St Columba's Church, Burntisland
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

St Columba's Church, Burntisland

A Fife coastal town on the Firth of Forth, Burntisland lies 10 miles (16 km) east of the Forth Rail Bridge.

Occupying a natural harbour, Burntisland is said to have been chosen by Agricola as a Roman naval base as early as AD 83. Given to Dunfermline Abbey in the 12th Century, a castle, church and 'kirkton' were established close to the harbour. The town was granted a royal charter by James V in 1541 and developed as a naval base and a port trading initially in fish and later in coal.

In 1850 the first rail ferry in the world, the Leviathan, came into operation, linking Burntisland and Granton on the opposite side of the Firth of Forth. It was designed by Thomas Grainger (1794 - 1852), together with Thomas Bouch (1822 - 1880) who was later to be responsible for the design of the ill-fated Tay Railway Bridge. Burntisland served as a regional control centre for the railways between 1920 and 1965, and the Burntisland Emergency Railway Control Centre (1955) remains of historical interest.

In addition to brewing and distilling, which were carried on from 1786 to 1916, Burntisland was a centre of ship-building for half a century between 1918 and 1968 and an alumina works, founded in 1917. The former British Aluminium Company / Alcan plant on Aberdour Road converted bauxite to alumina, the raw material for aluminium metal production. The 19.8-ha (49-acre) site closed in 2002 and has been redeveloped for housing. Marine services still represent a major industry and there is a magnetic signature and degaussing range operated for the navy from the harbour here by defence contractors QinetiQ.

Local landmarks include Rossend Castle which dates from the 12th century; the Burgh Chambers (1843); Burntisland Library and Museum; Mary Somerville's house (1595), once the home (1786 - 1817) of a daughter of one of Lord Nelson's captains and pioneer of women's education who gave her name to Oxford's first college for women founded in 1879; and the octagonal-towered St Columba's Church, said to be the first church built after the Reformation and where the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, meeting in 1601, decided to publish the new authorised or 'King James' version of the Bible. The engineer and surveyor William Bald was born here in 1789, while on The Binn, a hill just above Burntisland, James 'Paraffin' Young started shale oil production and founded a village in 1878.

Annual events in Burntisland include a Fair, a Highland Games (said to be the second oldest in Scotland) and the crowning of a 'Summer Queen' on the Links. A popular summer resort, Burntisland has a caravan site, bowling green, football ground and 18-hole golf course.

The deep water of Burntisland Roads was valued as a naval anchorage until after World War II. The aircraft carrier HMS Campania dragged her anchor and sank a mile (1.5 km) offshore in 1918 and still lies in 27m (88 feet) of water.

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