo, or Kentigern, was born. He is said to have been the son of Eugenius III., King of the Scots, by a daughter of Lothus, King of the Picts. His mother Thametis finding herself with child, in apprehension of her father’s wrath, stole privately away; and, entering into a vessel which she found on the nearest coast, was, by the winds and waves, cast on land at the spot where the town of Culross is now situated, and there was delivered of a son. Leaving the child with a nurse, she returned home; and his parents being unknown, the boy was brought to St. Servanus, who baptized and brought him up. This Servanus, or St. Serf, lived at that time in an hermitage where the monastery was afterwards built. After various peregrinations, he departed this life at Culross, of which town he became the tutelar saint; and, in honour of him, an annual feast was formerly solemnized by the people here. This was attended with a variety of ceremonies, particularly parading the streets and environs of the town early in the morning, with large branches of birch and other trees, accompanied with drums and different musical instruments, and adorning the cross, and another public place called the Tron, with a profusion of flowers formed into different devices. The last abbot of this place was Alexander, son of Sir James Colville of Ochiltree. Sir James, brother to the said Alexander, was raised to the dignity of Lord Colville of Culross in 1604, at which time the king made him a grant of this dissolved abbey.

1  The name Culross is evidently of Gaelic origin, and is compounded of cul and ross; the first, signifying ‘back,’ or, more properly, what is expressed by clunis in Latin; and ross, ‘a peninsula.’ The peninsula here referred to being the whole district between the friths of Tay and Forth, and which formerly went under the general name of Ross. – Old Statistical Account. – The name is pronounced Cooross

2  The burgh of Culross had the custody of the coal-measures of Scotland, by act 1663, Charles II. c. 17. The chalder was of two kinds: the great chalder, which contained, as near as can be computed, 405 stone Dutch, and the small, which contained 162 stone, or two-fifths of the great chalder. 

2 thoughts on “Culross, pp.279-281.

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