For a parish of only 1,200 inhabitants (perhaps double if the wider district is included), Saline has a remarkably active heritage society. But then it also has a fair number of listed buildings dating back to the 1700s, when the villagers made a living from weaving using handlooms occupying the ground floor of cottages that still stand today. Placename experts say that Saline (pronounced to rhyme with the Estonian capital Tallinn) means ‘little barn’ – probably a place of collection and storage for tribute due to the Scottish king.
And the village – located in West Fife, five miles north of Dunfermline – has an archaeological mystery at its heart: where was the historic church that preceded the present parish church, designed by William Stark and completed in 1812? A medieval church is mentioned in a document of 1249 and was described by the minister in 1794 as being ‘in a bad state’ and beyond repair. It was probably located within Saline Old Kirkyard, where the society’s members have been carrying out geophysical survey work and trial-trenching alongside experts from the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society (EAFS).
Within the grounds of the present church, they have also been investigating the history of the Morthouse, a type of building unique to Scotland where the deceased were placed prior to burial. This was done to protect them from grave robbers, who were active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, looking for bodies to sell to anatomists.
Founded in 2011, the society was galvanised into action when the church planned to celebrate its bicentenary in 2012, and asked for help in putting together an exhibition. This was housed in the session house beside the church, a listed building that once served for parish administration. Since then, the society has mounted annual exhibitions on themes ranging from archaeology to healthcare, education to sports, and pastimes based on historical documents and artefacts connected with Saline and the wider district.
Perhaps Saline always had a strong community spirit, for local poet Maxwell Robertson (1893-1915) wrote in ‘The Paradise of Fife’:
Far beyond ’neath yon glorious skies,
Where the darkness falls and daylight dies
There stands a village whose gates are old,
But the hearts therein are hearts of gold.
Further information: www.salinedistrictheritagesociety.wordpress.com; the society is also on Twitter (@salineheritage) and Facebook.
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IMAGES: Linda Moyes, Saline & District Heritage Society.
Text: C Catling.