History of the Church and Parish
Situated on the edge of the Howe of Fife, Auchtermuchty is approximately 30 miles north of the Forth Road Bridge and within easy reach of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth and St. Andrews. Aberdeen is only an hour and a half away by car and Inverness takes just over two hours.
If you are in business Auchtermuchty makes a superb central location for serving most of Scotland.
If you are on holiday, there is no better base for touring, whether you are visiting the fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife, the golf courses of St. Andrews, the Angus glens, the ski slopes of Cairngorm and Glenshee, or Scotland's historic cities.
Or, of course, you might just want to stay in 'Muchty and enjoy its excellent hostelries, explore its ancient streets and wynds, and experience the friendliness of its inhabitants!
Where else would you find streets named "Kilnheugh", "Mournipea", "Back Dykes" or "The Gladgate"?
View of Auchtermuchty, taken from the edge of Pitmedden Forest, looking over the Howe of Fife.
Auchtermuchty, the first 2000 years
It is likely that there have been people living around here for at least the last 2000 years.
There have been excavations near the coast north of St Andrews that have found remains up to 5000 years old.
In those days the countryside would have looked very different with the waterways providing the main travel routes and the dry land covered with woods.
Auchtermuchty is on the north side of the Howe of Fife, at the crossing point where the Calsay Burn, which runs through Auchtermuchty, crosses the main route from Stirling to St Andrews.
The first record of any dwelling around Auchtermuchty was in 350 AD, although the Romans had two camps in or around the area before that. In those days the Howe was a large area of boggy ground so settlements tended to be on higher ground.
The name Auchtermuchty is a corruption of the Gaelic words, Achad na Muic which means upland slope of the wild pig, and the flag of Auchtermuchty has a boar on it.
The old settlement of Auchtermuchty was along the ridge of the High Street with the Church at the eastern end. (Even today, the oldest buildings are in that area. Macduff House, opposite Orchard Cottage dates from the sixteenth century as does, we believe, The Weaver's House.)
Along the line of the hills to the north of Auchtermuchty and also on the Lomonds to the south can be found Iron Age Hill Forts.
In 1517 James V created Auchtermuchty a Royal Burgh. This meant that the town could hold fairs and markets and collect the fee therefrom from the stallholders. With this right went 6000 acres of common grazing land to the north of the town.
There used to be a house at the corner of Gladgate and Pitmedden Wynd called Pitmedden House. This house was built initially in 1439 and an archway was build at the side of the house. It has since been demolished but the archway survives over the gate of Braehead House in High Street, facing Pitmedden Wynd. At one time Pitmedden House was owned by James Chalmers, factor to James Vth. The oldest remaining part of the town was built between Pitmedden House and Macduff House in High Street, a site chosen for its defensive possibilities.
After the Royal Charter was granted in 1517, the houses on Burnside were built to accommodate the incoming traders who took advantage of the markets held in Auchtermuchty after that date. In 1816 the then Borough Council decided to enclose the Calsay Burn with stone walls and to build four bridges over the water where there had previously been fords. This expense bankrupted the town and the councillors were thrown in the town gaol, which still exists in the town house behind what is now the library. Most of the common land had to be sold to meet expenses connected with this bankruptcy as had the pews of the old parish church and two mills in the town. Auchtermuchty took about 10 years to recover from this setback.
In 1851 the population of Auchtermuchty was 3684 of which the majority were linen weavers using the linen grown in the Howe, with 1000 looms at work in the Parish. The street names in Auchtermuchty reflect these times, with examples such as Orchard Flat, Middle Flat and Upper Greens which were areas in which linen was set out to bleach in the sun. On the Newburgh road there is still a former smallholding called Bleachfield. Eventually linen was woven in factories, the last of which was behind Victoria Hall on Burnside.
The boggy land in the Howe was drained by prisoners of war from the Napoleonic wars in 1815. This probably signalled the end of the weaving industry in this area. The prisoners were also put to work building the stone walls still seen in abundance in this area. Because the water table in the Howe is still very low, the area floods easily.
More recently, Auchtermuchty was involved in the Whisky Industry, with the street names of Distillery Street and Bondgate being reminders.
For the past 230 years or so Whites Weighing Machines have been made in Auchtermuchty, this is the second oldest weighing machine factory in the UK and is still in the hands of the original family.
Musically, Auchtermuchty can claim world renown. Jimmy Shand, the famous dance band player lives to the north of the town and celebrated his 90th birthday in 1998. The Duo, The Proclaimers, were brought up in Auchtermuchty but now live in Edinburgh while their mother still lives here.
The most recent claim to fame was when Auchtermuchty was used in some location shots in the STV film series, Dr Finlay.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AND PARISH OF AUCHTERMUCHTY
The first recorded mention of any church on the site of the present Parish Church is on March 31st 1245 when the building, probably constructed of wattle and daub, was consecrated by the then Bishop of St Andrews, Archbishop de Burnham.
There may well have been a church on the chosen site before this and it might have been called St Serf's or St Severus' in remembrance of one of the early saints of this area. We can find out exactly what took place that day in 1245 as the records, including the order of service, are in the Louvre in Paris.
