Stone Age

The first humans to live on the Tay estuary were small bands of hunter-gatherers in the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age (c.8000-4000BC). They followed the animals, birds and fish that colonised the area after the retreat of the final ice-sheets around 12000BC, and inhabited the area for over 4,000 years, moving seasonally around the landscape. Today, only their small flint tools survive, and at Morton, near Tentsmuir, a camp dating to around 6000BC was excavated in the late 1960s. It produced thousands of flint tools, as well as hearths and wind-breaks, and was probably served as a base-camp that was occupied annually.

The Tay in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages

With the introduction of farming in the Neolithic (c.4000-2000BC) the heavily wooded landscape of north Fife would gradually begin to be opened up with small arable farms. While this process continued through the Bronze Age (c2000-800BC) The late Bronze Age logboat from Carpow bank, near Abernethy, excavated in 2006 and now on display at the new Perth Museum, illustrates the importance of the estuary to prehistoric communities. Dating to c1000BC it was probably used to moved people and goods around the estuary and inland along the rivers Tay and Earn. Also from this time are a series of bronze swords, found at various sites between Perth and Mugdrum Island, suggested as being votive offerings to a river-god.

The Iron Age, Romans and Picts

By the introduction of iron in around 700BC, society was becoming increasingly war-like, as illustrated by the establishment of new defended settlements. A prominent hill-fort stood above Newburgh, on Clatchard Craig, until it was completely destroyed by quarrying by around 1960. It was partially excavated in the mid-1950s and again in 1959 and 1960, and the excavations suggested three main phases of occupation during the Iron Age and Pictish periods. Another hill-fort, called The Ring, sits beneath gorse on Ormiston hill to the south-west of Newburgh – although almost nothing is known about its origins or history…

A major Roman legionary fortress was constructed by Emperor Septimus Severus at Carpow,  a few miles to the west of Newburgh where the Rivers Earn and Tay meet, as a base for invasion of 208AD. There may even have been a bridge of Roman boats across the Tay at this point, as suggested on coins from around this time. Severus’ campaign failed and the Picts were to maintain control until Alba was brought together by King Kenneth MacAlpin at Forteviot in Strathearn, to the south of Perth.

Burgh Status

Lindores Abbey, part of the Tironensian religious order, was founded in 1178 and this spurred the growth of Newburgh to provide goods and services for the monks. Lindores Abbey was founded by David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion, King of Scotland. In 1266 Newburgh was granted burgh status by King Alexander III of Scotland, as a burgh belonging to the Abbot of Lindores. In 1600, Newburgh was given to Patrick Leslie, son of the Earl of Rothes – a powerful Scottish family – and in 1631, Newburgh was made a Royal Burgh by King Charles I.

Orchards, fishing and weaving

Through the centuries, Newburgh people made their living through farming, with apple and pear orchards initially expertly cultivated by Lindores Abbey monks, being a key part of this. A giant pear tree stood at Parkhill near to Lindores Abbey. This blew down in 1879, during the same storm which caused the Tay rail bridge disaster. This tree was 66 feet tall and 17.5 feet in circumference. Salmon and sparling (about 9 centimetres long and reported to smell like cucumber before cooking) fishing took place in the River Tay and weaving with handlooms was an occupation in many cottages. At its peak, there were several hundred handlooms in Newburgh, before powerlooms brought an end to handloom weaving. Weaving memories survive through such a name as “Shuttlefield”, a street off the western end of the High Street. The linen cloth produced in Newburgh was of very good quality and would have been shipped for trade by merchants using the River Tay.

Newburgh – a pilgrimage route to St Andrews

The town was on the route from important parts of central Scotland, including Perth and Scone, to St Andrews, a key religious centre in Scottish history. Crosses possibly marking the pilgrimage route or estate boundaries, include the stone called Macduff’s Cross on the hill route to Auchtermuchty, south west of Newburgh. Macduffs were the Earls of Fife and this cross was in legend a sanctuary for Macduff clan members who had committed murder. The Mugdrum Cross is located on the Mugdrum estate (once connected to Lord George Murray, Lieutenant-General to the Jacobite leader, Bonnie Prince Charlie) near to the River Tay west of the town. It clearly shows Pictish markings, possibly illustrating hunting scenes. Newburgh’s burgh arms include a Latin inscription stating “By the Cross of St Andrew, the people were taught”.

