Cupar’s Blue Plaque Trail 2022

Cupar is the historic capital of Fife … medieval origins as a Royal Burgh controlling trade from the North Sea and Forth to Kinross. Its medieval street pattern survives to this day – peppered with fine buildings and famous closes. It has many a story to tell – and this Trail is the first in what we hope will become an entire archive to celebrate The Year of Stories 2022. Around the town you will discover a series of blue plaques, each commemorating a significant part of the town’s unique history. Our trail is a stroll or roll that allows you to discover not only the plaques but also centuries of fascinating heritage across our 21st century market town …

1. Fluthers: once called Fluthers Bog, this area could be flooded – to form a rink for skating and curling – by the Ladyburn, the small tributary that runs alongside it, before joining the River Eden. It has always been a public open space belonging to the town, with various uses including public hangings – the last of which was held here on 5th July 1852. The Scanlan brothers were executed after being convicted of murdering Margaret Maxwell at Hilton of Forthar. On a more cheery note, Fluthers has also been used as a cattle market and fairground! Today, it is a free car park that includes a toilet block with information display, parking for the disabled as well as two electric charging parking bays. This is the starting point for our stroll and roll …


2. East Toll House: built around 1825 to collect tolls on the turnpike road to Saint Andrews and Pitscottie. In the wall opposite – on the East Road – you can see one of the tollgate posts. Originally, there were toll houses on all the town’s main approaches. The South Toll House – at the junction of South Road and Ceres Road – is another well preserved example of a local toll house although not graced with a blue plaque. Other tolls on the turnpike roads approaching Cupar were Balgarvie Toll, Arnott’s Comb, Carslogie Toll, Clushford Toll, Struthers Toll, Pitscottie Toll, Rathillet Toll and Hammerhead Toll at Springfield Road end. In other words, there were very few routes in and out of Cupar that could be navigated without payment! They charged tolls for almost a century – from 1791 until 1878.

3. Cart Haugh (Haugh Park): home to a wonderful play park and riverside walk, this has long been a public open space protected from development. The area is three parks in one – Cart Haugh, Nicholson Park and Hood Park – named after their respective donors. The land west of the Ladyburn was gifted to the town by Provost Alexander Nicholson in 1871 and to the south of it by Provost Robert Hood in 1896. The bandstand (below right) in Hood Park was built in 1924 and has been recently refurbished with a magnificent paint job! The same area includes an open-air gym.

4. War Memorial: the impressive bronze winged victory is by HS Gamley of Edinburgh. The memorial stands in a very dominant position and says much about Cupar’s influence and importance at the time. It was unveiled on the 29th April 1922 in a ceremony attended by Field Marshall Earl Haig KT GCB OM GCVO KCIE and remains the focus for Cupar’s remembrance services. It carries 189 names from the First World War (1914-1918) and 49 from the Second World War (1939-1945).

5. Old Gaol: opened in 1814 as a prison for both town and county, it replaced the damp and dark cells in the old Tollbooth. After a new prison was built in 1842, this building was used by the militia and, from 1895, by William Watt, a seed merchant, whose name is still displayed. Most refer to the property as ‘Watts’ and in more recent times it has been a pub and nightclub. Today, it is in a somewhat sorry state and all await the next chapter for this historic building.

6. Cupar Museum & Heritage Centre: the town’s museum is located in the former house at the east end of the Cupar Railway Station building – an historical building itself. The town’s station was opened in 1847 by Edinburgh & Northern Railway as the temporary terminus. The line northwards – to Tayport (for the ferry link to Dundee) – was completed three years later. The Museum is a registered charity “committed to the preservation of the rich and diverse history of Cupar Fife and it’s surrounding area“. Open to visitors between April and 31st October, the current hours are Wednesday and Sunday between 2.00 and 4.00 pm. Visits out with these times may be arranged by using the contact form on the Museum’s website or by leaving a telephone message on 01334 844979.

7. River Eden Walks: ‘Cupar’ – an ancient Pictish name – means ‘where the rivers meet‘. The Ladyburn (mentioned in 1) is a tributary that meets The Eden at Haugh Park (3). Both have helped to shape the town, its layout, historic industries and development. There are lovely walks along The Eden. You can read more on the town’s history and growth on our Blog via this link.

8. Chancellor’s House: probably late 17th century though much altered. In the 18th century, it was the residence of the minister, Thomas Campbell, and the birthplace of his son John Campbell, 1st Baron Campbell (1779-1861), second son of Rev George Campbell, a Liberal politician, lawyer and man of letters.

