Dysart - Encyclopedia

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DYSART, a royal and police burgh and seaport of Fifeshire, Scotland, on the shore of the Firth of Forth, 2 m. N.E. of Kirkcaldy by the North British railway. Pop. (1901) 3562. It has a quaint old-fashioned appearance, many ancient houses in High Street bearing inscriptions and dates. The public buildings include a town hall, library, cottage hospital, mechanics' institute and memorial hall. Scarcely anything is left of the old chapel dedicated to St Dennis, which for a time was used as a smithy; and of the chapel of St Serf, the patron saint of the burgh, only the tower remains. The chief industries are the manufacture of bed and table linen, towelling and woollen cloth, shipbuilding and flax-spinning. There is a steady export of coal, and the harbour is provided with a wet dock and patent slip. In smuggling days the "Canty carles" of Dysart were professed "free traders." In the 15th and 16th centuries the town was a leading seat of the salt industry ("salt to Dysart" was the equivalent of "coals to Newcastle"), but the salt-pans have been abandoned for a considerable period. Nail-making, once famous, is another extinct industry. During the time of the alliance between Scotland and Holland, which was closer in Fifeshire than in other counties, Dysart became known as Little Holland. To the west of the town is Dysart House, the residence of the earl of Rosslyn. With Burntisland and Kinghorn Dysart forms one of the Kirkcaldy district group of parliamentary burghs. The town is mentioned as early as 874 in connexion with a Danish invasion. Its name is said to be a corruption of the Latin desertum, " a desert," which was applied to a cave on the seashore occupied by St Serf. In the cave the saint held his famous colloquy with the devil, in which Satan was worsted and contemptuously dismissed. From James V. the town received the rights of a royal burgh. In 1559 it was the headquarters of the Lords of the Congregation, and in 1607 the scene of the meetings of the synod of Fife known as the Three Synods of Dysart. Ravensheugh Castle, on the shore to the west of the town, is the Ravenscraig of Sir Walter Scott's ballad of "Rosabelle." William Murray, a native of the place, was made earl of Dysart in 1643, and his eldest child and heir, a daughter, Elizabeth, obtained in 1670 a regrant of the title, which passed to the descendants of her first marriage with Sir Lionel Tollemache, Bart., of Helmingham; she married secondly the 1st duke of Lauderdale, but had no children by him, and died in 1698. This countess of Dysart (afterwards duchess of Lauderdale) was a famous beauty of the period, and notorious both for her amours and for her political influence. She was said to have been the mistress of Oliver Cromwell, and also of Lauderdale before her first husband's death, and was a leader at the court of Charles II. Wycherley is supposed to have aimed at her in his Widow Blackacre in the Plain Dealer. Her son, Lionel Tollemache (d. 1727), transmitted the earldom to his grandson Lionel (d. 1770), whose sons Lionel (d. 1799) and Wilbraham (d. 1821) succeeded; they died without issue, and their sister Louisa (d. 1840), who married John Manners, an illegitimate son of the second son of the 2nd duke of Rutland, became countess in her own right, being succeeded by her grandson (d. 1878), and his grandson, the 8th earl.

The earldom of Dysart must not be confounded with that of Desart (Irish), created (barony 1733) in 1793, and held in the Cuffe family, who were originally of Creech St Michael, Somerset, the Irish branch dating from Queen Elizabeth's time.

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