The Parish of Largo is bounded on the east by the parishes of Newburn and Kilconquhar, on the north by that of Ceres, on the west by that of Scoonie, and on the south by Largo Bay. From east to west, its greatest breadth is four miles, and from north to south four and a half. It contains 7585½ acres, including 200 of fore-shore. There are four villages in the parish, three of which are near the Forth, and one is far inland, to wit, Kirkton of Largo, or Upper Largo, Lower Largo, Lundin Mill, and Back-muir of Gilston. Mr Oliphant, in describing it in the old Statistical Account, in 1791, says:- "To the traveller, the south part of this parish must afford a picturesque and delightful scene of elegant country-seats, skirted with well laid out and thriving plantations, populous villages, surrounded with fertile fields, hill and dale, wood and water..... In improvements, it may be justly said that this parish has led the way to all the neighbourhood." An open field was scarcely to be met with. Drainage had not been neglected. Useless marshes and deceitful bogs had been turned into fruitful fields. The brake and roller were in common use. Instead of the old-fashioned plough, drawn by six cattle and two horses, which had been the common thing twenty or thirty years before, a light well contrived plough had been introduced, which, though drawn by only two horses, reined by the ploughman, did the work better and more quickly. Hand and horse hoeing were practised.
When the crop was gathered, it was "preserved in the barn-yard from vermin, by being placed upon pillars of stone, 2 feet high." And, to crown all, machines for threshing had been introduced! But these, "from their very complex construction," were apt to go wrong, the horses had "a dead draught," and were "made giddy by the circular motion." Turnips and cabbage were successfully raised. "The carrot, the Swedish turnip, and root of scarcity" had "not answered expectation." But it was supposed that the Swedish turnip would become very useful when the proper mode of cultivating it was ascertained. Great attention was paid to the rearing of cattle, and, consequently, these had been "distinguished for beauty and size even in the London market." Horses were bred both for draught and saddle. Sheep were fed. And every family had swine. Land had increased so much in value, that what had been let at 16s and £1 per acre twenty years before drew £2 and £2 10s. Wheat, barley, oats, beans, and sometimes potatoes, were shipped for Leith and the West country, and salt to Dundee and Perth. Wood and iron were imported from Norway. There were three corn, two barley, and three lint mills, as well as two salt-pans in the parish. The weaving of linen and checks were the principal industries. Flax was imported, and much of it was dressed and spun in the parish. Common labourers only received from ninepence to a shilling per day, and, so, those who had families could not "live sumptuously." Indeed, Mr Oliphant says "Except at a birth or marriage, or some other festival, they do not in general taste butcher-meat. Meagre broth, potatoes, cheese, butter in small quantities, and a preparation of meal in different forms, make up their constant fare." Yet, "all things considered, it is astonishing to see man, wife and children, in their Sunday's clothes all are clean and neat, with faces expressive of contentment." Notwithstanding the "spirit of schism" which prevailed, the people were "honest, sober and industrious," but "more forward to sympathise with their neighbour in distress, than to rejoice with him in his prosperity." Such is the outline of the picture of his flock drawn by the minister a century ago.
The Name of the parish was formerly written, Largach, Largauch, Largath, and Largav.
Upper Largo, or the Kirkton of Largo, which, in the words of Chambers, is "a remarkably agreeable little village," is situated near the western boundary of the parish, and three quarters of a mile from the sea. Its most prominent buildings are the Parish Church, the Free Church, and Wood's Hospital. It also contains a comfortable inn, a gas-work, a post and telegraph office, a good schoolhouse near the new cemetery, and a branch of the National Bank. In 1837 the population was 413, and in 1881 it was 362.
The Parish Church, according to the New Statistical Account, "was built in 1817 and in 1826, there was taken into the new building, an aisle belonging to the old, by which the spire is supported, bearing date 1623. It affords accomodation for upwards of 800." On one of the inner walls there is a slab, which records, in Latin, that:- "This church was first erected about the year 1300, in the reign of Robert the Bruce, enlarged about the year 1400, ornamented with a spire in 1623, again enlarged about 1688, and finally enlarged and decorated in the year 1817." The inscription also preserves the names of the heritors, minister, and architect, who rendered themselves famous by the operations of 1817. As will yet be shown, the church was first erected long before the year 1300. The chancel and steeple are all that have been spared of the old building; but even these seem to be comparatively modern. The spire is dated 1628; and the chancel, which has been barbarously plastered both outside and inside, has a panel, over the window, bearing the motto, "Fear God," the date 1623, and the initials "P. B.," while the arms are wasted away. The bell is dated 1636; but it is worth no one's pains to climb the steeple, as an outlook can only be had through a small aperture. So determined have the renovators been to hide the old work that a ceiling has been inserted under the vaulted roof of the chancel; but while they could spare funds for this, they economised their cash by putting in wooden mullions !
This is the building which in Chambers' Gazetteer of Scotland is described as "an ancient Gothic fabric, with a spire rising from the middle!" The writer must have gazed at it from a distance, for, though it is a pretty, neat erection, and picturesquely situated, a glance at the masonry shows that it is modern. There are few, if any, stones of interest in the burying-ground; but that is more than made up by the great number of mural marble monuments in the church. Among others commemorated, are General and Admiral Durham, their father and mother, their nephew, Thomas Calderwood Durham, and their niece, Lilias Calderwood Durham, "the last of her race." There is also a tablet in memory of Sir John Leslie, the distinguished mathematician and Professor of Natural History, who was born in Largo in 1766, and died at Coates, in Newburn parish, in 1832. Another native, James Kettle, who lived to the good old age of 92, and left £600 to the care of the Kirk-Session, is likewise commemorated; and so are several other prominent men more or less connected with the parish. While these stones are conspicuously displayed on the walls, the monument of Sir Andrew Wood's descendants is allowed to lie ingloriously in the floor under two pews! The old church was granted to the nuns of North Berwick hy Duncan, Earl of Fife, and Earl Malcolm, his son, confirmed the grant. William the Lion, in confirming their grants to these nuns, specially mentions the Church of Largach. It was dedicated by Bishop Bern-ham on the 16th Kal. of August 1243. Alexander Wod was vicar here immediately before the Reformation. Reference has already been made to him, and one of his illegitimate daughters.
On the 10th of March 1559, a marriage was contracted betwixt Alexander Carrik, "ane honorabill man," and Alisone Yod, "dochter naturall" to "Maister Alexander Vod, vicar of Largow." At the "handfasting," Carrik, his brother, and the vicar were present, and signed a contract of the marriage, which was to be solemnised between that date and the midsummer following. The vicar delivered £20 at the handfasting, £40 was to be forthcoming at the marriage, and another £40 within a year and a day after the marriage. On the 13th of March, Jhone Spens, a burgess of North Berwick, became surety and debtor for the £80 to Carrik. Of that sum £30 was to be given by Dame Margaret Hume, Prioress of North Berwick, and the remaining £50 by Wod. The Prioress and the vicar bound themselves to relieve Spens. The shameless profligacy of such men did much to ripen public opinion as to the necessity of reformation. Those who wish to see the form of handfasting fuller than it is in the above summary will find it in the Carte Momalium de North-berwic. In 1597, Parliament dissolved the kirks of Largo and Kilconquhar from the Abbey of North Berwick. John Auchinleck was minister here from 1592 to 1619, and was succeeded by his son Andrew in the following year, who was translated to Dundee in 1642. James Fairlie, formerly Bishop of Argyll, was thereafter presented, but was not received. This unlucky wight was consecrated as a Bishop only two days before the tumult about the liturgy, which led to the entire overthrow of the Hierarchy. James Makgill was ordained at Largo in 1644.
