Stone stories: the Fife ghosts returning for one night only

Ghosts will be coming out of their graves at The Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy for one night only ...
Ghosts will be coming out of their graves at The Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy for one night only ...

The butler who made his fortune from a whale, the businessman who fought the last fatal duel in Scotland and a witch held in a tower in 1633 before her execution are just some of the Fife characters who will be brought back to life this Hallowe’en ...

Some of them could be set to ‘appear’ in a ghost walk in Kirkcaldy on Tuesday, October 31 – an event being organised by Kirkcaldy Civic Society.

Thomas Dobbies gravestone.

Thomas Dobbies gravestone.

They will be coming out of their graves at the town’s Old Kirk for one night only and Fifers are being invited to find out more about them by heading to Hunter Hall in Kirk Wynd between 6 and 6.15p.m.

Intrepid guides from Kirkcaldy Civic Society will lead them through the darkened graveyard and down the town, in small groups, to meet some of the characters from Kirkcaldy’s past.

Families are welcome and there will be a small prize for the best fancy dress costume worn on the Ghost Walk.

Rosemary Potter from the Society said the locals buried beneath the grave stones in the Old Kirk have very interesting stories to tell including that of John Tait; Landale and Morgan; Alison Dick, William Coke; and Thomas Dickson Dobbie.

The last fatal duel in Scotland.

The last fatal duel in Scotland.

She said John Tait was initially a butler but turned into a linoleum factory owner – because of a whale: “John left Dunnikier House as a butler and started a business in oils.

“But when a whale was beached on the Longniddry shore in November 1869, Tait bought it, had it towed to the East Pier in Kirkcaldy under Ravenscraig Castle and rendered the blubber.

“A small calf 20 feet long was found inside the whale and railway trips organised by the North British Railway Company to come and view it in the harbour warehouse for 3d per head.

“Several professors from Edinburgh visited it and finally the big skeleton of the mother whale was taken to Edinburgh, where it used to hang in the Chambers Street Museum. From this event Tait made his fortune and became the part-owner of the National Floorcloth Works near the station.

The whale skeleton on display in Edinburgh.

The whale skeleton on display in Edinburgh.

“He was elected Provost in 1892 and 1903 and was instrumental in building the Infectious Diseases Hospital (now Victoria Hospital) in 1899.”

She revealed that both the winner and loser from the last fatal duel in Scotland are also buried in the Old Kirk graveyard: “Morgan was expected to win, having been a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars and so he had confidently called out Landale the businessman by striking him on the head with his umbrella in a bookshop in the High Street,” she said.

“However, Landale caught the ferry to Leith and purchased pistols with a more advanced mechanism than flintlock and won! Tried for murder, his clever Edinburgh lawyers got him off and he went on to become Provost. The dispute was about Morgan, a banker, having wrongly spread word that Landale’s business was in trouble.”

While Alison Dick and William Coke were a married couple who were executed for witchcraft un 1633. Rosemary continued: “Before being strangled and burned in tar barrels near Bennochy Bridge, they were kept in the 15th century Old Kirk tower.

Part of St Andrews Cathedral ruins and the St Rule's Tower. Picture by Jane Barlow.

Part of St Andrews Cathedral ruins and the St Rule's Tower. Picture by Jane Barlow.

“Alison Dick accused her husband of getting her involved with the Devil, and drowning sailors by witchcraft. We have the record of their trial and even their daughter-in-law gave evidence against them!

“We also have a record that, 10 years before, they were bound over to keep the peace and mend their ways under threat of being whipped out of town, so not popular folks with their fellow-townsfolk!”

While Thomas Dickson Dobbie was a teacher at the local industrial School (factory children working half-day, schooling half-day) in a freezing February 1857.

Rosemary explained that when he went to fetch his charges off the frozen ornamental lake in the Whyte House grounds (near top end of Whytescauseway), he fell through the ice. At the age of 27, he was “accidentally drowned in an unsuccessful effort to save a child under his charge who had fallen through the ice”. Rosemary added: “ But he was so highly thought of that the townsfolk raised a gravestone for him in the graveyard and provided some support for his mother, who depended on him.” For more details about the Old Kirk gravestones visit: www.kirkcaldyoldkirk.org.uk

Ghosts in North East Fife

There are also said to be ghosts in St Andrews and Cupar.

St Andrew’s Cathedral is rumoured to be haunted by two ghosts, a friendly monk who has been encountered on the stairs at St Rule’s Tower, and the beautiful White Lady. For the past 200 years people have reported sightings of a lady wearing white gloves, gliding through the grounds before vanishing. Legend has it that stonemasons, repairing the haunted tower, found a number of coffins. One lay open and contained the well-preserved body of a young woman, wearing white gloves. While the Royal Hotel in Cupar is rumoured to be home to a tall phantom monk ...