Finding members of your family tree have lived in Crail, Fife in Scotland might just lead you to take a trip to visit the village to find out more. We have a little experience of this ourselves as we were contacted in advance of a memorial service which was held in Crail in May 2015 for the descendants of fishermen who had been lost at sea in a shipwreck back in 1765. It was interesting to see the research which was done into all the descendants of those lost in this particular disaster.
In this 2017 Year of History Heritage and Archaeology we thought we might do a little ‘digging’ ourselves into the history of Sandcastle Cottage in Nethergate, Crail to find out more about the property and the family tree of the people who once lived there.
We do hope one day to discover whether Erskine Beveridge took photographs of the ‘other’ end of Crail, but for the moment here’s a glimpse of the sort of properties which you would have found in the 1800s in Crail.
Researching the history of Sandcastle Cottage, Crail
The little cottage which we affectionately named “Sandcastle Cottage” after much deliberation, has in the past been known simply as a property at the end of Nethergate East. The Nethergate is a broad, partly tree-lined street and on one side are properties which back on to the sea. Sandcastle Cottage is on the north side of the street, near the path to Roome Bay which you can find on the opposite side of the street. Nowadays the street is divided North and South rather than East and West, so the address is Nethergate North.
We bought Sandcastle Cottage in Nethergate back in April 1992, and have been fortunate enough to obtain sight of the original title deeds for the property which give a wealth of information for family tree researchers who might be interested in finding out about their ancestors who lived in Crail.
Our historical research begins back in 1816, when we discover the owner at that time, one William Ritchie Labourer in Crail, making provisions to ensure that the property which he owns is passed to his wife, Agnes Mitchell and his second son John Ritchie. We have a disposition dated 12th April 1816 in which he sets out the terms on which the property will be passed on after his death. A disposition in Scottish conveyancing practice is the name for the deed that transfers ownership of (conveys) real or heritable property. According to the legal dictionary, to obtain a real right, good against the world, the title must be recorded in the Register of Sasines or the Land Registry. We’ll come to that later.
We do not have the earlier title in which William Ritchie gained ownership of the property, however there is a description of this transaction in the 1816 document. In this we find:
“… granted by Thomas Gillies, Weaver in Crail in favor of John Scott Merchant, James Kingo Weaver, and William Scott flax-dresser in Crail of date this 25th day of July 1789 and in and to the unexecuted Proxy of resignation therein contained, and also in and to a Disposition and Assignation by the said John Scott, James Kingo and William Scott to me dated the 5th day of May 1790…”
It is these two previous transactions which are referred to and which conform to the regulations set down in the Register of Sasines Act of 1693.
It’s wonderful to have the history of the Burgh of Crail brought to life in this simple document. We knew a little of the history of the Burgh in that some of the inhabitants were weavers, so it’s good to know that there were weavers involved in the ownership of the property back in the late 1700s. When we look along Nethergate, we see cottages which we suspect are closer in type to those which might have existed on the site in the 1700s:
Sandcastle Cottage in its present-day form is sandwiched between buildings which have been altered over time:
Finding out more about the description of the property
In the Disposition of 1816 the land on which the property is situated is described as:
“that tenement of land high and laigh back and fore with the yard and pertinents lying on the north side of the Nethergate of Crail bounded as in any right thereto, betwixt the tenement of John Laing’s heirs now John Walker (and in pencil note: now David Ramsays heirs) on the east; the tenements of Jannet Wilson and David Lawrie (note in pencil: now John Gilles) on the west; the common way on the south, and the Malt Looms and yard formerly belonging to Harry Crawford (in pencil: now Thomas Wilson) on the north parts, with free-ish and entry thereto, …”
so we know a little of the names of the neighbours round about too.