Lamont relates several curious incidents that happened during Makgill's incumbency. The Commission of the Kirk appointed a fast to be kept through the Kingdom, immediately before the coronation of Charles the Second. This fast was observed at Largo on the 22d and 26th of December 1650. On the second day the minister read the causes of the fast, which were the sins of the King and his father's house; and the Earl of Lauderdale publicly acknowledged the sinfulness and unlawfulness of the Engagement, his sorrow and remorse for having acceded to it, and his resolution to beware of such courses in future. Makgill then read the Solemn League and Covenant, and Lauderdale holding up his hand sware it. The Kirk-Session gave him a certificate bearing that they were well satisfied with his repentance. Little did they know the man they had to deal with! In 1662, Parliament ordained that all persons in public trust should take a Declaration, in which it was affirmed, inter alia, that the Solemn League and Covenant was an unlawful oath, imposed and taken against the fundamental laws and liberties. Sir George Mackenzie, in his Memoirs of the Afairs of Scotland, says, that the great design of this Declaration was to incapacitate Crawfurd from being Treasurer, and Lauderdale from being Secretary; but that "Lauderdale laugh'd at this contrivance, and told them he would sign a cartfull of such oaths before he would lose his place."
Dr Burns, in his edition of Wodrow's History, expresses the opinion that Lauderdale "never forgot the supposed indignity" that was put on him by the Covenanters in Largo Church; and that it was only policy which prevented him from coming out in his true character, as a persecutor, immediately after the Restoration. Such a wretch could certainly never look back with complacency on the Largo episode; and, in all probability, he would not have humbled himself that day, if policy had not been at the helm. Lamont describes a scene of a very different kind which occurred in Largo Church in July 1652. Makgill had finished his sermon and pronounced the blessing; but before he could leave the pulpit two corporals of the English regiment, which was lying at Largo and Leven, challenged him because he had prayed for the prisoners in England - of whom Lauderdale was one - as sufferers for righteousness sake. If he had not been courageous, he would not have made such a reference in his prayer in their presence. A few days previously, they had quartered some of their men on him and Moncrieff of Scoonie, although ministers in Fife had never been quartered on before. And some of the soldiers, when they went to Largo church, "did sitt ordinarlie (for contempt) in the stoole of repentance!" A year later, the Presbytery of St Andrews met in the church of Largo, and ordained that Thomas Wilson, the schoolmaster, should be removed at the following Martinmas, "for profainlie taking the name of the divill in his mouth twyse," for tippling, and taunting, and not praying regularly every morning and evening in the school. Wilson afterwards stood up in front of the pulpit, while the preacher publicly rehearsed his faults, and then the delinquent confessed on his knees that God was righteous, and desired the people to pray for him. He seems to have been reponed, for Lamont afterwards mentions him as schoolmaster, and says that he was interred "betwixt his two wives," at Largo kirk, in 1670.
Makgill was one of those who would not conform to Episcopacy at the Restoration, and who suffered in consequence. In April 1664, Archbishop Sharp pronounced the sentence of suspension against him and other six of his brethren, but their preaching was not stopped at that time. Thirteen days afterwards, the High Commission confined him to his parish, and for bade him to celebrate the communion. In the following January, the sentence of suspension was intimated to him by a messenger-at-arms, and in April 1665 he was deposed. These incidents are recorded in the Life of Robert Blair. Lamont tells how the patron would not present a successor, and how, after six months had elapsed, Sharp presented John Affleck or Auchinleck, whose father and grandfather had ministered here before him. Only one of the heritors and three of the elders gave him the right hand of fellowship, at his entry; and, when, nearly two years later, he ventured to celebrate the communion, the people, though earnestly invited, were so unwilling to take part that there were only six tables instead of the ten or eleven which had been usual in his predecessor's time. It is a long lane which has no turning. Like the other curates, he was rabbled in 1689, and the same year he was deprived by the Privy Council. In a rare tract entitled The Scots Episcopal Innocence, printed in 1694, there is this brief entry : - August 29, 1689. "Mr John Auchin fleck, Minister at Largo; for not reading and not praying, and praying for the late King. Present; acknowledges the not reading and not praying. Deprived." Makgill returned to his charge at this time, but died next year. He was succeeded by William Moncrieff in 1691, who died in 1723. Fraser tells, in his Life of Ralph Erskine, that he found, in one of the note-books of that famous divine, an elegy on Moncrieff extending to nearly 180 lines. Here is a specimen setting forth what he thought of him : -
"This preacher showed
himself what few can do,
A Barnabus and Boanerges too,
A son of thunder, with alarming noise,
A son of comfort, with a charming voice.
Hence many came from distant parts, and saw
Sinai and Zion both, at Largo Law."
Moncrieff was succeeded by John Ferrier, whose father was one of the magistrates of St Andrews. He occupied the pulpit of Largo from 1724 to 1766, when he died. His son Robert was ordained as assistant and successor to him in 1764, but having adopted the principles of Independency, he resigned his charge in 1768, and, with Smith of Newburn, helped to form the congregation at Balchristie. Robert Brown, who was ordained here in 1821, joined the Free Church in 1843, and lived until a few years ago. This venerable man, whose memory is fragrant, wrote the New Statistical Account of the parish.
Wood's Hospital is a handsome building, designed by James Leslie, civil engineer, fully fifty years ago, and erected at a cost of £2000. "It is fitted up for sixteen inmates, each having a sitting and a sleeping apartment. In the centre is a large hall, where they are convened to prayers morning and evening; above which is a room for the meetings of the patrons." At present, there are only eight inmates, and they are all males. They are allowed to work for themselves, and each receives thirty-five shillings every month, besides a share of the garden. The hall, in which they meet for prayers, is the entrance-hall of the building, and the floor is of pavement. In the patrons' room, which is immediately overhead, there is a very small library. The governor acts as chaplain, and also discharges the duties of church-officer. The previous hospital was built by Robert Mill, "measter mason" in Edinburgh.
