The Evolution of Cellardyke


By Alexander Corstorphine

Written in September 2009

Cellardyke has always been part of the Parish of Kilrenny, and most of its existence has been incorporated and associated with that parish. Although the church and village of Kilrenny lie somewhat inland, the land area of the parish is quite extensive and, in early times, would include quite a few scattered fishermen’s dwellings close to the seashore. The church at Kilrenny was consecrated in the year 1243, but it is known that previously, there was a church on that site, which had probably existed for several centuries. About the year 1155, the church and lands of “Kilretheni” were gifted to the Canons of Dryburgh Abbey by Countess Ada, the mother of Malcolm IV and William the Lion. 

Until 1641, Kilrenny parish was bounded on the west by the Dreel Burn, and the area of land, now known as Anstruther Easter, was still a part of the Parish of Kilrenny. On the western side of the Dreel Burn lay the Parish of Anstruther Wester, a parish just as old as that of Kilrenny. A church was built in Anstruther Easter in 1634, but it remained part of the Parish of Kilrenny until 1641, when Anstruther Easter was allowed to become a parish in its own right. 

A charter of 1222 states that there was an agreement between the Monks of Dryburgh and the Augustinian Canons of St. Andrews, to the effect that the fishermen of both Kilrenny and St. Andrews could use each others harbours, without payment of tiends (levies) other than to the church in their native parish. This shows that the fishing of that period was not confined to just within a couple of miles or so of their home port.

Another dispute of that time was between the Monks of Dryburgh and the Benedictine Monks of the May Island, the latter being the superiors of the Parish of Anstruther Wester. The row concerned the fact that the fishermen of Anstruther Wester chose to moor their boats on the Kilrenny side of the Dreel Burn, but refused to pay any tiends to the Kilrenny parish. The dispute was taken all the way to the Pope (Honorius) in 1225, and a compromise was reached, whereby an annual tribute of silver would be paid to Kilrenny, but the rest of the tiends would remain payable to the Benedictines. 

In 1452, Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews built a stately home for himself close to Skinfast Haven, the old historic name for Cellardyke Harbour, opposite to where the stone steps now lead down to the bulwark. This house became known as the Bishop’s HouseLater, in the 17th century, Andrew Bruce, the Bishop of Orkney, retired and lived in the house, dying there in 1699. The park, belonging to this house, was eventually built on and the street was originally known as Pigeon Park Lane, but later, this name was changed to Dove Street. The house stood for over 400 years and was demolished in the 19th century.

From as far back as records can be found, there has always been a fishing community existing around Cellardyke harbour, but previous to the middle of the 16th century, it is difficult to find any mention of the name “CellardykeHowever, from that time onwards, references can be found, under the name of “Sillerdykes”. In Kilrenny Kirk yard, there is a roofless structure, belonging to the Beaton family. After the assassination of the infamous Cardinal David Beaton, in the grounds of the Castle of St. Andrews on the 29thMay,1546, his body was exhibited to the citizens on the castle wall. It was afterwards deposited with salt in the castle dungeon. From the dungeon, it was removed by the Cardinal’s kinsman, John Beaton of Kilrenny and Silverdykes, and deposited in this structure in Kilrenny. This was done secretly, so as to prevent the citizens of St. Andrews from digging up the body and mutilating it. This appears to be the first of any references to the name of Silverdykes. 

Local legend has it that the name Sillerdykes originated from the fact that the local fishermen hung out their herring nets to dry on boundary walls, and that the fish scales, which were left on the walls, shone like silver. For many years, the fishing community was often referred to with two names, i.e. Sillerdykes or Nether Kilrenny. In later years, the name “Sillerdykes” was anglicised into “Cellardyke”, and the name “Nether Kilrenny” lost any preference.

