At the wide paved area in front of the building you should stop to read the plaque with its inscription. On then to the rear of the building and on to the large drying green which provides a panoramic view of the Firth of Forth and the Lothian coastline. In this quiet oasis, you may read the story of George Hay Forbes, the Episcopalian parson who organised the building of the Parsonage and in some cases actually dressed the stones for the mason to continue his work. The remarkable building is one of the most important domestic buildings of the mid-Victorian period and is considered to be one of the finest works of the London architect R.C.Carpenter (1812-1855). It was his last work.

The front of the Parsonage

The Activities of the Reverend George Hay Forbes

The Reverend George Hay Forbes was ordained in 1848 when he came to Burntisland. In 1849 he started a school with one mistress and 13 pupils in a house in Kinghorn Road now occupied by the Inchview Hotel. By the end of the summer he had 90 pupils. Forbes decided later to build his own school, but first a residence. He purchased the present site of the Parsonage and with an estimated cost of 10,000 the building proceeded. By the early summer of 1854, the house was in his estimation ready for occupation.

This was a remarkable achievement for a man who had been severely crippled by disease early in life and spent many years in bed. He had not wasted his time there, having learned a number of languages which served him in good stead later on in life. Only a few events of this remarkable man's life can be related. When he first came to Burntisland, his crutches slipped on the street and as he lay there no-one would come to his aid. They had no time for such an incomer as an Episcopalian priest. To assist in moving around his house, he fixed up a rope from the top joists, and when he came down from the top floor he slid down the rope! In the basement of the building he instituted the Pitsligo Printing Press, and installed a speaking tube to save travelling up and down stairs. When he wished to bathe his feet in seawater, he hired a two-wheeled cart and horse. Taken down at half tide, he sat in the back of the cart and dangled his feet in the water.

The rear of the Parsonage

Probably his greatest feat was that in publishing the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible in many different languages. He could apparently speak in 20 languages and knew about 50. Along with his brother who was the Bishop of Brechin, and other great philosophers, a discussion at Keble College, Oxford, resulted in each agreeing to translate different books of the Bible. Forbes selected Ecclesiastes. He printed it in many languages, and Dr Lockhart in his "Church of Scotland in the 13th Century" had this to say:
"Forbes had printed the Pontifical in his own press at Burntisland called the Pitsligo Press. There exists a list of 41 classes of type used in this press, including Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic and Greek. Mr Forbes told me of the delight he had experienced on perusing the original Pontifical in Paris, the very book used in 1243 by De Bernham in consecrating the church at Kirton."

Forbes was the Provost of Burntisland in 1869, but resigned within a year due to dissension between the Town Council and the builders of the then new dock. In 1872 Forbes was in a hotel at Nancy in France when his crutches slipped on the polished floor and he received a severe bodily shock. In 1873 he pursued the translation of Ecclesiastes in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek Hepaxla Syriac, Armenian, Latin, Peshitto, Polyglot, Persian and Venice Greek. Only he could set the type, and it was a long and tiring job. Before he passed away on 7th November 1875, Forbes had completed the Parsonage, built a school next door, and had partially built a huge church on the East side of the building. And so passed a genius of the 19th century.


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