The work began in April 1665, and about the end of the year, "the rooffe was put on this buelding, and sclaitted and glased. It consisted of thrie roofs one to the east, one to the north, and one to the west. The entrie of it looked to the south." There were "24 divers rowrnes, with a publicke hall; in each rowme ther was a bed and a closett and a lowme, being all fyre rowmes, with a large garden; a stone bridge for itts entrie; a howse besyde for the gardiner, two story high. Abowt 6 persons were entered to stay at the said hospitall about Candelmisse 1667." John Wood, who was a descendant of the famous Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, was a courtier, and, though a wealthy man, died in straitened circumstances in London, as the money he had with him ran short. He was buried in Largo church, in July 1661. On the 7th of July 1659, he executed a deed of mortification, to build and uphold an hospital in this parish, and to maintain therein, "threttein poore indigent and infirme persones." This mortification was ratified by Parliament in 1661. If tradition is correct, when he returned to the neighbourhood after an absence of fifty-five years, he wished to see his relative, the laird of Grange; but that selfish man, imagining that he might require or wish pecuniary help, declined to meet him, which so enraged the stranger that he resolved to devote his fortune to the erection and endowment of the school at Drumeldrie, and the hospital at Largo. In 1657, he built the wall round the churchyard.
Largo House, which is immediately to the westward of the Kirkton, was built in 1750; but one of the round towers of the earlier building is still to be seen. It has been alleged that at one time it was a jointure-house of the Queens of Scotland; but I have seen nothing to substantiate that statement. There can be no doubt, however, that the old house was built by Sir Andrew Wood, the famous and first great sea-captain of Scotland. Tytler quotes from a charter under the great seal, dated the 8th of March 1482, to show that James the Third granted to Andrew Wood, his own intimate servant and a citizen of Leith, the lands and village of Largo, in consideration of his gratuitous and faithful services, freely undertaken both by sea and land, in peace and war, within and without the kingdom, and conspicuously against his English enemies, at the risk of serious personal danger. Soon afterwards, Wood set to work and built certain houses and a fortalice on his lands of Largo, in order to resist and expel the pirates, who invaded the kingdom; and, with a grim sense of the eternal fitness of things, he made his English captives act as masons. These facts are set forth in another charter under the great seal, dated the 18th of May 1491, which Tytler also cites, and in which James the Fourth gives Wood further liberty to build a castle at Largo with iron gates.
By far the best account of Wood's exploits is to be found in Pitscottie's History of Scotland. With much simplicity and graphic force, he tells how Wood bearded the nobles after the death of the unfortunate James the Third, in 1488, how the two lordly hostages narrowly escaped hanging at the yard-arm, because he was longer detained than his men expected, and how Captain Barton informed the Council, "that there were not ten ships in Scotland would give Captain Wood's two ships the combat, for he was so well practised in war, and had such artillery and men, that it was hard dealing with him by sea or land." Wood was soon reconciled to. James the Fourth, and served him as faithfully as he had done his father. It was in or about 1490 that five piratical vessels entered the Clyde, and chased one of the King's ships to Dumbarton. By special request, Wood set out in search of them, and after a hard fight brought them all prisoners to Leith. The English could ill brook such a defeat, but no one cared to tackle the Scottish sea-lion.
At length, Steven Bull, with "three great ships, well man-steid, well victualled and well artilleried," took in hand to bring Wood to the English King, either dead or alive. Confident of attaining his purpose, he sailed for the Forth, and lay behind the May, to watch for Sir Andrew as he returned from Flanders. Early on a summer morning two ships were perceived coming round St Abb's Head. Bull immediately sent aloft some Scottish fishermen, whom he had captured, to see if it was Sir Andrew. At first they pretended ignorance, but, on the promise of their freedom, they acknowledged that the two vessels were Wood's. The result can best be told in Pitscottie's own words:- "Then the Captain was blyth, and caused pierce the wine, and drank about to all his shippers and captains that were under him, praying them to take courage, for their enemies were at hand; for the which cause he caused order his ships in the fier of war, and set his quarter-masters and captains, every man in his own room; syne caused, his gunners to charge their artillery, and put all in order and left nothing undone pertaining unto a good captain.
On the other side, Sir Andrew Wood came peartly forward, knowing no impediment of enemies to be in his geat; till at the last, he perceived thir three ships under sail, and coming fast to them in fier of war. Then Sir Andrew Wood, seeing this, exhorted his men to battle, beseeking them to take courage against their enemies of England, who had sworn and made their vows, that they should make us prisoners to the King of England; but, will God, they shall fail of their purpose. Therefore set yourselves in order, every man in his own room. Let the gunners charge their artillery; and the cors-bows make them ready, with the lyme-pots and fire-balls in our tops, and two-handed swords in your fore-rooms; and let every man be stout and diligent for his own part, and for the honour of this realm. And thereto he caused fill the wine, and every man drank to other. By this the sun began to rise, and shined bright upon the sails; so the English-men appeared very awfully in the sight of the Scots, by reason their ships were very great and strong, and well furnished with greater artillery; yet, notwithstanding, the Scots afeared nothing, but cast them to windward of the Englishmen; who, seeing that, shot a great canon or two at the Scots, thinking they should have stricken sails at their boast. But the Scottish-men, nothing affeared therewith, came swiftly a windward upon Captain Steven Bull, and clapt together from hand, and fought there from the sun-rising while the sun go to, in the long summer-day; while all the men and women, that dwelt near the coast, came and beheld their fighting.
The night sundred them, that they were fain to depart from other. While, on the morn, that the day began to break fair, and their trumpets to blow on every side, and made them quickly to battle; who clapt together, and fought so cruelly, that neither the shippers nor mariners took heed of their ships; but fighting still, while an ebb tide and south-wind bure them to Inchcap, foreanents the mouth of Tay. The Scottish-men, seeing this, took courage and hardiment, that they doubled their strokes upon the English-men; and there took Steven Bull, and his three ships, and had them up to the town of Dundee." The King was greatly pleased and richly rewarded Sir Andrew, and chivalrously sent back Bull and his men as a present to the English King, with the message that if any of his captains should in future disturb his people in Scottish waters they would not be so well treated. Sir Andrew never gave up his sailor ideas, and the canal can still be traced in which tradition says he was rowed to the parish church. Long may his memory be cherished as the founder of the Scottish navy, and as one of the boldest and truest sons of a heroic nation. Through course of time the estate of Largo passed into another family, and in 1662, according to Lamont, Sir Alexander Durham, the Lord Lyon, bought it from Gibson of Dune, for about 85,000 merks. He died unmarried, next year, and left it to his nephew Francis, the son of his celebrated brother, the Rev. James Durham of Glasgow. Francis was succeeded in the estate, in 1667, by his brother, who was the grandfather of that James Durham, who married Anne, daughter of Thomas Calderwood of Polton and Margaret Steuart.
