Talk given by ex-Provost A D Forrest in 1966, with an introduction by Provost R A Howieson
[This article is reproduced from the St Thomas's Journal. It was introduced by Provost R A Howieson, the minister of St Thomas's, who was also the last Provost of the Burgh. The article was published in 1975 when the Burgh of Newport-on-Tay was about to be replaced by North-East Fife District Council. The talk itself was given in 1966.]
Nine years ago Mr. A. D. Forrest gave an address to our Fellowship on 'Old Ways and New Ways in Newport-on-Tay'. Glancing through it again the other day I realised how interesting it would be today as the history of Newport as a burgh approaches its end, and not least for the many residents who have taken up their abode in our midst during the last decade - many of whom are eager for information concerning the origins and development of Newport. The existing sources of information are very limited ('Neish' being the staple diet). Mr. Forrest's brief but information-packed article forms an invaluable addition and it will be read now with great interest by residents old and new. Your Friend and Minister, ROBERT A. HOWIESON.
OLD WAYS AND NEW WAYS IN NEWPORT-ON-TAY
The history of East Fife can be traced partly through Church Records and partly from old Title Deeds, from these we gather that in the 12th century the lands of south Tayside supported the Church, and this support was divided between Lindores Abbey and Balmerino Abbey. This state of affairs continued until 1547, when Protector Somerset invaded Scotland and destroyed these Abbeys while he was in residence in Broughty Castle, and as a result the valuable Abbey documents were destroyed.
From other sources we find that in the 12th century the land on which Newport is now built was part of Naughton Estate and in 1188 was owned by the family of De Lassels. The next family to inherit the estate were the De Hayas or Hays, one of whom came to England with William the Conqueror. A large following of Court retainers of Norman origin came north with David I in 1124 who had spent a considerable time at the English Court. When he introduced the Feudal System to Scotland he made many grants of land to these Court followers, including the family of Hay of Naughton. The present Countess of Errol is a descendant of these Hays and still holds the old feudal title of High Constable of Scotland.
In the 13th century the Naughton estates were divided between two descendants. The western part which included Balmerino and Gauldry was taken by the Hays, and the eastern part which included St. Fort, Forgan, and Barony of Inverdovat was taken by the Morays. At a later division of the Moray part, the St. Fort portion was taken by the Nairn family and the Barony of Inverdovat by the Berry family. It is interesting to note that the Henderson family who presently farm Easter Kinnear and Scotscraig claim descent from the Danes who settled in this area in the 10th and 11th century.
It is the Barony of Inverdovat that we are most interested in, in tracing the history of Newport. There is no doubt that Newport owes its origin to the ancient ferry that plied between Seamylnes and Dundee, and the first historic reference we have to this ferry is in a Charter dated 1440 where the Chapel of St. Thomas of Seamylnes claimed an annual rent of ten merks from the fares of the ferry boat. The site of the Chapel is uncertain, but it is thought to be located in the grounds of Tayfield, burial urns were unearthed when the founds of [Westwood] House (now St. Serf's Home) were being uncovered in the 1800s, and it is possible that the Chapel was located in the near vicinity.
The Burgh of Newport as we know it today was built up from a nucleus of a few small hamlets. Maryton which is today Meldrum Square, Seamylnes being the area near the Old Pier and the Tay Ferries, Woodend and Pluck the Craw in West Newport, and Woodhaven Farm and immediate buildings were the terminal buildings for the Stage Coach at Woodhaven ferry.
In addition there were a number of farms and crofts, from East to West they were Northfield, Kempstane, Craighead, Causeyhead, Inverdovat, Tayfield, Park Knowe, Justfield, Waterstone, Woodhaven and Scroggieside. The inhabitants were mainly employed in crofting, salmon fishing, and manning the ferry boats. Today you can still see evidence of these fishing stations at Taygrove, Rickard's Point, the Old Pier, Pluck the Craw Point at Riverside Lane, and Woodhaven.
Means of access between these places were by paths as no real roads existed until a much later date, somewhere in the 1600s, and all transport of goods from the area was by sailing ships from Seamylnes and Woodhaven. We can still trace a few of these paths, one by the foreshore from Tayport to Newport, and one by Wormit to Balmerino, also a Church Path from Maryton to Old Forgan Church via Inverdovat and Roseberry and from Woodhaven via Kirk Road and Twinkletree to Old Forgan.
With the introduction of the Turnpike Road we begin to get a clearer picture of our area. The Edinburgh road was the first road of importance in our district, approaching Woodhaven ferry from Kilmany via St. Fort and Flass farm. This started a rivalry between Woodhaven ferry and Seamylnes ferry which continued until the great ferry disaster in 1815 when a ferry boat capsized and all the seventeen passengers were lost. At this time all the ferry boats were sailing boats. As a result of this disaster the ferry service was regulated under the Tay Ferries Act and in 1821 a steam twin-hulled paddle boat called the 'Union' was put into service and ran alternately from Dundee to Woodhaven and Newport. It was not long before the difficulties of maintaining the Woodhaven call made it necessary to cancel that call, and thereafter the ferry ran to Newport only. In 1858 the 'Union' was replaced by the 'Fifeshire' which gave regular service until 1924.
