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St Andrews Harbour

Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Site Name St Andrews Harbour

Classification Harbour (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Kinness Burn; Shorehead Quay; The Shore

Canmore ID 34351

Site Number NO51NW 63

NGR NO 51655 16607

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish St Andrews And St Leonards
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District North East Fife
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NO51NW 63.00 51655 16607

Harbour [NAT] (name centred NO 5165 1660)

OS (GIS) MasterMap, July 2010.

NO51NW 63.01 NO 5163 1656 Rolling suspension footbridge

NO51NW 63.02 NO 5190 1661 to NO 5164 1666 Northern (long) pier

NO51NW 63.03 NO 5172 1663 to NO 5167 1658 Southern (short) pier ['Cross-pier']

NO51NW 63.04 NO 5177 1658 to NO 5168 1658 Breakwater (groyne)

NO51NW 63.05 NO 5164 1665 to NO 5161 1657 Outer Harbour, Shorehead Quay

NO51NW 63.06 NO 5161 1657 to NO 5163 1656 Outer Harbour, Transverse Quay

NO51NW 63.07 NO 5163 1656 Sluice

NO51NW 63.08 NO 5160 1656 to NO 5161 1639 Upper Harbour, West Quay

NO51NW 63.09 NO 5163 1654 to NO 5164 1648 Upper Harbour, East Quay

For wreck (identified as the Duncan Dunbar) within the inner harbour, see NO51NW 8003.

See also NO21NW 265 (Shorehead).

St Andrews harbour is an estuary haven formed in the tidal mouth of the Kinness Burn. This runs from S to N past the wall of the Priory precinct, which occupies the rising ground to the W, and is seperated from the sea and tidal sands to the E by a narrow strip of sand-dunes. In its natural state the estuary must have debouched on to a foreshore consisting of low rock-ridges, running from W to E, with narrow channels between them, but the stream is no turned eastwards by the main pier (NO51NW 63.02) which has been set transversely to it, as a breakwater, on the southernmost of the ridges. A kind of basin has further been formed in the angle between the main pier and the W bank of the burn, by the construction of a second pier (NO51NW 63.03) which is known as the Cross-pier and runs out obliquely to the NE from the N end of the sand-dunes. In addition to the Harbour, shipping formerly made use of the East and West Sands (centred NO 518 163 and NO 50 18 respectively), where beached vessels could be served by carts at low tide.

A fishing harbour is mentioned as early as 1222, and another medieval record dates from 1363; no doubt the estuary has been used as a natural shelter since the earliest days of navigation. The names 'The Shorehead' and 'The Shore' applied respectively to the N and S parts of the quay on the left bank, have presumably come down from a time when vessels were grounded on a beach, but piers and quays were in existence by the later 16th century if not earlier, as they are shown on a plan of that period preserved in the National Library of Scotland. This plan shows two piers flanking the sides of an E-W entrance-channel, which turns S at right-angles into the harbour proper as formed by the mouth of the burn. The piers seem to be of timber with stone filling, although the timbers, which are plainly indicated, may in fact be simply brandering applied to the masonry face, but Douglass' record of 1728, for what so late a statement is worth, would favour the former alternative. Above the right-angled turn, the timbering of the S pier continues, as a revetment to the E side of the harbour, about as far as revetment extends today; that of the N pier gives way to coursed masonry immediately after turning the corner onto the Shorehead and this masonry face continues along the left bank to a point just short of the SE corner of the Precinct [Priory: NO51NW 2.00]. The short transverse pier (NO51NW 63.03) that still projects from the N end of the Shore is duly shown and the quay-face is broken by a landing-ramp just opposite the Precinct gateway. The subsequent history of these early piers is uncertain. Douglass states that 'the main Head or Pier of the Harbour was formerly built of Wood, which extended to the utmost Point of the Rocks, and in this fashion it stood a very long time: but in December 1655 [it was] totally beat down and demolished'. Stone seems, however, to have been substituted for wood in 1559 and masonry is again mentioned in 1573 when a storm, floods and high tides combined to ruin the 'peir, schoir, port and heavin', and what remained of the 'aislar work' was shaken and loosened. It may or may not have been in connection with this disaster that commissioners from the Convention of Royal Burghs were instructed in 1579 to 'vesy the schoir and hawin of Sanct androis' to discover how money 'appointit for the repairing thereof' had been spent. From the later 16th century onwards several appeals for help in repairs are on record, as for example in 1613 when the 'peir, harborie and sey porte' had 'altogidder become ruynous and decayit, and at the verie point of utter overthraw'. Stone was required for the repairs as well as timber.