They had three sons, who were distinguished for their bravery, to wit, James, Thomas, and Philip. James was born in 1754, and entered the army when he was only fifteen. "In 1794 he was appointed Colonel of the Fifeshire regiment of Fencibles, which he had raised, and immediately obtained the rank of Brigadier-General. He served in the Irish rebellion;" and had "for some years the command of the Eastern District of Scotland. In 1830 he attained the rank of General in the army." For many years before his death he resided almost constantly at Largo House. He was "kind, neighbourly, and humane." His constitution was unbroken, until a few days before his death, although he was 86. He succeeded to the estate at his father's death, in 1808, and at his death in 1840 it passed into the possession of his nephew Thomas, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Durham, who had died in 1815. Two years after the General's death, his brother Philip succeeded to the estate of Largo. "He was born in 1763, and having entered the navy in 1777, was acting signal-officer in the Royal George when she foundered at Spithead in 1782, a catastrophe which only two of her officers survived." He was appointed Rear-Admiral in 1810, Vice-Admiral in 1819, Admiral in 1830, and Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth in 1836. "An almost uninterrupted course of professional employment, and a not less remarkable series of victories, fell to his share, from the 13th February 1793 - when, as commander of the Spitfire, he took the first tricolor flag that was struck to the British ensign, within two days after hostilities had been declared - until, by a singular coincidence, the last French colours at the close of the long war, were hauled down in Guadaloupe, at his summons on the 10th of August 1815." This worthy successor to Sir Andrew Wood died in 1845. The estate was sold, in 1868, to Mr Johnstone, and at that time the old sculptured stone, which stood on the lawn, and the cannon, which had belonged to the Royal George, were both removed. There are still some very old fruit trees in the orchard.
Lower Largo stretches along the coast for fully half-a-mile. The western portion is known as Drummochie, and the eastern extremity bears the name of Temple. A winding walk called the Serpentine connects Temple with the Kirkton, which is half-a-mile due north. If Upper Largo has the advantage of containing the Parish Church, the Free Church, and Wood's Hospital; Lower Largo can boast that it is nearer the waves, is the birth-place of Alexander Selkirk, and possesses the Harbour, the U. P. Church, and two Baptist Churches, both of the latter being very near the water. Spence Oliphant, in the old Statistical Account, says that "since the demission of Mr Ferrier, who, in conjunction with a Mr Smith, minister at Newburn, formed a sect of Independents, a spirit of schism has prevailed in this and all the adjacent parishes." At that time fully a third of the population of the parish were "Separatists," as he called them.
When Mr Brown prepared the New Account, in 1837, the proportion of Dissenters was about the same; but six years later he headed the Free Church movement in the parish, and so increased the Dissenters still more. What is now the U. P. congregation was formed in connection with the Relief Church. The "spirit of schism," of which Mr Oliphant complains, may have prevailed; but the immediate cause of the setting up of this congregation was the appointment of Oliphant's predecessor - David Burn - as Ferrier's successor in the Parish Church in 1769. When Burn knew that there was opposition to him, he declined the call; but the patron, the Laird of Largo, nothing daunted, issued another presentation to him, which he accepted. "The people," says Mackelvie, in his Annals and Statistics, "were not so willing to yield to the patron's wishes as the ministry, and a number of them carried their non-compliance so far as to withdraw from the Established Church, and cast in their lot among the Dissenters.
In 1770, they applied for and obtained supply of sermon from the Relief Presbytery of Edinburgh. The patron was generous enough to grant them a site for a place of worship. On this site they began to build the proposed edifice. But being very limited alike in number and pecuniary resources, they could not readily command the co-operation they required. Nothing disheartened, they at length set to work. Men, women, and children, were alike zealous, and when the masons towards the end of their day's labour left off their work for want of material, they were often surprised next morning to find an abundant supply - the men with barrows, the women with their aprons, and children with creels, having procured it for them over night from the beach, which skirts the village. The congregation met in the open air till the church was completed. It cost, exclusive of free carriages, the modest sum of £18 4s." The new church, which is a very neat building, is seated for 400, and cost £1200. It bears, under the initials of the esteemed pastor, the date 1871. John Goodsir, who was "a physician by profession, and a pastor by principle," preached to the Baptists of Largo for twenty years. He was grandfather of the famous Professor Goodsir. The population of Lower Largo, in 1837, was 567, and it has not increased greatly since.
Harbour and Fishing. - The Harbour is a very small miserable affair, at the mouth of the Kiel Burn, near the imposing railway bridge. The fishing has had many ups and downs. Lamont complains that in 1657, 1658, 1662, and 1663, there were few or no herring caught on the Fife side, and not many at Dunbar. Some thought there had not been the like for a century before, and "beganne to feare ther sould be no dreve hireafter." According to Sibbald, in 1710, there were "ordinarily three fishing boats with five men in each, and in the herring season, they have four boats with seven men in each." Eighty-one years later, Oliphaut wrote:- "About ten years ago, fish abounded on this coast, particularly haddock, of a very delicate kind. But since that period, fish of every kind have become scarce, insomuch that there is not a haddock in the bay. All that remain, are a few small cod, podlies, and flounders. The fishermen have also disappeared, who, 20 years ago, constituted the chief part of the inhabitants of Largo and Drumochy. At present there is not a fisherman in Largo, and only 1 in Drumochy, who fishes in summer, and catches rabbits in winter." The only fishery to which Mr Brown refers in 1837 is the salmon stake-net fishery, which had been commenced a few years before. In 1883, there were 36 boats, manned by 78 men and boys. The comparative position of the Largo fishermen is shown by the table on Part I., page 56. While these pages are passing through the press (April 1886), a gloom is hanging over the place through the loss of the "Brothers." This boat was last seen on the 30th of March, about 50 miles east of the May. She had a splendid crew, and had weathered many a storm. It is believed that she was swamped by a heavy sea, while the crew were "hauling their lines," and the hatches off. One of the men leaves a widow and a family of ten, while his two sons, who were drowned with him, respectively leave a widow and three children, and a widow and two. The skipper leaves a widow and four children.
Alexander Selkirk. - Two centuries ago, there was a prosperous shoemaker and tanner in Lower Largo, named John Selcraig. His seventh son, Alexander, who was born in 1676, proved a wild, restless youth. He was only thirteen when John Auchinleck, the Episcopal incumbent of Largo, was rabbled by "a great mob armed with staves and bludgeons."
It would have mattered little, to one of his age and disposition, whether the obnoxious minister was Presbyterian or Prelatic. Such an opportunity for furious fun would have been irresistible, even although his eldest brother had not been ring-leader, and accordingly he took part. Six years later, he was summoned before the Kirk-Session for misbehaving in the church; but, instead of appearing, he went "away to the seas." His disposition seems to have remained unchanged, for in another six years, to wit, in 1701, when he was again at home, a strong young man of five-and-twenty, he raised a tumult in his father's house. His younger brother Andrew, who was of weak intellect, had brought in a can of salt water, and laughed at him when he took a drink of it by mistake. Alexander was so enraged at being laughed at, that he struck him twice with a staff. Andrew cried for his eldest brother, John; but, before he could appear on the scene, Alexander tried to get into the upper room, where he had a pistol, and was only prevented by his father sitting down on the floor with his back to the door. On seeing John, he cast off his coat and challenged him to a combat of "dry neifs." The father then rushed between his sons to separate them; but the young sailor seized them both and bore down his brother's head.
It was good for this brother that he had a wife. She now came into the room, and at once set to work to wrest Alexander's hands from the head and breast of her husband, who gladly escaped from the house, as soon as his better half managed to release him. For this outbreak, he was dealt with by the Session, and publicly rebuked before the congregation. Soon after this he went back to sea, and became sailing master of the Cinque Ports, of which Charles Pickering was captain. The consort ship - the St George - was commanded by William Dampier, who was the originator of the privateering expedition to the South Seas, for which these ships had been fitted out. Dampier was full of brilliant designs, but was extremely irritable and vacillating. Pickering having died, Lieutenant Stradling was appointed as his successor. Hitherto, the venture had been most unfortunate, and discontent and wrangling broke out among the crews.
