This is the Name of a parish, a village, a loch, and a mansion, and is said to mean "the cell, the burying-place, or place of worship, at the head or extremity of the fresh water lake," which answers very well at present; but will not suit, if the tradition is reliable, according to which the loch was only formed 260 years ago, by a violent wind filling the drain with sand which formerly carried the water to the sea. The tradition is borne out, so far, by the utter absence of any trace of the loch in Blaeu's map. Some maintain that Conquhar or Connachar was the name of the founder of the cell or church - hence Kilconquhar. Locally, it is known as Kenneuchar. Some of the old forms are : - Kilkonkath, Kilconkath, Kilcankath, Kylconchat, Kilconcar, Kylkonqwhar, and Kynconquhair.
The Parish is very large, although the barony of St Monans and the parish of Elie have been taken from it. From north to south it measures fully seven and a half miles, and is about two miles in breadth. It contains 7271 3/4 acres - including the loch, and 279 acres of foreshore. Turnips were first introduced into it about the middle of last century, by the Earl of Balcarres, but his example was little, if at all, followed for 15 years. In 1750, potatoes were scarcely known; but, by 1793, we are told "they now afford the poor half their sustenance, and generally appear at the tables of the rich; they are well known to be very proper food for horses and other animals, and are sometimes distilled into whisky." At this latter date there were in the parish, 239 horses, 624 cattle, 22 asses, 3 carriages, between 70 and 80 ploughs, and as many carts. At the middle of the century there was hardly a cart in it! Coals, victuals, and other articles were carried on horseback, while corn, hay, and manure were driven in wains dragged by two horses and two oxen.
How things had changed before the end of the century! Land had rapidly increased in value; some of it was actually let at from £2 to £3 an acre. Within a few years the rent of some farms had been doubled! Yet, the parish minister could write:- The farmers are intelligent sensible men in general, who, by means of their knowledge and industry, live comfortably, and several of them genteely, notwithstanding the high rents." It were needless to point out the changes and improvements that have been effected this century. Besides the burgh of Earls-Ferry, the parish contains the villages of Kilconquhar, Barnyards, Colinsburgh, and Largoward. In 1793, there were in the parish "between 600 and 700 sectaries, adhering chiefly to the Presbytery of Relief, with some BurgherSeceders and Independents." The "sectaries" also included a few of the "Episcopal profession." At that time, the population of the parish was about 2013, and in 1881 it had increased to 2053. The valuation of the parish, exclusive of Earls-Ferry, in the year 1855-6, was £15,039; and it went up very steadily until 1874-5, when it reached £18,753 5s 11d; but it has gradually decreased since then, until it now stands at £15,894 10s 3d.
The Villages of Kilconquhar and Barnyards lie on the margin of the loch, fully a mile to the north of Elie. If the village of Kilcouquhar is not an exceptional one now, it was so formerly in the opinion, at least, of the Rev. Alexander Small, the enthusiastic minister of the parish, who thus wrote in 1793:- "The tradesmen of the village of Kilconquhar make a fine appearance on his Majesty's birth-day; so many handsome genteel, well-dressed young men, can hardly be mustered in any other place of equal extent and population in the country: perfect order, decorum, and loyalty are manifest in every expression, motion and countenance, during the whole procession and festivity." In the early part of last century, there was a praying society here, which formed part of the association, that met at Radernie, under the title of "the Correspondence of the East of Fife." This association joined the Secession Church on its formation in 1733, and, in a few years later, was known as "the Associate Congregation of Ceres," that place having become the seat of the congregation. In 1795, those who lived in the neighbourhood of Kilconquhar built a church in Barnyards containing 270 sittings, and next year a minister was ordained over them. In 1858, the congregation was dissolved, but the church still remains - a conspicuous barn-like structure. In 1793, there were 258 inhabitants in Kilconquhar, and 198 in the adjoining village of Barnyards. In 1836, the population of the combined villages had increased to 558; but, in 1881, it had fallen to 350. There is an inn and also a post office in Kilconquhar. The Church, which is elegant and commodious, was built in 1820-21. It contains 1035 sittings, and has a handsome tower 80 feet high. In removing the previous building, the foundation of the oldest part of it was found to be "from 12 to 15 feet below the surface of the earth, although it was built on dry firm ground." There can be little doubt that the soil had accumulated through the enormous number of burials, for both inside and outside of the church, immense quantities of human bones were discovered as far down as the old foundations. There is no proof, however, that the mysterious and shadowy Druids had a place of worship and interment here, long before the introduction of Christianity, as has been fondly supposed.
