Pay Your Coal Bill!

John Hay was a coal merchant and the tenant of Waterstone which, in the early 1840s, was a small holding with some farm buildings adjoining the house.

Waterstone Crook
Waterstone Crook

He also had a half share of the tenancy of South Dron farm (near Dairsie but in Leuchars parish); the other co-tenant was Mrs Catherine Meldrum. He was the only coal merchant mentioned in the 1841 census of the parish and must have had a sizeable business. This was, of course, in the pre-railway days so large quantities of coal would have been brought by ship to Woodhaven, Newport or Tayport harbours, while smaller quantities would have been brought over by ferry to Newport.

How much more can we tell about the business? Well, believe it or not, we know the names of many of his customers. We also know that much of his business was done on credit and when John died, on 8th September 1843,a his executors had to deal with it.

At the time of his death, the debts due to him for coal amounted to £518-10-2½. Over the next 7 months the executors managed to collect £312-16-9 of this. For those of you unable to cope with pre-decimal arithmetic, this left £205-13-5½ outstanding.

Of this, £45-16-9 was owed by 69 customers living in or around Ferryport (Tayport); £113-17-9 was owed by 65 customers in or around Balmerino; and the remaining £45-18-11½ was owed by 26 customers in or around Newport. Because these were debts owing to a deceased person, every one of them is listed in the inventory of his estate which is held by the National Records of Scotland.1

The Newport debtors were:

James Meffan12/8
William Meldrum12/6
Andrew Culdross12/6
John Duncan3/-
Robert Irvine4/-
William Martin smith£27-3-10½
Widow Melville19/2
Arthur Beard£2-0-2
Janet Christie11/10
Widow Morton14/-
Alexander Carmichael13/6
John Harris£1-2-4
George Murray10/11
William Rait18/7
David Gellie£1-15-0
David Brown11/10
Christian Paterson4/9
George McIntosh£1-8-3
Alexander Harris9/4
John Husband13/3
Isabella Lanceman1/2½
Robert Duncan9/3
James Brand9/4
David Lees9/4
John Bellie18/8
Andrew Kilgour£1-7-8

Just to point out again, these were not the customers who paid regularly, nor those who paid after being contacted by the executors, but those who still had not paid up 7 months after John Hay died.

The appraiser for the inventory reckoned that only £150 of the £205-13-5½ would be collectable, the rest having to be written off.

Some of the individuals are easily identified – Andrew Kilgour, Alexander Carmichael and Arthur Beard [Baird] all lived on West Road; Robert Irvine [Irving] and George Murray lived in Marytown; George McIntosh lived at Woodhaven; and the person owing the most was William Martin, the blacksmith at Tayfield.2 Some others will take a little research.

You never know where a resident’s name will crop up. Imagine being recorded for posterity because you didn’t pay your coal bill.


a. His gravestone at Forgan Churchyard gives 8 September 1844 – don’t believe everything you read on gravestones!


  1. Inventory, trust deed and settlement, John Hay 1844, Cupar Sheriff Court, SC20/50/14. Original at ScotlandsPeople
  2. Census 1841 Forgan parish, Fife
  • Photo: Waterstone Crook, Google Streetview 2023, 56.431959,-2.952032

Just a Couple of Quick Questions

1. Why St Mary’s?

St Marys Lane
St Mary’s Lane

St Mary’s Lane (home of the Rio Community Centre – or Cinema, depending on your vintage) runs from Cupar Road to William Street.

St Marys 2009
St Mary’s Cottage, 2009

This house called St Mary’s Cottage is 13 Robert Street. But why St Mary’s?

They both predate St Mary’s church at the foot of the High Street by several decades, so there is no connection there.

But there is a link between lane and cottage. James Smith. He was a wright who, in 1857, feued the land on William Street where the Rio now is and built on the plot.1 He sold the plot and buildings in 1864 and then bought the property on Robert Street. From then on the cottage is known as St Mary’s Cottage.2

Street names, particularly small street names, in Newport are notoriously fickle: even the Town Council Minutes frequently get them wrong – their earliest mention of St Mary’s Lane is 1904-5.3 The only other appearance was in 1871 when it was referred to as Smith’s Lane4 – a good example of the persistence of names as James Smith had moved away 7 years previously.

So – why St Mary’s? Maybe he just thought his wife5 was very special.

2. Who was Cuthbert?

Cuthbert’s Brae and Cuthbert’s Road both run south from West Road to join Wellgate Street.

Cuthberts Brae

Cuthbert’s Brae runs up the side of the former Independent Church (35 & 37 West Road), built about 1820.

Cuthbert’s Road runs south off the West Road between 43 and 47 West Road. It was originally a farm road serving Just’s farm buildings and joining the main road between 2 cottages.6

Cuthberts Road

The Brae and the Road were only joined in the 1860s when the other houses between them were built. Cuthbert’s Brae is given as an address from the early 1920s. At one time some houses in Wellgate Street used Cuthbert’s Brae as their address.7 There are earlier references in the Town Council minutes for 1901-2.8

But there is no record, so far, of anyone named Cuthbert living in the area or owning or farming land here. So –

Who was Cuthbert?


  1. Sasine Abridgements, Fife, originals at National Records of Scotland
  2. 13 Robert Street
  3. Extracts from Newport Town Council Minutes 1904-05
  4. Fifeshire Journal, 8 Jun 1871, p1 – notice to move the location of Newport toll by 19 feet (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  5. Marriages (OPR), Creich, Fife, 10 Apr 1837, James Smith and Mary Peat, 418/20 80. at ScotlandsPeople
  6. Ordnance Survey 6″ Fife, 1854, copy at National Library of Scotland, Map Images. Weaver’s cottage, cottage and Broadhaugh steading.
  7. Local directories for example: Brown, Miss, Ivybank, Cuthbert’s brae. West Newport in 1922-23 Dundee Directory
  8. Extracts from Newport Town Council Minutes, 1901-02


  • St Mary’s Lane: Google StreetView, 56.4400925,-2.9406921, May 2023
  • 13 Robert Street: Google StreetView, 56.4420313,-2.9397284, May 2009
  • Cuthberts Brae: personal collection, taken early 1990s; Google StreetView, 56.4341511,-2.951519 is similar
  • Cuthbert’s Road: Google StreetView, 56.4337743,-2.9528573, May 2023

An Edwardian Grocer’s

The shop at the foot of the High Street (no. 16) has always been a grocer’s. At present it is a Spar store, prior to that it was A & S Brown’s, Sinclair’s and Johnston’s Stores. But it started its days as Thomas Roger’s high class grocery.

