The Newport, Wormit & Forgan Archive

The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, The County of Fife

Alexander Smith. Published by Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh 1952. 815pp.

pages 796 - 805


Forgan parish, which reaches an extreme length from east to west of five and a half miles, and extends southward from the Firth of Tay to a depth of two miles, is divided into two sharply contrasted parts. Along the river bank, stretching for two and a half miles from Craighead on the east to Wormit Bay on the west, are strung the clusters of villas and gardens - East Newport, West Newport, Woodhaven and Wormit - that make up the burgh of Newport. The windows of Newport look northward to Dundee; the villas turn their backs on the landward area of the parish, which, with its substantial stone-built farm steadings, its red-roofed cottar houses, standing alone or in little groups of three or four, and its two 'big houses', Tayfield and St. Fort, has changed little since the Rev. Charles Nairn described it for the New Statistical Account in 1838.

The Landward Area. The pattern of roads is much the same. The coach road, constructed in 1808 to link the old Newport Pier to the coach terminus at Pettycur on the Forth, is still the main road through the parish, though an older road, built in 1770 to take the coaches running from Cupar and Leuchars to Woodhaven Pier, has dwindled to a field path, and has been replaced by a road sweeping round the western slopes of Wormit Hill and linking Wormit to Woodhaven. The road from Woodhaven to Newport, with its continuation to Tayport, was constructed in 1830, seven years after work was begun on the new pier at Newport, designed by Thomas Telford. The coaches disappeared soon after 1848, with the opening of the railway line between Leuchars and Tayport.

The population, too, is almost stationary. In 1831, there were 1090 inhabitants in the whole parish, of which it was estimated that there were 600 in the village of Newport and 490 in the landward area; in 1951, the figures were 3726 for the whole parish, 3273 for the burgh of Newport and 453 for the landward area. This apparent stability in the rural population, it should be explained, is not genuine; it owes much to ribbon development south of Wormit, beyond the burgh boundary, where, in the decade after the First World War, some thirty-seven small villas and bungalows were put up, to house an essentially suburban community.

But there have been changes. In 1841, the congregation of the ancient Parish Church, finding it inconveniently situated at the eastern extremity of the parish, moved to the present four-square building on the Cupar Road, a mile south of Newport. Of the old church, with a history going back for over seven hundred years, nothing was left but the bare walls; everything that could be moved, including the much admired painted galleries, the Mariners' Loft and the Farmers' Loft, was auctioned and carted away. Happily the very beautiful silver communion cups, made in Dundee in 1652, were spared, and are still in use.

The landward area has become purely agricultural. Except at the works of the Scottish Sand and Gravel Company at St. Fort, quarrying has ceased; stone dykes are no longer built; barbed wire fences have long since taken their place. In 1838, it was reported that some weaving of coarse linen was still carried on in the parish; the score of handloom weavers whose existence was recorded have no successors. There is one flourishing local industry, however, the making of beehives and bee appliances, begun in Gauldry, in Balmerino Parish, seventy years ago and transferred to a small factory in Wormit at the beginning of the century. The establishment is the only one of its kind in Scotland, and there are only two others in the whole of Britain. Before 1939, it had a large export trade, but, though the flood of exports has dwindled to a trickle, its goods easily find a market south of the Border, and would find markets overseas but for the scarcity of men and material. It employs 33 workers, drawn from Forgan and the neighbouring parishes.

Other changes will be noted: the appearance in the fields of sugar-beet, the transformation of one of the two big mansions into a hotel, the disappearance in some places of the familiar stone-built cottages with the red-tiled roof that had come to be regarded as an integral part of the North Fife landscape. Some have been replaced by flimsier, but roomier and better equipped structures, of harled brick and slate; others have been reconditioned, supplied with sculleries, indoor sanitation, large windows and slate roofs. Another change, equally important, though it has left no mark on the landscape, is the amalgamation of two or more farms to form a larger farming unit. One tenant, for example, now farms the 322 acres of Inverdovat and the 209 acres of Causewayhead, another the 548 acres of Wester and Upper Friarton, and the 184 acres of Easter Friarton. Mixed farming is the rule. Larger units have encouraged extensive mechanisation; the ploughman is now machine-minded, but the tractor has not driven out the horse altogether. There are no small-holdings in the parish, and no market gardens, apart from one or two plots on the fringes of the burgh.

