New Stories about Old Cupar – A Fond Farewell

Monday 21 October 2019
Caption: Bonnygate, Cupar, J Valentine & Sons, 1937 (JV-A-5280)

Well, this is my last post as Project Archivist on Hidden Burgh: Restoring Cupar’s place at the heart of Fife. It’s amazing how quickly the year has gone, but so much has been accomplished in that time. The Cupar Burgh records have now been catalogued: 785 record descriptions have been created, of which all but 90 are available through the University’s online catalogue. The remainder will be accessible in due course. In addition, we have been involved in 19 outreach events, some of which were mentioned in my previous blogs. In essence, Cupar is no longer a “hidden burgh” in archival terms!

What have been some of the highlights I have come across when cataloguing the Cupar Burgh records? There are so many, here are a few favourites.

The trades and guildry in royal burghs were tied closely with the burgh councils themselves. They relied on each other to ensure that trade was carried out in an orderly fashion and that the burgh could flourish economically and socially. This close relationship is shown within the Guildry Incorporation of Cupar records where a petition by the Guildry Incorporation was sent to the House of Commons in relation to the Bill for amalgamating the Scottish North Eastern Railway Company with the Caledonian Railway Company. A decision by the House of Commons committee prevented the Cupar Burgh and others from using their right to oppose the amalgamation, therefore the Cupar Guildry laid out in the petition the reasons why the locus standi of the Magistrates and Town Council of Cupar (and other Scottish burghs) to oppose the amalgamation should be sustained. It was pointed out to Parliament that “from time immemorial” burgh councils had represented the business, mercantile and manufacturing classes in all public matters “and especially on all those coming before Parliament”.

Pic 2-3
Draft resolution of the Guildry Incorporation of Cupar dated 4 May 1866 upholding the Burgh of Cupar’s rights to oppose the amalgamation of the Scottish North Eastern Railway Company with the Caledonian Railway Company (B13/18/11/41)

Continuing among the same kind of records, burgesses were originally defined as any inhabitant of a burgh who held land there. The privilege of being a burgess was later restricted to merchants and craftsmen. Burgh councils granted the rights to the burgesses to trade in the burghs free of charge. They could obtain these rights by inheritance, marriage, purchase, or by the gift of the burgh to those who had performed some special service to the community. I came across the following lovely burgess ticket for James Barclay who was “admitted and received [as] a Burgess and Guild Brother of said Burgh and in and to the haill liberty, Priviledges and Immunity”.

Pic 4-5
Burgess ticket of Cupar in favour of James Barclay, tenant in Hiltervit with Burgh seal appended, 23 June 1772 (B13/22/62)

Another item I found intriguing was a locked volume with the title New Roll of Honorary Burgesses of the Royal Burgh of Cupar. The volume was physically locked but there was no key! We had no idea what it contained nor what dates it covered. In the end, we had to employ a locksmith to open it up for us. It consisted of just six entries covering 1919-1975, but what quality was in those pages! It revealed that the Freedom of the Burgh of Cupar had been conferred upon Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, John Coutts Duffus, James Beilby Crichton, Mrs Margaret Mitchell Gold, Provost Andrew Mitchell Scott and Bailie Thomas Johnston Bathgate.

Pic 6-7
Freedom of Burgh of Cupar conferred upon James Beilby Crichton, of Luthriebank, “in recognition of his munificence to the Adamson Cottage Hospital, and of his kindly interest in everything pertaining to the welfare of the Burgh”, signed by James Beilby Crichton, Provost Thomas Russell and J L Anderson, joint town clerk, 22 October 1936 (B13/18/14)

I love looking at old plans and drawings of buildings and, while there are no Dean of Guild plans within the Cupar burgh papers, there are some for minor warrant applications and for alterations to licensed premises which were placed before the burgh licensing court. Although the applications might have related to small alterations within a property, often the plans give details of the layout of the different rooms. One such set of plans relates to The Hermitage, Cupar – it is lovely seeing the different colours and elevations of the building.

Pic 9-10
Floor and elevation plans for proposed alterations to The Hermitage, Cupar, 1939 (B13/25/2/1/4/3)

The minor warrant plans cover the period 1939-1955 (Ref: B13/25/2), while the licensing court ones date from 1933-1965 (Ref: B13/23/3/3). Have a look at our online catalogue for full details.