9. Saint Columba’s Roman Catholic Church: built in 1964 to a design by Peter Whiston in the circular style used for Liverpool Cathedral. The Catholic congregation in Cupar was formed in the first half of the 20th century comprising immigrants from the west of Scotland and Ireland who came to work in agriculture and mining. You can find more on the church including their service times via their Facebook page.

10. Parish Church: the tower survives from 1415 Saint Christopher’s Church. The Spire was added in 1620 by the minister, William Scott, after the parish was merged with a smaller parish of Saint Michael of Tarvit. The only surviving picture of the old church is on the town plan of 1642. The body of the church was rebuilt in 1785 by local architect, Hay Bell. You can find more on the Parish Church of Cupar Old & St Michael of Tarvit including the church’s services via their Facebook group page.

11. Churchyard: the old kirkyard and its extension across the road (below) contain many interesting gravestones. The best known? The Covenanters’ Memorial. Laurence Hay and Andrew Pitullo were executed in Edinburgh in 1681, their heads severed and sent to Cupar for display. They were later buried with a hand of David Hackston of Rathillet who had been hanged in Edinburgh in 1680.

12. Duncan Institute: designed by John Milne, it was built in 1870 with a legacy from Miss Duncan of Edengrove for the working-class of Cupar, Dairsie and Kilconquhar parishes. Originally, it housed a library, a lecture hall and a museum of the Fifeshire Literary & Antiquarian Society. Today, the building is home to Cupar Library with lending facilities and reference room. The Fife Family History Society is also based at the library.

13. Crossgate House: opposite the library is Ferguson Square where you’ll find Crossgate House. Most of the town’s early 19th century elite built detached villas and had to find plots on the edge of or outside the town. In 1814, Thomas Horsburgh, the Sheriff Clark, managed to build his fine house right in the town centre. The architect has not been identified. Today, only the facade survives.

14. Burgh Chambers: built between 1815-17 by local builder Robert Hutchinson to replace the council room in the old tollbooth. This was not part of the overall design for St Catherine Street but an afterthought. The Belfry (below left) – paid for by public subscription – was an addition to the original design. The clock was added in 1821 – also by subscription. Today, the property has been beautifully restored by the Fife Historic Buildings Trust and the premises can be hired as self catering accommodation – come and stay in this iconic building! The Chambers has two bedrooms (each ensuite) but with additional arrangements can accommodate up to eight. Click this link to read more, check availbility and book your stay.

15. Mercat Cross: two hexagonal cobbled patterns mark the former positions of the Mercat Cross – the symbol of the Burgh’s right to hold markets. The cross was removed in the early 19th century and found its way to the top of Tarvit Hill. It was returned and set on a new plinth in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee before being moved to ease traffic flow and unveiled in its present location in 2014.

16. Masonic Hall: the Freemasons have been in Cupar for more than 350 years. Lodge 19 has been in this hall since 1811. It was one of several masonic lodges and similar societies that flourished in the town in the 18th and 19th centuries. One Cuparian in 1911 remembers the Masons’ processions having bright costumes and accompanied by “the gay lilt of Hey, the merry masons, Ho, the merry masons go prancing along!” Today, the Lodge supports a very wide range of local charities and community causes. You can read much more on the lodge and their history via our Blog.

17. St John’s Church: built for the growing congregation of Cupar Free Church by Campbell Douglas & Sellers in 1875-78 at a cost of £10,000 … mainly a legacy from Sir David Baxter of Kilmaron. The impressive steeple at 160 feet is the tallest building in Cupar and dominates the townscape. You can discover more on the Church including their service times via their Facebook page.

18. Baptist Church: the first Baptist services were held in Weavers’ Hall on Ladywynd with the church constituted in 1816. By 1821, that hall had become too small for the growing congregation so the church bought the Kirkgate Chapel, ‘a very solid and plain structure, seating 350‘ for £200. In 1849, they moved again – to a property in Provost Wynd (now occupied by Age Concern). In 1972, the Church of Scotland decided to close the Bonnygate Kirk – built for the United Presbyterian Church by Peddie & Kinnear in 1865-66 – and the building was offered to the Baptists where they have been ever since. You can find more including service times via their Facebook page.

19. Preston Lodge: the main surviving example of the townhouses which the country gentry once maintained in Cupar. Started in 1623, the house on Bonnygate was enlarged after 1690 by the Prestons of Denbrae. The doorpiece is early 19th century and if you look around the town, you can spot other doorpieces added at this period.