A twist in the tale: William Ritchie’s Conditions
Before we leave the first document, William Ritchie’s Disposition of 1816, it’s worth taking a look at some further conditions which William Ritchie laid down for the benefit of his other children. John Ritchie is William’s second son. By accepting the terms of William’s disposition, John is required to make sure that when he inherits he makes payment to his younger brothers and whole sisters “of the sums of money following, viz:” to James Ritchie £7 sterling; Catharine Ritchie £7 sterling; Agnes Ritchie £7; Elspeth Ritchie £7 sterling and David Ritchie £7 by the first term of Whitsunday or Martinmas after my death, with interest during non-payment. So John has £35 to find when his father dies!
Later owners of 3 Nethergate North, Crail
In 1834, John Ritchie (previously mentioned as 2nd son of William Ritchie), disposes of his interest in the property to his brother James Ritchie in return for £42 sterling and then in a second document we see this transaction being officially recorded in an Instrument of Sasine dated 22nd September 1834. The document has on it a stamp of George IV, but at this date William IV is king, which is mentioned in the legal preamble to the document.
The documents of 1834 are beautifully written, and the Instrument of Sasine is signed by one Matthew Forster Conolly, Notary Public. It’s worth taking a little diversion in our research to find out more about this gentleman.
Matthew Forster Conolly was an eminent person in Fife in the mid-1800s. He was born in Crail on 17 June 1789 where his father was a Merchant and Treasurer of the Burgh of Crail. He went to school in Crail from the age of 4, and was taught by James MacMin. At the early age of 7, his biographer says that one of his classmates caught his attention, and he married her some 20 years later! Conolly later went to the parish school in nearby Kilrenny where the master, Mr John Orphat, taught him “Court Hand” which is the script in which legal manuscripts were written. Conolly had decided at an early age that he would pursue the legal profession.
In 1866, Conolly wrote a work called “The Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Men of Fife” and in 1869 this was published in a collected works of Fife miscellany called “Fifiana” which it has been a pleasure to consult as it contains details of all sorts of insights into life in Fife.
Back to our main story and the family tree: In the census of 1851, we find the residents of the house named as: Agnes Ritchie (83), widow of Agricultural Labourer, James Ritchie (49), her unmarried son, an Agricultural Labourer, and Agnes Don (18) grand-daughter.
Then in 1869, James Ritchie records a Disposition ensuring that his niece Agnes will inherit the property on his death, and in 1871 we find the census return showing Agnes Hutton is living in the property with 5 of her children. The census return details that Agnes is a ‘seaman’s wife, husband at sea’. In researching this we discovered that if seamen were at sea at the time of the census they would not be recorded. There’s some more research to be done about this, but from the point of view of the property the additional information which we discover is that the property has 4 rooms with windows, as does the property immediately to the west. However, the next property is listed as uninhabited, then there is one one-roomed property, followed by three 2-roomed properties. To the east of 3 Nethergate there is a property which has one room, where two people are living, and a further property where 4 people are living.
The 1871 census shows that the neighbours immediately to the west, and the neighbours in the property beyond the uninhabited one are the same people as were there in 1851.
Family Tree Research for residents of 3 Nethergate North, Crail
In order to find out more about the family tree of people who were living in our cottage in Nethergate, Crail we used the search facilities on the Scotland’s People website, where for a small fee you can search and see specific documents such as Census Returns, Birth Certificates and so on. If you sign up to the Family Search site you have access to many more records, but we did find less detail and you don’t see the images of the original documents which can be so useful in ensuring that you have the right people when you start your search.
We looked up: a birth certificate for one of Agnes Hutton’s children who were listed in the 1871 census as living at Nethergate. The census gives details of age, sex of person, their relationship to the head of the family and where they were born. We looked at William Don Hutton who was listed as Agnes’ son and was only 3 months at the time of the census, having been born in Crail. His birth had been recorded in the Parish of Crail on 7th December 1870 at 1 30 am at Nethergate, Crail and his parents were recorded as Thomas Hutton, Seaman and Agnes Hutton m.s. Don. Their marriage had taken place in 1857 on 13th July in Edinburgh. (A little later in further research, I noted from the 1877 Worral’s Directory for the North-East of Scotland that two more people named on the birth certificate were listed in the directory: Henry Lillie who was the Registrar for the Parish of Crail, and Agnes Anderson the Nurse who was Midwife in Crail).