Thomas started in the grocery trade as an assistant in Dundee before coming to Newport in about 1873 and opening his own shop at 40 High Street (currently NewPaws on Tay). In 1890 he feued the vacant plot of ground at the foot of the street and by 1892 the shop on the ground floor and 2 flats above had been built.1

Thomas was not the only grocer in the town – his opposition included J Anderson, P D Wighton, and Andrew Malcolm / Charles Barrie. Each one tried to keep one step ahead of the rivals.

Being an Edwardian high class grocer to fit in with Newport’s prestige meant sourcing the best supplies from around the country. Usually you have to rely on adverts in the local papers or promotional material to get a flavour of the trade.

This advert is from a 1908 directory for Newport.2

Notice – no fewer than 6 standard blends of tea, as well as a special China tea.

However, a deep clean by the Browns in the 1990s uncovered a bundle of old papers from Thomas’s time in the shop. They consisted of a group of 120 suppliers’ invoices to Thomas Roger for part of 1902-3 and another bundle, still tied with its original string, of an almost complete collection of 470 invoices for the second half of 1905. (It is possible that an unknown small number of invoices from this bundle beginning with ‘A’ had disintegrated over the years.)

The invoices have all been photographed and made available here. (Because of the small size of the photos on this blog, you are better to follow the links to the main site to see the invoices clearly.)

When looking through them, I was struck by the number of individual firms that are being dealt with. There  were certainly wholesale grocery suppliers (e.g. Carswell, Laskie, etc), but a large number of household names were supplying goods individually. There are invoices from Cadbury’s, McVitie & Price, Nestles, Reckitt and Sharwood, and more. At the other end of the scale, Mr Maxwell in Dundee is supplying scones (and only scones) every week.

Coffee and tea came from Edinburgh, methylated spirits from Liverpool, eggs from Kirriemuir and Dundalk in Ireland (they must have been some eggs!), bacon – as advertised – from Ayrshire, Belfast and Wiltshire, suet from Manchester, and so on. There were also the empties to deal with – biscuit boxes to be returned and bottles to go back. Shipping and carriage charges had to be dealt with, both on the supplied goods (frequently ‘carriage free’) and on the empties. Pears soap from London was sent by steamer to Dundee. The bacon from Belfast was insured for its journey. There are bills from B L Nairn, Dundee, for shipping charges, and from the Caledonian Railway for carriage.

There were local suppliers of seasonal produce. St Fort Gardens provided fruit & vegetables, even grapes. Redcurrants came from Charles Moon in Tayport. Mr Fearn at Forgan Smithy shod the horse every few months, and Mr Rhind at Woodhaven Farm supplied potatoes.

The big disappointment with so many of these invoices is that they are itemised as ‘To Goods’ or ‘To account rendered’ when you really want to know what was being supplied. Just what were T & S Plum in Copenhagen supplying direct?

The shop provided a delivery service whereby customers could leave a note for an order, it would be made up in the shop and delivered by horse and van later. Of course, sometimes Roger’s were asked for an item which was out of stock. To avoid disappointment, the missing item was ‘borrowed’ from one of the opposition shops and was repaid later. All of this unknown to the customer. As an example, there is an invoice from James Anderson in Robertson Place showing that Roger’s was supplied with a packet of Force.3 The give-away is that the invoice isn’t priced and the goods were returned as soon as Roger’s had them in stock again.4

Thomas Roger was a member of Newport Town Council from 1892-95 and 1896-1905, serving as Provost 1902 – 1905.5

There are a few household bills included – for example Thomas’s annual subscription to the Newport Bowling Club, some chemist’s bills, and for coal. Some are addressed to him at his home ‘Snowdon Bank’, and some are even addressed to Provost Roger.

These may be just crumbling pieces of paper but they can still be explored and provide a glimpse that we would not otherwise have into the world of commerce on Newport’s Edwardian High Street.

You never know what will turn up next.

Notes & Sources

  1. Architects: Durward Brown & A J Gordon, London – the Newport connection is that Durward Brown was the second son of James Brown, the builder.
  2. The Tayside Annual and Directory for Newport, Wormit and Tayport, McFarlane (ed.), published Dec 1907,  held by Dundee Central Library
  3. Force was a ready-cooked cereal (there is an advert in the Liverpool Evening Express, 12 Aug 1903).
  4. When I did this for Beatt & Tait’s in the 1960s, I took items with the same retail price to barter with Johnston’s Stores for the missing goods and no record was needed. I am sure that one tin of Ovaltine went up and down the High Street many times!
  5. Photo: Provost Roger, from Newport History Group


In the 1820s Marytown* (the area between William Street and James Street, Tay street and Queen Street) was created on a green field site. A steam ferry to Dundee had recently been introduced and the area was seen as being ripe for development. Of the first 10 feuars, 5 were in the building trade1 and one of the first was John Murray, a mason from Sutherland (although when he took on the ground he described himself as a mere labourer).2

Murray feued a block of 5 lots of ground between Union Street and King Street, and extending from James Street three-quarters of the way to Robert Street – that was a large piece of land. But its shape allowed part of it to be used as a quarry – ideal for a mason. The quarry face is still there, behind 50 Union Street. Murray built 5 houses along the King Street boundary, opened up the quarry, and established a walled garden for fruit and vegetables. He called the houses ‘Murray Place’.3

Fife Herald 1837
Fife Herald 21 Sep 1837

Advertising the property to let in 1837, the houses take pride of place – one is suitable for a genteel family, then the garden, and last the quarry. In another advert in 1842 the houses were ‘well adapted for summer lodgings’.4

Business must have had its ups and downs. Murray was able to rent out the quarry, and the houses would have easily found tenants. But in 1846 he defaulted on a loan secured over the property5, which meant he lost it all.