Mugdrum Cross

Battle of Blackearnside (William Wallace)

At Blackearnside, to the east of the town near the Tay, William Wallace defeated Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, in 1298, in the wars between Scotland and England. A plaque in a roadside layby is close to the believed site of the battle. Even today, Newburgh’s local Scotland football team supporters club is called Blackearnside Tartan Army. Sadly, after the success of Blackearnside, the brave Wallace went on to defeat at the battle of Falkirk, and final execution by the English at Smithfield in London in 1305

Newburgh and the railway age

The railway came to Newburgh in 1848 with a railway station on the line between Ladybank and Perth halfway up the hill in Newburgh. In 1906 the station moved to the west of the town where there was more space for sidings. The station closed in 1960’s, although a very active campaign exists to reopen the station as the railway line still goes through the town with trains between Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness using it.  

Newburgh 1st Station 1848
Newburgh Station from 1906
Lindores Station

Recent history

Newburgh’s population is now over 2000.

Following the closure of such industries as the linoleum (Tayside Floorcloth Company) and Watson’s oilskin factory in the late twentieth century, most people commute by car and bus to Perth, Dundee and other towns for work. 

After a devastating fire at the Tayside Flooring Factory on 21 May 1980 it never reopened.

Tayside Floorcloth Company

Salmon Netting

The Tay Salmon Fisheries Company was established in 1899 apparently with an aim of rationalising netting it seems to have been the brainchild of P D Malloch of Perth. but the money came from the major shareholders who were mainly owners of some of the more important angling beats on the lower Tay, some of whose beats were transferred to company ownership.

Netting continued in the upper estuary for nearly another 100 years. Through the twentieth century the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company was probably the biggest salmon netting company in Scotland and the river was netted at numerous points from Newburgh upstream as far as Campsie Linn above Stanley. Even by the late 1980s this was still a very major effort taking in some years up to 40,000 salmon or grilse and possibly exploiting more than half of the incoming fish during the summer months.

Salmon numbers began to fall in the 1980s and 1990s. This occurred at the same times as the rise of salmon farming which caused the price to wild salmon to fall. Therefore the profitability of salmon netting was reduced and the amount of fishing effort contracted. At the same time anglers increasingly voiced concerns on the effects of netting on their declining catches and also for the sustainability of the stocks. A buyout scheme was eventually agreed, and finally in 1996 the last of the TSF Co nets ceased operating when the Tay Foundation obtained a 99 year lease of the net fishings.

Sand and gravel quarry

Robertson’s town quarry has now closed but Clatchard quarry is still open (previously owned by Bell Brothers but now run by Breedon Aggregates) with hard whinstone dug from it and transported elsewhere by lorry. At one time, the stone was shipped from a Newburgh quay, but little activity now takes place at the waterfront, other than it being a very pleasant walking area and the northern end of the Fife Coast Path. 


Newburgh people signed up to fight in the First and Second World Wars. In the Second World War Polish soldiers were based in the Newburgh area. The war memorial at the west end of the High Street commemorates Newburgh’s war dead.

War Memorial

Riding of the Marches and the Oddfellows procession

Newburgh still remembers its past with a “Riding of the Marches” walk around the boundarys of Newburgh by hundreds of local people every three years. Every Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) the Caledonian Lodge of Oddfellows has an evening torchlit procession and charitable fund-raising in the High Street, with members wearing colourful costumes and the “apprentice” leading the procession sitting backwards on a horse.

A Highland Games used to be held regularly by the river. There is also an annual Coble Boat race commemorating Newburgh’s close links with the River Tay. Today Newburgh has a very active Community Trust which is looking at ways to restore the riverside piers for leisure pursuits and is considering alternative wind energy for the local community.

“Riding the Marches” now on foot.