Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Holiday Cottage Fife Lower Largo Fife

Holiday Cottage Fife Lower Largo near St Andrews

According to the historical guide to the East Neuk of Fife by D Hay Flemming Lower Largo stretches along the coast for fully half-a-mile. The western portion is known as Drummochie, and the eastern extremity bears the name of Temple. A winding walk called the Serpentine connects Temple with the Kirkton, which is half-a-mile due north. If Upper Largo has the advantage of containing the Parish Church, the Free Church, and Wood's Hospital; Lower Largo can boast that it is nearer the waves, is the birth-place of Alexander Selkirk, and possesses the Harbour, the U. P. Church, and two Baptist Churches, both of the latter being very near the water. Spence Oliphant, in the old Statistical Account, says that "since the demission of Mr Ferrier, who, in conjunction with a Mr Smith, minister at Newburn, formed a sect of Independents, a spirit of schism has prevailed in this and all the adjacent parishes." At that time fully a third of the population of the parish were "Separatists," as he called them.

When Mr Brown prepared the New Account, in 1837, the proportion of Dissenters was about the same; but six years later he headed the Free Church movement in the parish, and so increased the Dissenters still more. What is now the U. P. congregation was formed in connection with the Relief Church. The "spirit of schism," of which Mr Oliphant complains, may have prevailed; but the immediate cause of the setting up of this congregation was the appointment of Oliphant's predecessor - David Burn - as Ferrier's successor in the Parish Church in 1769. When Burn knew that there was opposition to him, he declined the call; but the patron, the Laird of Largo, nothing daunted, issued another presentation to him, which he accepted. "The people," says Mackelvie, in his Annals and Statistics, "were not so willing to yield to the patron's wishes as the ministry, and a number of them carried their non-compliance so far as to withdraw from the Established Church, and cast in their lot among the Dissenters.

In 1770, they applied for and obtained supply of sermon from the Relief Presbytery of Edinburgh. The patron was generous enough to grant them a site for a place of worship. On this site they began to build the proposed edifice. But being very limited alike in number and pecuniary resources, they could not readily command the co-operation they required. Nothing disheartened, they at length set to work. Men, women, and children, were alike zealous, and when the masons towards the end of their day's labour left off their work for want of material, they were often surprised next morning to find an abundant supply - the men with barrows, the women with their aprons, and children with creels, having procured it for them over night from the beach, which skirts the village. The congregation met in the open air till the church was completed. It cost, exclusive of free carriages, the modest sum of £18 4s." The new church, which is a very neat building, is seated for 400, and cost £1200. It bears, under the initials of the esteemed pastor, the date 1871. John Goodsir, who was "a physician by profession, and a pastor by principle," preached to the Baptists of Largo for twenty years. He was grandfather of the famous Professor Goodsir. The population of Lower Largo, in 1837, was 567, and it has not increased greatly since.

Harbour and Fishing. - The Harbour is a very small miserable affair, at the mouth of the Kiel Burn, near the imposing railway bridge. The fishing has had many ups and downs. Lamont complains that in 1657, 1658, 1662, and 1663, there were few or no herring caught on the Fife side, and not many at Dunbar. Some thought there had not been the like for a century before, and "beganne to feare ther sould be no dreve hireafter." According to Sibbald, in 1710, there were "ordinarily three fishing boats with five men in each, and in the herring season, they have four boats with seven men in each." Eighty-one years later, Oliphaut wrote:- "About ten years ago, fish abounded on this coast, particularly haddock, of a very delicate kind. But since that period, fish of every kind have become scarce, insomuch that there is not a haddock in the bay. All that remain, are a few small cod, podlies, and flounders. The fishermen have also disappeared, who, 20 years ago, constituted the chief part of the inhabitants of Largo and Drumochy. At present there is not a fisherman in Largo, and only 1 in Drumochy, who fishes in summer, and catches rabbits in winter." The only fishery to which Mr Brown refers in 1837 is the salmon stake-net fishery, which had been commenced a few years before. In 1883, there were 36 boats, manned by 78 men and boys. The comparative position of the Largo fishermen is shown by the table on Part I., page 56. While these pages are passing through the press (April 1886), a gloom is hanging over the place through the loss of the "Brothers." This boat was last seen on the 30th of March, about 50 miles east of the May. She had a splendid crew, and had weathered many a storm. It is believed that she was swamped by a heavy sea, while the crew were "hauling their lines," and the hatches off. One of the men leaves a widow and a family of ten, while his two sons, who were drowned with him, respectively leave a widow and three children, and a widow and two. The skipper leaves a widow and four children.

