Auchtermuchty, Fifeshire, Scotland
Written and Researched by Margaret Odrowaz Sypniewska, B.F.A.

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Auchtermuchty in the 1800's (nineteenth century)

The peninsula of Fife is surounded by the North Sea, the Firth of Forth, and the Firth of Tay. Auchtermuchty is located inland. Auchtermuchty, is from the Gaelic. It was a township in 1204 and was spelled as "Uyremuckerty," meaning "upland of the Wild Boar," in 1294. Auch meaning "uplands." Dwellings have existed on the site of this township since 350 A.D. and many had thatched roofs.

Myres Castle

Myres Castle
is now open to tourists as a luxury accomodation.
Myres Castle's events are set
around the various holidays.
Click on this link and then events to see what I mean.

Auchtermuchty Parish

Auchtermuchty is a parish containing the towns of Auchtermuchty and the village of Dunshelt, in the north-west of Fifeshire. It measures 2 1/4 miles from east to west, and about 2 from north to south. It is bounded in the north by the Perthshire portion of Abernethy parish; in the east by Collessie; in the south by the river Eden, which separates it from Strathmiglo; and on the west by Strathmiglo and Abernethy. From its northern limits, which rises to a considerable elevation on the Ochills, the face of the country slopes gently to the Eden. The soil is fertile and well-cultivated; and lies on the fertile Howe of Fife, looking north-west to Ichill Hills. The south-eastern district is deep, rich alluvium, part of a plain which formerly was much flooded in winter, but now is well drained and constitues as luxuriant and gardenesque a piece of land as any in Scotland. Auchtermuchty was famous for its potatoes. There are two large landowners, five considerable ones, and about sixty small ones. Rental in 1865 was 10,487 pounds, 15 shillings, 3d., of which 2,370 pounds were levied in the town proper. Myres Castle was the home of John Scrymgeour in 1483. It was and is a considerable mansion and was the property of Mrs. Tyndall Bruce1 of Falkland in the 19th century. The oldest occupied home, in Auchtermuchty, was the MacDuff House. The road from Newburgh to Kirkcaldy, and that from Cupar-Fife to Kinross intersect each other in the parish; and a station of the Fife and Kinross ranch of the North British railway is adjacent to the town. Population in 1831, 3,225; in 1861, 3,285. Houses, 731. Going north-west of the village is Thirlestone. Thirlestone is a stone block once used for the beams that held the wool-scales. Several weaver's thatched homes have been preserved here.

CHURCHES AND SCHOOLS:

Auchtermuchty Church

Auchtermuchty Parish Church

This parish is in the presbytery of Cupar, and synod of Fife. Patron, Mrs. Tyndall Bruce of Falkland. Stipend 238 pounds; glebe [a portion of land belonging to an ecclesiatical benefice, granted by a fuedal superior], 30 pounds. Unappropriated teinds [Scottish tern meaning "a tithe" or land under cultivation], 77 pounds 5 shilling 8d. Schoolmaster's salary 60 pounds with about 60 pounds fees. The parochial church was built in 1780, and enlarged in 1838, and contains 900 sittings. There is a Free church; yearly sum raised in 1865, 110 pounds 12 shillings. There are three United Presbyterian churches, and one of these is the pointed style of architecture, and was opened in January, 1846. St Serfs/St. Cyres day was observed in July on Thursday after the second Monday. There are a Baptist chapel in the town, and an Independent one in Daneshalt, The parochial school is a recent and rather ornamental building; and there are four other schools.

The Town of Auchtermuchty stands at the intersection of the road from Newburgh to Kirkcaldy with that from Cupar to Kinross about a mile north of the Eden, 5 miles south of Newburgh, 9 miles west of Cupar, 10 north-east of Kinross, and 15 miles north of Kirkcaldy. A small burn flows through it from Lochmill in Abdies parish, and joins the Eden near Kilwhis. It is an irregularly built town, consisting of three principal streets, and a number of lanes. The East Lomond hill forms the finest object in the surrounding landscape.

Auchtermuchty, the Town

The home of Alexander Malcolm, Sr. on Low Street

Auchtermuchty was erected as a royal burgh by a charter of James V, dated May 25, 1517, and was confirmed by charter of James VI, dated October 28, 1595. It had not, however, exercised its privilege of sending a member to parliament for a considerable time before the Union. In 1833, seventy-six of its inhabitants rented property, amounting to 10 pounds per annum and upwards. The burgh became bankrupt in 1816. After this the whole of Auchtermuchty's property, except the town-house, jail, steeple, bell, and customs, were held to be extra comminitatem. And these properties were sequestrated [confiscated until legal claims were satified] in June, 1822, and sold under authority of the court of session in a process of ranking and sale. The affairs of the burgh are managed by a provost, two bailies, and nine councillors. A Sheriff Circuit court, for the parishes of Auchtermuchty, Collessie, and Strathmigle, is held on the second Monday of January, April, July, and October. A Justice of Peace court is also held. A weekly market is held on Monday; and fairs are heald on the first Monday of February, the last Monday of April, the second Monday of July, the first Monday of October, and the first Monday of December. The town has a gas company, an agricultural society, a savings' bank, and offices of the Union Bank, and the Bank of Scotland. A public building for lectures, concerts, etc., was founded in 1865; and a proposal was entertained in that year for introducing water by gravitation. The industrial works include a bleachfield, two saw-mills, a beammaking business, an extensive distillery and malting establishment, and a small steam factory -- the last erected in 1865. But the principal industry is hand-loom weaving; and this is maintained chiefly by agents and manufacturers in Newburgh, Kirkcaldy, and Dunfermline, and employs about 600 looms in the town, and about 800 in the parish.