Fife Herald 1846
Fife Herald, 10 Dec 1846

Notice this time the ground and garden are placed first, the houses second and the quarry last. The land could be feued off to provide ‘marine villas’. Property adverts need to be taken with a pinch of salt – the railway line was only a proposed line; and the comparatively new houses were at least 15 years old.

Eventually the whole site was acquired by Alexander Rhind, corn merchant and tenant of Woodhaven Farm.6 About the same time, Rhind feued the site at the other end of King Street on the corner with Gowrie Street. On the Gowrie Street site he built a bakehouse and shop, while on the Seacraig site he built Seacraig House.7 Rhind moved into Seacraig House himself and Murray rented one of his original houses.8

1854 Ordnance Survey map
1854 Ordnance Survey map

Over time, Seacraig House was home to Harry Walker, Dundee jute merchant (Dura Works & Caldrum Works), who lived here before Westwood (now St Serfs) was built; then retired sea captain Robert Brown.9 Eventually it was turned into flats about 1914, and demolished in 1956.10 It is now the site of Seacraig Court.

Seacraig 1943
Seacraig in 1943. Seacraig Garage – the large building above the K in King St.; Seacraig House – above St. in King St.; Seacraig Cottages – between King St. & James St.

The Murray Place houses were later called Seacraig Cottages. They too made way for Seacraig Court. (The whole site between King Street and Union Street had actually been identified as a possible site for housing by Newport Town Council in 1919.)11

The productive walled garden in 1869 became the first home of Newport Bowling Club. They moved to Scott Street in 1877 and the green here was then used by the Maryton Bowling Club. From 1925 it was the site of Seacraig Garage, and now of the houses 31-37 King Street.12

The quarry had stores and stables on it and the bungalow was built in the 1920s.13

Seacraig Court was opened for new residents in 1958.14

StreetView 2009
Seacraig Court seen from King Street in 2009 over the last remaining piece of the surrounding wall – even that has gone now.

* Marytown in Newport is frequently spelled Maryton, and is not to be confused with Maryton, a parish near Montrose, which is sometimes spelled Marytown. Searches for either must include both spellings.


(Look on this as an example of what can be gained from documentary sources; links to the Archive pages have further reference details there):

  1. Sasine Abridgements, Fife, originals at National Records of Scotland
  2. Sasine Abridgements, Fife 1826 03206; Census 1841 Forgan parish, Fife, District 1, p 12; Census 1851, Forgan parish, Fife, District 1, p 13, originals at ScotlandsPeople
  3. Registers of Voters, Fife, 1832
  4. Fife Herald, 28 Apr 1842, p1
  5. Fife Herald, 10 Dec 1846, p1; Sasine Abridgements, Fife, Marytown, plot of 5 pieces of ground
  6. Sasine Abridgements; Fifeshire Journal, 19 Feb 1846, p1
  7. Dundee Courier, 21 Nov 1911, p6 – obituary of H S Rhind
  8. Census 1851, Forgan parish, Fife, District 1, p 13
  9. Directory and Valuation Roll entries for Seacraig House
  10. Minutes of Newport Town Council, 1956
  11. Minutes of Newport Town Council, 1919
  12. Directory and Valuation Roll entries for Marytown Bowling Green; and Seacraig Garage
  13. Valuation Roll entries for quarry site
  14. Fife, Scotland, Electoral Registers, 1914-1966, available on


Shipbuilding at Woodhaven

Woodhaven Pier has over the years been the site for many activities, all ideally suited to the sheltered spot:

  • Wormit Boating Club – a thriving water sports club
  • workshop areas for a joiner and a car mechanic
  • the base for the local Scout troop
  • the base of Squadron 333 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force operating Catalina flying boats
  • the shore base for the Mars training ship (the pier is still called the Mars Pier by locals)
  • a harbour for coastal trading vessels
  • a shipbuilding yard
  • workshop areas for a builder and contractor
  • a terminal for the ferry to Dundee, and the main road south to Cupar and beyond.

Of all of these, it is the shipbuilding that is least well known.

Joseph Garland leased a piece of ground here in 1847. The site is now the Wormit Boating Club dinghy park. The Fifeshire Journal described the site as being ‘exceedingly well chosen and offers many advantages over shipbuilding yards in Dundee, from the greater depth of water on the south side of the river, and the comparatively trifling rents at which the ground can be secured’. The report went on to predict the building of new housing for the incoming workforce.1 

Garland had been in partnership with James Horsburgh in the firm of Garland & Horsburgh, shipbuilders, Dundee (trading initially as the Dundee New Shipbuilding Co.) from 1831 to 1837. Altogether they built 18 ships. When that company was wound up, Garland went to Newburgh where he operated a very successful shipbuilding company from 1837 to 1846, constructing another 18 ship

Then he moved here.

He built 6 ships here from 1847 to 1853; apart from the Hope they were coasting & North Sea vessels.3 The first 3 were either commissioned from him or were sold immediately upon completion. The latter 3 he operated himself for a time before selling them on.

The ships were wooden sailing vessels and were constructed when steam engines were rapidly gaining favour and iron hulls were beginning to be used. They were constructed in a depression in the ground, the hull being supported on legs. At the launch, the depression was flooded and the ship floated out. But changes in technology meant that this method of construction was by now outdated and larger premises with bigger slipways were required.

Woodhaven Pier
Woodhaven Pier (50 years after the shipbuilding)

The following information4 about the ships built here was researched 30 years ago and required a trip to London. Since then, much more has become available on the internet. I leave it to you to explore further.

Catherine Spence

‘Clarita’ – a 79-ton schooner – similar to ‘Catherine Spence’
  • Registered Sep 1848, 74 tons, 2-masted schooner, length 60.8′, beam 17.2′, hold depth 9.2′
  • First owner, from 1848, was David Spence, wood merchant of Tayport. He sold her in 1852 to Alexander Russell of Myrecairnie.
  • From May – September 1850 she is known to have been coasting. She was crewed by her Master, Captain David Rollo, and 3 men.
  • She was reported missing in 1854 bound from Tayport to London with potatoes.


