The Newport, Wormit & Forgan Archive

History of the County of Fife, Vol. 3, John M Leighton, 1840

pages 62 - 66


I. This parish was also anciently called St Phillans, from the church having been dedicated to that saint. It lies on the south side of the river Tay, between that river and the parishes of Leuchars and Logie. It is of an oblong figure of rather irregular shape, about five miles in length from east to west, at its southern boundary ; but only 3.5 miles on its northern boundary next the Tay. Its breadth from north to south, is from one to two miles. On the south, the parish is bounded by the parishes of Kilmany, Logie, and Leuchars ; on the east, by Ferry-port-on-Craig ; on the north, by the estuary of the Tay ; and on the west, by the parish of Balmerino. The surface of the parish presents a succession of heights and intervening hollows, which give it a pleasing aspect ; and in several places, such as at St Fort and Tayfield, where it is ornamented with a great deal of fine wood, it is exceedingly beautiful and picturesque. At St Fort, and at Newton, are the highest hills in the parish, which rise about 300 feet above the Tay. In general, the coast along the Tay is bold and rocky, rising from 30 to 50 feet above the beach ; and along the brow of these rocks, for some way both east and west from Newport, a number of elegant marine villas have been erected, which, with their gardens and shrubberies, add greatly to the interest of this portion of the landscape. The villas have chiefly been erected by merchants and others belonging to Dundee, for the benefit of sea-bathing during the summer. From this rocky coast, and from the summit of the ridge of hills which descend from the south towards the Tay, fine views of Dundee, and of the opposite shire of Forfar, are obtained ; and, indeed, from no where else does that enterprising town, with its docks and shipping, appear to such advantage as from this portion of the coast of Fife.

The parish has 8 miles 945 yards of turnpike roads, and 5 miles 1651 yards of statute-labour roads. The principal roads terminate at the harbour of Newport, where the principal ferry from the county of Fife to that of Forfar is situated. Previous to 1822, there were two ferries across the Tay, one at Newport, and one at Woodhaven, about a mile to the west ; and from 1790, when a new turnpike road was made to the latter place, till 1808, it was the ferry chiefly resorted to. Another turnpike having been constructed in that year to Newport, which rendered it the most convenient point for passengers from the south, that place became in time the principal resort, and the ferry at Woodhaven became much less frequented. Up to this time, the boats used were small and inconvenient, and the ferry was not always accomplished without considerable danger. In 1819, an act of parliament was obtained, by which trustees were appointed connected with the two counties of Fife and Forfar, authorising them to erect new piers, and to procure boats better fitted for the passage, and otherwise to improve and regulate the ferry. In 1822, a steam boat was placed upon the ferry, which at first plied alternately between Woodhaven and Newport ; but, in 1822, the passage to Woodhaven was discontinued ; after which the intercourse at the ferry began rapidly to increase. A new act of parliament was rendered necessary to entitle the trustees to substitute one landing place, which was accordingly obtained, with increased powers for erecting the necessary piers at Newport and at Dundee. Ferry harbours were accordingly erected at these places, and new and improved steam boats have since been placed upon the station. From being, therefore, one of the worst and most dangerous ferries, this has now become one of the most safe and convenient in the kingdom. The steam boat, however, only plies through the day ; but for the convenience of the public, the trustees maintain a large sail boat, a pinnace, and a yawl, with proper crews, which may be freighted at hours when the steam boat does not ply. Since the improvements have been introduced, the number of passengers have been increased by 20,000, and the revenue has been doubled. The revenue for the year ending 31st December, 1834, was £4,844 : 5 : 5, and it has since considerably increased.

Besides the ferry harbour, there are other two harbours in the parish - one at Newport, the property of Mr Berry of Tayfield, and the other at Woodhaven, the property of Mr Stewart of St Fort. They admit vessels of from 100 to 150 tons, and are both used for exporting the produce of the surrounding country, and for importing coals, lime, wood, and other necessary articles. The nearest market town is Dundee, which is only separated by the river Tay; and the market town of Cupar and St Andrews are about 11 miles distant, from the most distant part of the parish. All these towns are frequented by the farmers for the sale of their produce. The coaches between Edinburgh and the north, and the coaches from Cupar to Dundee, as well as that from St Andrews to Dundee, pass through the parish. There is a penny post-office at Newport, which is dependent on Dundee, and from which there are daily arrivals and departures from and to the north and south. There are two inns and four alehouses in the parish.