NEWPORT. The village of Newport, which in 1887 became a police burgh, owes its existence in the first place to the ferry which links it to Dundee. Till 1878, there was no other means of communication than the two paddle steamers, each called indifferently 'the Fifie', maintained by the Dundee Harbour Trust. The nearest station for south-bound trains was at Tayport. In spite of this, the population of the village increased, from 260 in 1851 to 719 in 1861, and to 1507 in 1871. Already, it had become both a dormitory suburb of Dundee, and a convenient holiday resort for the Dundee business man, who brought his wife and family over for a month or two in summer, while he crossed every day to his office.

Housing and Other Services. The completion of the first Tay Bridge in 1878, and the opening of a branch railway line to Tayport, with stations at West and East Newport, the ampler supply of water, brought from Lintrathen Loch in Angus by a pipeline laid on the bridge, encouraged the movement, not of the very rich 'jute lords', but of the moderately prosperous business or professional man, from the overcrowded smoky industrial town where he earned his living to a place where the air was purer and the rates were lower. Between 1871 and 1881, the population of Newport increased from 1507 to 2311; then more slowly in the next decade to 2548. To this period belong most of the solid square-built semi-detached or self-contained eight- or ten-room villas that line the Tayport, Cupar and Newburgh Roads, and the 'princely mansions' - so styled in Neish's History - of Westwood, Kinbrae and Balmore.

The first Tay Bridge collapsed in a great gale on 28th December, 1879; the second Tay Bridge was completed in 1887, and a new station, Wormit, opened at its southern end on the branch line to Newport and Tayport. Above this bridge-head in the next twenty years spread terraces of moderate-sized stone villas, to form the new suburb of Wormit. Almost without exception, these late Victorian and Edwardian houses in Newport and Wormit were roomy, designed for families of seven or eight, with the inevitable maid. In 1931, 39.2 % of the houses had seven or more rooms; another 40.1 % had from four to six rooms. By modern standards they are too roomy; since the Second World War many of them have been 'flatted'. No building of any size, with the exception of the 'Rio' Cinema, has been put up since 1914; nor can one say that the progress from the pleasant, seemly, one-storey cottages, put up immediately after the First World War, from the villas of artificial stone in the Newton Park area just outside the burgh boundary, and from the skilfully placed blocks of Council houses at Woodhaven, some of them built just before the Second World War, to the 'pre-fabs' in East Newport, is progress in the right direction. But, except for one block of tenements in East Newport, every house, big or little, old or new, has its well-tended garden plot. Between 1919 and 1939, 60 Council houses, and 20 built by private enterprise, were put up within the burgh. These were augmented in 1948 by 24 Council houses - 16 of them temporary 'pre-fabs' and 3 houses built by private enterprise.

Of the 52 shops in the burgh, 42 are in Newport, 2 in Woodhaven, and 8 in Wormit. Most are small family or one-man businesses, though there is a branch of the Guardbridge Co-operative Society in West Newport, and one multiple shop, the branch of a Dundee firm, in Newport High Street - existing to supply local needs only. As it is, many of the inhabitants of the burgh, and most of the country folk from the landward area, do the bulk of their shopping in Dundee. For, though Newport is now an important bus centre, with buses running every hour to St. Andrews and Leven, and every two hours to Cupar, Lochgelly and Kirkcaldy, most of the passengers from the south regard it not as a terminus, but as a starting point for Dundee. This probably explains why it has only two small hotels, one an old coaching inn, built in 1809, and three small restaurants. Still, more might be done for the entertainment of the trippers who pour over in thousands on every fine Saturday and Sunday in summer, Most of them crowd the Braes that slope down abruptly to a strip of shingly beach a few yards east of the pier, while the younger ones make for the large public park, opened in 1910, behind East Newport Station. Apart from a football ground beside Wormit School, and children's playgrounds at Woodhaven and Wormit Station, there are no other public recreation grounds. There are, however, tennis-courts and a bowling-green in East Newport, curling ponds on Tayfield Estate, and a bowling-green in Wormit.