Alexander Selkirk. - Two centuries ago, there was a prosperous shoemaker and tanner in Lower Largo, named John Selcraig. His seventh son, Alexander, who was born in 1676, proved a wild, restless youth. He was only thirteen when John Auchinleck, the Episcopal incumbent of Largo, was rabbled by "a great mob armed with staves and bludgeons."

It would have mattered little, to one of his age and disposition, whether the obnoxious minister was Presbyterian or Prelatic. Such an opportunity for furious fun would have been irresistible, even although his eldest brother had not been ring-leader, and accordingly he took part. Six years later, he was summoned before the Kirk-Session for misbehaving in the church; but, instead of appearing, he went "away to the seas." His disposition seems to have remained unchanged, for in another six years, to wit, in 1701, when he was again at home, a strong young man of five-and-twenty, he raised a tumult in his father's house. His younger brother Andrew, who was of weak intellect, had brought in a can of salt water, and laughed at him when he took a drink of it by mistake. Alexander was so enraged at being laughed at, that he struck him twice with a staff. Andrew cried for his eldest brother, John; but, before he could appear on the scene, Alexander tried to get into the upper room, where he had a pistol, and was only prevented by his father sitting down on the floor with his back to the door. On seeing John, he cast off his coat and challenged him to a combat of "dry neifs." The father then rushed between his sons to separate them; but the young sailor seized them both and bore down his brother's head.

It was good for this brother that he had a wife. She now came into the room, and at once set to work to wrest Alexander's hands from the head and breast of her husband, who gladly escaped from the house, as soon as his better half managed to release him. For this outbreak, he was dealt with by the Session, and publicly rebuked before the congregation. Soon after this he went back to sea, and became sailing master of the Cinque Ports, of which Charles Pickering was captain. The consort ship - the St George - was commanded by William Dampier, who was the originator of the privateering expedition to the South Seas, for which these ships had been fitted out. Dampier was full of brilliant designs, but was extremely irritable and vacillating. Pickering having died, Lieutenant Stradling was appointed as his successor. Hitherto, the venture had been most unfortunate, and discontent and wrangling broke out among the crews.

Selkirk - for he altered his name to that form - who had no confidence in Stradling, had a remarkable dream "in which he was forewarned of the total failure of the expedition and shipwreck of the Cinque Ports." He accordingly made up his mind to leave the vessel on the first favourable opportunity. Having reached Juan Fernandez, two or three mouths after Pickering's death, they refitted their ships, and, while so engaged, "a violent quarrel broke out between Captain Stradling and his crew." The men were so discontented that forty-two out of the sixty resolved not to return on board; but, wearying of the island, Dampier managed to reconcile them to their captain. A French ship having come in sight, the two privatcers set off in such hot pursuit that a few of their men were left behind. The Cinque Ports returned for them; but finding two French ships, of thirty-six guns each, at anchor, Stradling sailed for Peru, and Dampier did the same, leaving the men meantime to their fate. After adventures of many kinds, there was such a quarrel that the two ships parted company.

The Cinque Ports cruised for several months along the shores of Mexico, and during this period Stradling and Selkirk differed so much, that the latter determined to leave. Want of provisions, and the state of the vessel, forced them to return to Juan Fernandez, where they found two of the men they had left six months before. The relations between the captain and the sailing-master getting more strained than ever, Selkirk was landed, with his chest, a few books among which was a Bible, a gun, a kettle, an axe, and some other necessaries, just before the ship got under weigh. The sound of the oars as the boat moved away caused him to realise the horror of being left alone, perhaps, for life. He rushed into the water, and besought them to return, but Stradling was inexorable. At first, Selkirk was so dejected that he only ate when forced by the pangs of hunger, but by degrees he became reconciled to his lot. It was eighteen months before he could absent himself for a whole day from the beach, where he watched for a friendly sail. He built two huts - one of which he used as a kitchen - and was able to keep himself in food and clothes by his fleetness and ingenuity. The island, which is eighteen miles in length and six in breadth, is remarkably beautiful, and in those days it abounded with goats, which he ran down and caught. With his knife and a nail he shaped and sewed the goat-skins into garments. Seals and shell-fish varied his table, and the cabbage-palm served as a substitute for bread. Rats were so plentiful that he had to tame some wild cats to protect him during his sleep. He taught his tame goats and cats to dance, and "often afterwards declared, that he never danced with a lighter heart or greater spirit any where to the best of music, than he did to the sound of his own voice with his dumb companions."