Selkirk - for he altered his name to that form - who had no confidence in Stradling, had a remarkable dream "in which he was forewarned of the total failure of the expedition and shipwreck of the Cinque Ports." He accordingly made up his mind to leave the vessel on the first favourable opportunity. Having reached Juan Fernandez, two or three mouths after Pickering's death, they refitted their ships, and, while so engaged, "a violent quarrel broke out between Captain Stradling and his crew." The men were so discontented that forty-two out of the sixty resolved not to return on board; but, wearying of the island, Dampier managed to reconcile them to their captain. A French ship having come in sight, the two privatcers set off in such hot pursuit that a few of their men were left behind. The Cinque Ports returned for them; but finding two French ships, of thirty-six guns each, at anchor, Stradling sailed for Peru, and Dampier did the same, leaving the men meantime to their fate. After adventures of many kinds, there was such a quarrel that the two ships parted company.
The Cinque Ports cruised for several months along the shores of Mexico, and during this period Stradling and Selkirk differed so much, that the latter determined to leave. Want of provisions, and the state of the vessel, forced them to return to Juan Fernandez, where they found two of the men they had left six months before. The relations between the captain and the sailing-master getting more strained than ever, Selkirk was landed, with his chest, a few books among which was a Bible, a gun, a kettle, an axe, and some other necessaries, just before the ship got under weigh. The sound of the oars as the boat moved away caused him to realise the horror of being left alone, perhaps, for life. He rushed into the water, and besought them to return, but Stradling was inexorable. At first, Selkirk was so dejected that he only ate when forced by the pangs of hunger, but by degrees he became reconciled to his lot. It was eighteen months before he could absent himself for a whole day from the beach, where he watched for a friendly sail. He built two huts - one of which he used as a kitchen - and was able to keep himself in food and clothes by his fleetness and ingenuity. The island, which is eighteen miles in length and six in breadth, is remarkably beautiful, and in those days it abounded with goats, which he ran down and caught. With his knife and a nail he shaped and sewed the goat-skins into garments. Seals and shell-fish varied his table, and the cabbage-palm served as a substitute for bread. Rats were so plentiful that he had to tame some wild cats to protect him during his sleep. He taught his tame goats and cats to dance, and "often afterwards declared, that he never danced with a lighter heart or greater spirit any where to the best of music, than he did to the sound of his own voice with his dumb companions."
His early training and his father's godly example came back on him, and much of his time was spent in devotion. With tears in his eyes, he afterwards said, that "he was a better Christian while in his solitude than ever he was before, and feared he would ever be again." He remained monarch of all he surveyed for four years and four months, when, curiously enough, he was relieved by another privateering expedition, of which Dampier was also the projector, but not the commander. On the 31st of January 1709, the Duke and Duchess came in sight of Juan Fernandez, and a party landed next day. They were as surprised to see him as he was pleased to see them. He caught goats for them which their swiftest runners and a bull-dog could not overtake. Salt and spirits he did not relish, owing to his long abstinence from them, and shoes caused his feet to swell. He soon became a favourite, and got the command of their second prize, which was fitted up as a privateer, and named the Increase. Captain Rogers seems to have been a model bucaneer, as, on one occasion, it is specially mentioned, that before attacking a ship, the crew went to prayers: and he was so tolerant, in his "floating common-wealth," that while he used the Church of England service on the quarter-deck, the Papists had mass in the great cabin below - being, as he said, the low church-men in this case.
It was not until October 1711 that Selkirk landed in England. The account of his adventures excited great interest in London. There was still "a strong but cheerful seriousness in his look, and a certain disregard to the ordinary things around him, as if he had been sunk in thought;" and he "frequently bewailed his return to the world, which could not, as he said, with all its enjoyments, restore to him the tranquillity of his solitude." After getting his share of the prize-money he came back to Largo early next spring, and arrived on a Sabbath after his relatives had all gone to church. He went after them, and, ere the service was ended, his mother - moved by the unerring maternal instinct - recognised him, and with a cry of joy rushed to his arms. They immediately left the church. He stayed for some time in the old village, and constructed a cave in his father's garden, through which the railway now runs. He loved to wander alone in Keil's Den, and to take solitary boating excursions, and seemed to return with reluctance to the haunts of men. He should not have left his island home. In vain his friends tried to cheer him. But, alas! in Keil's Den, he met a lonely lassie herding her father's oniy cow; and her solitary occupation, and innocent looks, made such an impression on him, that he at last resolved to marry her. Afraid of the jests of his friends, they eloped, and he never was seen again in Largo.
Like most other wives, Sophia Bruce made a great difference on her husband, and when Sir Richard Steele met him in the streets of London he did not know him. Copies of the Power of Attorney and the Will, which he made in January 1717 in favour of his fair Sophia, are preserved in the appendix to Howell's Life and Adventures of Selkirk. She must have died soon after, for about eight years later, "a gay widow, by name Frances Candis or Candia, came to Largo to claim the property left to him by his father." Having proved her marriage to him, and the Will which was dated in 1720, and also his death as Lieutenant of His Majesty's ship Weymouth in 1723, her claims were adjusted, and she left Largo. He does not appear to have had any children. A few mementos of his undisputed reign in the far-off isle were long preserved in the old home. Sir David Baxter bought his "kist," and presented it to the Antiquarian Museum in Edinburgh. His drinking cup, with the silver rim and wooden foot added by Archibald Constable, is also there. And his gun is preserved by the representatives of the late Mr Lumsdaine of Lathallan.
The house in which he was born is demolished; but the accompanying illustration will recall it to those who knew it, and acquaint others with its appearance. A recess has been made in the wall of the upper storey of the house which now stands on its site, and, there, a striking monument in bronze, designed by Mr Stuart Burnett, has been placed, at the expense of Mr David Gillies, net-manufacturer, who is a relative of Selkirk's. The 11th December 1885 will ever be a red-letter day in the local calendar. The triumphal arches, the great processions, the Earl of Aberdeen's speeches, and the unveiling of the monument by his Countess, will never be forgotten. Selkirk would not have been so famous if De Foe had not elaborated his adventures in the inimitable "Robinson Crusoe." In the old, crowded burying-ground of Bun-hill Fields, a striking monument to De Foe is to be seen, built by the penny subscriptions of his youthful readers; for he is best remembered by this popular story; while most of his other works are only known to book-collectors. On Juan Fernandez itself, a tablet in memory of Selkirk has stood for eighteen years, and now a statue of Crusoe graces his birth-place.
Largo Bay extends from Kincraig Point to Methil, a distance of five miles and a half in a straight line, but much more, of course, on the curve. It is marked, says Oliphant, "by a ridge of sand..... . . . called by fishermen the Dike. Of this there is a tradition, although probably not well founded, among the oldest inhabitants of Largo, that there was formerly a wall or mound running from Kincraig Point to that of the Methil, containing within it a vast forrest, called the Wood of Forth." The roots of the trees of this submerged forest can still be seen at extra low tides. It is almost superfluous to say that the bay is well adapted for bathing.