But it is indisputable that there has been a church here for a very long time, and that before the Reformation it belonged to the Priory of North Berwick. In or about the year 1200, it was granted to the nuns of that place with its lands, titles, oblations, and all its righteous and just pertinents by Duncan, Earl of Fife. In the Preface to the Liber Ecclesie de Scon, it is said that the original charter is preserved at Auchinleck; but it afterwards passed into the hands of Cosmo Innes, who printed it in the Carte Monialium de North-Berwic. This charter proves that Spotswood's Account of Religious Houses appended to Keith's Catalogue of Bishops, is wrong in asserting that the nunnery of North Berwick was founded in 1216. Among the witnesses are William the Lion, and Roger, Bishop of St Andrews. William died in 1214, and Roger in 1202. There can be little doubt that the three remaining semicircular arches and their Norman pillars date from the days of Duncan. The church was dedicated by Bishop Bernham on the 4th Id. of July 1243. In 1463, the vicar agreed to pay to the convent of North Berwick twelve merks yearly out of his vicarage. The rental of the Priory from the teinds and lands of "Cilcunquhar Kirk," in or about 1550, amounted to £200 7s 4d. The details are extremely interesting for their local allusions, but are too long for quotation. One specimen only may he given:- "Item, set to Jhone Betoun the teynd chaiwis of Bacarras, for the sowm off xiij lib. vj s. viij d. And for the teynd of the peis and beynis of Culcunquhar the sovm of xx s."
The woefully corrupt state of the Popish Church, previous to the Reformation, is strikingly exemplified by the fact that one of the natural daughters of Alexander Wod, vicar of North Berwick, openly drew the teind of the sheaves of Kilconquhar. This is proved by the formal renunciation of her claim to the property and possession of them, in favour of Dame Margaret Howme, Prioress of the monastery of North Berwick, and patron of the church of Kilconquhar, on the 6th of November 1556. Wod may have been vicar here at an earlier date, and, as we shall yet see, he was vicar of Largo three years later. The first minister of Kilconquhar after the Reformation was Alexander Spens, who entered in 1560. His parishioners afterwards complained that he had not ministered the communion for six years. He was succeeded by George Leslie in 1567, with whom the congregation was displeased, because of his "travelling in diverse parts of the country at his pleasure," and for which offence he was smartly admonished.
From 1576 to 1593, the parishioners were blessed with the services of Andrew Moncreiff, who was translated to Crail. James Melville, in a note on the margin of his Diary, calls him "a godlie, fathfull, and upright brother;" and laments his death as "ominose to the Kirk of Scotland." In July 1594, John Rutherfurd was translated from the second charge of Cupar to this rural parish. Sixteen months afterwards there were grievous complaints concerning him. Some thought his doctrine was edifying, but most thought it was not plain enough for the people. "He never had ony examination nor particular catechising upon the grounds of religion. The Supper of the Lord was never set ministered sen his entry. He has no exercise on the Sabbath afternone, albeit the parish be populous, and their be a town wher the kirk standis, quhilk wald furnish sufficient auditorie, whereby it cumis to pass, that because of no exercise in the kirk, the Sabbothis afternone is often tymis spent be them of Kilconwhere in playing, drinking, and sic vther prophane exercises." He afterwards betook himself as a medical man to Dairsie. His successor, John Carmichael, who was ordained here in 1603, was a very different man. He was a staunch supporter of the Melvilles in opposing the crooked policy and nefarious schemes of James the Sixth, and suffered much for his principles. Livingstone, in his Memorable Characteristics, describes him as "a man godly, learned, and zealous in the cause of God." He died in Edinburgh in 1622.
