A short history of Dalgety Bay

Location of Dalgety Bay Dalgety is a coast parish of S.W.  Fife, containing the villages of St.   David's, Fordel and Moss-green, and traversed down to the coast at St.   David's by the Fordel mineral railway; whilst its church stands 1-5/8 miles West by South of the post town Aberdour, and 4 miles West by South of Burntisland. It is bounded West and North by Dunfermline, North East by Aberdour, and South East by the Firth of Forth, here from 1-3/4 to 4 miles broad.   Its utmost length, from North to South, is 4 miles; its breadth, from East to West, varies between 4 furlongs and 2-5/8 miles.

The coast-line is fully 5 miles long, if one follows the bends of Barnhill, Braefoot, Dalgety and Donibristle Bays, the largest of which, Dalgety Bay, measures 6 furlongs across the entrance, and 4 thence to its inmost recess.   From the shore, which in places is beautifully wooded right down to the water's edge, the surface here and there rises steeply to 100 feet any more above sea- level, thence gently ascending throughout the interior, till close to the northern border, l/4 mile East of Crossgates, it attains 426 feet.

A darkly-wooded glen, cleaving the grounds of Fordel, is traversed by a brook which makes a fine waterfall of 50 feet; and a beautiful little loch is at Otterston, which still boasts some magnificent trees.   The rocks are chiefly of the Carboniferous formation, and include great abundance of sand-stone, limestone, and coal; the last, of very superior quality is mined at Fordel.   The arable soil is loam, partly light and dry, more generally deep and strong .

A village of Dalgety stood at the head of Dalgety Bay, 1/2 mile South South East of the present church; but the ivy-clad ruins of St.   Bridget's Kirk, dating from the 12th century, are all that now mark its site.   First Pointed in style, these retain a piscina and a number of quaint old epitaphs; whilst Chancellor Seton, first Earl of Dunfermline is buried in a vault to the West.

Other antiquities are Fordel Castle and a fragment of Couston Castle, at the East end of Otterston Loch, the retreat this of Charles I's persecuted chaplain, the Rev.   Robert Blair, whose grave is at Aberdour; of Seton's favourite residence, Dalgety House, not so much as a stone remains.

The chief mansions are Donibristle House, Fordel House, Cockairnie and Otterston (1589), the two last both the property of Captain Moubray, R.N.  , whose ancestor, a cadet of the Bambougle Moubrays, settled here in 1511.

Giving off its northern portion to the 'quod sacra' Parish of Mossgreen, Dalgety is in the Presbytery of Dunfermline and Synod of Fife; the living is worth 358.   The present church, built in 1830, is a good Gothic structure, containing 500 sittings; and 2 public schools, Hillend and Mossgreen, with respective accommodation for 116 and 220 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 102 and 168, and grants of 80 l ls.   and 147.   Valuation (1882) 7695.   15s.   5d.   Population (1801) 890, (1861) 1569, (1881) 1321.

(These paragraphs were taken from a Gazetteer of 1882)

Remains of Stone Age people have been found near Barnes Farm, and also Bronze Age people in the centre of town.   Skeletons and artefacts were buried over 4000 years ago.   A bronze dagger found in one of the cists indicated a man of considerable importance.   These cists were preserved at the shopping centre in the new town.   St Bridget's church

Dalgety existed in the middle ages as a community.   The first recorded reference to Dalgety is in the year 1178, when the Pope Alexander III issued a Bull declaring that "The Church at Dalgetty with its appurtenances" be founded.   It was in use until 1830, when it became unsafe and was unroofed.   Buried in the vault is Chancellor Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Dunfermline, who owned Dalgety House which overlooked the church.

Abbey on Inchcolm Island In 1123, King Alexander I was crossing the Forth at Queensferry when a storm blew up.   He took shelter on Inchcolm and was given hospitality by a hermit on the island.   In thanksgiving he endowed a Priory, which was raised to the status of Abbey in 1235 and was home to the Augustinian Canons.   The monastery was deserted about the time of the reformation, and the stones of the abbey used to build the tollbooth in Edinburgh.   The last Celtic king of Scotland, Alexander lll, was killed in 1286 when his horse stumbled over a cliff at Kinghorn, a few miles from here.   Robert the Bruce was active around this time, most notably in 1314 a few miles west at Bannockburn, Stirling.   The body of Bruce is buried in nearby Dunfermline Abbey.

The parish remained fairly stable for about the next 150 years when pirates, reputedly from south of the border, plundered and pillaged the land.   They were a large enough group to defeat the Sheriff of Dunfermline in battle but they eventually succumbed to the forces of the "Fechtin Bishop" - Bishop Sinclair of Dunkeld, who at that time was in Auchtertool.