Lundin Mill - or Lundie Mill, as it is usually called - is so close to Lower Largo that it almost seems to form a continuation of it. This village is not mentioned by Sibbald. Perhaps, it did not exist in his time; or, it may have been so small that he did not deem it worthy of notice. As the name implies, it grew around the Mill, just as Upper Largo did around the Church, and as Lower Largo did beside the Harbour. The mill was there long before Sibbald wrote. Lamont says, that in October 1657, "William Lundy caused stoole Lundy Mille all new; the wright that wrought it was James Edee, the said William's brother in law. Robert Maitland, Laird of Lundy, gave him two great elme tries for to stoole the said mule, which grew out without the deike, betuixt the hayre and coall horse stabell. (Remember, the said William, at that time, said to the Laird, that he sould never, in his time, seike any more timber from him for the said mule.) Robert Bayle at this time was miller ther." This is the earliest notice which Lamont specially bestows on the old mill, and it is a pretty fair specimen of his minute entries. He had previously referred to William Miller, as the miller, in 1652; and to a spate, in 1655, when "the water entred the mille-doore, beate stronglie upon the walls of the houses ther, ran over the head of the bridge, it being biger, by a foote or halfe a foote then the bridge itselfe." From this entry it appears that there were at least some houses there at that time besides the mill.
In 1662, the same local chronicler relates that "att Lundy Mule, the corne kill" took fire, "haveing 11 bolls oatts on hir, belonging to Symon Cowtrie." The roof was completely burned; and the three bolls of oats, which were saved, were "ill spoilt." Old Robert Baillie was "dryster" that day, and William Lundy, master of the mill. This mill-master bought a part of Boarhills from his fatherin-law in 1666, for about 5000 merks, but one-half of that sum was allowed "for his tocher." His wife died, and he took "a second fitt of distraction," the first being before he was married. Plainly, he was not fitted to live alone, and so he took another wife in 1669. Lamont says - "Remember, this marriage was first proposed be him to hir on a Sabath day att Largo kirke, and afterward accomplished ther on a Sabath after sermon privatly." Before his first wife was buried, this other was spoken of at Lundin House, where she was a servant, as "a fitt woman for his second wife." And there they supped on the marriage night, dined the next day, "and went home privatly att night." Whether this old miller of Lundy took any more fits of distraction, or any more wives, is not recorded by his gossiping neighbour. In 1837, the population of Lundin Mill was 453, and at present is probably rather less. There are some very good villas near the Links, and the place is popular with visitors. The Postmaster-General has provided a collecting box for letters, and the inhabitants thrive well enough without gas. There is a comfortable, homely hotel, with stabling attached.
The Standing Stones of Lundin are very conspicuous objects, nearly half-a-mile further west than the village.
The illustration conveys a capital idea of the stones, but a very erroneous one of the stature of the inhabitants. The most massive of the three is fifteen feet high, fully two feet thick, and its greatest breadth is about six and a-half feet. The other two are rather taller, but are not so substantial. They are supposed to be as deep in the ground as they are above it. Whether that is quite the case or not, it is marvellous how such huge blocks of stone could be brought here and erected at a remote age, when there were no engineering appliances. The visible portion of the largest must be fully ten tons in weight. In 1791, Spence Oliphant says:- "There are also fragments of a fourth, which seems to have been of equal magnitude with the other three. There is no inscription, nor the least vestige of any character to be found upon them."
It would have been wonderful if the same remark could still have been made, for here, as elsewhere, come silly, contemptible wretches, who think to immortalise themselves, by scratching their unknown names on monuments of historical or antiquarian interest. It is with no love for Popish penance that I would suggest that such vandals should be made to lick out their offensive handiwork. Oliphant says that "the tradition is, that they are the grave-stones of some Danish chiefs, who fell in battle with the Scots near this place." In 1837, Brown adds, that "they are conjectured to be of Roman origin; by others, to be the gravestones of Danish chiefs, who fought here and were conquered by Banquo and Macbeth; and, by others, perhaps, with most probability, to be Druidical remains. Ancient sepulchres are found near them." That they were raised in memory of some battle, or in honour of some mighty warriors, is very probable; but they were certainly not raised to commemorate any Danish chiefs, who fell under Banquo and Macbeth. It has long been known that both Banquo, and the Danish invasions in the reign of Duncan, are inventions of the fertile brain of Hector Boece.
How came you here? Who bade you
Grim sentinels o'er sea and land?
Did grateful nation you uprear,
In mem'ry of a patriot dear?
Did some repulsed invader sue
For leave to lay his slain 'neath you?
Or were your sides, in days of yore,
Of't stained with sacrificial gore?
No picture, symbol, nor a word
You bear, to shew what you record:
Nor threat nor bribe can make you tell
The secret which you keep too well !
Lundin Tower is barely half-a-mile to the northwest of the Standing Stones. In its solitary grandeur, it forms a striking feature in the landscape. Until ten years ago it was hidden by the modern mansion of Lundin, but at that time the house was demolished; and the old tower left alone. It is said to have formed part of the old castle, built in the reign of David the Second - 1329-1371 - but it is very doubtful if any part of it is quite as old as that. It has evidently been subjected to many alterations and additions. The two corbelled turrets may have been added at a later date, and at that time it was probably heightened; yet, as a whole, it seems to belong to the early part of the seventeenth century. Like a great many other old buildings, it contains a room in which Queen Mary is said to have slept. In this case, it is a very small one, at the top of the tower; but the view is magnificent. The Gothic window, however, which now lightens it, has been inserted. With the exception of the two small rooms at the very top, there is nothing in the tower except the staircase. On one of the platforms, the blood-stains of a tragic murder were pointed out until quite recently; but a new floor now covers what could not be washed out - and it may he confidently expected that the antiquated ghost, which has so long haunted the place, will now be sensible enough to depart. A fragment of the modern building has been preserved at the base, to serve as an occasional luncheon room for the worthy owner - Mr Gilmour of Montrave.
The key is kept by the game-keeper, who lives hard by; but visitors are not desired. Strangers can see really all that is worth seeing from the outside. The large garden is turned into a field, although the surrounding walls still remain. There are also many majestic old trees growing in the neighbourhood of the tower; and there is the invariable adjunct of a Fife lairdship - a doocot - which is said to have served originally as a private chapel, and in the floor of which, according to tradition, a lucky labourer found a pot of gold. Lamont gives some curious information about the repairs, alterations, birds, and incidents of his time. In 1649, the tower-head was covered with lead at an expense of more than 500 merks Scots. Both the house and the "dowcoat" were pointed, in 1655, by "one David Browne, in Enster, a sclater," for which he and his son received 24s Scots each day for their wages, besides their food. Many alterations were carried out in 1660 and 1661. At the latter date, "the Lady caused make a new chemlay fireplace] for the hall of Lundy, of the newest fashion, with long barrs of iyron before, with a high backe all of iyron behinde. It was meade by one Androw Mellen, smith in Leven. It was about 12 stone weight, and more, at 5 markes the stone, so that, one way or other, it stood neire fowre pound sterling." Ten years afterwards a new bake-house and brew-house were added, and for the second time the hall was adorned with new green cloth hangings, "with stampt gilt leather betwixt every peice." In 1653, the chronicler, who was factor on this estate, planted some elms and firs in the south quarter of the garden yard. The previous year Captain Weilkesone, of Fairfax's regiment, who was quartered at Lundin, "caused the chirurgion..... . . . . to draw blood of his whole company." Possibly, they had not lost much in active service!