20. Motte Hill: the original open air seat of justice for the the area – the Hill of the moot or plea. Through the years it has been known as Moot Hill, Mote Hill, Cams Hill and Mons Placiti. The historian, Sibbald, noted that the word ‘cam’ in Gaelic meant ‘crooked’ and was descriptive of the long winding ridge of which Castle Hill formed a part. It is a natural glacial feature running northwest from the Castle Hill that was planted with trees from 1776 and walks were laid out. For those who had no garden, public areas in which they could “promenade” were an important feature of town life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. An archaeological dig in 2018 discovered buried cremated bones from the Bronze Age. Fife Place Name Data offers additional information on the site’s name.

21. Newtown: Cupar remained within its mediaeval boundaries until the 1780s when suburban expansion started with Newtown. Although no houses survive unaltered, it is clear they were originally single-story thatched cottages though each had a garden and workshop space providing housing for self-employed tradesmen – particularly weavers. It was followed by Well Street and Castlefield, Front Lebanon and subsequent ribbon development along Railway Place, Riggs Place and South Road.

22. Corn Exchange: built in 1861-62 by Campbell Douglas and Stevenson to provide a covered Cornmarket and a large public hall. The building was sold to the Town Council in 1961, major alterations were made in 1964 creating halls on two levels within the high-ceilinged original. After selling the building, the Cupar Corn Exchange Company remained in existence as an investment vehicle and was acquired by Cupar Museum and Heritage Centre in 2016. It is the oldest Scottish registered company. You can read more on this intriguing story via our Blog. The Corn Exchange is the town’s largest public venue and is well used – from silent discos to orchestra performances and concerts, coffee mornings and ceilidhs to fund-raising fairs. If you are interested in hiring the venue, please use this link or you can email by clicking here.

23. Castlehill: Cupar Castle, a seat of the Earls of Fife, referred to in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one stood on top of this impressive motte. Probably built of wood, it may have been deliberately destroyed after a siege of the town in the 1330s. After this, it became a public open space where morality plays were performed including – in 1552 – the first performance of the David Lindsay’s ‘Ane Pleasant Satyre of The Thrie Estaitis‘ – the earliest play in Scottish literature. The river once ran closer under the Castle Hill but was diverted to its present course when Saint Catherine Street was first laid out in the early 19th century. The building facing you was built in 1806 with the Latin School of the Grammar School on the ground floor and a public theatre above. The coat of arms above the door may come from the old tollbooth or from one of the town gates. Cupar Academy took over the whole building in 1825. The south block, on the right, was built in 1844-46 by which time the academy had become the Madras Academy with a legacy from Dr Andrew Bell of Madras. The schools outgrew their site, amalgamated as Bell Baxter High School and relocated to West Port in 1889 before the move to the current site on Carslogie Road. Today, the south block at Castlehill has been converted to private flats. The stand-alone building is now run by Castlehill Community Centre and is used by community groups for events and activities. You can find more – including details on hiring the hall – via their Facebook page.

24. Saint James The Great Scottish Episcopal Church: the former site of a Blackfriars Convent and an earlier Episcopal Chapel that had been built in 1819, the 1866 construction we see today was overseen by architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson. The rood screen by Sir Robert Lorimer was added in 1920. You can discover more on the church including their service times via their Facebook Group page.

25. County Buildings: designed by James Gillespie Graham, they were built in 1812 as the centrepiece of a new street. St Catherine Street was created by Provost John Ferguson through the ordered demolition of the old tollbooth and Balgarvie House and the diversion of the River Eden. The balcony is for making proclamations, previously made from the old tollbooth. The east wing was the Tontine Hotel. In 1836 it was converted for the Sheriff Court. A new Tontine Hotel was built to the east. In the 1920s, this was replaced by an extension to the county buildings.


With thanks …

Our online Blue Plaque Guide is adapted from information that was first published in 2005 as a joint-venture between the Millennium Committee of the Royal Burgh of Cupar & District Community Council, and Fife Council’s Planning & Building Control Service (later Development Services), whose graphics unit designed the original leaflet. The original text was researched and written by Dr Paula Martin whose other publications include ‘Cupar: A Short History & Guide’ (2001) and ‘Cupar: The History of a Small Scottish Town’ (2006).

The guide was re-published in 2016 as a joint-venture between Cupar Development Trust and Cupar Heritage with thanks to the generous assistance of the Royal Burgh of Cupar & District Community Council, Cupar & North Fife Preservation Society, the Association of Businesses in Cupar & District (ABCD), Fife Family History Society, Cupar Heritage and Cupar Development Trust.

Assistance was also received from Fife Council, Fife Historic Buildings Trust, Historic Environment Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Cupar Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) and the Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI).


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