His early training and his father's godly example came back on him, and much of his time was spent in devotion. With tears in his eyes, he afterwards said, that "he was a better Christian while in his solitude than ever he was before, and feared he would ever be again." He remained monarch of all he surveyed for four years and four months, when, curiously enough, he was relieved by another privateering expedition, of which Dampier was also the projector, but not the commander. On the 31st of January 1709, the Duke and Duchess came in sight of Juan Fernandez, and a party landed next day. They were as surprised to see him as he was pleased to see them. He caught goats for them which their swiftest runners and a bull-dog could not overtake. Salt and spirits he did not relish, owing to his long abstinence from them, and shoes caused his feet to swell. He soon became a favourite, and got the command of their second prize, which was fitted up as a privateer, and named the Increase. Captain Rogers seems to have been a model bucaneer, as, on one occasion, it is specially mentioned, that before attacking a ship, the crew went to prayers: and he was so tolerant, in his "floating common-wealth," that while he used the Church of England service on the quarter-deck, the Papists had mass in the great cabin below - being, as he said, the low church-men in this case.

It was not until October 1711 that Selkirk landed in England. The account of his adventures excited great interest in London. There was still "a strong but cheerful seriousness in his look, and a certain disregard to the ordinary things around him, as if he had been sunk in thought;" and he "frequently bewailed his return to the world, which could not, as he said, with all its enjoyments, restore to him the tranquillity of his solitude." After getting his share of the prize-money he came back to Largo early next spring, and arrived on a Sabbath after his relatives had all gone to church. He went after them, and, ere the service was ended, his mother - moved by the unerring maternal instinct - recognised him, and with a cry of joy rushed to his arms. They immediately left the church. He stayed for some time in the old village, and constructed a cave in his father's garden, through which the railway now runs. He loved to wander alone in Keil's Den, and to take solitary boating excursions, and seemed to return with reluctance to the haunts of men. He should not have left his island home. In vain his friends tried to cheer him. But, alas! in Keil's Den, he met a lonely lassie herding her father's oniy cow; and her solitary occupation, and innocent looks, made such an impression on him, that he at last resolved to marry her. Afraid of the jests of his friends, they eloped, and he never was seen again in Largo.

Like most other wives, Sophia Bruce made a great difference on her husband, and when Sir Richard Steele met him in the streets of London he did not know him. Copies of the Power of Attorney and the Will, which he made in January 1717 in favour of his fair Sophia, are preserved in the appendix to Howell's Life and Adventures of Selkirk. She must have died soon after, for about eight years later, "a gay widow, by name Frances Candis or Candia, came to Largo to claim the property left to him by his father." Having proved her marriage to him, and the Will which was dated in 1720, and also his death as Lieutenant of His Majesty's ship Weymouth in 1723, her claims were adjusted, and she left Largo. He does not appear to have had any children. A few mementos of his undisputed reign in the far-off isle were long preserved in the old home. Sir David Baxter bought his "kist," and presented it to the Antiquarian Museum in Edinburgh. His drinking cup, with the silver rim and wooden foot added by Archibald Constable, is also there. And his gun is preserved by the representatives of the late Mr Lumsdaine of Lathallan.

The house in which he was born is demolished; but the accompanying illustration will recall it to those who knew it, and acquaint others with its appearance. A recess has been made in the wall of the upper storey of the house which now stands on its site, and, there, a striking monument in bronze, designed by Mr Stuart Burnett, has been placed, at the expense of Mr David Gillies, net-manufacturer, who is a relative of Selkirk's. The 11th December 1885 will ever be a red-letter day in the local calendar. The triumphal arches, the great processions, the Earl of Aberdeen's speeches, and the unveiling of the monument by his Countess, will never be forgotten. Selkirk would not have been so famous if De Foe had not elaborated his adventures in the inimitable "Robinson Crusoe." In the old, crowded burying-ground of Bun-hill Fields, a striking monument to De Foe is to be seen, built by the penny subscriptions of his youthful readers; for he is best remembered by this popular story; while most of his other works are only known to book-collectors. On Juan Fernandez itself, a tablet in memory of Selkirk has stood for eighteen years, and now a statue of Crusoe graces his birth-place.

Largo Bay extends from Kincraig Point to Methil, a distance of five miles and a half in a straight line, but much more, of course, on the curve. It is marked, says Oliphant, "by a ridge of sand..... . . . called by fishermen the Dike. Of this there is a tradition, although probably not well founded, among the oldest inhabitants of Largo, that there was formerly a wall or mound running from Kincraig Point to that of the Methil, containing within it a vast forrest, called the Wood of Forth." The roots of the trees of this submerged forest can still be seen at extra low tides. It is almost superfluous to say that the bay is well adapted for bathing.

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