In the heyday of handloom weaving there were 1,000 looms. The weavers wore white trousers and blue-striped carseckles and earned 4/6 a week, with the assistence of the "guid wife winding the pirns." The introduction of the steam loom ended the careers of the old hand weavers of linen. Auchtermuchty produced coarse cloth (linen). Large areas of Fife grew flax for its thriving linen industry.

The downside of flax was that:

01) flax stalks were gathered
02) stalks were hung to dry for two weeks in bundles
03) stalks were soaked in bundles, in water, for another two weeks. This was a smelly process that polluted the ponds and streams where the stalks were left.
04) stalks were dried again
05) stalks were hammered to break their outer sheath.
06) the sheath was removed by a process known as scuthing.
07) the flax was then heckled to remove the rest of the debris
08) the fibers were then aligned and spun while slightly moist
09) Hand spinners used their own saliva for this.
10) Bleaching was done by soaking the spun linen in an alkline solution.
11) After bleaching it was laid out to dry on the fields.
12) The last soaking was done with a weaker acid which neutralized the other solution and removed its traces.
13) The beating of the cloth to soften it.

Weavers could work out of their own homes or in a "loom shed" with other weavers. Hand-loom weavers often worked as fishermen or farmers during the summer. Sinclairtown (Dysart) provided housing for weavers. My Malcolm family lived for a time in Sinclairtown. In 1774, the British Linen Company was established to market the linen.

The town of Auchtermuchty is becoming a favorite summer residence, especially for families from the coast. Everyone has heard of the humorous Scottish poem, "The Wife of Auchtermuchty" which has been ascribed, but most erroneously to James V, and which says:

In Auchtermuchty dwelt a man
As husband, as I heard it tauld,
Quha weil could tipple out a can,
And nowther luvit hunger nor cauld," &c.

Auchtermuchty had both a brass and flute band. Its brass band won prizes as far away as Glasgow, and eventually it was known all over Scotland.

Population of the town in 1841, 2,394; in 1861, 1,213. Houses 263.

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The Auchtermuchty Devil

In folklore records, it tells that Auchtermuchty had a reputation for pious citizens. This piety was said to have brought the Devil himself to their village, The Devil supposedly wanted to turn a few do-gooders around. To tempt the village, into more wanton ways of life, the Devil appeared in the form of a Presbyterian minister. At this time, Auchtermuchty did NOT have its own church, so the Devil preached in the town square. He brought many to his sermons and became a popular commodity. Apparently, he had good communication skills?

However, an Auchtermuchty man, named Robin Ruthven, noticed something very peculiar about their minister. He caught sight of his feet beneath his cloak. Their vicar was not wearing shoes. Instead of human feet, he had cloven hooves. Robin cried out "the Devil, the Devil is here!" and the Devil rose above the rooftops like a fiery dragon (a form often taken by the Devil). He was angry since his mission was foiled by a mere mortal.

Ever since that day any minister is under close scrutiny and Auchtermuchty's citizens are very cautious about sermons and look for cloven feet beneath every sentence. We assume they still hold their piety even though they are a tough audience.

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The Devil and all his works were alive and well in Scotland. The poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796) made fun of the early Presbyterian belief that music and dance were the Devil's work:

The Deil's Awa Wi' the' Exciseman
The Devil's Away With the Exciseman
(to the tune of "The Hemp-dresser)


The Deil's awa, the Deil's awa,
The Deil's awa wi' th' Exciseman!
He's danc'd away, he danc'd awa,
He's danc'd away wi' th' Exciseman.

1.

The Deil cam fiddlin thro' the town,
And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman,
And ilka [every] wife cries ---"Auld Mahoun,
I wish you luck o' the prize, man!

2.

'We'll mak our maut [malt], and we'll brew our drink,
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And monie braw [brave] thanks to the miekle [large] black Deil,
That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman.

"There's three some reels, there's foursome reels,
There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ac [one] best ere cam to the land

Calvin's doctrines dominated their religion. The Sabbath and fast days were solemn. There was no laughing or whistling since this was taboo. On the Sabbath they wore satin coats, tile hats, and dolmans (a short cape) in somber black.

At the Witches Tree, as part of the St. Andrew's Day feast, they had much fanfare to drive off the devil. There was a tree called the Soger's Tree that could not be passed without driving a nail for good luck. The tree eventually died since it was made of solid iron nails as far up as one could reach. Interestingly enough, Auchtermuchty had a foundry for making nails.

Sources:

The Imperial Gazeteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography. Volume I (Aan-Gordon). London: A. Fullarton & Co.

Lamont-Brown, Raymond. Scottish Folklore. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, 1996.

Omand, Donald. The Fife Book. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, 2000. 1 - Onesiphorus Tydall Bruce is depicted in a statue in Falkland. He played an important part in the restoration of Falkland Palace.

RELATED LINKS:

Muchty Poems with the Auchtermuchty town seal and photograph of the Town House and War Memorial.

Fife, Scotland ... In Memory of Jimmy Shand (1908-2000)
A Small Tour of Auchtermuchty, Scotland
Fife Forklore ... Myres Castle ..... Fife Surnames
Fife Witches ... Saints of Fifeshire, Scoltand

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