The information notice board at Cellardyke harbour suggests that the harbour of Skinfast Haven was originally constructed by Dutch stonemasons in 1452, the same year as the Bishop’s House was built. Never the less, historical documents show that, in line with other landowners in neighbouring communities in the mid 16th century, John Beaton of Kilrenny, as the local Laird, was prevailed upon to provide a safe haven for small boats in the sheltered creek, and by building a pier, improve the landing facilities. The site, already named as Skinfast Haven, was chosen because this was where the deepest water could be found near to the shore. The improvements were completed by 1579, and the Scottish Parliament confirms John Beaton’s hereditary tenure of “the port and haven called Skinfast Haven”. John Beaton then petitions the parliament for ratification of himself as feuar and his entitlement to all of the profits there from. This was duly granted. A charter by Patrick Adamson, the Archbishop of St. Andrews at that time, confers on John Beaton’s lands of Kilrenny, the status of a “Free Burgh of Regality”, with the power to hold a weekly market for the purpose of buying and selling wine, wax, linen, wool and other merchandise. Permission for the erection of a market cross was given and a distinctive coat of arms was adopted: A fishing boat, with four men rowing and one man steering, with a hook suspended into the water. The Latin motto chosen was “Semper Tibi Pendiat Hamus” – (May a hook always hang for you).

With the improved harbour, the fishing industry prospered, and the amount of houses in the small fishing community then began to grow considerably. By 1600, fleets of half-decked fishing boats from Cellardyke and the neighbouring Fife ports were sailing to the herring grounds of the Western Isles, and to the rich cod and ling banks off the Shetlands. 

There was no low road access between Anstruther and Cellardyke harbour at that time, as the present George Street was just a footpath amongst the large rocks of the upper foreshore. To get to Cellardyke harbour, carts had to ascend to the Braehead, now more or less along the line of the present East Forth Street, then descend down to the harbour by using Shore Wynd. 

The first Cellardyke town hall and jail was built in 1624 on the site of the present town hall. This was followed, rather belatedly in 1642, with the erection nearby of a market cross. Obviously, the original community was spreading westward. Eventually, a road had been built along the line of the present George Street and houses were built all the way from Cellardyke harbour to the later boundary of the Culdees or Caddie’s Burn. A map of the late 1830s shows Cellardyke to be just one long street, with very few buildings on the higher ground, except for the Infant School on the Braehead at the top of Urquhart Wynd. The name of this long street was just referred to as Main Street. It was not until after the 1871 census before the long Main Street was divided into three individual streets, and these were given the names of James Street, John Street and George Street, these being the forenames of prominent local councillors: James after James Fowler; John after Provost John Martin; George after George Sharp. In 1841, most of the families in the western part of Main Street (later to become James St,) were those of tradesmen and farm workers. A few small farms were operated from within Cellardyke, with the farm buildings located on the higher ground at the back of the village, i.e. on the south side of which was later to become East and West Forth Street. The fishing families tended to live further east towards Cellardyke harbour.

The harbour was further considerably improved in 1829, with an extension to the outer pier and a short pier built out from the bulwark. This short pier was removed by 1854, when a solid stone west pier was built, with steps near to the outer end of the pier. The whole of this pier still exists. In 1898, a great storm demolished half of the long outer pier. The destroyed part of the pier was rebuilt, using stone blocks and cement, but at an angle which made it more secure to the sea-bed, and further out into the sea. At the same time, the shorter west pier was extended to make the harbour entrance narrower, thus reducing the effect of rough seas entering and damaging any boats that were moored in the harbour. This extension was built mostly of concrete, which was a fairly new form of construction at that time. 

Together with occurrences elsewhere in Britain, cholera hit the village in both 1832 and 1849, and dozens died in the epidemic. Such was the fear that hit the inhabitants, that any one who died was buried immediately. 

With the prosperous increase in the fishing industry, the community attracted many new trades, such as fish processing, cooperages, boat-building, blacksmiths, rope and net works and oilskin factories. The population grew and the existing houses became seriously over-crowded, with often several families living in what was virtually just one house. To give some relief to the problem, new streets of stone-built houses, i.e. East and West Forth Street and Ellice Street, were built around 1860-70. These new houses were designed with garret storage for the various items of fishing gear, such as lines, ropes and nets. But, more will be said later regarding the subject of housing developments. 

The population of Cellardyke, over the years, has not been recorded separately, and is therefore included in that of Kilrenny. It must be remembered that, two centuries ago, there was a large number of inhabitants in the Kilrenny landward area. During the 1800s, most of the increases can be attributed to the population explosion in Cellardyke. The combined population figures for Kilrenny and Cellardyke, for specific years, are as follows:

1755 = 1348;   1801 = 1043;  1831 = 1705 1861 = 2534;   1881 = 3198;  1911 = 2179;  1931 = 2708;  1961 = 2185.