The population in 1755 was 751; in 1793, 875. In 1801 it was 916 ; in 1811, 898; in 1821, 937 ; and in 1831, 1090. In 1831, the number of families was 238 ; of which, 61 are chiefly employed in agriculture ; 51 in trade, manufacture, or handicraft ; and 10 in seafaring occupations.

II. In the south-east extremity of the parish is Morton, the property of John Hay, Esq., in whose family these lands have been for several centuries ; and west of it, near the church, is the lands of Kirkton, the property of David Gillespie, Esq. of Kirkton and Montquhanie, which were, at the time Sibbald wrote, the property of a family of the name of Young. In the garden at this place there are three yew trees of great age, and now probably hardly equalled in Scotland.

Newport FerryWest of Kirkton are the lands of Easter, Wester, and Little Friartons, the property of Henry Stewart, Esq. of St Fort. West of Wester Friarton is the house and grounds of St Fort, the seat of Henry Stewart, Esq. This magnificent mansion, a view of which, and of a portion of its richly wooded grounds, is given in the engraving, is in the Elizabethan style, and was erected only a few years ago. St Fort appears to have belonged, at an early period, to a family of the name of Nairn. About 1457, Alexander Nairn of Sandford, was comptroller of the household to James II., and either he or his successor subsequently held the office of Lord Lyon, king-at-arms. This family continued in possession of the lands until the middle of last century, when they were purchased by the ancestor of the present proprietor. From the family of Nairn of St Ford was descended Thomas Nairn of Mukersy, whose grandson, Robert Nairn of Strathord, was raised to the dignity of the peerage by Charles II., with the title of Lord Nairn. A small portion of the lands of St Fort, called St Fort-Hay, and on which the house was situated, belonged anciently to a family of the name of Hay. In 1535, Andrew, fourth Earl of Rothes, had a charter of these lands. About 1563, St Fort-Hay was purchased by Alexander Walker, and from him was afterwards designated St Fort-Walker. The descendants of this gentleman continued in possession of these till the middle of last century, when they were purchased by Mr Stewart's ancestor.

In the south-west part of the parish are the lands of Newton, the property of the right honourable the Earl of Zetland. In 1535, these lands were contained in the before-mentioned charter to the Earl of Rothes, and were by him conferred upon his fourth son, the honourable George Leslie, who, upon his death in 1614, was succeeded in these lands, as well as in the lands of St Fort-Hay, by his brother, the honourable Sir John Leslie, who, in 1641, was appointed a lord of session, and in 1645, one of the commissioners of Exchequer. He was, with one of his sons, killed at the storming of Dundee by General Monk in 1651 ; and through his second son, Andrew Leslie, was the ancestor of the sixth and subsequent Lords Lindores. Previous to 1650, Alexander Walker, the purchaser of St Fort-Hay, acquired the lands of Newton, in virtue of a bond of wadset or mortgage for a considerable sum lent by him to Sir John Newton, the proprietor, and they continued with his descendents till about the middle of last century. Immediately north of Newton, and between it and the Tay, are the lands of Wormit, the property of Henry Scrimgeour Wedderburn, of Birkhill and Wedderburn, the representative of the Earls of Dundee, and as such hereditary standard-bearer for Scotland.

