Talk given by Provost A C Newell in January 1964
[This article is reproduced from the Fife News, Tayside Edition]
NEWPORT - PAST AND FUTURE
'' Provost A. C. Newell gave an interesting talk on 'Newport, Past and Future', at an open meeting of St Thomas's Parish Church Congregational Fellowship last Thursday. In his interesting talk, the Provost said:
My only qualification for speaking upon this subject is that my knowledge of the burgh goes back to December 1921, and, although for a few years thereafter I was only a winter visitor, I have been a permanent resident and a ratepayer since 1928, in which year, I might add, the rates were 7s 3d in the £1. Perhaps I had better not state the comparative figure today. However, I did not come here to speak about myself and will now address myself to the subject.
Newport cannot, of course, claim to be an old burgh. It was born of the parish of Forgan, and that it is a very pleasant and peaceful place none will deny. A local historian, J. S. Neish, writing in 1890, describes it as a beautiful village, pleasantly situated on a series of gentle slopes and terraced ridges rising from the shores of the Firth of Tay and presenting a charming and picturesque appearance, and anyone who has viewed the burgh from the deck of the Fifie will concur in that opinion.
Newport undoubtedly owes its origin and its growth to the fact that it was the southern terminal for the ferry, thereby forming an important link in the line of communication between Southern and Northern Scotland. As long ago as 1669, the Scottish Parliament recognised this by placing the ferry under the regulation of the Justices of Peace for the County, who were given power to appoint fit and sufficient boats and convenient landing places. You will see from this that we have had some importance in the scheme of things for a very long time.
It is on record that an inn and hiring establishment known as 'Alexander Cupar's House' existed here in 1699, and, sad to relate, the record goes on to say, 'to the scandal of all good people of the parish, many go and drink in the time of the afternoon sermon.' It would appear, therefore, that they had trouble about Sunday opening even in those days. There is surely nothing new under the sun.
What is now known as Newport was originally referred to as the 'Waterside', and indeed I have heard the late Captain John Berry of Chesterhill so describe it even in my time. While a ferry had, from time immemorial, run from here to Dundee, the principal ferry service used to run from Woodhaven, and it was not until the beginning of the 18th century that the service from Newport began to assume anything like the importance of its rival from Woodhaven. We find that in the year 1713, the Guildry of Dundee took steps to establish a regular ferry service to Seamylnes, by the purchase of six acres of land upon which they built piers, a house and offices, and which they re-named first New Dundee, then Newport Dundee, and finally Newport. A public highway was thereafter constructed from Newport to Kirkcaldy, thus opening direct communication between North and South via the ferries from Dundee to Newport and from Kirkcaldy to Leith. In our day, we are witnessing history repeating itself, as it has a habit of doing, by the building of two great bridges for the same purpose.
It is recorded that the motive for the ferry enterprise on the part of the Guildry of Dundee was that they hoped that by the new route a stream of traffic would flow so steadily across the Tay that, in a few years, a flourishing town would spring up on the Fife side of the river, and form a new outlet for the enterprise of the traders of Dundee. It is sad to relate that their hopes were not fulfilled, for by 1777 the Guildry resolved to sell their property in Fife, upon it becoming clear that 'New Dundee' had turned out to be a bad speculation. After some vicissitudes, the land which had been acquired from the estates of Inverdovat and St Fort passed back to the original proprietors, and the house and piers at Newport eventually came into the possession of Mr Berry of Tayfield. At that time Newport consisted of about 20 cottages scattered here and there, including two at Seacraig which were only demolished in the inter-war years. There was also a salmon fishing station at Craighead.
The next great event in our history was the building of the railways, but as the line from Edinburgh, which was opened on 17th May, 1848, terminated at Tayport, or Ferry Port on Craig, and from which there was a ferry to Broughty, this had an adverse effect on Newport, as all traffic which formerly came by stage coach to our ferry, was now diverted to the railway and the ferry from Tayport to Broughty. Thereafter, development in Newport remained stagnant for about 20 years and does not seem to have picked up again until the 1860s. Then Newport really started to grow, and during the next 20 years more than trebled its population, which rose from 728 in 1861 to 2311 in 1881. This period coincided with the period of commercial advancement and prosperity in Dundee, and many of what we now regard as our old Newport families took up residence here during this time. Much building went on and many fine marine villas were erected, and also such fine houses as Westwood, Kinbrae and Balmore. We are told that the wealthy merchants of Dundee were attracted here by the summer bathing, yet we see comparatively few bathers today, and perhaps our beautiful river has not the attraction it once held in this respect. I shall be referring to this matter again later on in my talk when I come to deal with the future. (To be continued)
Provost Newell, in a recent address, gave some interesting facts about Newport's past. The first part of his talk was published last week, and it is continued below:
Another event of great interest marked this period. I refer to the arrival in 1869 of the Mars ship, an old wooden wall, a line of battleship which originally carried 68 guns. She was brought here at the instance of a committee whose purpose was the rescue and training of homeless and destitute boys. They were trained to be sailors or taught other useful trades, and lads who might otherwise have drifted on to become what we call today juvenile delinquents were turned into good citizens. Many of them later gave their lives for their country as the memorial on Woodhaven Pier does testify. The ship was in fact a floating industrial school, and many of the instructors, who came to staff her, were the founders of several local families whose names are well-known to us today, e.g., the Betsworths, Barlows, Noakes, etc.