Henry Rollock, who was a nephew of the first Principal of Edinburgh University, was ordained here in 1623, and remained for five years, when he was translated to Trinity College Church, Edinburgh. Dr Monro, who was settled here in 1628, might have been made Bishop of Argyll, "but had too few friends at Court." Being regarded as a spy on the Covenanters, he was pelted with stones in Edinburgh in 1638. He was succeeded by David Forret, who was confined to his parish after the Restoration because he would not conform to Episcopacy. Like Carmichael, he ended his pilgrimage in Edinburgh. William Hay next filled the pulpit, and after him Alexander Hay, who was deprived at the Revolution. In 1691, James Drummond, who had been a field-preacher during the persecution, was ordained here, and lived until 1699. His funeral expenses amounted to £200; doctor's fees, £80; and "drogs," £20. Among those who have ministered here in modern times, the names of Professors Ferrie, Milligan, and Flint are the most widely known. Dr Chalmers expressed the opinion, that Dr Ferrie was "the best minister in Fife and the worst Professor
The Burying-Ground contains some curious old tomb-stones, but the most remarkable is an effigy in armour, known as "Jock o' Bucklevie." At the best, this effigy has been a piece of rude work, and it has suffered much from the ravages of time, and the selfishness of the heritors who cast it out of the old church. It has been conjectured that Bucklevie, or Balclevie, was at one time
an independent estate, and that the effigy represents one of the lairds. The village of Bucklevie is noticed on page 28, second part.
The Loch, which is a beautiful sheet of water, lying close to the village and church, covers fully 96 acres. It abounds with water-plants of many kinds, and is said to swarm with pike and eel. It has long been a favourite haunt of swans, and its glassy surface is generally dotted with these majestic sailors. In Vedder's ballad on the Witch o' Pittenweem, it is said
"They tied her arms behind
An' twisted them with a pin;
And they dragged her to Kinnoquhar Loch
An' coupit the limmer in -
An' the swans flew screamin' to the hills,
Scared with the unhaly din."
But it will hardly do to reason from such a ballad, as Dr Ferrie has done, that "the loch appears to have had swans in it at that time." It would require to be proved first that the loch was there at that time.
Kiconquhar House is situated about half-a-mile to the north-east of the loch, and is the seat of the Earl of Lindsay. William Ballantine, a former "laird of Kilconquhar," is said to have been drowned while skating on the loch on the 28th of February 1593. It has been attempted to throw a tragic air over the house, by pointing out the stains of Lady Macduff's blood - shed by the ferocious and tyrannical Macbeth. Wyntoun certainly says that when the Thane fled from the Usurper, he passed,
"Till Kennawchy, quhare than hys
Dwelt in a bows mad off defens."
David Macpherson supposed that this house of defence might perhaps be "Maiden Castle, the ruins of which are on the south side of the present Kennoway. There are some remains of Roman antiquity in the neighbourhood, and it is very probable that Macduff's castle stood on the site of a Roman castellum." This, of course, is only a supposition of Macpherson's, and it is possible that Wyntoun may have meant Kilconquhar, and not Kennoway. If he had added the letter "r" to "Kennawchy," it would have been exactly Kennuchir as pronounced in the locality; and so there is at least room for a difference of opinion on this point, although in another book of his Cronykil, Wyntoun spells Kuconquhar - " Kylqwhonqwhare." But whether Macduff's house was at Kilconquhar or not, the story of the bloodstains must be discarded for two reasons. In the first place, Macduff's house of defence can only have been a rath of wood or wattles, on the top of a mound, strengthened by stakes and earth-works; and, in the second place, there is no evidence whatever to show that his wife was slain. Fordun does not even refer to her. But Wyntoun says:-
"Till Kennawchy Makbeth come sone, And felny gret thare wald have done, Bot this lady, wyth fayre trette, Hys purpos lettyde done to be."
