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