Lindores Abbey, part of the Tironensian religious order, was founded in 1178 and this spurred the growth of Newburgh to provide goods and services for the monks. Lindores Abbey was founded by David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion, King of Scotland. In 1266 Newburgh was granted burgh status by King Alexander III of Scotland, as a burgh belonging to the Abbot of Lindores. In 1600, Newburgh was given to Patrick Leslie, son of the Earl of Rothes – a powrful Scottish family - and in 1631, Newburgh was made a Royal Burgh by King Charles I.
Orchards, fishing and weaving
Through the centuries, Newburgh people made their living through farming, with apple and pear orchards initially expertly cultivated by Lindores Abbey monks, being a key part of this. A giant pear tree stood at Parkhill near to Lindores Abbey. This blew down in 1879, during the same storm which caused the Tay rail bridge disaster. This tree was 66 feet tall and 17.5 feet in circumference. Salmon and sparling (about 9 centimetres long and reported to smell like cucumber before cooking) fishing took place in the River Tay and weaving with handlooms was an occupation in many cottages. At its peak, there were several hundred handlooms in Newburgh, before powerlooms brought an end to handloom weaving. Weaving memories survive through such a name as “Shuttlefield”, a street off the western end of the High Street. The linen cloth produced in Newburgh was of very good quality and would have been shipped for trade by merchants using the River Tay.
Newburgh – a pilgrimage route to St Andrews
The town was on the route from important parts of central Scotland, including Perth and Scone, to St Andrews, a key religious centre in Scottish history. Crosses possibly marking the pilgrimage route or estate boundarys, include the stone called Macduff’s Cross on the hill route to Auchtermuchty, south west of Newburgh. Macduffs were the Earls of Fife and this cross was in legend a sanctuary for Macduff clan members who had committed murder. The Mugdrum Cross is located on the Mugdrum estate (once connected to Lord George Murray, Lieutenant-General to the Jacobite leader, Bonnie Prince Charlie) near to the River Tay west of the town. It clearly shows Pictish markings, possibly illustrating hunting scenes. Newburgh’s burgh arms include a Latin inscription stating “By the Cross of St Andrew, the people were taught”.
Battle of Blackearnside
At Blackearnside to the east of the town near the Tay, William Wallace defeated Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, in 1298, in the wars between Scotland and England. A plaque in a roadside layby is close to the believed site of the battle. Even today, Newburgh’s local Scotland football team supporters club is called Blackearnside Tartan Army. Sadly, after the success of Blackearnside, the brave Wallace went on to defeat at the battle of Falkirk, and final execution by the English at Smithfield in London in 1305.
Highlights of Lindores Abbey’s existence included the apple and pear orchards (the monks made Perry wine) cultivated by the monks who also fished in the River Tay, possibly from windows at the river side of the abbey. Famous visitors to the abbey included Alexander, Prince of Scotland, who died there in 1284. This eventually resulted in the war with England because of arguments over who should be next Scottish king. Sir William Wallace visited the abbey after his victory at the battle of Blackearnside (just east of Newburgh) in 1298. Alexander III visited the abbey in 1265 and Edward was there in 1291 and 1296. Possibly the earliest reference to Scotch whisky is also recorded in the abbey’s exchequer rolls.
Following a fiery reformation sermon by John Knox in Perth, the abbey was sacked, with distinctive red sandstone from abbey buildings used in other parts of Newburgh in later years. Some of the abbey’s ruined building relics still stand, including an impressive arched gateway. A bear and flagstaff stone believed to be from the abbey, is now found in the wall above the entrance to the Bear Inn in Newburgh High Street. The bear and ragged staff symbolise the Earls of Warwick. The connection with Newburgh is that the title was offered to King of Scotland, William the Lion, who gave it to his brother, David, who founded Lindores Abbey. A bear and staff is carved in the hillside to the east of Newburgh above Parkhill and its outline is lit up by beacons on festive occasions from time to time.
Alexander and John Bethune were local peasants and poets who lived in the early part of the 19th century. They worked in the weaving and quarrying industries and endured great poverty. “Tales and Sketches of Scottish Peasantry” was written by Alexander in 1838. Their works were much admired despite their having little education. The cottage that they built stands on the hill above Newburgh.
Newburgh and the railway age
The railway came to Newburgh in 1848 with a railway station on the line between Ladybank and Perth halfway up the hill in Newburgh. In 1906 the station moved to the west of the town where there was more space for sidings. The station closed in 1955, although a very active campaign exists to reopen the station as the railway line still goes through the town with trains between Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness using it. See website www.newburghtrainstation.org.uk
Newburgh’s population is now over 2000. Following the closure of such industries as the linoleum (Tayside Floorcloth Company) and Watson’s oilskin factory in the late twentieth century, most people commute by car and bus to Perth, Dundee and other towns for work. Salmon netting is now past history. Robertson’s town quarry has now closed but Clatchard quarry is still open (previously owned by Bell Brothers but now run by Breedon Aggregates) with hard whinstone dug from it and transported elsewhere by lorry. At one time, the stone was shipped from a Newburgh quay, but little activity now takes place at the waterfront, other than it being a very pleasant walking area and the northern end of the Fife Coast Path. Newburgh people signed up to fight in the First and Second World Wars. In the Second World War Polish soldiers were based in the Newburgh area. The war memorial at the west end of the High Street commemorates Newburgh’s war dead.
Riding of the Marches and the Oddfellows procession
Newburgh still remembers its past with a “Riding of the Marches” walk around the boundarys of Newburgh by hundreds of local people every three years. Every Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) the Caledonian Lodge of Oddfellows has an evening torchlit procession and charitable fund-raising in the High Street, with members wearing colourful costumes and the “apprentice” leading the procession sitting backwards on a horse. A Highland Games is held regularly by the river and there is also an annual Coble Boat race commemorating Newburgh’s close links with the River Tay. Today Newburgh has a very active Community Trust which is looking at ways to restore the riverside piers for leisure pursuits and is considering alternative wind energy for the local community.