  • Registered Jun 1849, 103 tons, 2-masted schooner, length 69.7′, beam 18.1′, hold depth 10.1′
  • First owner in 1849 was James Cooper of Arbroath. She was sold in 1853 to David Stewart of Dundee. Sold again in 1857 to David Low, coal merchant of Ferryden. She operated from Montrose and was later sold to William Alexander who had been her Master for several years. At this change of ownership, William Alexander had 60 shares and John Balfour Alexander, described only as shipowner, had 4 shares.
  • She was a coasting vessel and was finally wrecked at Rosehearty in September 1868, her Master being William Alexander.


Francis Mollison
‘Francis Mollison’ – a 90′ long brig – a little larger than ‘Hope’
  • Registered Mar 1850, 203 tons, 2-masted snow, length 83.9′, beam 20.9′, hold depth 14.3′
  • First owners: William Mudie Paton & Robert Fleming, merchants, Dundee (32 shares each).
  • Her first voyage was Dundee – Riga – Montrose, with David Smith, Master, 7 men and 2 apprentices.
  • Sold in 1853 to John Wood, shipowner, and Edward Cole, linen merchant, both of Bristol; and registered in Bristol. She made many voyages to West Africa & the Canaries. By 1871 she was coasting.
  • Sold to foreigners in 1872.


  • Registered Apr 1850, 45 tons, 1-masted smack, length 55.9′, beam 15.1′, hold depth 7′
  • Garland owned this small ship himself for 6 years, during which time she coasted round the UK with a crew of 3.
  • Sold to John Aitken of Stirling, then sold to the Shetland North Sea Fishery Company. They sold her to Francis & Duncan McNeil, mariners of Glasgow, with Francis McNeil as her Master. She was eventually broken up in 1890.
  • She was recorded as having left Woodhaven on 10 July 1851, discharged ballast at Newcastle, loaded full of coals and was back again at Woodhaven in 68 hours.5

St Fort

  • Registered Feb 1851, 95 tons, 2-masted schooner, length 39.4′, beam 17.7′, hold depth 10.3′
  • This ship was also first owned by Garland for a year. Her Master was William Jack, born in Flisk, and there were 4 other crew.
  • She sailed from Dundee on 8th February 1851 and is known to have called at Liverpool, Belfast, Bordeaux, Dublin & Pettycur by 14th June.
  • Sold to William (10 shares), John (27) & James (27) Wishart, merchants of Leith. They operated her with Peter Johnstone as Master, from Leith to Holland, Spain and the Baltic.
  • She was wrecked on the Swedish coast in December 1858.


  • Registered Aug 1853, 18 tons, 1-masted sloop, length 36.4′, beam 11.3′, hold depth 7′
  • Garland owned this last small vessel for 2 years as a coaster. She was then sold to Lerwick and passed through several hands and several Masters.
  • She disappears from the shipping lists between 1901 and 1904.

After Garland retired from work here, he continued as a shipowner and operator, and eventually became a Director of the D P & L Shipping Company.6

Two things I did not know at the time but which have emerged in a trawl of old newspapers:

In April 1849 there was an accident at the shipyard and Alexander Rae, a carpenter from Dundee, and another man fell when the stage they were working on gave way. Rae broke his leg in 2 places.7

Another boatbuilder, Peter Watson, started business on the site in January 1855. He built much smaller boats, up to 20′ in length, suitable as ships’ boats or for shooting or fishing. He moved away in June 1856.8


  1. Fifeshire Journal, 8 Jul 1847
  2. Shipping Notes, J P Ingram, Dundee Central Library
  3. Shipping Notes, J P Ingram, Dundee Central Library
  4. Ships’ Muster Rolls, Dundee; Board of Trade: Ships’ Registries: Transcripts & Transactions; Merchant Navy List (various years); Lloyds Register of Shipping (various years); Shipping Notes, J P Ingram, Dundee Central Library
  5. Dundee Advertiser, 18 Jul 1851, p3
  6. D P & L Directors Minute Book, Dundee City Archives, GD/DPL
  7. Dundee Advertiser, 27 Apr 1849 p2
  8. Dundee Advertiser, 5 Jan 1855, p2; 7 Aug 1855, p1; 10 Jun 1856, p2

Photos: These are as close as I can get to the size of the vessels and the location at the time. They are intended to give a flavour of the topic. Woodhaven Pier – postcard; Clarita from State Library Victoria; Francis Mollison from Newport History Group

Not In My Backyard

Establishing the Comerton Home

Soon after Thomas Hodge arrived in Newport in June 18911 as the new pastor of the Congregational Church he determined to wake the people of Newport up to their responsibilities to the disadvantaged members of society. He was a popular, young (well, 31), Welsh, recent graduate of Oxford2 who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He could fill the church with his sermons (although a talk about the Salvation Army’s work in Dundee was rather less well attended).3 By October that year, he had proposed, from the pulpit, a convalescent home in Newport for poor children from Dundee. The home should be run by the people of Newport on a voluntary basis, similar to the facility already in operation for adults [this is a reference to Mrs Berry’s house for invalids at Den Cottages].4 He was sure money and assistance would be forthcoming and pledged £20 himself to the fund.

By December that year, considerable support had been gained. The difficult search for a suitable property had eventually resulted in Woodbine House (now 11-11a King Street) being purchased for £740. It was a commodious building with a large secluded garden. Whoever spoke to the Courier, I suspect it was Hodge himself, considered it ‘in every respect well adapted for the purpose’. The object of the Home would be to provide a change of air and scene free of expense to poor children belonging to Dundee and neighbourhood during the period of their convalescence after illness. It was proposed to admit girls of from 4 to 14 years of age, and boys from 4 to 10 or 12, and to board each of them for a fortnight or a month. The idea was to begin in a small way – maybe 10 or 12 children at a time – so around 300 would enjoy the advantage of a change of air with bright and happy surroundings over a year. A committee was to be set up,  without regard to sect, to administer the scheme. The home itself would be under the charge of a properly qualified matron who would reside in the institution, assisted by voluntary workers. Dr Stewart had volunteered to act as medical officer – every child would be examined before admission to prevent infectious diseases being introduced. The newspaper was sure the scheme would meet with hearty support from the generous citizens of Newport and Dundee.5

Woodbine House
Woodbine House 1893

It turns out that Woodbine House, which had previously been unsuccesfully marketed at a price of £1000, had been bought by a group of several Newport gentlemen for the purposes of setting up a children’s convalescent home – before the public meeting at which the home would be officially set up.6

On 14 January 1892 a public meeting agreed to the proposals and a committee was elected. Expenses were to be defrayed by public subscription and gifts in kind. Estimated costs: £740 for purchase of the house, £250 for alterations and furnishings; with 12 children the running costs would be £200 – £300 per year. A gentleman had offered to pay the rent or equivalent for 5 years and there were many other expressions of support.7

Well, you can lead a horse to water …

There must have been many heated discussions in Newport in early 1892.

