A chance encounter of the historic kind

Guthie Hutton, of Cupar Heritage, with the casket given to John C. Duffus in 1927.
Guthie Hutton, of Cupar Heritage, with the casket given to John C. Duffus in 1927.

Cupar Heritage Centre has taken possession of two of its most exciting finds yet – thanks to an eagle-eyed auction-goer on the Isle of Man.

They’re a silver gilt engraved key given to John Duffus in June 1911 to mark the opening of Duffus Park and an oak casket and illuminated scroll presented to him on June 30, 1927, when he was made a Freeman of the burgh of Cupar.

The key was also used 40 years later, in 1951, when John Duffus’ sister opened the park extension.

“The items came up for auction on the Isle of Man and were spotted by Sean Murphy, a member of the Manx Heritage Society,” said Cupar Heritage chairman Guthrie Hutton.

“He apparently used to holiday in Elie and had played rugby in Duffus Park, so he recognised the name and made the connection.

“He Googled us and found us through our website to let us know the items were up for auction.

“Of course we were very excited and dug deep into our resources in order to bring them back to Cupar.

“The one thing we don’t know is who it was on the Isle of Man who owned them in the first place, but we’re doing some investigative work in the hope of finding out.”

The ornate scroll, which is on vellum, confers the Freedom of Cupar on John Coutts Duffus “in recognition of his munificence to his native town and his kindly interest in everything pertaining to the welfare of the burgh.”

It’s signed by the Provost of the time, H.J. Smith, and the Town Clerk, J. Anderson.

John Duffus and his family had made their fortune in the jute trade in Dundee.

It was in 1910 that he gifted the land to the community ‘for the purposes of a public park and recreation ground.’

He later moved to Elstree, Hertfordshire, where he bred Shetland ponies.

The new acquisitions won’t be going on display to the public just yet as there is still some conservation work to be done, but their arrival dovetails nicely with an exhibition with a sporting theme planned for next year.

In the meantime, the centre has a fascinating range of exhibits lined up for the 2016 season, including two displays marking significant milestones for the town –the 90th anniversary of the building of the sugar beet factory on the outskirts of Cupar and the 150th anniversary of Stratheden Hospital.

The Heritage Centre, which has charitable status, is situated at Cupar Railway Station.