This thriving town is fully two miles to the south-west of Lundin Mill, and is on the eastern bank of the River Leven, just where it pours its waters into the Firth of Forth.
The Name given to it in Blaeu's Map is Leauins Mouth, which is certainly very appropriate so far as the situation is concerned; and, on the same map, a place to the north-east is marked as South Leauin. But the simple name of Leven is found at an earlier date.
Burgh of Barony. - In the old Statistical Account, drawn up in 1791, it is said that "the only village in the parish (of Scoonie) is Leven, which belongs to the barony of Durie." And in the New Statistical A ccount, prepared in 1836, it is stated, that, "the town of Leven is a burgh of barony holding under the family of Durie; but, having no local government till very lately, it possesses no records, and there is nothing worthy of remark in its history." The Record edition of the Acts of Parliament shews that Archbishop Gladstane granted to George Lauder, in 1609, the port and haven of Leven, and the town and burgh of barony of Leven, with customs and duties belonging thereto. This charter was confirmed by the King in the same year. In 1619, Archbishop Spotswood conveyed them to Gibson, and both Gladstane's charter and his were ratified by Parliament in 1621. In 1672, an Act was passed, in favour of John Gibson of Durie, altering the days of the two yearly fairs, which were held at his town and barony of Leven.
Churches. - A brief account of the parish ministers is given in the chapter on Scoonie. The present parish church, which was built in or about 1775, was described by David Swan, in 1791, as "a neat and modern building, with a spire,..... . . . in the immediate neighbourhood of Leven, being more convenient for the greater part of the parish, than the old situation at Scoonie, which is about half a mile distant." At that time it was seated for about 700; but, in 1822, the heritors, "in the most liberal manner," enlarged it to hold 1000. "The interior of the building," says Brewster, "was completely renewed, and there are few country churches so comfortable, either for preacher or hearers." To a stranger, it resembles a conglomeration of barns, big and little, attached to a steeple; and the most recent addition is like a new patch in an old garment. The other churches - Free, U.P., and Episcopal - are all quite close to it, and are tasteful modern buildings. In 1791, there were not above 150 Dissenters in the whole parish ; and, of these, nearly one half were Burghers, 35 were Anti-Burghers, 34 belonged to the Relief, 2 were Independents, and 3 were Episcopalians.
At that time there were no begging poor in the parish, and the people in general were "sober, industrious and thriving." In the words of their appreciative pastor:- "If any behave in an irregular and disorderly manner, they are avoided by their neighbours, it being reckoned discreditable to be seen in their company. They are social in their tempers, liberal in their sentiments, respectful to their superiors, and hospitable to strangers; regular in attending upon the public institutions of religion, and remarkable for external decency in the house of God. Few people are more compassionate to the indigent, or contribute more liberally to their support, not only by their public collections, but by private donations. Such as separate from the Established Church have little of that reserve or moroseness, which is the general characteristic of separatists. of almost all denominations. There have been, as in all societies, some idle, worthless persons among them; but in the memory of man, there has not been one convicted of a capital crime." It was "no small advantage" of these exemplary people that they had "no connection with corporation or borough politics, which, for the most part, are attended with such bad effects upon the industry and morals of the people."
The in-dwellers, however, of this little earthly paradise were not without their own troubles. "As Leven is a thoroughfare from the west to the east coast of Fife, the inhabitants are much oppressed with beggars and vagrants." Liberally as they gave to their own deserving and unobtrusive poor, they complained that they had to give three or four times more to the importunate wanderers. In spite of David Swan's eulogy, his parishioners did not conduct their funerals properly, which is thus referred to by his successor, in 1836:- "When the present incumbent came to the parish, it was customary to have at least three services, but often more - one of spirits with bread and cheese, and two of wine with cake and biscuit. This not only occasioned much delay, but entailed a heavy expense upon poor families, which, at such a season especially, they were little able to bear. Now the services are altogether discontinued; the procession commences precisely at the hour appointed; and it may be recorded to the credit of the community, that, generally, they entered most readily into the new arrangement." By this time, however, if they had become rnore plausible, they had also become more reckless, for Brewster complains that, the annual fairs, which had "dwindled into petty markets for toys and sweet-meats, ... . . are often made an occasion, by many of the working-classes, for dissipation and disturbance;" that the great number of licensed houses "tended much to demoralise the people;" and, that, "though much wanted, there is no prison in this parish, nor even a lock~up-house!" The Dissenters, too, had increased with the population, for they now numbered 827; and there was both an Independent, and a. Relief Chapel. The latter was built in 1831 ; and the congregation is now, of course, a U.P. one. Their present church was opened on the 20th of September 1871, by Dr R. S. Drummond, and their liberality was shown by their collection that day, which amounted to £166.