From this birth certificate, we were then able to search for a marriage certificate which is a rich source of information about a couple, as it gives not only their age, place of birth and profession at the time of marriage, but also the names of their parents and the maiden name of each of their mothers. Using the Scotland’s People search we were able to find and print out the marriage certificate for Thomas Hutton and Agnes Don. This provides us with the information that the parents of Thomas Hutton are: Thos Hutton Grocer, Marketgate Crail and Magdaline Hutton (maiden name Brown). For Agnes Don we find that her father is James Don, Gardener, of Millbrae Helensburgh and Elspeth Don (maiden name Ritchie).
So we have confirmation of the name of the sister of James and John Ritchie, whose mother and father William and Agnes Ritchie were involved in the original document of 1816.
Looking at the census return for 1881 we found that Thomas Hutton was then working as a fisherman, and living in Nethergate with his wife Agnes Hutton, Machinist and their children: Euphemia Hutton (18) a Pupil Teacher, George Hutton (17) a Grocer’s Apprentice, Agnes Hutton (12) a scholar and William Hutton (10), scholar.
By 1891 at the time of the next census, Thomas Hutton and Agnes Hutton are both 59 and are found at the High Street, Crail with his occupation being detailed as Seaman (retired, living on priv(ate?) means). At this point we searched for their daughter, Euphemia Hutton who by 1891 had married John Murray, Fisherman and settled in High Street where they had two children, Agnes (aged 3) and Jessie (aged 1).
As Agnes and Thomas are no longer living at Nethergate North, we turned to the Valuation Rolls for the years after 1891 where the properties on Nethergate Northside are listed to determine responsibility for payment of rates for properties in Crail Burgh. In 1893 we can see that Thomas Hutton has a tenant there whose name is James Robertson and the yearly rent is £9. The exciting piece of information in this Valuation Roll is that the property next door which become in later days numbers 5 and 7 Nethergate are at this point “in the course of erection” – or perhaps as we would say ‘Under Construction’ with the owner being one Robert Cleghorn, Coachbuilder of Cupar.
We checked the Valuation Roll for 1895 where it appears that by this time Thomas Hutton has passed away and his wife, listed as “Mrs Thomas Hutton” is renting to a Mrs Duff at an annual rent of £10.
Moving forward to the Valuation Roll for 1905 Mrs Thomas Hutton is renting to Alexander Henderson. The two next door properties belong to the heirs of Robert Cleghorn.
The next documents we have relating to the house at Nethergate is in 1909 when the remaining children of Thomas and Agnes Hutton prepare to dispose of the property at 3 Nethergate Crail (the first record we can find of it having been numbered as it still is today). It’s all quite tragic at this point and I find myself being sad for the family as they have to go to court to declare that two of the 5 children are now dead. William Don Hutton, whose birth we looked up early in our searches has been drowned at sea in September of the year 1890 – aged only 19. HM Chancery Court decrees that his brother George Brown Hutton is his heir.
The disposition of 1869 had left the house to Agnes Don or Hutton and the deed of 1909 sets out that she had had 5 children who had survived until the time of the death of her uncle. Thomas Don Hutton had died as a child in 1865 (aged 6 or 7). His sister Agnes Don Hutton had died on or about the 7th of June 1896 (aged 27). The proceeds of the house are therefore to be divided between the remaining 3 children, in the proportions 1/5 to James Don Hutton, 1/5 to Euphemia Ritchie Hutton or Murray and 3/5 to George Brown Hutton.
In 1909 James Hutton has emigrated to the United States and is working as a Draper’s Clerk in North Adams Massachusetts. [He married Jessie Hutton and they have 3 children at the time of the 1910 US Census: William Hutton, 24 (born Scotland), Frank Hutton, 20 (born Tennessee), Agnes Hutton 17 (born Tennessee)]. George Brown Hutton is living in Glasgow and is working as an Engineer and as we know Euphemia is still in Crail. They sell the house to a Mr Robert Millar of Beggar Bush House Musselburgh for £180.