So far from hinting that the Usurper "savagely slaughtered" the "wife and babes," the narrative of this old chronicler seems to imply that nothing of the kind took place. She prevented his severity, by her fair treaty! A romantic and true story is told about the widow of another laird, to wit,
Adam of Kilconquhar, who married Marjory, the heiress of Carrick, and so became Earl of Carrick in her right. In the Carte Monialium de North-Berwic, there is a resignation of the patronage of the church of Kilconquhar by this Adam, Lord of Kilconquhar and Earl of Carrick, dated the 10th kalend. of March 1266. He went out to Palestine as a crusader, and died at Acre in or about 1270. Two years later, when his young widow was out hunting, a handsome cavalier crossed her path. "When greetings and kisses had been given on each side," says Fordun, "as is the wont of courtiers, she besought him to stay and hunt, and walk about; and seeing that he was rather unwilling to do so, she, by force, so to speak, with her own hand, made him pull up, and brought the knight, although very loath, to her castle of Turnberry with her." In about a fortnight they were married, without consulting friends, well-wishers, or even the King. The latter was so enraged at this breach of feudal decorum, says E. W. Robertson, that he threatened to confiscate the earldom; but was so appeased by the entreaties of their mutual friends that he contented himself with levying a fine on the enamoured delinquents. The eldest son of this love-match was the great Robert the Bruce, who, in due time, became the Earl of Carrick. Wood, in his East Neuk of Fife, says, that the elder Bruce by this marriage became Laird of Kilconquhar. That, however, seems to be a very improbable supposition, though stated by him as a fact.
Balcarres House is situated fully a mile and a half north-west of the loch, and has been a seat of the Lindsays for three centuries, having been acquired, in 1587, by John Lindsay, who six years before had assumed the title of Lord Menmuir on being appointed a Lord of Session. Through the revenues of the rectories of Men-muir Lethnot, and Lochlee having been bestowed on him while a child, he had formerly been known as the Parson of Menmuir. This John Lindsay, who was the second son of the ninth Earl of Crawford, died in 1598, in his mansion of Balcarres, which he had only built in 1595. His death is said to have been one of the "notable effects" of "that maist conspicuus eclipse of the sunne," which six months before "strak all creatours with sic estonishment and feir, as tho the day of Judgment haid bein com." His second wife was "a termagant," and was imprisoned for her violence. His eldest son died three years after himself; but his second son, David, who is said to have had the best library of his time in Scotland, was created Lord Lindsay of Balcarres, by Charles the First, in 1633. David died at Balcarres in 1641, and was buried in the little Gothic chapel which he had built, and which now stands roofless near the road-side.
He was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander, who was such a staunch Covenanter that he sold his plate to pay the expenses of the General Assembly. He took a prominent part in the troublous times in which he lived, and saw many changes. In 1651 - eight days after the coronation of Charles the Second - he was created Earl of Balcarres. He died in exile at Breda in 1659, but was buried at Balcarres. By his wife, the beautiful Lady Anna Mackenzie, he had two sons and three daughters. Both sons, Charles and Colin, Succeeded him in the Earldom. His eldest daughter died a nun; and his second daughter, Sophia, was the cool and clever lady who helped her step-father, the ninth Earl of Argyle, to escape from Edinburgh Castle in the disguise of a page bearing her train. Charles, having died when he was only twelve years old, was succeeded by Colin, the third Earl, who was early married to a kinswoman of the Prince of Orange, who had fallen in love with him. Strange to say, he forgot the marriage day, and, after the bridal party had gone to the church, he was discovered in his night-gown and slippers enjoying his breakfast. He hurried to the church forgetting to take the ring with him, but this want was supplied by a friend, who gave him one which, without looking at, he placed on the finger of his bride. Noticing at the end of the ceremony that it was a mourning ring, with a death-head and crossed bones, she declared that she would die within a year, and the prediction was only too true.
His life was a very eventful and suffering one, for he had other three wives, and was an incorrigible Jacobite. He lay in a common jail; was confined in Edinburgh Castle, of which his father had been made hereditary governor; endured ten years' exile; and was confined to Balcarres, with a dragoon to attend him. When imprisoned, the ghost of his friend Claverhouse is said to have visited him the morning he was slain at Killiecrankie. This Colin was a lover of paintings and of books, and he it was who built the village of Colinsburgh. He died in 1722, and was succeeded by Alexander, one of his sons by his fourth marriage. This Earl Alexander, who was a daring soldier, died in 1736; and was succeeded by his brother James, a good sailor, bold soldier, and skilful farmer of turnip renown. Against his own better judgment, James had been prevailed on by his father to join the Pretender, and after the Rebellion was put down, he was hid in Newark Castle, under the leads, where he was fed by one of the Miss Anstruthers. He remained a bachelor until he was 58, when he married a young lady of 22, Miss Anne Dalrymple, whom he had met at the waters of Moffat. They had eight sons and three daughters, the first-born being the famous Lady Anne Lindsay, who wrote, in her twenty-first year, the touching ballad of Auld Robin Gray, to an old tune called "The Bridegroom greets whan the sun gangs doun," and which is now sung to a beautiful English air composed for it by the Rev. William Leeves of Wrington. Robin Gray was an old herd at Balcarres. The gifted authoress, who was married to Mr Barnard, died in 1825, in her 74th year. Her father died at Balcarres in 1768.