Any reference to this period in the history of Newport would be incomplete without some mention of the building of the Tay Bridge, which does constitute a milestone in our development, and from which we gained two great advantages. First, the opening of the railway, the line being extended along Tayside to the bridge from Tayport, so giving us a direct railway link. The second advantage, which followed later, was perhaps the major pre-requisite to the development of any town, namely, an adequate and a piped water supply. Upon this, of course, depends the installation of a proper sanitary system, which was impossible without the water supply. Hitherto, supplies of water had depended upon domestic wells. I think nearly every old house in Newport will have one of these wells somewhere in the garden, although many are now covered up. The supplies they provided were quite inadequate, and moreover many wells were polluted. The water supply had concerned the then local authority, the Forgan Parochial Board, for some time, and several schemes had been considered. One was for a catchment area on the high ground at Wormit and St Fort, with two reservoirs, one at Waterstone Crook, but in the way of local authorities, the proposals were shelved until the Government exerted some pressure, This resulted, eventually, in the local authority making arrangements to obtain a piped water supply from Lintrathen, via the new Tay Bridge, and this supply commenced to flow on November 11, 1879, just a little more than a month before it was cut off by the collapse of the bridge. To their, great credit, the authorities took immediate steps to provide a temporary supply, and they did this by sinking a well to trap water from a stream flowing into Wormit Bay, and then pumping it by steam engine, to the reservoir on Wormit Hill. This new supply was in operation by July, 1880, and continued to provide for our requirements until the new bridge was opened in 1887, and the Lintrathen supply re-connected.
The same period of time with which I am dealing was also notable for the erection of the Blyth Hall and the Newport School. In my view, we are very fortunate indeed to possess such a valuable asset as the Blyth Hall, which is the envy of many other local authorities. Certainly in its architecture and its situation it lends great dignity to the burgh. It was the gift of Mrs Blyth-Martin as a memorial to her three brothers, Charles, Thomas and Henry, who all died within a period of two years. In 1875 she placed about £4000 in the hands of Trustees for the purpose of its erection, and it was built and duly opened on May 19, 1877. The flagpole was erected a year later. The whole property was handed over to the burgh by the Trustees during Provost Leitch's term of office in 1914.
Now a very good indication of the healthy development of a community such as ours is in the erection of its churches, which right through the ages are perhaps the best monuments to the past. I cannot pretend to be qualified to touch upon the history of the Church in Scotland, to enable me to do that I would have required the guidance of my great friend, the late Mr J. R. Cairns, who you will all remember, and who was an authority on the subject, but so far as Newport is concerned, it may suffice for my purpose to state the chronological order in which the churches were erected, and leave it at that.
Our Mother Parish was, of course, Forgan, whose first church dates back to the 12th-century. The present church was built in 1842.
The Scottish Congregationalists were the first to establish a place of worship in Newport, meeting first in the ground floor of Broadhaugh, the house of Mr Robert Just, whose son, Mr Thomas Just, was one of its early pastors. They moved to a house at Seamylne, later to become known as Chapel House, and continued there until 1822, when Mr Just and his brother built, at their own expense, a small Chapel in West Newport, which is still in existence, and to which I will refer again later on. They continued here until the present Congregational Church was built in 1868.
After the Disruption in the Church of Scotland in 1843, a Free Church was built on the site of the present St Fillan's Church in 1844, to be replaced by the present building in 1869.
In the meantime, the Established Church had formed East Newport into a 'quoad sacra' parish and your own Church of St Thomas was built in 1871. It was described as a handsome edifice, and who could better that description today?
