East is East, and West is West

and the wrong one I have chose …

[name that tune *]

Certainly in Victorian Newport you may well have chosen the wrong direction – particularly if you were looking for a property in East Newport. Take, for example, Messrs Hutton and Boase (who owned houses within 50 yards of each other in Marytown, albeit 20 years apart).

The legal descriptions of their properties have Tay Street to the north and Union Street to the south, Hutton has Robert Street to the west and Boase has other Marytown properties east and west.

In fact, ALL the Marytown properties refer to Tay Street on the north with Union Street, King Street and Queen Street to the south.

The field behind or above Marytown (Backfield Park – where Woodbine Terrace and Maryfield were built) was referred to as ‘the land south of Marytown’. There are also references to houses and shops on the north side of the High Street.

But look at the map.

Tay Street, Union Street, King Street, Queen Street and the High Street run almost north to south. In other words, Tay Street is WEST of Marytown, and the ‘north’ side of the High Street is actually the west side.


Well, the extreme case is given by the plots of land on the corner of Queen Street, James Street and King Street. The field was divided into four plots, described as the NE, SE, SW and NW lots. But on the ground, the NE plot is actually the NW one, the SE is in fact the NE one, the SW one is really the SE one and the NW plot is the SW one. (I wonder if people bought the one they were expecting to buy?)

The reason for all this geographic muddle appears to be – nobody used a compass but assumed that the river was to the north of Newport. Which is true for most of Newport, but not for the part from the foot of the High Street to the foot of James Street – where the coast turns from running west to east, to running south to north, before turning again back to running west to east. As anyone who lives here will tell you, the magnificent sunsets show that these houses look west.

So when you are stuck with directions which don’t appear to be quite right, use the rule ‘if you face the shoreline you are looking north’.

Into the sunset
photo by Alexander Robertson c.1896

Looking north into the sunset.

Sasine Abridgements – 1826.03119, 1866.00933 (for Marytown lot 6, Hutton)
Sasine Abridgements – 1826.03335, 1840.04731 (for Marytown lot 7, Boase)
Town Council Minutes 1906-07 – plans for David Young to build shops on north side of the High Street

* Buttons and Bows, 1947, lyrics – Ray Evans, music – Jay Livingston, Academy Award winner for Best Original Song in ‘The Paleface’ starring Bob Hope & Jane Russell.

A Man Ahead of His Time

John James Henderson is a name more associated with Tayport than Newport but he could have been the person to put Newport in the forefront of environmental guardians.

In 1887 the newly created Police Commissioners of Newport (the first Town Council) had to solve the problem of the burgh’s drainage. The growth of the village had been haphazard and each property had its own sewage and drainage arrangements. A solution was desperately needed to deal with this unhealthy situation. The Commissioners decided to hold a competition and called for plans for a comprehensive drainage scheme to be submitted anonymously, the best two schemes as decided by an independent adjudicator being awarded prizes of £20 and £10.

The winning scheme, which with some amendments was put into practice, created 4 sewer outfalls directly into the River Tay at Riverside Lane, the old harbour, James Street and Bank Street. All the raw sewage from the burgh would be fed into these pipes, sent into the river and the Commissioners could wash their hands of it.

J J Henderson was well-qualified in drainage schemes. He was a civil engineer and architect with previous experience of municipal engineering and sanitation arrangements. And he was a man ahead of his time. He had submitted an entry in the Newport competition but it was judged too expensive, coming in just under double the cost of the £2600 winner.

Disappointed at not winning, and seeking to explain both the reasons for the cost of his scheme and the benefits it would give to the people of Newport, he wrote a letter to the Editor of the Courier in January 1888.

His scheme would “take all the sewage of the burgh by an intercepting sewer, carried along nearly the whole length of the foreshore, near high water mark, to a gathering tank at Craighead Point, and there, by one outlet, discharge it into the river during the central three and a half hours of the ebb tide by an automatic arrangement of valves”.

Does it sound familiar?

Well, this was the very scheme adopted by Scottish Water in 2006, except that the intercepting sewer now runs along the main road and is dependent on electricity to pump it to the treatment works between Newport and Tayport.

Henderson also foresaw the sewage treatment works, as he noted in his explanation : “Sanitary science … has advanced by such rapid strides within recent years that it would be difficult to set a limit to its progress during the immediate future in the direction of purification of sewage. Such being the case I have kept in view the possibility of the [Commissioners] being called upon, within a reasonable period, to undertake the disposal of the sewage of the burgh otherwise than by casting it, in all its native filthiness, into the river”.

But money talks.

And so, as Henderson went on to say, the “enjoyable use [of the foreshore] by the inhabitants, either in boating, bathing or walking, may be increased by the absence of sewage matter” was an expectation that would not be realised for 118 years.