An intriguing insight into Sheriff Court

One of the posters found in the scrapbook of James Stark
One of the posters found in the scrapbook of James Stark
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A SCRAPBOOK revealing a fascinating insight into judicial proceedings of a bygone era has been unearthed in Cupar Sheriff Court as it prepares to mark a momentous year.

Not only does 2013 commemorate the court’s 800th anniversary, but it could also herald its demise as it’s one of 11 throughout Scotland facing the axe as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

Its fate is due to be decided next month and if, as expected, it closes, it will bring to an end Cupar’s proud tradition as a seat of justice.

The court has existed in one form or another since 1213 and moved to its present building in St Catherine Street in 1837.

At that time the Procurator Fiscal for Fife was one James Stark, and the scrapbook he compiled provides a compelling glimpse into the workings of the court in the early 19th century.

The book comprises a meticulously-kept collection of documents relating to court proceedings, as well as personal letters and mementoes such as bills and wedding invitations.

Among the entries are two ‘wanted’ posters from 1830, a year in which there were two gruesome murders in the area. The posters were printed at the Fife Herald office – then based in a close off Bonnygate – by the paper’s founder, R.Tullis.

One is dated July 24 and seeks information about John Henderson, the lodger of weaver James Millie, who it was claimed was responsible for his landlord’s ‘horrid murder’. Millie’s body was found in his own garden at Whin Park, near Monimail, and the suspect was described as ‘about 26 years of age, about 5 feet six inches in height, roundish face, fair complexion, something particular about one of his eyes like a squint, and walks awkwardly, with a short step, and generally walks with his left hand in his trousers pocket’.

When he left Monimail, Henderson was carrying a small bundle, containing what was thought to be a clarion (a type of old-fashioned trumpet).

On October 16 of the same year, a search was mounted for Cupar slater Robert Dempster Jnr, who was thought to be responsible for the murder of George McDonald – described as a heckler in Dundee – who died three weeks after being assaulted on the road between Craigrothie and Ceres.