He was succeeded in the Earldom by his son Alexander, a gallant soldier and able statesman, who spent his latter years at Haigh Hall, near Wigan, the inheritance of his countess, and he also died in 1825. Although he had four sons and two daughters, he sold the lands of Balcarres, in 1789, to his brother, the Hon. Robert Lindsay, who had made a large fortune in India, and had previously bought Leuchars. Thus the title was separated from the estate. At his death in 1836, Robert Lindsay was succeeded by his son James, a Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, and formerly Member of Parliament for Fife, who built the present splendid modern mansion, in which the principal part of the old house was preserved intact. The Colonel was succeeded by his son, Sir Coutts Lindsay, who constructed the beautiful terraces and a new approach. He has just (April 1886) sold the estate to his nephew, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, the Premier Earl on the Union Roll of Scotland; so that, after an interval of almost a century, the title and estate are again united. The present owner's father, who married his second cousin, Margaret, the eldest sister of Sir Coutts, in 1846, was the eighth Earl of Balcarres and the twenty-fifth Earl of Crawford. He was the author of several valuable works; but is, perhaps, best known by his Lives of the Lindsays, which was published in three volumes in 1849, appropriately "addressed and inscribed to Sir Coutts and Margaret Lindsay," for whose "instruction and amusement" it was first written. The present Earl, who, like his father, is a devoted student, and has an unrivalled private library, is in the meantime engaged on a bibliographical work of great value.
"Off Ingland come the
Mare off thame I can nocht say."
The situation of Balcarres is naturally very fine, and art has done much to improve it. The policies are extremely beautiful, the gardens and terraces being unrivalled in Fife. The crag on the east, surmounted by a sham ruin, is a most striking object. Tennant speaks of - "Balcarras-craig, so rough, and hard, and dry."
But its appearance is now quite changed by the trees which adorn its steep and rugged sides. A magnificent view may be had from its summit. During the persecution, John Blackader preached at a conventicle on this crag. There was "a great confluence of people, and many of distinction." His text was the words of Job - " O that I knew where I might find Him," A countryman with a blue bonnet, who had been a notorious sinner, was converted; and Blackader was wont to say that such instances of the power and irresistible grace of God rejoiced his heart, and did him more good than twenty years' stipend. On the east side of the crag, there is a delightful den fully a mile in length. "The feathered tribes," says Mr Small, "seem proud of pouring forth their various melody in this pleasant retreat, not inferior perhaps to the temple of ancient Thessaly." Botanists and geologists will find additional attractions in it. Sir Walter Scott, who visited the neighbourhood of Balcarres in the summer of 1823, said:- "I never saw so many good houses of people of family and fortune nestled so close together as in that part of Fife."
Reres Castle stood about a mile to the north-west of Balcarres House; but it has entirely disappeared, though historic memories of no common kind were associated with it. In Robertson's Index to Records of' Charters mention is made of a charter by which Robert the Third (1390-1406) empowered Sir John de Wemys to build a castle with turrets on his lands of Reres. This is believed to be the
"Schyr Jhone of the Wemys
be rycht name,
Ane honest Knycht, and of gude fame,"
who induced Wyntoun to write his Cronykil; but if, as David Macpherson states, Wyntoun's patron died in 1482, it is somewhat difficult to believe that he could be the same Sir John who built the castle, even though he did die at "an advanced age." This family of Wemyss was descended from the good Macduff; and became the progenitors of the Earls of Wemyss. The castle seems to have been entire in 1793, for Mr Small thus speaks of it: - " The castle of Rires merits particular notice, situated on a high eminence, commanding a most extensive view, and intended, it would appear, for a place of defence; it is surrounded by a ditch 70 feet wide, whose depth cannot now be ascertained with accuracy, by reason of the alterations time has made on the ground: no planting remains about it, excepting one remarkable tree, called 'the Bicker tree,' measuring 14 feet round, and its branches extending about 75 feet; that part of the tree where the great branches separate from the trunk, affords a very agreeable seat, and shade in summer; and tradition says that one of the hospitable proprietors, after liberally entertaining his guests in the castle, was wont to conduct them to this tree, and give them an additional bicker there." A field near Reres farm is still known as the castle-park, and the knowe on which the castle was built is still pointed out. There are faint traces, too, of what seems to have been Small's enormous moat. But not a stone is visible, and the very stump of the bicker tree has also passed into the shades of oblivion.