In the middle of the 19th century, the only school in Cellardyke was the Infant School on the Braehead, at the top of the Urquhart Wynd. This catered for very young children only, probably for those in their first three years at school. Older children, who had not yet reached the school leaving age of twelve, had to make the journey to Kilrenny School, by using the muddy tracks to get there. A new school was built in Cellardyke in 1878 to cater for all ages, but Kilrenny School did not close until about 1936, when there would be less than twenty on its school roll. The new Cellardyke Primary School was still not found to be big enough, therefore it was enlarged in 1896 and served the community well until it was closed in 2003, in favour of a new primary school in Anstruther.

In the 1930’s, Cellardyke Primary School took in all of the pupils from both of the Anstruthers, except for an infants class which attended the small school in Anstruther Wester.

Until the late 1870s, the church, which served the inhabitants of Cellardyke, was Kilrenny Church. But, because of over-crowding, a need to avoid walking to the Kirk along the muddy tracks, and a dislike of the new minister at Kilrenny, the inhabitants of Cellardyke decided to build a new church of their own. This new church went under the name of Cellardyke Parish Church, but the parish was to be a “quoad sacra” parish, i.e. a parish for religious purposes only, hence a parish within a parish. Kilrenny parish still maintained the rights of administration within its area as a complete parish. The new church was opened in 1881. However, it has to be remembered and noted, that with the Disruption of the Kirk in Scotland in 1843, from then on, many of the residents of Cellardyke preferred to worship in the new Free Church of Scotland in Anstruther.

In 1883, the old Cellardyke Town Hall was demolished and a new one was built on the same site.

In 1884, practically all of the necessary drinking water was being obtained from the well in Urquhart Wynd, often referred to as the “Screw Wynd”, and from other wells within the village. Water flushing toilets were non-existent, and sewage was often dumped from pails onto the sea-shore, after dark. In 1884, the local councillors were proud of their existing water supply, and resisted the thought of piped water being imposed on the village, but eventually, they had to cave in and agree to its arrival. 

Cellardyke harbour itself experienced much congestion in the mid-19th century, due partly to the ever increasing number of boats, but mainly also to the increase in size of these boats. Fishermen were now using much larger boats, to enable them to venture further out to sea and return with much greater catches of fish. It was a Cellardyke boat that made the first of what was to become the annual autumn parade of Scottish boats to the East Anglian Herring Fishing at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The railway had also been extended to reach Anstruther in 1863, greatly increasing the efficiency of getting fish away in prime condition to the demanding populations of the cities throughout Britain. With the congestion at their own harbour causing a problem, the fishermen were now actively using Anstruther harbour as a base, but a petition was sent to the government asking for the construction of a new deep water harbour in the vicinity of the Sandlands Craigskerries, known locally as the Saurlands, which lie to the south of the present John Street. The outcome of this petition was that, instead of building on the suggested location, the government came down in favour of extending the harbour at Anstruther, which at that time consisted of just what is now the inner harbour there. A new outer basin at Anstruther was formed by the building of the East Pier, and a cutting was made so as to join the two harbour basins. At the same time, the old entrance to the west was filled in. The new harbour was to be known as the Union Harbour, signifying its use by both the fishermen of Cellardyke and Anstruther.Practically all of the larger Cellardyke boats then based themselves in this greatly improved harbour. It is interesting to note that in the 1881 census, there were about ten times as many fishermen living in Cellardyke as compared with those of the two Anstruthers put together.

This new harbour facility caused the demand for new housing development to again be pushed further westand away from the original community around the east end of Cellardyke. The housing developments in the two Forth Streets were followed by purpose-built fishermen’s houses in Rodger Street around 1880 – 90,Williamson Place and Fowler Street around 1890 and Burnside Terrace around 1900. Subsequent council housing developments took place, such as Burnside Place, Fowler Place and Toll Road around 1920 – 30. Gap sites were also taken over for the building of private housing.

In 1929, a Local Government Re-organisation took place, and the previously separate Burghs of Kilrenny, Anstruther Easter and Anstruther Wester became united to form “The United Burghs of Kilrenny, Anstruther Easter and Anstruther Wester”, a title which was considered to be the longest official title of any community anywhere in Scotland.

