Kirkgate and Somerville Square

The site of the Free Kirk

Coming out of the churchyard gates you are faced with an area which represents the old Free Church set up after the Great Disruption. This was destroyed in a fire over 20 years ago, as was the building used as the Free Kirk school. Turning down Kirkgate, on the left is a large double villa which has an interesting history. Over 100 years ago this building stood on a high point and in line with the houses at South View, Lammerlaws. At the building of the docks, this house stood in the way of the present railway line so was removed, stone by stone, and rebuilt on its present location in the Kirkgate.

The house in Kirkgate

Turning left into Somerville Square (previously known as Midgait, Back Street or Quality Street), look left to see the building known as Mary Somerville House. A plaque on the wall indicates that this was the home of Admiral Sir William Fairfax and his famous daughter Mary, afterwards Mary Somerville. Mary's grandfather Samuel Charters was Town Clerk of Burntisland for 47 years. Mary first came to prominence nationwide when she had her first book published in 1831, "The Mechanism of the Heavens". Practically the whole edition of 750 copies was sold at Cambridge University. The King granted her a pension of 300 a year to encourage others to follow the bright example she had set. She had other works published - "The Connection of the Physical Sciences", "Physical Geography" and "Molecular and Microscopic Science", all of which were printed in various languages and on into its 17th edition. Somerville College, Oxford is named after her, also Somerville House at Brisbane High School for Girls, Australia. The house itself dates back to 1596 when Captain Watson obtained the property. It became the home of many famous people including John Watson of Dunnikier; the Orrocks of that ilk; Alexander Leslie (later Lord Lindores); William Greig, shipmaster; before being purchased by Captain Fairfax in 1789.

Mary Somerville's house

Next door to Mary Somerville's house there is a Masonic Lodge which in its earlier history was also the home of famous people. Probably the most interesting was James Robertson, who was born at Newbigging in 1720 and died in London in 1788. He enlisted as a private in the army and ultimately became the Civil Governor of New York. In 1782 his description was "His Excellency James Robertson, Esq. Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Province of New York and Territories thereupon defending in America, Vice-Admiral of the same and Major General of His Majesty's Forces". James Robertson senior of Newbigging owned this house from 1704 to 1727, when George Robertson continued in ownership until 1754.

Lodge Dunearn 400

Further along the Square are two houses with outside staircases originally described as Watsons West tenement. On one there is an old marriage lintel with similar initials to that on the Watson Memorial in the churchyard, concerning the names Watson, Boswell and Orrock. In the title of Watson's Mortification this property had four houses, occupied free by the schoolmaster and three widows. All the houses in that side of the Square were modernised by Burntisland Town Council during the late 1950's.

Watson's Mortification

Moving towards the High Street, we pass under a house and on the East wall there are two marriage lintels which were removed from an old building that stood on the site before being demolished in 1957. The date is 1626 and records the ownership of Richard Ross and Agnes Michaelson, daughter of the famous Rev. Dr John Michaelson, who was deposed as parish minister for refusing to sign the Covenant around 1639, and came to live at his daughter's home. On one lintel are the letters R.R. and a crest, on the other A.M. and a crest.

One of the marriage lintels

The other marriage lintel

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