James Stuart, the 'Bonnie' Earl of Moray, lived in Donibristle House.   He was supposed to have dallied with the affections of Mary, Queen of Scots, and was suspected of plotting treason against James VI.   A warrant was issued for his arrest in 1592.   However, the house was set on fire by Gordon, Earl of Huntly.   Moray escaped using a concealed passage towards the shore.   Legend says that the 'bobble' on his highland bonnet caught an ember from the burning house, and his enemies spotted the glow in the dark.
he corpes
Whether true or not, he was killed by Huntly who was never punished for the crime.   His wife was so outraged that she refused to bury his body, and for more than six years it lay on display in Edinburgh as a ghastly reminder of the deed.

Donibristle House Only the wings of the old Donibristle house remain today.   These have been renovated by a property development company and linked with new build so that the impression of the old house can still be imagined.   The Chapel associated with Donibristle House was originally a private place of worship for the family of the old house.  It, too, has been preserved and can be visited from the footpath off Chapel Villas in Dalgety new town.

About this time, the Parish was allowed to deteriorate.   A few witches were burned and the hanging tree in Fordell woods saw great service.   By the time the Rev.   Andrew Donaldson was appointed minister in 1641, the parish was in sore need of pastoral care and attention.   He raised the respectability of the Parish by building a school and insisting on education for all.

Donaldson, refused to acknowledge a return to Episcopacy which Charles I was trying to impose.   He was deposed from his charge and physically ejected.   Summoned before the Privy Council, he was declared a rebel, became an outcast and as eventually imprisoned in Linlithgow for illegal preaching.   Families with whom he had contact were heavily fined.

Body-snatching was a lucrative 'occupation' in those days.   Burke and Hare were 'at large' in Edinburgh and supplies of bodies for experiments were always required.   Beadles were employed to keep a 'sharp look-out' for body snatchers but were not always effective.  Indeed, some were suspected of sending signals over the water to Edinburgh to advise of fresh graves! Fordell castle

The Fordell Estates were granted to James Henderson by James IV in 1511.   Fordell Castle, built in 1567 as the family home, was largely destroyed by fire in 1580.   It was later rebuilt.   Within the grounds is a private chapel dedicated to St.   Therotus.

Fordell house was built in 1721 as a family residence for the Hendersons, and was demolished in 1963.   A former occupant, Sir John Henderson, was a member of parliament from 1780 to 1784, and later in the early 19th century.  

Pit head In the 16th century coal started to be worked from the surface near to where Broomieside Farm is now.   Originally taken to Inverkeithing for shipping it was, by early 18th century, being loaded onto flat bottomed boats in Dalgety Bay, near St.   Bridget's Kirk.   St.   David's harbour was built in 1752 by Sir Robert Henderson to take 500/600 ton vessels.   In later centuries, as they worked the coal inland, the seams became deeper and pits were sunk.   Fordell coal was advertised as being suitable for steamships and was much exported.   After the closure of the railway, the harbour became a scrap metal yard until the land was sold in the 1980's.   It is now the site of an extensive housing development and marina.

The plight of some people in the Parish, especially the coal miners, was particularly desperate.   Excluded by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1701, denying them basic human rights, they were virtually the slaves of the mine owners.   When Sir John Henderson of Fordell told them, that by the Act of 1790, they were no longer bound in servitude to him but were free men, the news was greeted with loud cheers and celebration took place in the form of a Gala Day.

Fordell Wagon The railway which transported coal from the pit head to St.   David's was one of the first railways in Scotland.   The rails were made from beech and fir wood, and the trucks were drawn by horses.   Besides being used for home consumption, the coal was exported from St.   David's to the Baltic in small trading vessels.   The length of track was four to five miles.   The wood was soon replaced by iron rails, and ponies by steam engines. Transportation of the coal to St.   David's harbour was carried out by horse drawn wagons running on wooden rails (c.  1770), later converted to malleable iron rails (c.  1833) and latterly (c.  1868) by steam trains on steel rails.   The railway was closed in 1946.   One of the original wagons lay derelict for some years at St David's, but disappeared with the start of new house building.   However, a restored wagon was located in England and the National Museum of Scotland has been negotiating for its return.


The face of the Parish changed during the First World War when the Earl of Moray gifted land for use as a military airfield which opened in 1917.   Under the control of the R.A.F. between 1918 and 1939, it then saw service in World War II as "HMS Merlin", the Royal Naval Aircraft Repair Yard.   From there flew such famous named planes as the Swordfish and Fulmars.   Post-war it was commissioned under the name of "HMS Cochrane".   The airfield closed in 1959 and the area was converted into Hillend and Donibristle industrial estates.

The early sixties was a period when, because of the vision of a property developer, the new town of Dalgety Bay came into existence.   The housing development and the light industries on the industrial estates have ensured that the life of the Parish will be vigorous and healthy for many years to come.

This material is based on the book -- Of Monks and Ministers -- published by the Church, but is now out of print!

A reference source of original Sales Brochures for Dalgety Bay.

Dalgety Church Dalgety Bay Genealogy Scottish Home Page

Quick Pick

the Church


Family Tree

Misc web