The Town Hall is as plain and ugly a building as any one need wish to see, and presents a striking contrast to the handsome public school, which is hard by.
The Greig Institute would be a most effective building, if it were better seen, but the neighbouring houses shut it in. The four principal rooms are, a billiard-room, a class-room, a reading-room - supplied with papers and periodicals - and a library containing about 2000 volumes. There is also a bath-room. Visitors are charged 2s per month. The names of the chief contributors, and the extent of their donations, are duly displayed over the entrance. As Mr Greig, of Glencarse, gave most, the building was named after him. It was opened on the 14th of January 1874.
Harbour and Fishing. - Judging from Gladstane's charter, there must have been some traffic, or the prospect of it, at the port and haven in 1609. In 1791, Swan says, "There are 6 trading vessels of from 90 to 140 or 150 tons, belonging to this port, employed mostly in the Holland and East sea trade. There is no port on the coast of Fife better calculated for the timber and iron trade, having easy access, by roads perfectly level, to a populous adjacent country; and the head of the river affording a safe and commodious harbour." Prior to 1836, a small quay had been built, where ships were unloaded; but it was "altogether insufficient for the increasing trade of the port." A few years ago, an extensive dock was constructed, which, with the relative works, cost about £40,000; but it has since been sold at a much lower figure. There is little fishing carried on here, for, according to the Report of 1883, there is only one boat and two men.
Past and Present. - The Leven of 1886, except in its situation, is altogether unlike the Leven of 1791; although at that earlier date the signs of future prosperity were beginning to manifest themselves. Linen was then the chief manufacture, there being about 140 looms in the parish. In the near neighbourhood of the town there was "an extensive bleach-field," at which sixteen or eighteen people were employed, and the business was yearly increasing, as the prejudices against public bleaching daily wore away. There was also "a considerable roperie established," and there were a goodly number of shoemakers. House rents ran from 10s to £8. The turnpike, from Kirkcaldy to the East coast of Fife, passed the town at the distance of about half-a-mile; and there was the speedy prospect of having an excellent road from the shore of Leven to Cupar. There was plenty of coals in the immediate vicinity, and peats were rare. There was also a post-office in Leven, with a daily arrival from Edinburgh, except on Monday, and a despatch every day, save on Saturday. Happy people! but not without their drawbacks. There was no bridge across the Leven nearer than Cameron Bridge. They had to be content with two fords, which, however, were always passable, except in high tides or great spates; but, for the convenience of foot passengers, a coble crossed near the town. Nor was there a bridge over Scoonie Burn.
Passengers by the great turnpike to the east had to ford it, though that was often dangerous in winter, by the banks of ice regorging the water, and occasionally perilous in summer by floods. A few years before Swan wrote, a farmer and his wife, in attempting to cross it on horseback, were carried down the stream, and, but for timely help, would have been drowned. Lamont records a few facts which show that bridges were sadly missed in his time. In December 1658, two lads, who had been at a funeral at Largo, were drowned "in that bourne that comes downe betuixt Hatton and Lundy." There was a bridge of a kind, but "the trie being lowse, ther foote slipped, and fell in the water, so that those that were present could not recover them, because of the violence of the speate." The Lord's Supper was dispensed at Largo on the last day of July 1659, and that night such a rain came on, that "few were abell to come to the Moneday exercise, because the waters were not rydabell." And in May 1665, "one James Hendersone, servant to Bessie Barclay, in Largo in Fyffe, perished in Levens water, by taking the water on horsebacke, when the sea was in above the ordinar foorde, a littel beneath John Strachans bachille (i.e., a pendicle, or spot of arable ground) ther, wher some women cryed to him, and forbade him to take the water. The day after, he was founde amonge the craigs, and berried in the chapel at the Methel."