Somewhere about the end of the 18th century a new road into Newport ferry was made and the St. Fort - Woodhaven road was discontinued. This new road served as a connecting link between Newport and the Forth ferry at Pettycur near Kinghorn, an old milestone can still be seen at the Tay Ferry Pier. The Newport Hotel built in 1806 served as the change house for the coaches coming to the ferry.
Development of the Burgh was slow until the opening of the first Tay Railway Bridge, when there was a building boom which carried on until about 1890. There was great competition between the local builders, Duncan, Anderson, and Robertson in Newport, and Stewart in Wormit, to name a few.
In 1856 a private company started a Gas Works under the management of Mr. Black; this was sited in what is now the Burgh Yard. This Gas Works operated successfully until 27th May, 1903, when they were taken over by the Town Council and transferred to a new site on the Tayport Road. Mr. Stewart in Wormit opened a small generator plant to supply Wormit with Electric Light. This carried on with varying degrees of success until taken over by the Fife Electric Power Co. somewhere about 1930.
At one time we had two Meal Mills; one on the Boat Road where Mr. Don had his smithy, all that building was originally a Meal Mill with a Granary at the other side of the burn. The other Mill was at the Old Pier at the foot of Gas Lane; at a later date this Mill was used as a furniture store by Mr. Ross, our local upholsterer, and it was burned down early in 1914. The Granary at the top of the High Street was originally built as a Granary, you could see evidence of a flat roof at the seaward end, from which the sacks of grain were conveyed by an aerial pulley to the waiting ships at the Old Pier. At a later date Mr. Black converted this Granary into residences for his workers in the Gas Works.
Our Church Hall was built in the early 1900s as a part of Robertson Place. To do this a row of cottages and a Toll House were demolished, the Toll House being located at the corner of Cupar Road and Tay Street, The lane from High Road to Boat Road, opposite Tayfield Lodge, originally served Seamylnes Meal Mill, which at a later date was converted into Young's Smithy, later occupied by Mr. Don. Down this lane on a high rocky prominence Mr. J. T. Young started Newport's first Cycle Shop and Garage. Later the Tayside Tea Rooms occupied this site.
The ground covered by the present Garage was originally the site of two old houses and gardens, Seamylnes House and Dairy and Chapel House. Although I have no evidence other than a lintel stone from Chapel House now in Dr. Berry's possession, it is possible that this house was the residence for the Chapel of St. Thomas of Seamylnes.
Woodhaven Pier did not remain idle for long after the ferry was discontinued, in 1869 the Mars Training Ship was brought to the Tay and moored opposite Woodhaven Pier, remaining there until 1929. During that period many boys received education and training in the various crafts required for a life at sea, in addition they had the Mars Brig, 'Francis Molison,' which under the command of Captain Guy took the boys for summer cruises when they got a good training in a life before the mast.
Newport had a very good benefactor in Mrs. Blyth Martin who in 1876 presented the Blyth Hall to the citizens of Newport, the Hall was managed by a Board of Trustees to administer the buildings and endowments. When Newport became a Burgh in 1887, Mrs. Blyth Martin made funds available to build Burgh Offices at the back of the Hall, and these were opened in 1889. In 1914 the Town Council took over the buildings and endowments by a Blyth Hall Transfer Order Confirmation Act, and since then have administered the buildings in the interests of the citizens.
Wormit did not come into the Burgh until 2nd April 1902, up to that time their fortunes were administered by the County.
Newport developed rapidly with the building of the Tay Railway Bridge, prior to this the development had been of a ribbon nature on the roads leading to the Ferry, but now a start was made to develop in depth radiating from the Stations. Newport's early planners produced many headaches for us today with the surplus of 'cul-de-sacs' that we have to cope with.
Up to about 1850 Newport's only Church was Forgan, and about this time the Just family who owned considerable property in Newport started a Congregational Church Mission in a small hall at the foot of Cuthbert's Brae in West Newport, other Churches followed rapidly, until we had eight Churches in all by the 1880s. About this time children received their education at Forgan School and for a period in St. Fillan's Free Church Hall. In 1878 Newport Public School was built and the children were transferred there where an education was provided up to University entrance standard. A private girls' school in St. Phillan's House run by Miss Weyman provided a similar education.
The social life in Newport was always very active and we had many enthusiastic organisations with a full and keen membership. Outdoors we had the Curling Club, Quoiting Club, Bowling Club, Tennis Club, Boating Club, Swimming Club, Football Club, Cricket Club, and for the winter evenings we had a Library and Debating Society, Choral Society, Amateur Dramatic Society, and for the youth we had a very active Boys' Brigade with a full-fledged Pipe Band, Boys Scouts, Girl Guides, and in the Church the Girls' Guild. In some respects Newport had more social activities to offer than Dundee.
In conclusion, our fine War Memorial on the Braes was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, the designer of the National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle. When he was in Newport he was shown our Blyth Hall and he complimented us on having in the large hall one of the finest examples of a Pitch Pine Hammer Beam Roof outside Parliament Buildings in Edinburgh. It must be a great joy to us to know that in this Burgh we treasure the crafts of the old and the richness of the wood in this modern era of glass and concrete.
Source: St. Thomas's Journal, Nos. 238 & 239, March / April 1975
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