Then came the United Presbyterian or, as we know it today, the United Free Continuing or Trinity. The foundation stone of the United Presbyterian Church (Trinity) was laid in 1881, two years after the Rev. J. S. Scotland, who I believe some of you remember, had accepted a call as minister to the congregation which had previously met in the Blyth Hall.
The Episcopal Church formed a congregation in 1883, meeting in the small Blyth Hall until St Mary's was duly opened in 1887. The first rector was Canon S. B. Hodson, who many of you also remember, particularly for his penny concerts.
Limitations of time have compelled me to deal but very sketchily with the history of the churches in Newport, my remarks being designed to illustrate the growth of the community rather than that of the Church, as the one is so closely related to the other.
Also indicative of the growth of a community are the number of organisations, of a cultural, social or recreational character which are formed, and, judging from the number which sprang up, Newport must have been a very thriving and healthy place, where members of the community provided for their own varied entertainment and recreation, in days when people depended upon themselves rather than upon the State, and when the community spirit was a living force, and bored elders or teenagers unknown.
A Curling Club was formed in 1858, and the present ponds in 'Berry's Den' were constructed. A Bowling Club was formed in 1869 and their green was near Seacraig House, until the present green, considered to be one of the best in Scotland, was opened in 1877. There was a Horticultural Society which held an annual show, but this seems to have fallen by the wayside until some of us succeeded in forming a new society during the war. I regret to say that after holding three rather successful shows in aid of the Red Cross, interest waned and we had to close down. A Rowing Club held an annual regatta, to which it is recorded thousands were attracted, the Braes forming a natural grandstand. There was a Swimming Club also which survived until the inter-war years. There may be some here tonight who remember the old Quoiting Club, whose ground was near the Railway Bridge on the Cupar Road, and where they competed every year for a very elaborate trophy formed from a pair of rams horns, and which used to be exhibited in Postie Anderson's window at the Boat.
One of the most active and successful organisations was, and still is, the Tennis Club, of which you all know, and which seems assured of a long and successful future. Newport could also boast at one time of a Rifle Club, whose range, I am told, was under the High Street wall, near the burgh yard. Such clubs were very popular when I was a youth, and were formed under the encouragement of the famous soldier, Lord Roberts, VC. Every boy aspired to emulate the extraordinary feats of marksmanship of the Boers, and much of our hard earned and scanty pocket money was spent on .22 ammunition. Lord Roberts, of course, aspired to turn us all into soldiers, and it was not long before he succeeded.
On the cultural side there was the Newport Orchestral Society, under the conductorship of Mr Scroggie of Linden Avenue, a well-known musician, but I am told this ceased during the First World War. However, when I first came to Scotland in the early twenties, there was a very active Operatic Society going strongly under the leadership of the late Mr Bob Scott. Their productions were the highlight of the year, and I can well remember the beautiful soprano voice of Phoebe Chalmers, and others taking part were, I recall, the late Mr W. D. Jeffrey, A. B. Duncan, David Easson and Rosa M'Dougall. Others still with us are W. S. Young (also well-known as a cricketer) and two ex-Provosts, Messrs Frank Fairweather and Alex. Forrest. Phoebe Chalmers was a sister-in-law of the late Dr J. B. Salmond, a notable resident of the burgh until he left to take up a University appointment in St. Andrews. He was a well-known author, but will perhaps be best remembered for his history of the 51st Division.
Among the social organisations, I must not forget the Newport Social Club, which is still going strongly today in premises just opposite. It had its origin in the 1870s and was, I am told, founded by the engineers who built the first Tay Bridge. It seems that the first premises they occupied was the one time Chapel in West Newport, built by the brothers Just, and used as a place of worship until the present Congregational Church was opened. I trust the members of the club at least found the atmosphere of their premises of some benefit.
Newport so gained in importance, and in size, as to warrant it being constituted a burgh in 1887, the first Provost being Mr Alexander Scott, a banker, who I believe lived in Ashbank. It is interesting to note that the Junior Bailie on the first Council was Mr J. F. Millar, father of Miss E. F. Millar, who recently very generously gave £500 to the burgh for the purpose of founding a fund to provide prizes for our municipal houses gardens competition, and had previously given Duncraig as a home for elderly ladies. When she left Duncraig she gave a most beautiful multiple electric light fitting to the Council and it now adorns the Council Chamber. Miss Millar tells me that her family connection with Newport goes back over 100 years, and she has the welfare of the burgh very much at heart. Newport is indeed very fortunate to have had two such generous ladies as Mrs Blyth-Martin and Miss Millar as residents in the burgh. Now this first Council also has a link with my time here, for I note that the first Chamberlain and Collector was a Mr F. G. Kemp, and he still occupied those offices and that of Registrar when I went to register my marriage in 1923, and Mr S. P. Nicoll was his deputy.