It must be remembered that Cellardyke was, and still is, part of the former Burgh of Kilrenny. It can be said that it is in a “union” with Anstruther, but that does not make it part of Anstruther. For an illustration of this point of argument, it can also be said that Scotland is in a union with England, but woe betide anyone who states that, “Scotland is a part of England”.

After the union of 1929, a new housing scheme was built on the Anstruther side of Burnside Terrace, and the bulk of these houses became occupied with Cellardyke families. This was also true of the post war developments in the late 1940’s with regard to the Mayview housing schemes. 

In Cellardyke itself, during the 1930s, businesses were 3 farms; 2 dairies; 4 cooperages with fish processing; 3 oilskin factories, 1 knitwear factory; 1 marine engineering works; 1 joinery and undertaker; 1 plumber; 2 builders; 5 grocer shops; 7 bakeries; 2 butchers; 5 small confectioners; 1 shoemaker; 3 dressmakers; 2 tailors; 1 hairdresser; 1 haberdashery; 2 fish and chip shops; 1 bank; 1 ice cream shop; 1 post office: 1 pub. There were also 2 Cellardyke greengrocers, who operated in the streets from horse drawn carts. Many of the bakers also toured the streets with carts or vans to sell their products.

The fishing industry was still showing great signs of prosperity until WW 2, but after the war, many of the boats were sold off after their de-requisition from the Admiralty, as many of their previous owners had come to realise that they themselves were too old to continue their working life at sea. Drift netting for herring was no longer a common occupation and most Cellardyke fishermen now fished from other ports, such as Aberdeen or Peterhead, for great line fishing. Others found employment with the new local seine net fleet, mostly based in Pittenweem. 

When the Ministry of Defence decided to build an R.A.F. radar station around the early 1950s, a considerable amount of houses were built to accommodate the families of the officers, N.C.O.s and other ranks. When that radar station became obsolete, a few years later, these houses were eventually sold off to members of the general public.

Pickford Crescent was built around the late 1960s, Windmill Court around 1990, Taeping and Aerial Closes around 2000. 

Today, it can be said that many of the old houses, in the lower streets of Cellardyke, have now been bought as second homes, by people who normally live in Edinburgh, Glasgow and such like. Although keeping the external appearance of these houses to be just as they would have been a century or two ago, many of them have had their interiors converted into what can be very modern and attractive homes.

(N.B.:  For a fuller history of our village, the  most authoritative text is Kilrenny and Cellardyke by  Harry D Watson, published by John MacDonald, Edinburgh, 1986.)

 Reproduced with the kind permission of Alexander (Sonny) Corstorphine (2012)



An article taken from the East Fife Observer of July 1959. The Observer was running a feature of 100 years ago in the East Neuk. Each village was featured [one per week] this is the Cellardyke / Kilrenny story.

What was Cellardyke and Kilrenny like 100 years ago? Vast changes have taken place since then, but many places are still familiar to this generation. We reproduce an article, compiled in 1906, which gives an idea of the customs prevalent in the town in these bygone days. For instance, water had to be carried to the houses, and this was drawn at the “Screw Wynd”, thus explaining the origin of a name which has puzzled some folk.

In taking a peep at the old town beginning with James  Street, there is no sign now of the Caddies Burn (1). A pathway runs where the burn used to flow, and a nice row of pretty villas are in course of erection at the top of its old course. Passing along James Street one notes little change on the south side of the street except the slight alteration made on the house where the late Mr Stephen Williamson was born,(Owner of Liverpool Shipping Company) (2)and the large manufacturing premises now occupied by Provost Black(3). Large two-storied houses occupy the sites of the one storied dwellings on the north side. The rest of James Street one would hardly recognise, as there are only four buildings which have defied time and change so far as their walls are concerned, though even these have been modernised. Only memory however, can recall the small reading room, which was also used for an evening school for boys and girls who, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, could neither read nor write, and were taught by four girls little older than their scholars but who never had occasion to call on any older than themselves to maintain order. Fortunately, no such voluntary teaching is now required. A very large school is situated on the Toll Road with an efficient headmaster and mistress and a large staff of assistants meets all the requirements of a somewhat exacting educational code.

