50 years on: the restoration of Dysart’s Pan Ha’
This year marked the 50th anniversary since Pan Ha’ in Dysart was saved from dereliction by the National Trust for Scotland under its Little Houses scheme in 1969.
The injection of £100,000 – equivalent of £1.4 million in today’s money – into this historic part of Dysart was thought to be the most ambitious conservation project ever undertaken in Scotland at the time.
The Little Houses scheme was concerned with the restoration of Scottish domestic architecture, and aimed to save many buildings that gave character to our towns and villages.
The scheme was started in the 1930s, but it was not until after the Second World War it was able to undertake its first major task – with the restoration work in the centre of old Culross.
Pan Ha’ is a picturesque row of white houses on the coast of Dysart overlooking the Firth of Forth. It is believed to have been built in the 16th century.
The name Pan Ha’ is a shortened form of Pan Haugh, meaning a level piece of ground where salt pans stood.
For many centuries salt manufacturing was a highly lucrative and flourishing industry and due to the many collieries that surrounded Pan Ha’, the salt industry in Dysart thrived.
Coal was used to boil sea water in large iron pans, evaporating the water and leaving behind high quality sea salt.
The salt was used to preserve fish, which was one of Scotland’s main exports.
The local conservation project was a co-operative effort between the National Trust for Scotland and the Crown Estate Commissioners.
Lord Bute, the National Trust chairman at the time had said: “The scheme was expensive, but there remained an achievement of which Scotland could be proud long after the cost had been forgotten.
“There are certain parts of our Scottish heritage on which one does not feel obliged to put a purely cash value.”
Six of the old houses were restored – the Shore Master’s House, the Pilot’s House, the Girnal, the Convenant House, the Tide Waiter’s House and the Old Bay Horse Inn – with five new houses specially designed to fill in a gap site between the old houses and to harmonise with their neighbours, so that the whole scheme, when completed, comprised of 11 houses.
Pan Ha’ was officially opened October 16, 1969 by the Queen Mother to the cheers of a large crowd waving flags.
As Patron of the National Trust for Scotland at the time, the Queen Mother had come to Scotland to see at first hand the restoration project at Pan Ha’ undertaken by the National Trust.
Her Majesty chatted freely with the crowds and spent some time touring the newly renovated houses before unveiling a plaque to commemorate the occasion.
Marilyn Livingston, a former Kirkcaldy MSP who lives at Pan Ha’ was brought up in Dysart and has strong connections to the houses as her great grandfather was one of the pilots who piloted ships into Dysart Harbour.
She said: “When I was a little girl, the houses at Pan Ha’ were derelict and my cousin and I used to play here.
“We would go through the house that I live in now and into the garden to play. There is an apple tree that we used to get apples from that is still there today.
“Most of the houses were derelict, but I remember that there was one which was still inhabited by an old lady.
“Some of the houses were knocked down in the 60s because they couldn’t be saved, but they managed to save most of them.
“There was no conservation of the Pan Ha’ buildings back then, so when the National Trust for Scotland decided to restore Pan Ha’ under the Little Houses scheme in 1969, they were luckily saved.”
With Dysart Harbour featuring in the popular television series Outlander, tourists have flocked to the area, but this has been a double edged sword as Marilyn explains: “There are over 137,000 people every year that visit the coastal path here at Dysart, which is great, but there is one downside, as there are little plaques on the houses and tourists just walk into the houses thinking they are open to the public.
“One of my neighbours had some American tourists walking in their house as they were eating breakfast, they thought their house was a museum.
“We have had a group of Chinese tourists come in our house and take a seat at the dining room table taking pictures.”