In 1887, Newport was erected into a Police Burgh. In 1902, its boundaries were extended to include Wormit, which became the Third Ward of the burgh. The Council took over the old gas works built in 1856, and, in 1903, set up a new gas works, halfway between Newport and Tayport. But, through circum- stances over which neither Council nor officials have control, the gas has deteriorated while its price has increased, with the result that in most places it has been replaced, except for cooking purposes, by electricity.

Religion and Education. The building of the new Parish Church of Forgan in 1841 was followed, two years later, by the Disruption, when the minister, the Rev. Charles Nairn, came out, followed by all four elders and one half of his congregation. Within a few months, they had built a church in Newport itself, with a school attached. This first Free Church was replaced in 1868 by the present St. Fillan's Church. In the same year, the humble Independent chapel in West Newport, now an upholsterer's workshop, was abandoned for the present Congregational Church. With the growth of the burgh, churches multiplied: St. Thomas (Church of Scotland) was built in 1871; Trinity Church (United Presbyterian) , in 1881; St. Mary's (Scottish Episcopal) in 1887; and St. Fillan's (Roman Catholic) in 1893. There has been no more church building in Newport since that date; in Wormit, however, two churches have been built, the present West Hall for the Church of Scotland in 1895, and the present Wormit Parish Church for the United Free Church in 1900.

The congregation of Trinity United Presbyterian Church came into the United Free Church at the Union of 1900; in 1929, however, it elected to remain outside the Church of Scotland in the United Free Church (Continuing). The two Wormit congregations united in 1933, when the former United Free Church, the most interesting architecturally of any church in the neighbourhood, except the beautiful little Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, at Tayport, became Wormit Parish Church. In 1929, the three Church of Scotland congregations in the burgh were detached from the Presbytery of St. Andrews and transferred to the Presbytery of Dundee; the Parish Church of Forgan, however, is still part of the Presbytery of St. Andrews, to which it has belonged since the Reformation.

There is an abundance of churches, but a diminishing number of worshippers. Forty years ago, everyone went to church; now no one goes because it is the thing to do; social convention that compelled the unwilling to come to church on Sunday, now pushes them to the cinema on week nights. So preachers address congregations in which the aged and ageing outnumber the young, but not as much as the women outnumber men; congregations, meagre in the morning, in the evening thin away to vanishing point, and disappear altogether as the day lengthens.

In 1838, there was one school in the parish, 'in a central point' on the Cupar Road, about a mile from Newport Pier. It was maintained by the heritors, and supervised by the minister and kirk session; the schoolmaster had to be a member of the Church of Scotland. Consequently, one of the first actions of the Free Church congregation in Newport was to set up a school of its own beside the church. In 1890, a new school was built to replace the old Free Church school, and, in 1894, a third school was built in Wormit. At present, Forgan School draws its pupils, now shrunk to less than a score, solely from the landward area. The dominie has disappeared; his schoolhouse is occupied by a headmaster from a distant school, and the work of the school is carried on by two women teachers. Until 1949, children were allowed to take the first three years of the full secondary course in Newport, but now no language other than the mother tongue is taught in Newport School. It has become a junior secondary school, giving a three-year course in practical subjects to pupils drawn from the two primary schools within the parish, Forgan and Wormit, as well as from Gauldry Primary School in the neighbouring parish of Balmerino. Before 1933, pupils from Newport and Wormit, who wished to complete a full secondary course, crossed to Dundee; since that date, they have been compelled to take the ten-mile bus journey to Madras College in St. Andrews, or to Bell-Baxter School in Cupar. So the scholars in the burgh, who for more than a generation have looked to Dundee, where many of them will find their life-work, have been made to turn about and look southward to these small and remote Fife burghs. But, though scholars from Newport and Wormit are now excluded from the senior secondary schools controlled by the Dundee Education Committee, they are still admitted, and many of them still go, to Dundee High School, the only fee-paying school in the district. The young apprentice, too, who wishes to complete his education as a craftsman, must cross in the evening to Dundee, to attend the necessary classes in Dundee Technical College.