But we must on, though in our hurry we cannot pass the old Post Office(4), where lived Mr Thomas Brown, author of a poem entitled “The Great Substitute” which was printed at the Record office, a book which might repay perusal. But here we are opposite the old Town Hall of which the following is a tale.

In fancy we can see old John Dick, the bell man, and his little highland wife, who never seemed to take likely to either lowland people or their ways for – “Still her blood was strong her heart was highland, and she in dreams beheld the Hebrides”. It also reminds us of the old highland piper, who paid an annual visit to Cellardyke, and a never forgotten sight was to see Mrs Dick and their old Highland man conversing in their mother tongue. A large beautiful hall now marks the place and also serves the purpose of keeping green the memories of two generous sons of Cellardyke, the late David Fowler ( of Adelaide Australia)and Mr Steven Williamson. Both left £5,000 each .(5)

In turning into John Street few old landmarks meet the eye. Here change and decay have done their work so well but nothing but new buildings are to be seen until one arrives almost at the middle of the street where a few houses are almost what they were 50 years ago(6). This brings us to a charmed spot that must be dear to the hearts all born in Cellardyke, the Urquhart Wynd or as it was spoken of then the “Screw Wynd”.(7) How many Jacobs met their Rachel’s as they in obedience to their mothers welcome order to go and fill their “stoups” ( old scot’s word for bucket or pail) or bring a “race” of water in for the night. No mother of that day was foolish enough to expect that however quickly that order was complied with, the same alacrity would be shown in return. That was never expected. There was the light gossip to hear and relate, and also the whispered conclave at the bottom of the stair or close, as however coy the maidens were or saucy during the day, on am offer being made in daylight to carry home the water pails, no refusal was given when night’s mantel had fallen to hide their blushes or their pleasure at the acceptance of their escort.

But one cannot linger, and must on to see what changes have been wrought in George Street. The north side though showing change does not strike one so much as the south side, where large buildings have taken the place of the many low humble dwellings of 50 years ago. To be noted are the large commodious premises of several business firms, including Watson & Co’s net, oilskin and grocery store(8). J Fortune draper, A Murray(9) and T Swinton, nearly on to the Gyles. This very narrow part of George   Street shows less alteration than the west end. Some of the buildings at Shorehead (10)are the same except that they now stand tenantless and roof-less.

Shore Wynd and Dove Street are pretty much as they were but passing along the east end of the Shore many improvements are manifest. Several old landmarks, however things of the past, gone is the old beacon on the Skelly point, no longer required to warn boats of the treacherous rock at the entrance to the harbour. What feats of wading it recalls. What catches of “dergies”, “potlies” and others of the finny tribe. How apt and true Burns lines are -   “We two hae paddled in the burn, Frae morning sun till dine, But mony a weary fit we’ve trod, Sin the days o auld lang syne”. Gone to are the old “kameston”, round which many children have played, and by which many boats were pulled from their winter quarters at the town’s green. Here one would surely write Ichabod did one not remember that larger or better boats have replaced those which used to lie high and dry at the east end of the town. The alterations here include the new premises and house of Mr Marr J P, the change in the frontage of the house belonging to the Sharp’s, and recently erected fisherman’s houses further east, and the large house built by the Late Mr Cormack(11).


Mounting Jacob’s ladder (12)as it used to be known and preceding the back of Dove Street one is confronted by a very old landmark. How many storms it must have stood – the “auld too’er”(13). Opposite are two buildings which bulked in the religious and commercial life of the town – the hall and the net factory so long carried on by the late Messrs Sharp and Murray(14). The hall (15)was originally built to commemorate the greatest change in the lives of the people the town has ever witnessed – the great revival of 1860. In ten years the needs of the times have outgrown its capabilities, and the Forth Street hall was then built. It is still in use as a Sunday school. The old hall is deserted and silent, and no longer echoes to the voice of praise and prayer, but the living stones have been a better monument of that time and have indeed proved that the revival was not the result of mere religious excitement.

From the old Windmill Road(16)(17) right on until the old Infant School is reached the fields stand as they did, but the school has been converted into several picturesque dwellings, and on the west side of which there has been built within recent years the large factory of Messrs Martin & Co(18). From this point right on to the Caddies Burn almost everything is new, and the old houses in which Mr Moncrieff and Mr Gourlay learned the young idea how to shoot are no longer to be seen. The new streets are East and West Forth, Rodger, Fowler and Williamson Streets.