Newport Ferry North-east of the house of St Ford are the house and grounds of Tayfield, the seat of William Berry, Esq. A view of this fine mansion, with the ferry harbour, and part of the village of Newport, taken from the water, will be found in the engraving. The house of Tayfield has recently been greatly enlarged, and its whole appearance improved, and now presents a good example of the Elizabethan style of architecture. The name of Tayfield is modern ; the lands now so called, with the adjoining lands of Innerdovat, having formed originally the barony of Innerdovat, part of which at an early period belonged to a family of the name of Leighton, descended from the ancient family of Leighton of Ulieshaven in Forfarshire, long extinct, and the other portion to a family of the name of Leslie. In 1590, John Lindsay, second son of Sir David Lindsay of Edzell, and the first of the family of Balcarres, acquired the lands of Innerdovat-Leighton. At the time Sibbald wrote, Innerdovat was the property of Mr Gavin Hamilton, one of the clerks of the court of session ; and it was afterwards acquired by Doctor James Walker, second son of Alexander Walker of St Fort-Walker. Innerdovat was subsequently purchased by the late John Berry, Esq., the father of the present proprietor.

III. The church of Forgan, which anciently belonged to the priory of St Andrews, is beautifully but inconveniently situated for the greater part of the population, at the south-east extremity of the parish. It is an old building, seated for about 350 ; but it is in contemplation to erect a new building more in accordance with the extent of the population, and in a more central site than the present one. The present incumbent is the Rev. Charles Nairne ; the patronage is in the crown. The stipend is - wheat, 8 bolls ; meal, 118 bolls, 2 firlots, 1 peck, and 1 lippie ; barley, 118 bolls, 2 firlots, 1 peck, and 1 lippie ; and money, £8 : 6 : 8 sterling. The manse, erected in 1803, is in good condition, and the glebe contains about nine acres. There is a small Independent meeting-house near Newport, the Rev. James Jack, minister, with which about 10 families are connected. The other dissenters attend chapels in neighbouring parishes.

The parish school is situated in a central situation on the farm of Nether Friarton, and is attended by about 120 pupils. The ordinary branches of education, with Latin, French, and practical mathematics, are taught at it. Besides his fees, the teacher has the maximum salary, and an excellent house and garden. There is also a small school taught by two females, near Woodhaven, at which about 30 young children are taught the elementary branches of education, and the female children sewing.

From 4 to 6 poor persons receive a regular weekly allowance from the session, varying from 1s. to 2s., and from 12 to 15 others receive occasional assistance in money, meal, or coals. For this expenditure, the collections at the church door, upon an average about £12 per annum, has hitherto proved sufficient. A heavy charge has for some years been incurred for the support of two lunatics, in the Dundee asylum, and a yearly allowance made for the board of a fatuous person.

IV. The soil is generally of an excellent and fertile nature. The greater part is black loam and clayey earth ; but other portions are light and gravelly. The parish altogether contains about 5000 acres ; of which nearly 4000 are under regular cultivation, 370 acres in grass, 360 in wood, and 250 unarable. The rent of ground is from £1 to £3 per acre ; but some parks near the Tay rent as high as £4 per acre. The valued rent of the parish is £5145 : 6 : 8 Scots. The real rent in 1794 was £2873 sterling ; and in 1815, the annual value of real property for which the parish was assessed for the property tax, was £6064 sterling. The average annual value of agricultural produce, after deducting for seed, &c., including £200 for thinnings and felling of wood, is £16,340 sterling. There are 14 threshing machines in the parish, of which one is impelled by steam power ; and a meal mill and barley mill near Newport, worked by water.

There are several salmon fishings in the parish, carried on by the net and coble, which altogether, however, do not rent far above £150 per annum. The salmon caught here are either sold in the neighbourhood or in Dundee, or are packed in ice and sent by the Dundee ships to London. Stake nets were at one time used here, when the fisheries were very productive ; but as elsewhere, in estuaries, this mode was found to be illegal. The same observations made, when speaking of the fishings in the parish of Balmerino, with regard to the impolicy of preventing stake-net fishing in estuaries of rivers, where the net and coble are so inefficient, are equally applicable to the fishings in this parish. There is a brewery at Woodhaven, at which excellent strong ale and table beer are made ; and about 20 individuals are employed in weaving linen for the manufacturers of Dundee.

V. There are several tumuli or cairns of small stones in different parts of the parish ; but none of them have ever been examined. Some years ago, in cutting the public road at Newport, a few urns rudely made of clay were found ; but they were broken and destroyed by the workmen, and their contents, if they had any, were never ascertained.

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