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Keeping the district's past alive

The former Valleyfield HouseWEST Fife's wealth of history is kept alive in many ways, such as the restoration of buildings and historic sites, but its proud past is often a lifetime's passion for some in the area.

That is certainly the case with Peter Baillie, who has been involved with Torryburn and District Local History Group for almost 16 years.

Peter chairs the group, which has a thriving membership of 84, drawn from as far afield as Dunfermline and Clackmannan.

Over the years Peter has built up a massive collection of carefully-filed historic photos and postcards, backed up by an impressive collection of books.

Cairneyhill Church and Manse, 1922That knowledge, coupled with information passed on to him by local folk, gives him a unique insight into days gone by in the area.

His home village of Torryburn - like several along the Fife coast - was infamous in the mid-1500s for witchcraft, when Alan Logan was the self-appointed witch-catcher.

Any suspected witches met a grim death, usually being publicly burnt at the stake or drowned, generally at Dunfermline or Edinburgh.

It was during the same era that Torryburn and Culross were hit very hard by the plague when everyone rallied round to offer some nursing care in hopeless circumstances.

A particularly well known nurse hailed from Torryburn, Alison Cunningham, whose dedicated work was acknowledged in the 1800s by the famous Scots writer Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for 'Treasure Island.'

As a token of thanks for the nursing he received from 'Cummy', he dedicated his book 'Children's Garden of Verses' to her. A copy is still held by a family in the village.

Torryburn Church in the early part of last centuryTorryburn was also famous for its shipping and exporting, with 13 ships registered in the village in 1810.

Coal was one of the main exports to the Continent, with the ships being loaded at the long-gone Torry Pier at Newmills.

The worldwide-known phrase "Women and children first," cried out by captains manning their sinking ships, can trace its origins to Torryburn.

Captain Salmond, from the village, is credited with making the remark when his 'Birkenhead' troop ship ran aground in South Africa and he was organising the transfer of everyone to rowing boats.

Captain Graham Ford and his wifeThe Royal Research Ship Discovery, made famous by 'Scott of the Antarctic,' even had local links. Captain Graham Ford, who took the helm in 1905, was from Newmills and married a local lass.

Peter, who spent much of his working life down the local coal mines, also has great interest in the industry which once dominated the area.

"At one time, when a colliery was sold, its workforce was sold with it, although that changed in 1779. It was also quite common for women and children as young as five to work in the mines."

The Croon of the Causeway in CulrossWhile the postcards provide a fine record of life 100 or so years ago, they had a far more important role in the early 1900s.

Peter explains: "There would be four or five deliveries of mail a day between the surrounding villages, and families used the postcards to keep in touch like we use the phone today."

  • Torryburn and District Local History Group meets every fortnight between October and March, in Torryburn Hall.
    The group invites speakers, with slide presentations often shown.
    Further information from A. Macdonald - email ahm276@aol.com

 

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