By February, the management committee had decided that Woodbine House which had previously been ‘well adapted for the purpose’ was now ‘somewhat unsuitable for such an institution’ – it would ‘need extensive alterations’ and ‘it would be expedient for sanitary reasons to have the Home situated outside the burgh boundaries’. (Bear in mind that Newport had excellent piped water and gas supplies, and mains drainage, whereas a location outside the burgh boundaries would have none of them.) So the committee ultimately agreed to back down on the use of Woodbine House and to have a new building erected, outside the burgh. The location was undecided but an architect would draw up the plans free of charge and St Fort would provide the ground if required.8

So what of Woodbine House? At that same meeting it was decided to transfer the property to Mr D S Smith who had offered to purchase it if the committee had decided on building afresh.

By April, St Fort had arranged for a site for the erection of a new building and plans had been prepared. A delay was required, however, to allow for an application for more funding from the Cobb bequest.9 This delayed the project somewhat. (David Cobb left £60000 for charitable purposes. His trustees were, of course, inundated with requests.) The Evening Telegraph called for action on the home.10

Eventually, progress was made. Having apparently given up waiting for the Cobb Trustees, in January 1893 Comerton House, the property of Mr Arthur Smith, was first leased, then purchased.11

Comerton House
Comerton House 1893

Comerton is described as being very suitable. Miss Stead has been employed as Matron.12, 13 (Comerton, at that time surrounded by open fields but now opposite the entrance to Drumoig,  is not only outside the burgh boundary, it is also outside the parish boundary!)

Comerton Opening

The home opened at Comerton on 12 Jun 1893.14 

Rev. Hodge continued as president of the management committee until 1900 when he left his Congregational charge in Newport and moved to Leicester. By then, 1220 children had passed through the home’s doors, the building had been extended and a good water supply had been added.15 (well, well!)

The Comerton Home went on very successfully for many years. The original management committee eventually offered the premises for sale in 1956.16

The Constitution of the Management Committee is here and there is an article about the home on the Children’s Homes website.


    1. Dundee Courier, 27 Jun 1891, p5 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
    2. Oxford Men 1880-1892, Joseph Foster, 1893 (at the Internet Archive)
    3. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 24 Aug 1891, p3 and 15 Oct 1891, p3
    4. Dundee Courier, 19 Oct 1891, p3
    5. Dundee Courier,25 December 1891, p4
    6. Dundee Courier,13 Jan 1892, p3, plus sketch
    7. Dundee Advertiser, 15 Jan 1892, p7
    8. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 17 Feb 1892, p3
    9. Dundee Courier, 22 Apr 1892, p3
    10. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 8 Oct 1892, p3
    11. Fifeshire Journal, 19 Jan 1893, p6
    12. Dundee Advertiser, 28 Jan 1893, p3
    13. Dundee Courier, 13 May 1893, p6, plus sketch
    14. Dundee Courier, 12 & 13 Jun 1893
    15. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 Mar 1900, p5
    16. Dundee Courier, 31 Dec 1955, p1

Mr Rendel’s Floating Bridge

The previous post mentioned the floating bridge or chain ferry which was included in some railway plans as a means of crossing the river. But it wasn’t primarily a railway crossing – it was intended to replace or augment the existing steam ferry boats.1

Floating Bridge

To operate the ferry, chains would be laid across the river bed from Fife to Dundee. The steam ferry boat would use its engines to wind itself along the chains rather than drive a paddle wheel. The chains would need a counterbalance at each end. The boat would be able to load and unload via its ramps which only needed a flat landing place rather than an expensive pier. The power required by the boat was calculated to be one tenth of that used to power its paddle wheels.

The idea of a floating bridge on the Tay was first put forward as early as March 1834.2 James Meadows Rendel, who had successfully installed such a ‘bridge’ at Saltash, proposed to install and operate one here. The proposal was received coolly in Dundee, but the Ferry Trustees were soon to be overtaken by the march of progress.

Over the next few years several influences came together: competing railway companies were considering how to cross the Tay; the ferry operation was increasingly busy but was hampered by the sandbank in the middle of the river; the Harbour Trust (at that time a different organisation from the Ferry Trustees) were looking for extra low-water facilities; and the Ferry Trustees’ debts were not being repaid.

Above all, it was the finances of the Ferry Trustees that were to force the issue. Set up in 1819 to improve the ferry, the Trust had built piers, provided new boats and created a fairly efficient system. Their present annual income from tolls was £4900 with running costs of £3470. Unfortunately, the improvements had come at a cost: they were £46000 in debt. Of this, £22850 was public money, £8828 was owed to the Dundee Banking Co, £1791 to Mr Stewart of St Fort, and £500 to the former innkeeper and tacksmen at Woodhaven, one now deceased, as compensation for their loss of business when the ferry moved to Newport. All amounts are ‘plus interest’ or ‘plus a considerable arrear of interest’.3 There was comment at the time that the public were not aware of the amount of debt, since only income and expenditure accounts were publicly presented.4

The Exchequer Loan Commissioners (or the Public Works Loan Commissioners – the public source of funding) were obviously so concerned that they had unilaterally taken control of the ferry and intended to operate it or take such actions as would see a return of their investment.

They moved quickly and asked for a report – from James Rendel.