No description of a place, however accurate can be counted adequate that makes no account of the changes among the people in their dress and modes of work. In both there has been quite a revolution. A brief glance at one or two must suffice. The first is the marriages. Gone are the famous Penny Weddings(19). The lively scene which includes the famous fiddler Neil Gow, depicts the uniquely Scottish custom of wedding guests contributing a penny towards the cost of the festivities and a home for the newly married couple. No longer can be seen the long processions of the bride’s party going, it might be to Pittenweem or St Monans, to escort the bridegroom to the house of the bride’s father from hence marching in couples to the home of the newly-wedded pair, dancing and fun being carried on long after daylight had ushered in another day. No longer either are the women dressed in their pretty and expensive blue Duffle petticoats, with their becoming short gowns, showing their pretty- moulded arms, while no less marks were their neat feet shod in the smartest of Lorne shoes, their costume finished by a spotless apron and gay tartan kerchief on their shoulder. The men also can hardly be described as the “men in “Navy Blue” tweed now entering largely into their go-ashore dress. So struck with the absence of the orthodox fisherman’s blue dress was a certain clergyman who came to preach in a neighbouring church, that he asked where were all the fisherman. He was not prepared for the well-dressed fishermen of Cellardyke, as the only other fishermen he had seen proclaimed by their attire the nautical nature of their work. A fisherman’s wife, too, long ago stood for one who could “shiel” bait and mend. Nowadays it would be quite possible for any one, though not bred to it, to become a fisherman’s wife. No gathering of grass and no carrying of sculls to Anster are part of the day’s work, and thus the “midden’s” – caused by the mussel shells, a sore point with the Cellardyke bairns of that day- are amongst the things of the past.

While many changes in dress and methods of fishing have been noted, there is one thing in particular for which the fishermen are well-known their reverence for Sunday, today they can still claim that honour, and the hope may be expressed that the time will never come when they will forego their right to rest and worship which has so long characterised them. How one remembers the black line of people stretching from the beginnings of the Tolbooth and Windmills Roads (20)to the entrance of the old village of Kilrenny as the Cellardyke folks wended their way to church. The younger portion of them sometimes removed their shoes and stockings before walking home, while the old women in their dark brown or purple merinos and Paisley shawls carried their Bibles in their hankies, fortified for their long walk with a bit of eppieringie in their hand, and in their pockets the almost sole confection of that day strong peppermints.

Now the town might fitly be described, parodying the old doggerel – “White and spotless ivery door, Wi kirk if no a steeple, Cellardyke is a clean toun, the pride o’ a’ their people”.


It is meet to say a word about Kilrenny. Here the half century finds very little change in the sleepy little hamlet, and a life of rural simplicity is still carried out by the few people who constitute the inhabitants(21)(22). But after all effective argument for the simple life is here to be obtained.

Pleasantly situated on a slight eminence the windows of its red-pantiled houses command a wide expanse of the ever changing waters of the south, while a pretty background of wavering green is obtained from the well-wooded grounds of Innergellie, and a quietly meandering burn winds through the village, providing never ceasing music; no worry and little of the outside world troubles one much – all is peace.

Architecturally little or no change has taken place, but an old resident re-visiting the place would recognise as an improvement the nice little bridge (23)across the burn to the north of Rennihill House, a gift of Mr Nicolson, Edinburgh, a native of Kilrenny; and from there, strolling to refresh his memory of pleasant days spent in the common, would find in the place of riotous whins and wild bramble bushes, well ordered paths and seats(24), with a clear space at the north end for recreative purposes. This change was gone in to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, and a tablet set in the wall(25) opposite a drinking fountain(26) sets forth the purpose of the improvement. Continuing his walk by way of the churchyard he would also observe that the burial place of his forebears had been slightly enlarged, but as to the old weather-beaten edifice in which he was want to praise his Maker, time had made little difference. Returning again to the main road he would miss the old familiar outside stair (27)and tumbledown buildings to which it was the entrance, and in their place large houses, have been erected by Mr Williamson of Cellardyke.