Transitions from feudal to rural society

Forgan’s first generations

by Nigel Clark

“Forgan is a civil parish in the Scottish county of Fife. It extends 4 miles in length along the north coast of Fife and is at the southern mouth of the River Tay. It is bounded by the other Fife civil parishes of Ferryport-on Craig, Leuchars and Balmerino. It contains the towns of Newport-on-Tay and Wormit. The roads and railways leading to the Tay Bridges pass through the parish”.

In two hundred years time our grandchildren’s grandchildren will look out on the Tay estuary to the East from the top of Peace hill* and still be able to see the lie of the land as it has always been. They will marvel at the breath-taking view of the broad estuary and the vast landscape of the North Sea beyond; Dundee Law on the north bank and the rolling hills on the south shore. If they turn their gaze South and scan the countryside towards St Andrews they will still be able to discern the contours of the land that have shaped Forgan’s history. From a satellite view if you can make out the silhouette of the British Isles you will always be able to recognise Fife. With its unique shape it is the only county to be distinguished in this way. People will be able to see how things were if they wish to see. If they place a value on what has taken place in the past then they will ensure enough remains to help them see into the future. If they don’t find it of value then they will kick over the traces of the past and move on. We see the changes most in the changing patchwork of our fields, changing first from greens to browns as we fill the spaces with our buildings and in the late twentieth century we are clothing our green slopes in plastic. This then is the story of Forgan’s Fields.

Pride, particularly civic pride needs a focus. In the past communities have had railway stations or shopping centres or a key industrial factory or artisans’ workshop that defines the heart of the town and the community: somewhere where people come together. Without such a focal point it becomes a community in name only. People are less likely to have a sense of what defines them. A commuting town like Wormit or like Newport have particular problems when the communal transport such as the train or ferry disappears.


Walking the track in 1997

The transition from the feudal to the rural to the urban; Wormit and Newport in the parish of Forgan have seen their fortunes change over the years. The crossing of the Tay and the coming of the railway was instrumental in this happening. It took place over six generations.

What was life like 200 years ago? If you think about it you can follow the links in the chain: My dad came to Wormit in 1922 and his dad was born in 1887 (more than one hundred years ago) and my dad’s grandfather was born . . . . . and so on. Memory and stories handed down reach further back in time so that we have some idea of life then. . . 200 years ago. I am the great-great grandchild with a personal glimpse of that history. What defines Wormit and Newport is where this past is shared. We don’t need to know the precise moment Wormit was founded. We can start by looking at the feudal way in which the area was managed by the Principal estates and how through the changes in farming methods the feudal ties were loosened and paid employment determined new relationships of communal life. The rural nature of Forgan parish began to change with the enclosure of open land and the removal of common land into designated ownership. But both North Fife was also a gateway to north and south. The improvements to the cross-Fife routes to the ferry crossing with the metropolis of Dundee and to the present time at the end of the Twentieth century this development has been dictated by the changes in the way people travel.

Francis Burns was instructed by his church to write down and record his thoughts on the character of Forgan and I have quoted his thoughts as well as from historical writing from the Volume on Fife: Pictorial and Historical. It includes information about the Church, the Estates, Industry, the Tay Ferries, the influence of the railways and a description of the village of Wormit. But nothing has defined the parish of Forgan and the communities of Wormit and Newport more than the mode of transport that brought people to or through this part of North-east Fife.

Forgan’s Fields is dedicated to my dad, Eric Clark, Ashlea, Wormit.
Without whose stories this would not have been written.

Nigel Clark

*named as Pease Hill on early maps