In the following year, Macduff, Thane of Fife, was captured in the Battle of Durham. He made a vow that, if he escaped with his life, he would make recompense to the Church, and in 1250, he gave the living of the Parish of Auchtermuchty, including the land and produce to the Abbey of Lindores.
There is a legend about the Church Bells that dates from this time. King David of Scotland gifted 4 bells to Lindores Abbey, one of which was supposed to be made of silver and called the Lady Bell . This bell found its way to Auchtermuchty after the Reformation. The authenticity was checked in Victorian times and it is, indeed, a Medieval bell, with a relief of Gabriel appearing to Mary on one side and, on the other, Mary and Jesus after Calvary.
The other bell, called the Reformation bell has an interesting history too. In 1618, Newburgh and Auchtermuchty both decided that each should have new church bell. The place to go for the best bells was the Netherlands, which had trading links with the coastal villages in Fife. Orders were therefore dispatched to the appropriate bell makers to make the bells. When word came that the bells were ready an official from each town went to Holland to supervise operations. When the bells were being swung out of the hold onto land at Newburgh pier, one of them fell and was cracked. The official from Newburgh was most perturbed and started to fuss about which community should have the remaining bell. The official from Auchtermuchty was quite calm. He announced that, before setting out on the voyage across the sea he had marked the Auchtermuchty Bell with chalk, and sure enough, the undamaged bell had a chalk mark. This bell was claimed for Auchtermcuhty, unloaded and dispatched along the road with all speed. When the official from Newburgh later examined the remaining bell, he found that it, too, had a chalk mark, but by then it was too late!
The Reformation that impacted on the rest of Scotland scarcely touched Auchtermuchty. In 1615 the Reverend James Barker, the 2nd Reform Minister, was accused by the Synod of Gambling and was Rebuked. The Rev Mr Barker was married to a relation of the local Laird whose family financed the building of the Reformation Church, which could explain the leniency of the sentence. Other ministers in other areas might have been dismissed or fined
At one time Auchtermuchty was said to have had seven bridges across the Calsay burn seven churches and seven pubs.
The seven bridges still stand and the seven churches were; The Parish Church, The Free Church (now St Stephen's the church hall for the Parish Church), The Burgher Church - on the Burnside, the Anti-Burgher Church, The Relief Church, the Episcopal Church (who met in Forresters Hall - now a private house below the church hall in Croft) and the Gospel Hall - now a private house at the top of Kilnheuch.
There were a number of independently minded clerics in Auchtermcuhty. One of these was John Glass, son of Rev Alexander Glass of the Separation Church. John Glass founded the breakaway sect of the Glassites who met in the open air in what is now know at Glassarts Glen to the north of the town on the Newburgh Road. From here John Glass went to Dundee and founded the Sandeman Church in 1727, whose parishioners served soup after services, giving the Sandeman Church the nickname of the Kail Kirk after the cabbage soup so often served.
In 1733, the Secession Church was founded by those who did not agree with the way the Parish church was being run at the time. They met at Abernethy.
In 1750, some people formed themselves into the Spirit Group who would have nothing to do with local Government.
Auchtermuchty Heritors - all those who had fireplaces in their houses - objected, being keen on local government, and formed the Burgher Church, which was built on the Burnside next to what is now the Bank of Scotland.
In 1786, the Anti-Burgher Church was built and is now used by Auchtermuchty School as a Gym Hall.
In 1767 the Relief Church was formed by those who broke away form the Parish Church as they objected to the way the local Laird, Moncrieffe of Myers Castle, chose the minister. These people met initially in Arnott Street, and latterly in what is now the garage for Westland House in Madras Road.
In 1800, Auchtermuchty was a centre for the handloom and weaving trade and around 4000 people lived in the town. At this time the Moncrieffes sold Myers Castle to the Bruce family who had made their fortune in the East India Trade. On the death of Mr Bruce, the estate passed to a niece who was the daughter of Mr Bruce's brother and an Indian Lady. She, in her turn married Mr Onesimus Tyndall, who took the name of Bruce. They were renowned for the money they poured into the Falkland Estate and a statue of Onesimus Tyndall stands beside the church in Falkland. A monument to him can be seen if you look across the Howe of Fife and half way up the hill to the right of Falkland.
In 1850 the Burgher Church and St Stephens combined and had as their minister a Mr Barlas. At that time parish ministers received a stipend (salary) of £480 per year plus perks which included the use of the Glebe - an area of ground for the use of the Manse, while ministers of other churches received only £100 per year.
Mr Barlas, although a gifted speaker and popular with his congregation ran into debt.
His father arrived from Edinburgh and together they became extremely drunk. The local Elders, threatened to evict him, but his parishioners voted to keep him on, mainly through the majority vote from the weavers. Many of the voters were not exactly regular church goers, but the vote was carried.
From 1890 - 1956 the Minister of the Church in the Burnside was Rev Mr Bell, whose son, H J B Bell was a famous hill climber. In his latter days, H J B Bell lived in the former manse, now known as Redwood, at the corner of Low Road and Gladgate.