In view, however, of the damage suffered in 1655, about which Lamont fully agrees with Douglass, and of the amount of reconstruction that its repair must have entailed, there is no reason to expect that the records of earlier date can throw any light on the works as they exist today. Nor does this consideration apply with any less force to periods even later than 1655, as the pier, rebuilt in 1656 with stone largely taken drom the Castle (NO51NW 3.00), was partly broken down in 1678 and underwent further repair in 1722 while of the numerous mishaps and repairs mentioned in the Burgh records of the 18th and 19th centuries but now impossible to locate, some must have affected the pier to a greater or lesser extent. For example in 1788 half of what was probably a newly-built extension of the pier fell down and had to be restored, in 1816 the harbour as a whole was ruinous, in 1823 the pier was breached by a storm, and in 1846 the Town Council was applying for a grant of ?2000. Even within living memory a serious breach had been made.

The length of the pier also seems to have varied from period to period. If the original wooden pier extended, as Douglass says, 'to the utmost Point of the Rocks', it must have been cmparable in length with the existing work, but the pier of 1656 he describes as 'near half the length of the old one'. Collins, who surveyed this part of the coast in 1685, records a 'small stone pier for small vessels' but Adair, in 1703, speaks of a 'long stone pier' while Defoe, whose visits to Scotland began in 1705, gives the pier a respectable length of 400 ft (122m). Qith this last figure, Douglass, quoting 440 ft (134.1m) for the pier as it stood in his day (1728), is more or less in agreement. Possibly Collins' 'small' pier had not yet recovered from the damage of 1678. Slezer's illustration of 1693 tells nothing, and is shown to be inaccurate by the fact that it omits the small transverse quay (for which, see above). Whatever the situation was at the beginning of the 18th century, the pier was certainly lengthened in 1783, perhaps to the 660 ft (201.2m) inside measurement that is shown in Wood's plan of 1820. The concrete terminal was added in 1900 and is about 240 ft (73.2m) long.

As it stands today, the pier is some 880 ft (268.3m) long and is aligned from W to E although with a slight southwards deflection at its seaward end. At the level of the walkway is overall breadth is about 21 ft (6.4m); its faces are slightly sinuous in alignment, no doubt on account of irregularities in the underlying rock. The walkway varies in width from about 10ft 6ins (3.2m) to 12ft (3.7m), and the parapet is up to 5ft (1.5m) high by 9ft (2.7m) thick. The masonry shows many variations. On the outer face, vertically-set blocks run out from the land for some 230ft (70.1m), the parapet in this stretch being of large random blocks irregularly laid. The vertical work is succeeded to seaward by large, neat, horizontal blocks, the parapet above being coursed and having the line of its base defined by an ovolo string-course; this section clearly represents a patch of late 18th or early 19th century date. To seaward again, and as far as the terminal addition of 1900, there follows an untidy mixture of vertical and horizontal work, heavily buttressed with concrete in quite recent years. The section of the parapet immediately following the concrete terminal, 40ft (12.2m) in length, is higher than the rest, rises from the walkway in steps, and may possibly represent a former pier-head. The main features of the inner face, taken serially westward from its junction with the terminal, are:

(a) a stretch of roughly-squared and coursed blocks;

(b) a patch of vertical work;

(c) poorly-coursed rubble with steps leading down to the water;

(d) well-coursed longish blocks;

(e) vertical work with a course of boulders at the bottom;

(f) well-dessed and neatly-cursed slabs continuing to the corner of the harbour.

The boulders may perhaps be a relic of early foundations, but if any sockets for the timbers of the wooden pier survive in the surface of the rock they must be completely hidden by the growth of seaweed. At the corner of the harbour there is a ramp of rusticated ashlar 10ft (3.04m) wide; the steps at the bottom have been built since 1895. West of the landward end of the pier proper, the ground has been made up to the level of the Shorehead, and the parapet continues along its N edge nearly as far as the cliff. Short of the cliff, a ramp paved with large setts descends to the tidal rocks; its marginal slabs are hollowed to a shallow gutter.

The pier carries pawls of several types, as follows:

(a) of cast iron, with lugged tops inclined away from the water and inscribed J. ABERNETHY & CO ABERDEEN; four, all on the extension,

(b) also of cast iron, but plainer and uninscribed, one on the extension and another on the middle section,

(c) of stone, rough and apparently unshaped slabs; four,

(d) of stone, rough but slighthly shaped; two,

(e) of stone, cylindrical and with slightly flanged tops; two,

(All the last three groups are on the middle section), and

(f) of stone, at the landward end of the walk-way, a rounded pillar 2ft 9ins (0.83m) high with a square base and top (13ins: 0.33m).