So in September 1842 Mr Rendel again proposed his floating bridge.5 This time he had some powerful backing. He didn’t foresee any problems with the tides or the amount of traffic. However, because of the sandbank in the middle of the river, the existing terminal at Newport pier would not be usable. Instead it was proposed to move the terminal to Craighead (where now the road bridge makes its Fife landfall). The Dundee terminal would be at the Beacon Rock (the southernmost of the 2 rocks off Dundee docks just east of the road bridge) and this would need to be connected to the main harbour. The Princess Royal (existing ferry boat) would only need 1 of her engines to operate the winding gear. Running costs would be £1700 with 2 crossings per hour. There would be no need to increase charges, the number of crossings could be increased, and the debt could be repaid.

Dundee Bailie Adam Symon (who incidentally had lived at Broadhaugh) championed Rendel’s cause but many of the Ferry Trustees, in particular Mr Berry, were strongly opposed to the idea.6

When the plans for Parlaiment were made, the Dundee terminal had changed to be at Craig Pier.7 The Fife terminal remained at Craighead – it gave a shorter crossing, avoided the sandbanks and was ideally placed for a railway terminal.

The Parliamentary bill was rapidly passed.8 The Ferry Trustees’ protestations came to nothing. The Act was overwhelmingly about finance – making sure that the debt would be repaid. The floating bridge seemed certain to go ahead and the operation was given 5 years to be up and running.9

The railway companies were initially overjoyed10 with the idea (although they continually referred to Beacon Rock as being the Dundee terminus). As time passed, they became lukewarm.

But …

This floating bridge came to nothing. The Dundee Banking Company bought the outstanding Tay Ferries loan from the Public Works Loan Commissioners11 thereby taking out their interest and drive in the project. The Bank then sold the debt to the Scottish Central Railway Company, whose plans for a railway failed to materialise. Instead the Edinburgh & Northern Railway (who had tried to buy out the Public Works Loan Commissioners but were thwarted by the Bank), out of what appears to be a fit of pique, built their harbour at Tayport and operated their own floating bridges, designed by Thomas Bouch, from there to Broughty Ferry. And very successful they were too.


This plan12 , which goes from what is now the Tay Road Bridge landfall on the right to almost the foot of James Street on the left, shows the intended landing area at Craighead. The 2 blocks in the centre are Craighead Cottage and a small cottage to the east of it; the 2 blocks towards the left are Kempstane (now the site of 81 Tay Street). The landing place is now the site of the nursing home and Taygrove – 111, 113, 115 Tay Street.


And what of James Rendel? He had worked on the Tay before – surveying the new landing piers for the Tay Ferry as an assistant to Thomas Telford.13 His floating bridges were used at Dartmouth, Saltash, Torpoint, Southampton & Portsmouth. But he was better remembered as a dock engineer (Birkenhead & Grimsby) than for his ferries. He died in London in 1856.14


  1. Fifeshire Journal, 3 Nov 1842, p1 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Caledonian Mercury, 17 Mar 1834, p3
  3. Fife Herald, 1 Sep 1842, p4; and Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 5 May 1842, p1
  5. Fife Herald, 1 Sep 1842, p4
  6. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3; Fifeshire Journal, 6 Apr 1843, p2; Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  7. Plan and sections of proposed floating bridge across River Tay from Craighead to Craig Harbour, Dundee at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP34329.
  8. Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  9. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  10. Fife Herald, 23 Sep 1843, p3
  11. Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 16 Sep 1845, p2
  12. Drawing of ferry boat, and plan of Craighead, from Plan and sections of proposed floating bridge across River Tay from Craighead to Craig Harbour, Dundee at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP34329.
  13. Rendel’s Floating Bridges, Alan Kittridge, 2008. Useful for background, but the section on the Tay has errors (the ferry was approved by Parliament, it just was never built).
  14. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History,; and Rendel’s Floating Bridges, Alan Kittridge, 2008.

A Tunnel Under Tayfield

The Intricacies of Railway Mania

Map showing path of Rendel’s floating bridge

Following on from the previous blog Big Plans about the Edinburgh and Northern (the E & N) Railway’s plans for a line from Cupar via Leuchars to Tayport and then possibly on to Newport, other companies were desperate to run the line through Fife to Dundee.

In September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Junction Railway (the G & D J) proposed to go from Glasgow via Stirling and Kinross, Strathmiglo, Auchtermuchty and Cupar to Newport. In its journey through Fife it would meet the E & N, presumably at Cupar, ‘from whence it will proceed directly to Newport … where there is a short and commodious ferry.’ ‘No tunnelling will be necessary. The gradients and curves are unexceptionable, and the work throughout will be light.’ The prospectus said that the whole line ‘is supported by a majority of landowners through whose properties it is intended to pass’ 1 . The wording in the prospectus is unclear – did it mean that the railway would stop at Cupar and use the E & N rails to carry the traffic; or did it mean it would connect with the E & N and then itself go directly to Newport (but without tunnels)?

Also in September 1845 the Glasgow & Dundee Direct Railway (the G & D D) put out their prospectus 2 . Despite their name, they took as their starting point Dundee harbour and from the outset intended to use Mr Rendel’s floating bridge across the river to Craighead* (shown as a purple dashed line). The floating bridge idea had been approved by Parliament in 1843 3 and originally was intended to (1) provide a replacement or additional ferry terminal at Craighead and (2) operate it as a chain ferry (or floating bridge) by converting one of the existing steamers 4 . But the G & D D prospectus went further – ‘railway carriages and wagons were to pass without change from … Glasgow to Dundee and Arbroath’ – in other words the wagons were to roll on to the floating bridge and roll off at the other side – just like that!

Once on Fife ground, the G & D D line was to take ‘the most direct line’ from Craighead (Newport) to Kinross and then on to Stirling. It was also intended to form a short branch to Cupar.

But ambition doesn’t guarantee success. The G & D D’s grandiose plans lasted only a week before the company was amalgamated with the G & D J 5.

While all this is going on, surveyors and engineers must have been on the ground. Two months later, in November 1845, the plans are issued for public consultation prior to presentation to Parliament 6 . And what a dog’s breakfast they are.