The Laird of Lundin had been taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester, in September 1651 ; but in 1652, Cromwell let him home for four months, and again in 1654 he got a pass. In September 1657, he returned for the third time to his beautiful estate, but only to die of consumption. He lingered until December 1658, when he passed peacefully away, and, eight days later, "was interred at Largo church, att night, with torches." He was only 36, and his son, who had been educated at Cupar and St Andrews, died in 1664, when he had barely reached his majority. The young man was buried with so much pomp, that Lamont devotes a whole page to an account of the funeral and the expenses incurred. The details are very interesting, but are too numerous for quotation. Three trumpeters and four heralds marched before the coffin. Ten dollars were given to the poor, forty-eight dollars to the trumpeters, and about eight hundred merks to the heralds and painters. The mournings cost more than £1000, the claret £200, the tobacco £7, and the beef £84 12s. The man who dressed the coach got seven dollars, and "the Kirkekaldie man," who made the coffin, £40. Lamont records a curious and fatal accident that happened here two and a-half years before the young Laird's death.
As it would be unfair to abbreviate his quaint account, it is given entire:- "1662, July 5, being Saturns day. - The said day, betuixt 7 and 8 in the morning, at Lundy, in Fyfe, John Rattray, one of the plowmen ther, being in the garden yearde, sneding tries on the north dyke, over against the coall stabell, for the gyle-house , Alexander Cuninghame, elder, in Lundy Mille, came into the yearde, and stoode a litell under the place wher he was sneding, the said Johne crying if ther were any body ther to bewarre and remove, for the branche was falling downe; the said Alexander, not regairding, was immediately smitten with it to the grounde, and dyed presently of the stroake, his pan being broken, and his necke almost, so that he was never hard speake a worde after. After which, he was taken up, and placed on a deal at the garden yeate, till James Murray, wright, meade a coffin to him, and that same day, in the afternoone, he was interred at Largo Church, in the east end of the said church yearde."
Lundin Links lie to the south-west of the village, and are the favourite resort of the golfers, who spend their holidays in Lower Largo, the Kirkton, and Lundin Mill. Lamont relates that while a party of Cromwell's soldiers were passing through the Links on a summer evening in 1654, two of Kenmuir's men charged the two foremost, and, having shot one of their horses, retired. They were quickly followed, but escaped. The English, in revenge, returned to Newburn, where they surprised some of the rest of Kenmuir's men, of whom they wounded four or five, and took as many prisoners. A man and a woman were shot with one bullet, and other two women were struck. From Newburn they went to Easter Lathallan, where they took Lathallan Spence's son prisoner. Late the same night, they reached Lundin again, and having set young Spence free next morning, and leaving one badly-wounded prisoner behind them, they marched off with their seven or eight captives to Burntisland. The prisoner they left behind died next day, and one of the wounded women had to get a leg cut off. Robert, the fourth Viscount of Kenmuir, suffered much in the cause of Charles the Second, and was excepted by Cromwell from his act of grace and pardon in 1654.
Largo Law is a very prominent hill to the north of the Kirkton, and is seen from a great distance. In troublous times it was used as a beacon-hill to warn the people of approaching dangers. As it is 965 feet high, it well repays enthusiastic climbers, by the magnificent view which is to be had from the summit.
Kiel's Den, which is nearly two miles in length, is immediately to the north of Lundin Mill. It is beautifully wooded, and some of the vista views are very fine. Few places are better suited for a quiet stroll, and its pleasant glades arc the beloved haunts of many a picnic party.
Pitcruvie Castle is picturesquely situated on the verge of the upper portion of Kiel's Den. It is sometimes called Balcruvie. The most direct way to reach it, and the easiest way to find it., is to take the road which leads from Largo to Ceres. It. is so conspicuous, with the romantic den on the one side and a prosaic farm-steading on the other, that it cannot be missed. The walls are wonderfully entire, but the stones are very weather-worn. It has been a great massive keep, much the same as Scotstarvit Tower, near Ceres. Two of the flats have had vaulted floors, and the remains of the circular tower, which contained. the stair-case, can still be seen at one of the corners. This tower seems originally to have been corbelled out, and to have been afterwards supported from the ground. Near another corner the foundation of the stair can be seen which led to the first flat. The two vaulted chambers, on the ground floor, must have been used as dungeons, or store - houses, as the only entrance was by a trap-door from the room over-head. It is said that the castle belonged in ancient times to the Ramsays, and that a daughter of that family married David, second Lord Lindsay of the Byres, who was distinguished for his bravery in foreign wars, and for his devotion to James the Third.
According to Pitscottie, Lindsay gave that monarch his "great gray courser," which, "if he had ado in his extremity, either to flee or follow," was able to "war all. the horse of Scotland, at his pleasure, if he would sit well." The King, however, was not able to "sit well;" and so, in his flight from Sauchie Burn, he fell off the great gray courser at the fatal Beaton's Mill. Pitscottie also tells how Lindsay and the others, who had assisted James the Third, were summoned to appear at Edinburgh, and records the bold but informal speech of Lord David, who was "a rash man, of small ingyne and rude language, although he was stout and hardy in the fields." The Chancellor craftily advised him to submit to the will of the King; but David's. brother, Patrick, who was versed in the law, tramped on his foot as a hint that he should not. Unfortunately, he had a sore toe, and "the pain thereof was very dolorous," and so he angrily exclaimed:- "Thou art over peart, lown, to stramp on my foot, were thou out of the King's presence, I should take thee on the mouth!" Patrick, seeing that the case was desperate, fell on his knees and craved leave to plead for his brother. When his desire was granted, he managed, by pointing out first one informality and then another, to remove the King from the bench, and to induce the Lords to "cast the summons."
Lord David was so delighted now with his brother, that his gratitude thus burst forth:- "Verily, brother, you have fine pyet words, I would not have trowed that you had such words. By St Mary, you shall have the Mains of Kirforther for it!" The Mains of Kirkforthar was a poor recompense; for the King was so displeased at Patrick, that he declared, "He should gar him sit where he should not see his feet for a year;" and he kept his word. Lord David died in 1492, and was succeeded by his brother John, who died without male issue in 1497. .At the latter date, Patrick, of the "fine pyet words," became fourth Lord Lindsay of the Byres. He accompanied James the Fourth to Flodden, and advised that the King should not hazard himself in the battle, at which James was so furious that he vowed, he would "cause hang him on his own gate," when he returned to Scotland. As one of Lord Patrick's sons, who died before him, was styled Sir John Lindsay of Pitcruvie, it has been inferred that the estate had passed into the hands of the Lindsays by the marriage of Lord David. In his History of Fife, Leighton expresses the opinion, that it was Sir John, who acquired the lands of Pitcruvie by marriage, and built the castle. Leighton also states that Pitcruvie was sold to "James Watson, Provost of St Andrews, whose grandson, James Watson, was served heir to him in the lands of Pitcruvie, Auchindownie, and Brissemyre, on the 8th of March 1664."