How different now! The inhabitants of that period would not recognise the place if they could be brought back. Hand-looms are out of date. Public works are multiplied even more than churches; and yet the place is extra clean and tidy. Two different lines of railway come to the town, and the Leven is likewise crossed by two substantial public bridges - one stone and the other iron. The telegraph has been introduced. There are three banks - Royal, National, and Commercial. There is a large and admirably conducted hotel - the "Caledonian " - whose courteous landlord is a general favourite; and many excellent private houses. The people have nearly trebled their number. In summer the streets and links are gay with visitors. The Police Act has been adopted. A copious supply of water has been introduced, and the drainage has been improved, by which means the healthiness of the town has been greatly increased.
The Links are on the east side of the town, and the golfing course is a long one, as it also extends over Scoonie and Lundin Links. There is a club-house at Leven. The members of the Thistle Golf Club, which was instituted forty years ago, play monthly for the Pattison Cross. There is also a Junior Club for youths under 18, who play for a medal in August. As Charles the Second came along the coast, in February 1651, "he knighted Collonell Scot, In Levin sands, upon the head of his owne regiment of horse, with his Louet.-Collonell also, both att one tyme."
Inner-Leven, or Dubbie-Side, though on the other side of the river, and in a detached portion of the parish of Markinch, is regarded as a suburb of Leven. Previous to 1836, the ferry-boat had given place to "a handsome suspension-bridge, for foot-passengers, by means of which," says Brewster, "the village of Dubby-side is now, in a manner, connected with the town of Leven. This improvement cost nearly £500, which was raised in shares of 10s. 6d. each. A half-penny is charged for each passenger; and the pontage is at present let at £85 per annum." A painting of the old worthy, who in turn acted as ferry-man, bridge-keeper, and water-carrier, is preserved in the Greig Institute. Every dog has its day, and the suspension-bridge - like the ferry-boat - has succumbed to a more serviceable successor. There is a U.P. Church in this lengthy village. According to Mackelvie:- "The members of several praying societies in and about Leven acceded to the Associate Presbytery in May 1738, and a few more in May 1739 and in 1742. They attended public worship after their secession at Abbotshall, Kirkcaldy, till 1744, when, at their own request, they were joined to the congregation of Ceres, which had then obtained a minister.
The Breach in 1747 divided them; the majority of them adhering to the General Associate (Anti-burgher) Synod, and continuing connected with the congregation at Ceres. They sought to be disjoined from it in 1769 ; but, in consequence of the opposition of the minister and session, this was refused by the Synod, to which the case was appealed, but the minister of Ceres was required to preach four Sabbaths in the winter season at Dubbie-side, or some other place in that district. Matters continued in this state till 1793, when the members of the congregation of Ceres resident in Leven, Largo, and places adjacent, were formed, under sanction of the Presbytery, into a separate congregation." Andrew Nicol, "after itinerating as a probationer for forty years," was ordained here, in February 1855, as the third minister of this congregation. On account of his age and infirmities, he demitted his charge in 1861, and died at Kinross ten years afterwards. The Inner-Leven Golf Club was instituted in 1820, and has about 140 members.
Alexander Balfour, who died at Mount Alyn on the 16th of April 1886, in his 62d year, and was buried at Rosset. in Denbighshire, was a native of Leven, being a son of Henry Balfour of Leven-bank. Few men have risen to greater eminence in the mercantile world, or been more esteemed in it for thorough-going integrity. Still fewer have left a more honoured name for deeds of Christian philanthropy. His zeal, courage, unselfishness, liberality, and unwearied devotedness have seldom been rivalled. He was a partner in the same firm as Mr Stephen Williamson, lately M.P. for the St Andrews Burghs.
The Population of Leven in 1791 was only 1165; in 1836, it was over 2000; and in 1881, including InnerLeven, it was 3067.