I have already mentioned Canon Hodson and his penny concerts, and this calls to mind the name of one of his performers at these concerts, and someone that many of you in St Thomas's will well remember, Miss Liza Honeyman. I think Miss Honeyman well deserves to be mentioned as one of Newport's great personalities, but I am told that her father, who was known as Pa Honeyman, was equally well-known, not only in Newport but perhaps also in many countries beyond these shores. He wrote detective stories under the pseudonym of James M'Govern, and it is said that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once acknowledged that he got his idea for the Sherlock Holmes stories from those of Pa Honeyman. I have also mentioned the Operatic Society and the late Mr Bob Scott, who was held in high esteem by all with whom he came in contact, as were all the members of the large family to which he belonged, alas no more, but still well remembered. I remember Mr Bob Scott holding a packed audience enthralled for a very long evening in the Small Blyth Hall just after the war, with his reminiscences of Newport, where I believe he had lived for most of his days.
He recalled another well-known character, also of the name of Bob, who had acquired a reputation as chief heckler at political meetings. He was a man of smallish stature, pawky in manner, but of very strong opinions, and he had a cross eye. At one meeting in the Blyth Hall he rose to question the great Mr H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and who for many years represented East Fife in the Liberal interests. Mr Asquith was probably one of the greatest intellectuals who had ever occupied the highest office in the land, a master of the spoken word and in debate. Nothing daunted, Bob got up to challenge him, and when he put his question from the back of the hall, the great man invited him to come forward nearer the platform so that he could hear him the better. As Bob boldly moved down the centre of the hall towards the platform, a loud voice from the balcony shouted out 'Fix him with your straight eye, Bob; fix him with your straight eye'.
I must also recall Davie Young, the children's friend, who served in the shop run by him and his brother on the High Street. Gruff of manner and knowing everyone, the children went to Davie's shop for their sweeties, and they simply worshipped him. When he died they erected a memorial to him in Vicarsford Cemetery.
I must not conclude about great personalities without mentioning our first and only Burgess, the late Mr Frank H. Morrison, who served the burgh as Town Clerk for over 40 years, and to whose great service, kindness and assistance, I and other members of the Council can testify. And the picture would be incomplete without the inclusion of the present father of the burgh, ex-Provost John T. Young, happily still active and, while I cannot mention his age, I can tell you that he was one of the pioneers of the motor trade in Scotland, and is preparing a monumental history of that trade which I hope will serve to keep his memory alive for many generations to come. John T. has been a very great servant to this burgh, and we are very proud that he is still with us.
Newport has contributed her full share in the lives of her sons in the three major wars which have occurred since she became a burgh, as our various War Memorials testify. We are all acquainted with the principal Memorial on the Braes, but there are other lesser known ones to which I would call your attention. In the Leng Chapel at Vicarsford, the names of five local men who lost their lives in the Boer War are recorded on a tablet on the wall, while in the entrance to the Blyth Hall is a brass plate commemorating the names of members of the 9th Battalion The Black Watch, unkindly known as Britain's last hope, who first served as volunteers in that Battalion before later going to France and falling on the field of battle. After the First World War, we had a very strong ex-Servicemen's Association in Newport, under the leadership of Major Andrew, father of Mrs Alex. Reid. Every year on the Sunday nearest the date of the Armistice, we paraded in Victoria Street, some 80 to 100 strong, and marched to St Thomas Church, led by the Pipe Band. We had a very fine Pipe Band in Newport in those days, but, unfortunately, like many other organisations it disappeared with the coming of the Second World War. (To be continued) ''
[Unfortunately, we do not have the concluding part of Provost Newell's talk, or know his thoughts on the future of Newport.
The talk was printed in the Fife News, Tayside Edition, over three weeks, 25 January, 1 February and 8 February 1964. I have seen original copies of the first two, which provide the text above, but unfortunately not the third. Efforts to locate another copy of the 8 February edition have so far failed: no local library has any copies of the Fife News for 1964; the British Library has only the Howe of Fife edition; the National Library of Scotland copy (probably only the Howe of Fife edition also) is 'missing'; the publishers do not allow access to their archive copies and have no record of whether the Tayside edition for the date concerned is archived. The search goes on.]
Thanks to Johnston Publishing Ltd. for permission to reproduce the article.
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