In Robertson's Index, mention is made of another charter, in the reign of Robert the Third, founding a chapel at Reres; and a tree is still pointed out, which is said to mark the site of the old chapel. Reres, however, came into prominent notice long before the days of Sir John de Wemys. It was in connection with it that the peace was ruptured between Edward and Balliol. Duncan, Earl of Fife, was slain in 1288, and his uncle, Macduff, claimed the lands of Reres and Crey; but the Bishop of St Andrews, who was guardian of the earldom during the minority of Duncan's son, dispossessed Macduff, whom Wyntoun describes as the lord of Kilconquhar. Fordun avers that the dispute was about the lands of Kilconquhar; but Rymer's Foedera makes it manifest that this is a mistake. Macduff, failing to get satisfaction from his judges in Scotland, appealed to Edward, who was only too glad "to exercise his new rights of Lord Paramount." Those who wish to study the details of this interesting and important case cannot do better than consult the Annals of Lord Hailes.
Colinsburgh is a village and burgh of barony lying between Balcarres and Kilconquhar. Colin, the third Earl of Balcarres, built it, and it was named after him. It contains an inn, a branch of the Commercial Bank, a post and telegraph office, a U.P. Church, and a gas-work. A weekly market is held on Thursday, and an extensive agricultural show once a year. According to Mr Small, about a third of the parishioners were "sectaries," as he chose to call them. Many of these were so because Small's predecessor, John Chalmers, was inducted against their will in 1760. Though they immediately took steps to build a meeting-house in Colinsburgh, "they connected themselves with no religious body whatever, but set up a solitary church, resolved in some way or other to maintain their religious independence and privileges." As the neighbouring parish ministers would not baptise their children, without a recommendatory letter from Chalmers, they - applied to Gillespie of Dunfermline, who, however, to avoid the sin of schism, would not dispense ordinances to them until these were distinctly refused by the neighbouring ministers whom they recognised. "They thus became Dissenters by compulsion, and Relief Dissenters by choice."
Their first minister, Thomas Colier, was inducted on the 22nd of October 1761. On that day, he and Gillespie, and Boston of Jedburgh, with three elders, formed at Colinsburgh for the first time the Presbytery, which afterwards became the Relief Synod. Some interesting facts concerning the origin of the Colinsburgh congregation, and the formation of the first Relief Presbytery, will be found in Struther's History of the Rise of the Relief Church. A carefully compiled history of the congregation has also been published by the present pastor, the Rev. Robert Dick, who printed the book at his private press. In 1847, as is well known, the Relief Church was amalgamated with the United Secession, and thus formed the U.P. Church. The Colinsburgh congregation is worshipping in its third building, and is enjoying the ministrations of its twelfth pastor. - An old woman, who was born in the parish, and kept a public-house in this village for more than 70 years, died in 1829, aged a century and four months. "She was of a placid, cheerful disposition, was temperate, but said that she had never been particular as to what she ate or drank." The population in 1792, was about 357; in 1841, it was 482; and in 1881, it was 382.
Largoward is a mining village, of fully 300 inhabitants, in the northern part of the parish. Coals were driven from this district to Falkland for the use of James the Sixth. An excellent new pit has recently been opened. A century ago the "black diamonds" were sold here for 2s 2d a cart-load. The quod sacra parish of Largoward embraces portions of Kilconquhar, Largo, Cameron, and Carnbee. The church, which was built as a chapel of ease in 1835, is said to contain 400 sittings.
|To Chapter 14|