The Shorehead quay (NO51NW 63.05), on the W side of the Outer Harbour, shows a face of rather roughly coursed rubble with somre rock-cutting at its base. Some of the records of general repairs to the harbour no doubt apply to this and other quays, and the cement bags and patches of brick that occur from place to place prove that the quay has been worked over at no very distant date. This quay is 290 ft (88.4m) long and carries some pawls contrived from iron piping; the stone blocks now set up in front of the new houses may or may not have been pawls, and have not, in any case, been in position for very long. The angle between the quay and the ramp at the base of the pier is rounded, and is neatly built of comparatively thin slabs.

The outer harbour ends at the short transverse quay (NO51NW 53.06) which is 60ft (18.3m) on its outer by 100ft (30.5m) long on its inner side, and 35ft (10.7m) wide at the tip. Although this is one of the harbour's oldest features, the existing masonry and two plain cast-iron pawls are probably of the 19th century, but a shaped stone pawl and a stone morring-block with a ring fixed in its top may be relics of earlier times, as may be another shaped stone pawl, with a ring, on the opposite bank. Attached to the end of the quay is a concrete extension which accommodates the sluice (NO51NW 63.07), the sluiceway being 35ft (10.7m) wide. The existing installation is modern, but 'flood-gates' were evidently in position in 1728. What must have been a new set was finished in 1787 and gave trouble on several occasions in the following fifteen years, and in 1902 the gates were washed away. It is tempting to guess that the purpose of the transverse quay had been, from the outset, to narrow the harbour and provide a site for the sluice, as its construction should have been within the competence of any contemporary mill-wright. The frontage (NO51NW 63.08) upstream from the sluice, along the Shore, may well be of the 19th century, as the masonry seems neater and better coursed than at the Shorehead. Today the quay is 560ft (170m) long to the point where buildings begin, but the harbour formerly extended to the Shore Bridge (NO51NW 294), some 400ft (122m) further upstream. The E side of the harbour is flanked by a built quay (NO51NW 63.09), similar to that on the W (NO51NW 63.08) up to a point 180ft (54.9m) above the sluice, where the construction ends in a slip facing upstream. This area must have suffered severe damage in 1727 when the sea 'broke through the Rampart (that defends the Bason) in several places, and threw up Sand-Banks even within the Bason'. A similar accident happened in 1816. Butt states that the inner basin was completed in 1820.

The Cross-pier (NO51NW 63.03) is about 230ft (70.1m) long by 23ft (7m) wide at the end. In contrast with the works described above, its masonry is largely homogenous and is thoroughly distinctive in type. Apart from a stretch of about 90ft (27m) at the landward end which has been rebuilt with a convex outer face, it gives the impression of a single build, with large rectangular blocks neatly coursed. The blocks are square or oblong, the latter tending to be set in a vertical position. This style of masonry would agree with a date at or about the beginning of the 18th century, as given by Sibbald for the pier's original construction, but in fact the work was damaged in 1712 and sunsequentlt rebuilt, was again damaged in 1727 by the same storm that affected the E side of the harbour (this time so severely that a national collection was organised), and the outer end was destroyed and rebuilt within living memory. The blocks, however, are no doubt original material, re-used in successive reconstructions. The upper surface is irregularly paved with large setts, and carries the stumps of three stone pawls.

The harbour is entered by a gap about 50ft (15.2m) wide between the end of the Cross-pier (NO51NW 63.03) and a point on the main pier (NO51NW 63.02) about 280ft (85.4m) out from the corner of the harbour. The enclosed space measures about 330ft (100.6m) from NE to SW by a maximum of 220ft (67m) transversely. The memorandum prepared by the Town in 1846 frequently alludes to attempts to deepen the harbour, to prevent the entry of sand, and to clear out boulders and projecting ridges of rock, but these records are largely unintelligible in the absence of plans, and no structural work can be identified today. The groyne (NO51NW 63.04) outside the Cross-pier dates only from 1900.

A Graham 1971.

(Location cited as NO 517 166). St Andrews Harbour, 18th century and earlier, improved c. 1900. This is formed by two straight piers, one of them of roughly-squared drystone rubble (c. 1700) and a stretch of quay wall. An inner [upper] harbour has been formed by quaying a stretch of river bank, and is approached through a gated opening, spanned by a rolling suspension footbridge (early 20th century).

J R Hume 1976.

Harbour, The Shore. Haven at the mouth of the Kinness Burn, its outer harbour formed by two piers in the position of the wooden piers shown on a 16th century map, N pier was rebuilt in stone (largely taken from the Castle) in 1656 and lengthened in 1761, 1783 and c. 1830. In 1898-1900 D and C Stevenson extrended it again. Rubble quay on the W, probably 19th century. The SE pier, coursed rubble, probably early 19th century. E groyne of 1900.

J Gifford 1988.

Shorehead quay showing signs of wear and tear. Inner harbour quay repaired (1996).

Site recorded by Maritime Fife during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, Fife Ness to Newburgh 1996.


Photographic Survey (September 1963)

Photographic survey of St Andrews harbour.


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