Dysart is a former town and royal burgh located on the south-east coast between Kirkcaldy and West Wemyss in Fife. The town is now considered to be a suburb of Kirkcaldy. Dysart was once part of a wider estate owned by the St Clair or Sinclair family. They were responsible for gaining burgh of barony status for the town towards the end of the 15th century.
The first record of the town was made in the early 13th century, its initial role being to settle civil matters between the church and landowners. During the middle of the 15th century, trade with the Low Countries began for salt and coal exportation. In the 16th and 17th centuries, trade expanded to the Baltic Countries. Dysart acquired two nicknames: “Salt Burgh” and “Little Holland” as a result.
Following the sudden decline of the town’s harbour caused by the closure of the Lady Blanche Pit, the town was amalgamated into the royal burgh of Kirkcaldy under an act of parliament in 1930. Urban clearance during the 1950s and 1960s saw large parts of the historic town demolished for new housing. Demand from the town’s residents meant that part of the historic town — most notably the 16th-century and the 18th-century houses of Pan Ha’ opposite the harbour — were salvaged and preserved for future generations. Today, Dysart retains an individual character within the boundary of neighbouring Kirkcaldy.
The three-storey harbourmaster’s house in the grounds of the harbour dates from around 1840. Originally known as the shore house, this was used to store cargo from incoming ships, before being used by the harbourmaster. Today, the house is home to the headquarters of the Fife Countryside and Coast Trust and also has a bistro, shop and provides internet access.
Significant landmarks in the town include the 16th and 18th century painted dwellings on Pan Ha’; the six-storey St Serf’s church tower and the harbour. Pan Ha’, or to give the full title, Pan Haugh, means low-lying ground of the salt pans – hence the expression, “to carry saut to Dysart”. Many of the houses have been restored by the National Trust for Scotland between 1968 and 1969 under the “little houses scheme”. During the restoration of the former Bay Horse Inn at Pan Ha’, once the residence of a son of Lord Sinclair, two renaissance painted ceilings were discovered and are still retained by Historic Scotland.
The red headgear of the Francis Colliery is a landmark marking the northern boundaries of the town.
St Serf’s church tower on Shore Road dates from around 1500, is considered to be one of Scotland’s finest examples of a battlemented church tower. This is the only remaining part of St Serf’s Church, which was abandoned in 1802 and largely cleared away for the building of Shore Road in 1807.
The whole of Dysart is a conservation area. This was designated by the former Kirkcaldy District Council (KDC) on 8 May 1978. Dysart Tolbooth on the High Street, erected in 1576, is the centrepiece of Dysart’s historic buildings. This was once used as a public weigh-in and measures house; guards house and eventually a prison built as an extension in 1617. The building was also known to keep explosives. When this was occupied by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in 1651, one of them accidentally dropped a match into a barrel of gunpowder (which was abandoned by a Dysart merchant) causing the roof to be blown apart. The upper part of the building was rebuilt between 1733 and 1734 with an ashlar bell-chamber and a stone ogile roof. The neighbouring Dysart Town Hall was once used as the meeting place for the provost and town council.
Dysart House, formerly the seat of the Earl of Rossyln, overlooks the harbour. The earliest section of the house is the south range built for General James St Clair between 1755 and 1756, for which it is believed that the Adam brothers provided the chimney pieces and the design. The house was extended between 1808 and 1814 to include new rear wings.
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