Old burgh charters and documents are another favourite collection of mine, and Cupar has a number of these. For example, there is the 1436 Charter by King James I to the Burgh of Cupar allowing for a public fair every year in Cupar instead of the fair formerly held at Strathmiglo.

Pic 10
Charter in terms of precept by James I to the keeper of the Great Seal for a charter to the provost, bailies and community of Cupar of public fairs at Martinmas yearly, instead of the fair formerly held at the town of Strathmiglo, 30 October 1436 (B13/22/5)

Then there is the wonderful document dated 5 April 1487 recording the marking of the boundaries of land belonging to the Burgh of Cupar and that of George Claphaine of Kerslogy [Carslogie]. The boundaries were perambulated or walked along in the presence of witnesses and recorded in the deed, so that there could be no dispute in the future. What is special about this document is that it has attached to it 11 pendant seals, all intact! There were originally 15 seals but four are missing. The University’s Conservator, Erica Kotze, undertook some preservation work on the document to protect it and its seals and has housed it in a purpose-built box. Full details of the preservation work carried out can by found in the Echoes from the Vault blog post entitled “Defining the Boundaries: Protection through housing and minimizing handling”. The work on this charter has been made possible because of the prioritization of the Cupar records and their dissemination through this project.

Perambulation of the Marches between the lands pertaining to the aldermen, bailies and community of the burgh of Cupar and the lands pertaining to George Claphaine of Kerslogy, 5 April 1487 (B13/22/10)

In the 19th century the Cupar Burgh Police Commissioners had all sorts of problems to deal with. They dealt with matters relating to lighting, cleansing, paving, health, nuisances and general policing of the Burgh of Cupar. At one meeting of the Police Commissioners, the Inspector of Nuisances’ report on Dr Hill’s pig was considered. It was decided that two of the commissioners as a committee were to accompany the Inspector of Nuisances to “examine Dr Hills premises with powers to them to order the removal of the pig and dung, if they are satisfied that a Nuisance is thereby caused”. The Police Commissioners minutes have many little gems in them such as this, giving us an insight into what went on in the Burgh on a daily basis at that time.

Police Commissioners Minutes dated 12 January 1857 discussing Dr Hill’s pig (B13/15/2)

Besides discovering stories in the records themselves, there have been other highlights during my time working on the Cupar Burgh records project. It has been a pleasure meeting so many different people from the Cupar community and further afield at the various outreach events, all of whom have a keen interest in their heritage. There have been the community and student volunteers who have been, and still are, assisting with indexing, transcribing, cleaning, flattening and cataloguing the records. Then, there are our project partners: Cupar Heritage, Fife Family History Society, Cupar Development Trust and ONFife Local Studies with whom we have worked in driving forward the enthusiasm for Cupar’s rich history. I thank all these people and organisations wholeheartedly for the assistance they have given to me during the course of the project. Lastly, but by no means least, a huge thank you to my colleagues at the University of St Andrews Library Special Collections Division who have supported, encouraged and helped me in carrying out my various tasks – I don’t know where I would have been without you all.

Christine on her last day!

The project continues through community involvement with volunteers and through the use that will be made of the catalogue of the burgh collection. Special Collections will continue to support our project partners as they seek to tell new stories about old Cupar. I hope that the work carried out so far has helped restore Cupar’s place at the heart of Fife to some degree. All that remains for me to say is farewell and enjoy learning about your heritage.

Christine Wood
Project Archivist

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2 thoughts on "New Stories about Old Cupar – A Fond Farewell"

  • Michael Armstrong
    Michael Armstrong
    Monday 22 January 2024, 12.58pm

    Fascinating to see plans of our house on the website ("The Hermitage" is now "Kintore"). How would we best set about trying to find out who lived here since the house was built (in 1893)? Mike Armstrong

    • skr23
      Thursday 8 February 2024, 8.59am

      Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. The best way to search for previous owners would be to look at valuation rolls. There is a research guide for them here: I would recommend contacting Cupar Library about the valuation rolls they have in their collections.


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