I get a bit irritated by the legal language surrounding Euphemia’s inheritance as it is couched as: “Mrs Euphemia Ritchie Hutton or Murray, Wife of and residing with John Murray, Fisherman, Crail, heritable proprietrix to the extent of one fifth pro indivisio of the said subjects, with the special advice and consent of my said husband, And I the said John Murray for myself, my own right and interest and as taking burden on me for my said wife and we both with joint consent and assent” – all this for the sake of £36!
We note that the new purchaser Mr Robert Millar, does not live in the property, but rents it out. We find in the 1911 Census (the last one which is currently available) that there are three people living in the house – Mr & Mrs Hill and their daughter Agnes who is an assistant in a confectioner’s shop. Mr Hill is a retired shipmaster. Number 5 has no one living there, and number 7 is now a house of 6 rooms with one or more windows – and they have a live-in servant!
We will draw our glimpse into the past of 3 Nethergate (sometimes Nethergate Eastside, sometimes Nethergate North), to a close on the basis that we do have further information about subsequent residents between then and our purchase in 1992 but will not publish it here on the grounds of privacy.
So that you can have an idea of where the house sits in the village of Crail, we’ve included for interest an Aerial view of Nethergate including Priory Doo’cot.
Stay in this Historic House in Crail
If you’d like to stay in this historic house in Crail, Sandcastle Cottage is available for rental for 3 night weekends, 4 night midweek breaks and 7 night weekly breaks, just go to our Look page to find out more, or follow this link to book.
Pin it for later – Family Tree and History Nethergate Crail
Further Reading and Research Notes
Chapter 1 – Crail from A Guide to the East Neuk of Fife – David Hay Fleming 1886
Lectures on the History of the Church of Scotland: From the Reformation to the Revolution Settlement : with Notes and Appendices from the Author’s Papers ; in Two Volumes, Volume 2 334 – 340 in digitised version)January 1, 1860 – Appendix No. IV.— (Vol. I., page 49.) about the Grammar School of Crail (page
In the Statistical Account of Scotland 1793, reference is made to the fact that in 1790-91 there were 1,710 people living in Crail – 728 males and 972 females. The reason for there being more women than men was due to men having gone off to sea and to fight in the “French and American War” (1754 – 1763). During this war, 72 men from the town and parish were entered on board his Majesty’s fleet, a small portion returned home. With regard to Trades in Crail, mention is made of 7 incorporated trades: Smiths, Wrights, Weavers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Coopers and Bakers. The Weavers are further detailed as: 35 freemen, 21 journeymen and apprentices.
In the 1793 Statistical Account there is a description of the manufactures of Crail, which says that “the women, however, are generally employed in spinning lint-yarn for the manufacturers in other places, to the extent of many thousand spindles every year. … A few shoes are made for the market; and nearly 40,000 yards of sheetings, Osnaburghs, coarse brown linen &c are wrought by the weavers for sale, over and above what is manufactured for private use.”
From the Statistical Account of Scotland 1845 – climate: “…the position of the country at the junction of the Forth with the ocean, combine to render the climate particularly pure and healthful.”
Next Steps for our Family Tree/ House History Research
- We know that Crail Museum did a “Houses of Crail” project some years ago, and we will submit our House History to the Museum for future researchers.
- We would like to know how the Weavers and Merchants of Crail mentioned in the 1789 document got the land. Is this in the Sasines? Minutes books of sasines, deeds, decreets etc, 1579-1804
- Research into the Weavers of Crail – Weavers records, 1694-1741, 1792-1845 in the University of St Andrews Special Collections.
- Crail Museum’s 2017 Exhibition is about Craftsmen of Crail, including the Kingo Weavers, so it will be interesting to see what we can find there
What questions do you have from reading this article? Do let us know in the comments please.