The following was extracted from a series of articles by former Provost R.M.Livingstone in the Fife Free Press, printed in the late 1960's and early 1970's. If any copyright has been infringed please contact me. I am assuming that there will be no problem with this due to the age of the articles.

How Burntisland got its name

The circled area contains the original island

The island, ringed in the picture, from which Burntisland got its name.

How Burntisland got its name

After speaking to members of Kirkcaldy Rotary Club in December, one of the audience remained behind to ask me if I could tell him how Burntisland got its name. Briefly, I told him that hundreds of years ago the fishermen who supplied food to the inhabitants of Burntisland Castle built huts on what is known as the Green Island. The huts went on fire and the name was known locally as Burnt or Bruntiland. When the Royal Charter was written in 1542 it mentioned building a town near the harbour called Brint-iland. It would appear from that that the name spread from the harbour to the surrounding district and the parish of Burntisland. No doubt people want more conclusive evidence, so, for what it is worth, I propose to state all the facts and see if the reader reaches the same conclusion.

Whilst searching the minutes of the Convention of Royal Burghs from 1650-1669 to find out if we had a Provost during that period, the spelling changed continuously and in all I counted 19 different spellings. It went from Brimteland, Bruntyland, Bruntisland, Brintilland and in a charter of 1573 to Birtyland. In the Town Court Book beginning in March, 1737, the first five mentions of the town the spelling is Bruntisland and thereafter it is Burntisland. Searching in the Scottish National Dictionary, at the word 'brunt', it says "see also Burn and Brunt". There one finds the explanation - Every tenant shall yearly labour no more than two thirds of his Bruntland. Bruntland - Burntland - rough messy ground formerly burnt over periodically.

In the Royal Charter granted by King James V dated 25th June, 1541 we have - "because for the welfare of his kingdom he had constructed and repaired the harbour of old called Brintiland, and proposes building a town near by for the reception of men, his subjects, therefore, that the town may be promptly brought to perfection, he concedes to the Provost and Bailies to be nominated by him, the lands beside the said harbour, which the Monastery of Dunfermline holds, with the harbour thereof."

Burntisland in its early days was known as Wester Kinghorn and only in the 16th century did the name Brintiland appear. In Miller's book "Fife: Pictorial and Historical", he writes - "The burgh of Burntisland was the haven in early times most in use by the Monks of Dunfermline, though no record exists of the period when it came into their possession. Its early name was Cunyngarland, a designation which shows that the place was used as a rabbit-warren; and this is confirmed by a grant made to the Abbot and Convent of Dunfermline in 1305 by Edward I - whereby they obtained 'free warren on his demesne lands of Kyngorn, Kirkcaldyn, Nithbren and Fotheroffe.' The names of the Grasslandis and the Cunyngarlandis were applied to the land where Burntisland now stands so late as 1543 though the harbour was then called Brint-iland and had been so denominated long before that date." Andrew Young in his "History of Burntisland" (page 28) writes - "Burntisland existed as a Burgh of Rogality in the name of Bertiland or Byrtiland as early as 1506 under Dunfermline Abbey."

For the final piece of evidence there is in Burntisland Town Hall a "Plan of Bruntilland Town, Harbour and Fortifications" dated 1745. After giving directions on sailing into the harbour the preamble reads - "This is by far the best harbour from London to Orkney, had once been a place of strength and with a very moderate expense might be made so still; the old works tho' performed in the mean taste of the times still pretty distinct. The "Small island that gives name to the town", being by far the properest place of building a fort to guard the harbour, and there being rock enough to hold a much larger fort than the small triangular one on the east side of the entry."

The definitive statement the "small island that gives name to the town" appears to confirm that this island was the Burntisland near which the King in 1541 decided a town would be built. Despite many alterations to the whole dock and harbour area the island is still with us. It was joined up with ground covered by the former Burntisland Shipbuilding Company and now part of Burntisland Engineering Fabrications.