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Culross, Fife, Scotland.JPG
Culross and the Firth of Forth
Culross is located in Fife
Location within Fife
Population2,300 (mid-2016 est. including Valleyfield)[1]
Community council
  • Culross
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°03′19″N 3°37′45″W / 56.0554°N 3.6293°W / 56.0554; -3.6293Coordinates: 56°03′19″N 3°37′45″W / 56.0554°N 3.6293°W / 56.0554; -3.6293

Culross (/ˈkurəs/) (Scottish Gaelic: Cuileann Ros, 'holly point or promontory')[2] is a village and former royal burgh, and parish, in Fife, Scotland.

According to the 2006 estimate, the village has a population of 395.[3] Originally, Culross served as a port city on the Firth of Forth and is believed to have been founded by Saint Serf during the 6th century.

The civil parish had a population of 4,348 in 2011.[4]

Founding legend[edit]

A legend states that when the Brittonic princess (and future saint) Teneu, daughter of the king of Lothian, became pregnant before marriage, her family threw her from a cliff. She survived the fall unharmed, and was soon met by an unmanned boat. She knew she had no home to go to, so she got into the boat; it sailed her across the Firth of Forth to land at Culross where she was cared for by Saint Serf; he became foster-father of her son, Saint Kentigern or Mungo.[5][6][7][8][9]

West Kirk and Abbey[edit]

West Kirk of Culross viewed from west

The parish appears to have originally centred further west. The original church, later known as the "West Kirk" perhaps dates to the 11th century but was abandoned around 1500 and therefore did not come into play in 1560 at the time of the Reformation. However, it continued to be used for burials into the 20th century, being a long-established burial ground.[10]

Meanwhile the Cistercian Abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Serf was built around a mile to the east in 1217, being founded by Malcolm, Earl of Fife. Part of this became the parish church in 1560 and was restored in 1905. A Chapel of St. Mungo (now wholly lost) was erected in 1503 by Robert Blackadder, Archbishop of Glasgow.[11]

The first recorded minister was John Dykes (1567), He was replaced by Robert Colville of Linlithgow in 1593 who ministered until 1629 when replaced by his assistant Robert Melville. John Duncan MA took over in 1632. Duncan was pensioned off in 1642 but is recorded as joining the camp of General Leslie at Newcastle 1646/7 during the English Civil War.[11]

In the 17th century its most famous minister was the Covenanter James Fraser of Brea who took over in 1689.


Anchor and storage building

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the town was a centre of the coal mining industry.[8][9] Sir George Bruce of Carnock, who built the splendid 'Palace' of Culross and whose elaborate family monument stands in the north transept of the Abbey church, established a coal mine at Culross in 1575 and in 1595 constructed the Moat Pit[12] by which it became the first coal mine in the world to extend under the sea. The mine worked what is now known as the Upper Hirst coal seam, with ingenious contrivances to drain the constant leakage from above. This mine was considered one of the marvels of the British Isles in the early 17th century, described by one visitor, John Taylor, The Water Poet, as "a wonder ... an unfellowed and unmatchable work",[13] until the Moat Pit was destroyed in a storm on 30 March 1625.[12][14]

Culross' secondary industry was salt panning.[15]: 9–10 There was a considerable export trade by sea in the produce of these industries and the prevalence of red roof tiles in Culross and other villages in Fife is thought to be a direct result of collier ships returning to Culross with Dutch roof tiles as ballast. The town was also known for its monopoly on the manufacture of 'girdles', i.e. flat iron plates for baking over an open fire.[16][8][9]

In the late 18th century, Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald established kilns for extracting coal tar using his patented method.[15]: 12–13

The town's role as a port declined from the 18th century, and by Victorian times it had become something of a ghost town. The harbour was filled in and the sea cut off by the coastal railway line in the second half of the 19th century. The outer harbour has recently been restored by a local group.[citation needed]


Culross Town House
Street in Culross

Notable buildings in the burgh include Culross Town House, formerly used as a courthouse and prison,[17] the 16th century Culross Palace, 17th century Study, and the remains of the Cistercian house of Culross Abbey, founded 1217.[18][19][20] The tower, transepts and choir of the Abbey Church remain in use as the parish church, while the ruined claustral buildings are cared for by Historic Environment Scotland.[21]

The West Kirk fell out of use before 1633 when it was noted as no longer serving as the parish church.[22] The West Kirk was also the site where four women executed for witchcraft in 1675 were alleged to have congregated.[23]

Just outside the town is the 18th-century Dunimarle Castle, built by the Erskine family to supersede a medieval castle.[24]

Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald spent much of his early life in Culross, where his family had an estate.[25] A bust in his honour by Scott Sutherland can be seen outside the Culross Town House.[26] He was the first Vice Admiral of Chile.[27]