Norrie's Law is exactly three miles north from Largo Pier. Robert Chambers, in his Popular Rhymes of Scotland, gives the following curious traditional account of its origin: - "It is supposed by the people who live in the neighbourhood of Largo Law in Fife, that there is a very rich mine of gold under and near the mountain, which has never yet been properly searched for. So convinced are they of the verity of this, that whenever they see the wool of a sheep's side tinged with yellow, they think it has acquired that colour from having lain above the gold of the mine. A great many years ago, a ghost made its appearance upon the spot, supposed to be laden with the secret of the mine; but as it of course required to be spoken to before it would condescend to speak, the question was, who should take it upon himself to go up and accost it. At length a shepherd, inspired by the all-powerful love of gold, took courage, and demanded the cause of its thus 'revisiting,' etc. The ghost proved very affable, and requested a meeting on a particular night, at eight o'clock, when, said the spirit:
"'If Auchindownie cock
And Balmain horn disna blaw,
I'll tell ye where the gowd mine is in Largo Law.'
"The shepherd took what he conceived to be effectual measures for preventing any obstacles being thrown in the way of his becoming custodier of the important secret, for not a cock, old, young, or middle-aged, was left alive at the farm of Auchindownie; while the man, who, at that of Balmain, was in the habit of blowing the horn for the housing of the cows, was strictly enjoined to dispense with that duty on the night in question. The hour was come, and the ghost, true to its promise, appeared, ready to divulge the secret; when Tammie Norrie, the cow-herd of Balmain, either through obstinacy or forgetfulness, 'blew a blast both loud and dread,' and I may add, 'were ne'er prophetic sounds so full of woe,' for, to the shepherd's mortal disappointment, the ghost vanished, after exclaiming:
"'Woe to the man that blew
For out of the spot he shall ne'er be borne.'
"In fulfilment of this denunciation, the unfortunate horn-blower was struck dead upon the spot; and it being found impossible to remove his body, which seemed, as it were, pinned to the earth, a cairn of stones was raised over it, which, now grown into a green hillock, is still denominated Norrie's Law, and regarded as uncanny by the common people." This tradition was taken down by Chambers in 1825. There is another local tradition, according to which, Norrie's Law covered "the chief of a great army, buried there with his steed, and armed in panoply of massive silver;" but it has been suspected that it originated after the wonderful discovery of nearly seventy years ago. Spence Oliphant must either have been ignorant of these traditions, in 1791, or thought they were not worth recording, for, after describing Largo Law, he merely says:- "Besides this, there are 2 other Laws. But it is evident that these have been artificial. When the cairn was removed from one of these, a few years ago, a stone coffin was found at the bottom. From the position of the bones, it appeared that the person had been buried in a singular manner. The legs and arms had been carefully severed from the trunk, and laid diagonally across it." No archaeologist can refer to Norrie's Law, without experiencing a mingled feeling of anger and bitter chagrin; for, in or about 1819, there was found here, only to be destroyed, "the most remarkable discovery of ancient personal ornaments and other relics of a remote period ever made in Scotland." Daniel Wilson, in his Pre-Historic Scotland, devotes a chapter to the Norrie's Law relics, and vigorously denounces - yea, almost curses - the pedlar who purloined the valuable ornaments and sold them for old silver. It has been computed that nearly 400 ounces of pure bullion were found in Norrie's Law. Unfortunately, almost the whole of it was melted down; although, from an antiquarian point of view, it was of priceless value.
The jeweller in Cupar, who paid £25 to the pedlar for some of it, had a vivid recollection, even after a lapse of twenty years, of "the rich carving of the shield, the helmet, and the sword-handle, which were brought to him, crushed in pieces, to permit convenient transport and concealment." Having heard of the discovery, General Durham caused a search to be made at the base of the Law, in 1822, and a number of interesting silver relics, weighing in all about 24 ounces, were found. Several of these were presented to the Antiquarian Museum in Edinburgh in 1864, and the remainder in 1884. A description of them, by Dr Joseph Anderson, will be found in the eighteenth volume of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries. They embrace two penannular brooches of hammered silver, two leaf-shaped plates of solid silver, three pins, a band of silver, a spiral finger-ring, a disc of thin plate, a portion of plate, two portions of an arm-band, a thin riband, a fragment of a chain of fine silver wire, a large quantity of fragments, clippings and broken pieces of thin plates of silver, and a brass coin. These specimens have led to the abandonment of the idea of silver armour. The ornamentation is distinctly Celtic. And each of the leaf-shaped plates bears the symbol of the double-disc and broken rod, which occurs so frequently on the sculptured stones. There is only one other instance known of this symbol appearing on metal work, to wit, on the terminal link of a silver chain found in Lanarkshire.
The tumulus of Norrie's Law was surrounded by a ditch, or fosse, on the outer side of which there was a wall. "On the inner side of the ditch the base of the Law was defined by a circle of large boulders. Portions of an inner concentric wall were also observed. Between these walls a quantity of travelled earth was found, and within the inner circle the eminence was mostly formed of a cairn of stones. Here, towards the centre, vestiges of charred wood appeared, and many of the stones of the cairn showed that they had been under the action of fire. A small triatigular cist, found in the foundation of the outer base of the Law between two of the stones, and covered with a flat stone, contained incinerated human bones. On the west and on the outside of the base in which the triangular cist or hole was discovered, a small urn of baked clay was found lying on its side among charred wood. Nothing was found in the urn. The tumulus rests on a hillock of sand on the summit of a ridge commanding an extensive view." It had doubtless been "a pagan grave-mound of Bronze Age type." The silver relics were found, not in the grave-mound, but in the sand at its base, and are believed to belong to the seventh century. Largo has been rich in valuable antiquities, for in the winter of 1848, four golden torcs were found at Temple. They are made of thin fillets twisted like a screw, and have hook-like terminations, which interlock and fasten them round the wrist of the wearer. Three of them are perfect, and all are now in the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum. An old woman, who had lived all her life where they were found, stated that in her young days several cists were discovered there, and that a man was supposed to have found a treasure, for he suddenly became wealthy enough to build a house.
Backmuir of Gilston is a long, dilapidated village in the northern part of the parish. In 1837, the population, including that of the neighbouring hamlet of Wood-side, was 316, but it is probably much less now.
The Population of the whole parish in 1755 was 1396; in 1791, it had risen to 1913; in 1861, it had still further increased to 2626; but in 1881, it was down to 2224.
The Valuation in 1855-6 was £14,438 12s, and rose to £15,829 11s 10d in 1874-5; but has fallen to £14,258 6s 4d in 1885-6.
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