The following extract is from a book written by the Rev. J. W. Taylor (Free CHurch, Flisk and Creich) which gives an account of Lochgelly, taken from the book “Historical Antiquities of Fife” published in 1875.


Passing from Auchtertool into Auchterderran, the first and chief object which engages the eye, is the glimmering of the Loch Loch-gel, the bright or white Loch pronounced by southern tongues Lochgelly.

All around, the wealth of the district is buried deep down in the coal and iron. The surface is comparatively poor, and as agriculture is slow in overtaking what does not immediately repay labour, the fields about were left bleak and hungry.

It was this circumstance which drew the Egyptians or gipsies, to this locality, and made Lochgelly, at the end of last century, the principal gipsy settlement in Fife.

The chief of them had houses in the villages, others lived in tents.

“A kettle slung, Between two poles upon a stick transverse,”

A cart and horse, picking up a scanty meal upon the common, crowds of blacklegged ragged children, and a sound of tinkering marked out the encampment.

A mysterious race, leaving Egypt, as many think, at the time of the Israelitish exodus, travelling eastward through Arabia, settling down in Hindostan as a separate caste, and after remaining centuries there, emigrating to Europe about five centuries ago, reaching Scotland about three centuries and a half ago, and then continuing a separate people in the presence of the other inhabitants.

A strange language, which their youngest children knew, and which they vigilantly kept concealed from the outer world, served as the masonic word to keep them welded together in their exclusive brotherhood.

Among the Lochgelly gipsies there were men of name. Charlie Graham was one of them. We have heard a Brae laird of Kinross quote and apply, with great humour, one of Charlie’s well-known answers when brought up for acts of theft before the Justice.

Weel, Charlie,” asked the Justice, “what has brought you back here again?“, “The auld thing, my lord,” replies Charlie, “but there’s nae proof.

Charlie’s son was also famous. He had received kindness at the house of a widow woman. The widow fell back in her means, and was not able to pay her rent. Graham advanced her the money, and then watching his time when the factor came round to draw the rent, he waylaid him, and reimbursed himself with interest.

We have heard an old minister, many years ago, relate this gipsy story: An expert one knew of a traveller who was expected to pass by with a large sum of money.

The gipsy provided himself with a great red wig extra large and extra red and when the traveller had got a good way out of their country, congratulating himself that all danger was now over, out starts the robber from a thicket of whins, arrayed in his red wig, seizes the bridle of the horse, and demand’s the rider’s purse. The traveller, seeing that resistance was hopeless, handed over a good portion of what he had.

The robber pocketed what was given, and took his road across the fields. Meanwhile he divested himself of his red wig, throwing it away and getting into his own byepaths.
A poor countryman happened to pass where the wig was, and finding it, took it home with him. The hue and cry was immediately raised regarding the robbery, and the red wig having been found in the possession of the poor countryman, he was arrested and laid in prison.

The day of his trial came round, when the real robber attended the assize.

The poor countryman was brought to the bar, and was ordered to put on the red wig. The traveller was put in the witness box, and at once pronounced the prisoner to be the man that had robbed him.

All the time, the gipsy was watching the proceedings with great interest, and, touched with something like compunction for the innocent countryman, he got the prisoner’s advocate to request the Judge that, for a time, both witness and prisoner should be removed. The gipsy then asked that he should be placed at the bar, and that the red wig should be given him.

He put the wig on, and desired to be confronted with the man who had been robbed.

The traveller was called in. The Judge directed him to look again at the prisoner, and to say whether he was sure that that was the man who had robbed him. The traveller did so, and said that that was the very man, and the more he looked at him the surer he was. Whereupon, the gipsy lifted the wig off his head, and holding it out toward the bench, said,

My Lord, take you the wig yourself, and put it on, and the witness will declare that it was your Lordship that robbed him.

The bold stroke succeeded. The Court was overcome with laughter. The innocent countryman was acquitted, and the gipsy was not detected.

The progress of industry and order in Scotland is rapidly exterminating the scattered remains of the gipsy race. But in the continent, they still show symptoms of numbers and vigour.

There was a Gipsy Conference held in 1872, in the town of Constadt, near Stuttgardt, in the kingdom of Wurtemberg. It consisted of delegates from all the tribes of gipsies scattered throughout Europe the Gitanos of Spain, the Cignani of Italy, the Ziguener of Russia, and our own familiar tribe of gipsies; and the interests of this nomad race were there formally discussed.

From the tent of the gipsy let us transfer ourselves to the study of the divine. The
Rev. David Greig, of the Secession Church, Lochgelly, was, in his day, widely known and respected. Every one that is acquainted with Secession affairs is familiar with the signature, “D. Greig, Synod Clerk.

Mr Greig was of the family of Lethangey, from which all the Kinross-shire Greigs trace their descent. He studied divinity under John Brown of Haddington, and spent an unbroken pastorate of fifty years in Lochgelly.

Often did he assist at communions in the south of Scotland, and there he was designated “the Star of Fife.” It was a significant attestation, which a young man of intelligence, but of dissipated ways, gave of Mr Greig’s power as a preacher, when he said, in a company where the merits of ministers were spoken of, “There is none of them a’ that can rake the conscience like auld Mr Greig, of Lochgelly.

We have heard a lady, who was accustomed to pass her holidays at the manse of Lochgelly, tell that Mr Greig spent almost all his time in his study. Except at family meals, or when he went out on pastoral duty, he was in his study.

There he read and wrote, and meditated, and prayed, having power with God, and in consequence prevailing with the people. Thus did all the old ministers of these times.

Mr Aitken, of Brechin, had a leathern study chair, and about the middle of the back of it was visible a round glazed mark, which his head had formed from the frequency with which he had knelt in prayer, seeking blessings for himself and for the Church of Christ. The daughter of the late Dr M’Crie writes thus regarding her father’s study: “He was constantly in it with his books and parchments. Oh, could the walls of that obscure room speak out, what a tale could they unfold of toil and weariness night watchings and day fastings! What bursts of impassioned feeling, what animated eloquence, what sublime devotion, what prostration of soul, did these walls re-echo!

It may be that these ministers may have lived too much apart. What would they think if they saw the lives which ministers live now-a-days. Many of them, leaving the study unoccupied, keep on the trot from Saturday to Saturday, hunting out delinquent hearers, or calling unprofitably on exacting ones; many go from platform to platform; many act as purveyors of pleasure, organizing entertainment for the older members and amusement for the young. It would be a happy thing for Scotland if, with our Presbyterian divisions, the temptation to this state of things would cease, and ministers would be left to give themselves wholly to the proper work of the ministry.

The late Rev. Dr Murray, of Auchterderran, wrote the notice of the parish published in Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account in 1791. He lived to write, about 1840, the Parochial Narration for the Second Statistical Account. Probably it is the only instance of the two notices being prepared by the same writer.

Further Information

The book was resourced from the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles, which was digitized by the Internet Archive through funding from the Microsoft Corporation.

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