Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

DUNFERMLINE (surveyed in 1896)




The The name Dunfermline is thought to have three compound parts. The first, Dun, denotes a hill fort, and the remains of such a building can still be seen today. Ferm and Line, however, have been more difficult to interpret and have been suggested to mean ‘bend’ or ‘twist’ and ‘pool of water’ respectively. Another possibility is that the last two parts refer to a personal name.


Reference to the town of Dunfermline was first made during the reign of Malcolm Canmore (1031-93). His wife Margaret founded the abbey there in 1071. This established the town as the royal centre and thus Scotland’s earliest capital, until the reign of James VI (1567-1625) when the emphasis moved to London. The parish of Dunfermline at this time was 9 miles, north to south, and 6 miles east to west, with a surface area of approximately 36 square miles. The population of Dunfermline was recorded in 1891 as 28,948.


Town Planning and Architecture

Dunfermline town itself displays many of the features typical of a thriving medieval market town. One long continuous main street, with the tron and market cross in the centre, is intersected at right angles by narrow twisting closes. Dunfermline Abbey, in the town centre, was one of Dunfermline’s many parish churches and is situated next to the remains of the Royal Palace. Pittencrieff Glen, a private estate at this time, also holds what are believed to be the remains of Malcolm Canmore’s fortified tower house. It is estimated that the parish contained about 2,800 houses in 1845.


Trade and Industry

The town of Dunfermline’s main industry at this time was weaving. Mechanical weaving was introduced to Dunfermline in 1847, hastening the decline of the handloom weavers. The new mills, however, were a success and there was a sudden growth in the establishment of factories. Dunfermline was an area already renowned for its linen production and so this experience and these skills were tapped into. With the arrival of industrialisation, the town now supported iron foundries, tanneries, breweries, engineering works and bleachfields.



Dunfermline’s hinterland industries were a vital source of economic and social stimulation. One of the most prolific industries practised around the periphery of the town was coal mining. Limestone quarrying, baking and milling, as well as sandstone quarrying were also heavily relied upon for employment. Finally, agriculture was also equally as important to this lush and expansive rural area. It is thought that 13,391 acres of arable land was under cultivation at this time.


Religious Life

Dunfermline town was one of Fife’s presbytery seats and as such the crown supported two parish ministers on a salary of £299 (approximately £14,000 today) each. There were three Free churches and four United Presbyterian churches in the town as well as one house each of the Independent, Baptist, Episcopalian and Catholic faiths. Dunfermline Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey until 1598, also housed one of the town’s parish churches.



Many of the schools in Dunfermline had been previously been overseen by the town council, the Guildry or private trusts, but after the 1872 Education Act, management of them all was transferred to the Burgh-School Board. After some restructuring and new purchases the board was eventually left with eight schools in the area. In 1891 the schools had an average attendance of 2,764 pupils although they had space for 3,085.



By 1854 two railway lines converged on Dunfermline, one from Stirling in the west and a branch of Edinburgh and Northern Eastern line from the east. Two Liberal newspapers had been established in the town by this time - the independent Dunfermline Press, in 1859, and the Dunfermline Journal, in 1872. The Infectious Diseases Hospital, built in 1893, was also a recent addition to Dunfermline’s medical facilities.


Culture and Society

There were four main families of importance living in and around the town during the nineteenth century. The Setons, known as the Earls of Winton or Dunfermline, owned land around Dalgety, although their main area of interest was around the Musselburgh area of Lothian. The Bruce family, much better remembered as the infamous Earls of Elgin, were based at the family estate of Broomhall. The Halketts of Pitfirrane were an old and illustrious line who featured heavily in Scotland’s past politics. Finally, the Wardlaws, designated Barons, enjoy a family seat on their estate of Pitreavie. Dunfermline’s greatest name, however, Andrew Carnegie, was now associated with the town. Carnegie, originally from the town, had emmigrated to America, with his family, in the 1840s and there he made his fortune in the railroads and metal-working. He returned much of this money to the town through public gifts, such as the theatre, library and Pittencrieff Park.


A View from Francis H. Groome, 1894

‘A stranger, approaching Dunfermline for the first time, forms a very mistaken notion of its extent, supposing it to be little else than a large village in a grove; and, on entering, is surprised to find himself in a city teeming with activity, bustling with trade, and in every way worthy of ranking with the foremost burghs.’





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website – Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/