Of one interesting educational experiment no record remains, except a granite cross beside Woodhaven Pier bearing the inscription 'To Our Boys' - those boys of the reformatory training ship Mars who perished in the First World War. The Mars, originally a sixty-eight gun three-decker, was towed to its station off Woodhaven in 1869; for many years, it accommodated four hundred juvenile delinquents, and a staff of ex-officers and petty officers of the Royal Navy. Instruction was given, not only in seamanship, but in woodwork and metal work, carried out in workshops on shore, and in gardening, on ground now occupied by the Council houses of Mars Gardens. But reformatory ships, even when they had workshops on shore, went out of fashion, and, in 1931, the Mars was towed down the river, to be broken up at Inverkeithing. A Mars Training Ship Fund, however, now administered from Dundee by Messrs. Mackay, Irons and Company, still provides grants for young men training for a sea-going career.

In addition to the Mars Training Ship Fund, there is a Forgan Parish Church Poor Fund, administered by the kirk session for the benefit of the poor of the parish. It amounts to about £1700, yielding an annual income of about £56. There is also a small endowment, amounting to a capital sum of about £300, administered by Fife County Council, to provide for the upkeep of the Leng Memorial Chapel in Vicarsford Cemetery.

Recreation and Amenities. In 1875, Mrs. Blyth Martin gave £4000 to build and endow a public hall in Newport, in memory of her three brothers. The hall was opened in 1877. In 1890, the present Municipal Buildings, containing the Council Chamber, a smaller hall, and offices, were added at Mrs. Blyth Martin's expense, to the original hall. In 1914, the Blyth Hall buildings and endowments were taken over by Newport Town Council. The Blyth Hall, with the Parish Church of St. Thomas on one side and the School on the other, is Newport's civic centre. Dances are held in the large hall, and the reconstituted Literary and Debating Society meets throughout the winter in the small hall. But the Newport Operatic Society, which, from 1893, gave polished and sparkling performances of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the large hall, ceased to exist in 1927. Amateur dramatic societies in both Newport and Wormit rise, flourish for a year or two, and disappear to rise again; occasionally a touring company of young professionals, sent out from the Dundee Repertory Theatre, appears for one night in the Rio Cinema. But, since its establishment just before the Second World War, the Cinema with its change of programme three times a week, has provided the staple entertainment for the people of Newport. For many of the inhabitants, attendance at it has become a social duty; children crowd the cheaper seats, no matter what the nature of the film may be.

There are, however, youth activities to supplement, if not to replace, this fashionable 'youth inactivity'. Both Newport and Wormit have their troops of Scouts and Guides, and Newport has, in addition, an old-established and highly efficient Boys' Brigade company, and a more recently established Youth Club. Newport has a tennis club; Wormit a boating club; the young men of each suburb have their own football club, and the 'grave and reverend seniors' their own bowling club; but the ploughing up of its nine-hole golf course at the beginning of the Second World War has brought about the dissolution of the Wormit Golf Club. For the over-seventies in Newport, there is an Old Folk's Club, and, for the 'clubbable' male, The Club sans phrase.

General. Any picture of Forgan Parish must be a diptych, for the parish contains two quite distinct communities - the landward farming community, looking southward to the Howe of Fife, and the riverine community of business and professional men, teachers, shop-assistants and typists, looking northward to Dundee, where all their working life is spent. There are retired folk, too, and solitary old ladies, living in a corner of the great Victorian family mansions, for Newport is a community in which the elderly and the aged outnumber the young. In 1931, there were 915 inhabitants - 68 of them 80 years and more - over 55, and only 801 under 25. It is also a community in which women much outnumber men; in the same year, out of the 3276 inhabitants of the burgh, 1247 were males and 2029 females. The difference is greatest between the ages of 20 and 44, but it exists in every age group. More disquieting is the number of unmarried women; of the 283 women between the ages of 25 and 34 only 94, barely a third of the total, are married. The explanation is not far to seek: the young man of the middle classes leaves the district to 'haud sooth' or cross the seas; he leaves his sister at home in an Adam-less paradise.

The G.P.O. already considers Newport a suburb of Dundee: the correct postal address is no longer Newport, Fife, but Newport, Dundee, Angus. But the Tay still flows unbridged between Newport and Dundee, and every night, when the last boat has recrossed the river and the last train rumbled to Tayport, when the country airs blow through the gardens and the wild geese clank overhead, the suburb becomes once more part of the parish of Forgan and the Kingdom of Fife.

Robert L Mackie main contributor, Alexander Smith editor, 1946-1949, plus 1951 census figures.


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