The war memorial was erected in 1921 to a design by Sir Robert Lorimer.[28]

During the 20th century, it became recognised that Culross contained many unique historical buildings and the National Trust for Scotland has been working on their preservation and restoration since the 1930s.[19]


Prior to the 1890s, the parish of Culross formed an exclave of Perthshire.[29] It is within the Dunfermline and West Fife Westminster Parliamentary constituency.[30]

Culross as a location for filming[edit]

Several motion pictures have used Culross as a filming location, including Kidnapped (1971),[31] The Little Vampire (2000),[32] A Dying Breed (2007),[33] The 39 Steps (2008),[34] and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).[35] In September 2013, the Starz television series, Outlander, started filming in Culross for its premiere in August 2014.[36]

Notable people[edit]

Tanhouse Brae, Culross

Twin towns and sister cities[edit]

Culross is twinned with Veere in the Netherlands, which was formerly the port through which its export goods entered the Low Countries.[37]


  1. ^ "Mid-2016 Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland". National Records of Scotland. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Culross". Fife Place-name Data. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  3. ^ "Population Estimates for Towns and Villages in Fife" (PDF). Fife Council. March 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2009.
  4. ^ Census of Scotland 2011, Table KS101SC – Usually Resident Population, publ. by National Records of Scotland. Web site retrieved March 2016. See "Standard Outputs", Table KS101SC, Area type: Civil Parish 1930
  5. ^ "Mungo, the saint from Culross".
  6. ^ "Scotland's Pilgrim Journeys".
  7. ^ "University of Glasgow :: Story :: The Coat of Arms".
  8. ^ a b c "St Mungo and his mysterious deeds".
  9. ^ a b c Keay, John and Julia (1994). Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 205. ISBN 0-00-255082-2.
  10. ^ Buildings of Scotland: fife by John Gifford
  11. ^ a b Fasti Ecclesiastae Scotia
  12. ^ a b Adamson, Donald (2008). "A Coal Mine in the Sea: Culross and the Moat Pit". Scottish Archaeological Journal. 30 (1–2): 161–199. doi:10.3366/E1471576709000400. JSTOR 27917615.
  13. ^ Taylor, John. "The Penniless Pilgrimage" (PDF). Renascence Editions. pp. 22–24. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  14. ^ "Culross". Undiscovered Scotland. 2002–2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  15. ^ a b Sugden, J (September 2012). "ARCHIBALD, 9th EARL OF DUNDONALD: AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY ENTREPRENEUR". Scottish Economic & Social History. Edinburgh University Press. 8 (1): 8–27. doi:10.3366/sesh.1988.8.8.8.
  16. ^ "Hearth and Home". Fife Folk Museum. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008. Retrieved 5 April 2009.
  17. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Culross, Sandhaven, Town House (48022)". Canmore. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  18. ^ Keay, John and Julia (1994). Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 206. ISBN 0-00-255082-2.
  19. ^ a b Harvie, Christopher (2014). Scotland: A Short History. Oxford University Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780198714880.
  20. ^ Douglas, William (1925). "Culross Abbey and its Charters" (PDF). Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  21. ^ "Culross Abbey".
  22. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Culross, West Church And Churchyard (48029)". Canmore. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  23. ^ Macdonald, Stuart (2002). The Scottish witch-hunt in context. Manchester University Press. pp. 42–47. ISBN 9780719060243.
  24. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Dunimarle Castle (GDL00155)". Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  25. ^ Cordingly, David. "The real master and commander".
  26. ^ "Cochrane was Britain's greatest frigate captain".
  27. ^ Hickman, Kennedy. "Napoleonic Wars: Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane". Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  28. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Architects: Robert Lorimer
  29. ^ Taylor, Simon; Gilbert Markus (2006). The Place-Names of Fife, Volume One. Shaun Tyas. p. 223. ISBN 1-900289-77-6. The parish of Culross, along with its neighbouring parish of Tulliallan, also Dunblane Diocese, formed a detached part of the earldom, later the stewartry, of Strathearn, which explains why both were in a detached part of Perthshire until 1891, when they became part of Fife.
  30. ^ "Boundary Commission for Scotland - Maps - UK Parliament constituencies 2005 onwards". Archived from the original on 4 May 2013.
  31. ^ Kidnapped (1971) at IMDb
  32. ^ "The Little Vampire - Culross". Scotland: the Movie Location Guide. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  33. ^ A Dying Breed (2007) at IMDb
  34. ^ The 39 Steps (2008) at IMDb
  35. ^ Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) at IMDb
  36. ^ Ferguson, Brian (23 August 2014). "Outlander could run for five years says Moore". The Scotsman. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  37. ^ "The Scottish Staple at Veere". Archived from the original on 4 December 2010. Retrieved 1 February 2009.

External links[edit]