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.

Somerville Square

This area has known several names - Midgait, Quality Street, Back Street, Somerville Street, and now Somerville Square. Away back in 1824, most of the houses in this photograph were standing, and only in recent years has there been much of a change. The first house on the right was removed more than 30 years ago, but the remainder on that side were removed in the mid Fifties. The houses on the left were modernised and brought up to present-day standards because they were buildings of historical significance, and the Historical Building Committee agreed to bear some of the costs of restoration.

Somerville Street at the beginning of last century

Of the number of buildings on the left of the photograph, Mary Somerville's house is first and there is an interesting story concerning the protruding part of the wall which extends from the top of the bottom window to the roof. When renovations were in full swing a shutter on the top window was pulled back and, lo and behold, there was a secret stairway much broadened out with the aid of the outside wall, which led down to near the front door. The greatest find of all, of course, was the painted ceiling, which led to considerable activity on the part of all the historians and the Ministry of Works.

The history of this house can be traced as far back as 1596, when it was taken over by John Watson as heir to his uncle Andrew Watson, once a burgess in Burntisland. On the same date, 28th January 1596, in the register of Sasines, it is registered fo John Watson and Katherine Wallace, his spouse, in accordance with the marriage contract. In 1628 it was owned by Captain Andrew Watson and Isobelle Boswell, his spouse, then in 1653 to John Watson, heir to his father Captain Andrew Watson. In 1675 it is John Watson, now of Dunnikier, burgess of Burntisland, and Euphame Orrock, his spouse.

In the Watson family till 1704, a sasine registers it then for John Leslie, of East Quarter, and Alison Spittle, his spouse. Later, Alexander Orrock and Christian Boswell, his spouse, occupy the property, and in 1739 William Greig, Shipmaster in Burntisland, and his wife Janet Russel. Eventually in 1754 it is owned by Samuel Charters and his wife Christian Murray. Charter's daughter married George Fairfax, and the house was then taken over by Captain George Fairfax, father of Mary Somerville, in 1789.

One of the many interesting stories of this house is given by Mary Somerville. She states "On one occasion, the house being full, I was sent to sleep in a room quite detached from the rest and with a different staircase. There was a closet in the room in which my father kept his fowling pieces, fishing tackle and golf clubs, and a large garret overhead was filled with presses and stores of all kinds. Among other things a number of large cheeses were on a board slung by ropes to the rafters. One night I had put out my candle and was fast asleep, when I was awakened by a violent crash and then a rolling noise over my head. Now the room was said to be haunted, so that the servants would not sleep in it. I was desperate, for there was no bell. I groped my way to the closet - lucifer matches were unknown in those days - I seized one of the golf clubs, which are shod with iron, and thundered on the bedroom door till I brought my father, followed by the whole household, to my aid. It was found that the rats had gnawed through the ropes by which the cheeses were suspended, so that the crash and rolling were accounted for, and I was scolded for making such an uproar."

Whilst Mary Somerville's house had been known as Watson's East Tenement, a house further along from Mary's was known as Watson's West Tenement. This house, still with an outside stair, has this fervent prayer on a stone above the doorway -
O Lord, thow me defend
From Subtile sorts of those,
That friendship me pretends,
And are my mortal foes.

This interesting area has seen all the quality of the town in residence at one time or another, hence one of its early names - "Quality Street".

Somerville Square today