The plans, now nominally G & D J plans, are for a line – shown in blue, tunnels in dashed blue -from Craighead, with no mention of connection to the floating bridge, then west along the coast to Newport Pier. From there, 2 alternatives were given:

  1. a line continuing along the shore past Woodhaven and Scroggieside, round a bend to pass Wormit Farm, then through the Wormit Gap in the hills and round the hill at Sandford. The main line would run from there west through open countryside past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty, then on to Kinross and eventually Stirling and Glasgow. (4.6 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm). Yes, you read correctly – the main line would run past Kilmany, Luthrie and Letham to Auchtermuchty.
  2. a line heading south past Tayfield and Friarton, then turning southwest to join up with option (1) at Easter Kinnear Farm. (3.5 miles from Newport Pier to Easter Kinnear Farm).

Both options would connect to a branch to Cupar and St Andrews. [Interestingly, there was no proposed link for traffic approaching from the west to get to the Cupar & St Andrews branch. Cupar was to be reached by a minor branch much further west, while St Andrews would have been unreachable from the west. All the attention seems to have been on the Dundee to Kinross line.]

I have a whole page showing the planned line in Newport and Woodhaven on here.

The direct route, option 2, (and railway promoters were always pushing for the ‘direct’ route) is thus over a mile shorter than option 1. However, and there is a big ‘however’, route 2 passes through hilly ground. The usual answer to this is to make cuttings and maybe a tunnel – but these are expensive. Tunnelling is very expensive. Having climbed from Newport pier there would have to be a tunnel under the eastern part of St Fort Hill (between the Old Kirk Road just south of Newport and Friarton), and another under Knockhill (between West Friarton and South Friarton). But the plans show tunnel all the way from Tayfield North Lodge to West Friarton. Would it have to be tunnelled all this way? I doubt it. The ground rises steadily but not excessively as it goes from the lodge, through what is now St Serfs grounds, to Kirk Road. Tunnelling here is not an engineering necessity.

If it was a case of being hidden from sight from the grounds of Tayfield, then there was also the issue of smoke, fumes and noise as a north-bound train exits the tunnel at Newport – and that would quite easily be seen from Tayfield House. South-bound trains would create more noise and smoke but this would mostly be cleared by the wind before entering the tunnel.

What did option 2 have in its favour to justify the additional expense? Why was that route even considered? Was it a legacy of its original G & D D ‘direct line’?

Was its expense simply there to make the Wormit route more attractive?

What about the support of the landowners? Was Mr Berry in favour? He had been unsuccessful in arguing against the floating bridge at Craighead in 1843 7 . Was this another obstacle to the G & D J line to help make it economically unviable?

[Added after original post: Another newspaper extract 12 has come to light commenting about the engineers surveying for a direct line and a tunnel to run from Forgan Smithy under Forgan Hill to Tayfield Den or Maryton [sic]. It gives the advantages of this route as ‘avoiding the interference with the amenity of St Fort & Tayfield, and with the valuable fishings in Wormit Bay’. It goes on to say that the landowners gave the engineers utmost freedom in their survey. If it isn’t the best route, don’t blame the landowners. It finishes with a wish that the tunnel should be liberally lit by gas. – So this is the ‘direct line’ option.]

Whatever the reasons, the G & D J went ahead and sought Parliamentary approval. But all did not go well. While passing through parliamentary scrutiny in April 1846, it had numerous objectors and the drawn plans in particular were criticised and found to be wanting. The bill was therefore thrown out for failing to comply with standing orders 8 .

The G & D J was short-lived. Only 9 months after being proposed, the company was wound up 9 , leaving the E& N line to Tayport as the only railway crossing to Dundee – until the next proposals appeared .

*Craighead is the point of land immediately west of the Fife end of the Tay Road Bridge. Craighead Cottage and, later, Craighead Farm and eventually Craighead housing scheme all take their names from their proximity to this point of land. On 17th century maps it is called ‘Scarness’, but by 1703 Adair’s map of the River Tay names it as ‘Craig head’ 10 , and there is a baptism recorded at Craighead in 1726 11 .


  1. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 26 Sep 1845, p3 (all newspapers available at British Newspaper Archive)
  2. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 23 Sep 1845, p3
  3. Tay Crossings Act, 1843, 6 & 7 Vic. c. lxxxiv
  4. Fife Herald, 6 Apr 1843, p3 ; and Fifeshire Journal, 3 Aug 1843, p2
  5. Dundee Courier, 30 Sep 1845, p3
  6. Bound plans and sections of Glasgow and Dundee Junction Railway from Stirling to Newport and Dundee via Kinross… at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP85254.
  7. Fife Herald, 18 May 1843, p5
  8. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 7 Apr 1846, p1
  9. Dundee Perth & Cupar Advertiser, 5 Jun 1846, p2
  10. Fifae Pars Orientalis, Blaeu, 1654 ; and The Frith of the River Tay …, Adair, 1703 at the National Library of Scotland
  11. Old Parish Records, Forgan parish 431/1, baptism of James Gilcrest 8 May 1726 , ScotlandsPeople
  12. Fifeshire Journal, 30 Oct 1845, p6

Additional reading:

  • The Railways of Fife, William Scott Bruce, 1980
  • Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, vol 15 North of Scotland, John Thomas & David Turnock, 1993

Big Plans

Local History from Railway Plans

First, the Good News

From the 1830s on, the Forth and the Tay were challenging problems for the railway companies wanting to expand north of Edinburgh. To get to Dundee and Aberdeen, they could bypass Fife altogether by going via Stirling and Perth; or they could somehow cross the Forth, traverse Fife and then somehow cross the Tay. Any lines which were to run through Fife would end up at either Ferry-Port-on-Craig (later renamed Tayport) or Newport. As the principal ferry port on the south side of the river, Newport would figure in many of the schemes.

Numerous competing railway companies proposed lines to pass through, or end at, Newport as a means of getting to Dundee. To gain interest from potential investors, schemes and plans were drawn up. Any initial or pipe-dream plans were small scale – maybe showing the whole of Fife as the size of a postcard. The more serious the proposals became, the larger the plans became. Once they got to the stage of seeking Parliamentary approval for the construction of the line, the detail shown on the plans and accompanying documentation becomes much more accurate and completely comprehensive, if only for a very limited area. This was necessary if the company was to acquire the land and buildings on the line of the new railway.

The complexities of the competing railway company proposals in the mid-1800s are manifold. Always driven by finance, the companies competed, collaborated, and frequently collapsed in their bids to gain traffic over a particular route. But even the publication of a plan and bill seeking Parliamentary approval didn’t mean that the line would be constructed. Schemes were changed, finance may not have been forthcoming, and shareholder pressure could alter the proposals.

As an example, one scheme which sought Parliamentary approval was by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway Company which proposed, in November 1845, a branch to run from Cupar through Ferry-Port-on-Craig (Tayport) then along the coast to a terminus at the Newport ferry (shown in red).

These plans are interesting from the railway historian’s point of view, but once you know they exist, the accompanying book of reference gives the local historian a lot of detail, including ownership and occupancy, about properties along the line of the intended railway at a particular point in time.

This sketch map is taken from the Edinburgh & Northern Railway (Cupar to Ferry-Port-on-Craig and Newport extension) plans, November 1845, at the National Records of Scotland, ref. RHP85261.

The solid red line indicates the positon of the proposed railway line. Apart from this, the plans show who owned, lived in, and had an interest in, every property along the proposed line. The properties are limited in scope to a small distance on either side of the railway line (the ‘limits of deviation’ – shown by red dashed lines), which is why some buildings are detailed on these plans while others, which are possibly more important, are not mentioned. The numbers refer to the details given in the accompanying Book of Reference.

Example from the Book of Reference:

55 : Dwelling houses & garden ground, owner William Berry, occupiers William Turnbull, John Bell, Alexander Milne, Alexander Harris, Mrs Menzies Mackie, John Kidd, Thomas Pinn & Mrs Catherine Brown. [These were houses on the west side of the present High Street.]

I have a full page about this branch line here.

This part of the line was never built. The company decided to make its terminus at Ferry-Port-on-Craig where they built a substantial harbour and operated a successful roll-on, roll-off ferry service (designed by Thomas Bouch) to Broughty Ferry.

There were many planned lines and branches over the years. I will be able to include a few of them here in due course.

The routes of some of the proposed lines do raise a few eyebrows.

Now, the Bad News

The following is not for those of a nervous disposition. It may help local historians but from a genealogist’s point of view, at the moment, it is not worth the effort.

How can you find out about any railway plans in your area? Well … with a great deal of difficulty. First you have to know that there was a railway line or a proposed line. Knowing the date and railway company can also be useful. Plans had to be submitted to the local sheriff court, so the bulk of them will now be in the National Records of Scotland (NRS), Edinburgh, referenced RHP. Some may also be in a local archive. Searching the online NRS catalogue is not an option – it is not broken down by parish. However, if you know the railway company, then you could search for that. There is another way…

For those plans in the NRS, in theory you can search ScotlandsPlaces:

  • find the parish concerned
  • then ‘Maps, drawings & photographs’
  • options
  • Organisation: National Records of Scotland
  • apply filter

This will bring up a list of all plans which refer to the parish. Then, you have to search through these entries to find a set of plans for the appropriate railway company at the appropriate date. Don’t expect any links, images or further help; the location maps you are presented with are meaningless. You will only be able to find that a plan exists for that railway company somewhere in the parish. Then you will have to go to Edinburgh to see the plans and find out whether you have been lucky.

Eventually … (deep breath) … you should be able to search for and view these plans at either ScotlandsPlaces, ScotlandsPeople or the NRS websites. I think this may well be several years in the future. Good luck!

Down to the Village

When we came to Newport in the 1950s my mother would always talk about ‘just going down to the village’, while my father would go ‘over to town’. I couldn’t work out why Prospect Terrace wasn’t part of the village, why Dundee was a city but called a town, and why Newport had a town council but wasn’t a town.

Our neighbours had all lived here for many years(1) so it was only natural that we should adopt the local terminology – it moved you one step up from ‘incomer’, on the way to becoming a seasoned resident.

‘The village’ had been in existence for a long time. In 1887 Newport had became a burgh and the following year Dundee was granted city status. A comment piece in the Fifeshire Journal(2) even suggested that conservative Newport residents may have applied pressure on the powers-that-be to give Dundee its elevation to a city, so that Newport could, at long last, stop calling itself the village and instead use its grown-up designation of town.

It wasn’t that we had to go down (and in Newport it was always down) to the village every day – there were frequent deliveries and vans calling. Papers from Frank Smith or Loutit’s; milk from Dave Hamilton’s TT Dairies; the fish van called weekly (I don’t know whether from Arbroath or Pittenweem); Mike called with his van from Gibb’s the bakers; and much later Sam Carroll reversed all the way along the street with his big Co-op van. Bulky items were delivered from Dundee by Bob Bayne the carrier, who brought things over on the ferry. Grocers would keep an eye out for new arrivals and would call almost as soon as the furniture van had departed – Alex Young’s selling point was that he was the only licensed grocer, however Mum chose to go to Beatt & Tait – orders would be collected weekly, made up, and delivered by van. Even a French onion seller came back for several years. I helped Dave Hamilton with his milk deliveries – and that gave me a Saturday trip to the farm, out through Guardbridge (seeing the diesel shunter at the paper mill) and Strathkinness, and back via Dura Den; he also took me to the Royal Highland Show when it came to Dundee Riverside.

The village still remains – only a few years ago when a change in bus operators brought new drivers onto the 77B route, a (not too old) Newport resident who had moved up-market and gone to live in Wormit, asked the driver for ‘Down to the village, please’. When he failed to recognise the destination she told him ‘Don’t worry, you’ll soon get the hang of it’.

Anyway, enough of this gossip – I must go down to the village to get my iced soya cappuccino and pain au chocolat.


  1. Jean Fraser, our next door neighbour, had lived in Newport since 1899, the Misses Wilson from 1907, and Mrs Pae from 1910. So we learned from the best.
  2. Fifeshire Journal, 6 December 1888, page 5