The village of Newport-on-Tay is situated in what was the Parish of Forgan on the North Fife Coast, separated by the river Tay from the Dundee and Angus coastline.
Most of the development of the village has taken place in the last 200 years, although there have been ferries crossing the Tay for centuries.
At the beginning of the 19th century, about 20 cottages made up Newport, scattered around the shore and the harbour area. The population was around 100, and were mostly boatmen or fishermen, with some tradesmen. Agriculture and a few whinstone quarries were the only other occupations at the time.
The area was called Seamills after the meal mills which stood near the water. The Dundee Guildry had leased these mills in the 18th century, and the name gradually changed to New Dundee, then Newport-Dundee and finally to Newport.
In the 19th century Newport was regarded as a fashionable place to reside by the wealthy Jute Barons of Dundee. Consequently this led to the village of Wormit also being established as a commuter town with a rail link.
The narrow roads from Wormit lead to Balmerino with its ruined Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 1229 and lies on the shores of the river Tay. It was a popular ferry crossing for pilgrims travelling between St Andrews and Arbroath. In 1559 the Abbey was destroyed by the Reformers and eventually taken over by the National Trust for Scotland in 1936.
Tay Ferries. The modern (steam) ferry service dates from 1821, but ferries crossed the river here for hundreds of years. They also crossed from Balmerino, Woodhaven and Tayport. Ferries operated until the opening of the Tay Road Bridge in 1966. The modern ferry service triggered the first phase of development of the village in the first half of the nineteenth century. While ferries were in operation, the area around the pier was the real heart of the village, with all the buildings there occupied by various shops. The Fifies, as the ferries were affectionately known, were held in great affection by travellers and are still fondly remembered by many local people. For Dundonians the Fifie was an escape route from the smoke of Dundee to the green fields of Fife, and for Fife residents it provided an efficient transport system right into the heart of the city. A new information board will be erected very soon on the wall outside the ferry building.
When the first railway bridge was opened in 1878. a connecting railway was built to Tayport via two new stations at Newport, Newport East and Newport West. The station building, now a private house, still stands at Newport East, but it is harder to spot evidence of Newport West station. There is an information board on the site of Newport West station at the top of Kinbrae Park. The railway was closed in 1969, three years after the opening of the road bridge. The coming of the railway really speeded up the development of both Newport and Wormit.
Tay Bridge Disaster
The first railway bridge collapsed in a storm on the night of Sunday 28th December 1879, taking with it a train and at least 60 men, women and children. The designer of the bridge, Thomas Bouch, was made the scapegoat for the disaster. The bridge however had been such an enormous success that plans were immediately made for a replacement, which opened in 1887. It’s interesting to see today the stumps of the old bridge, exactly parallel to the pillars of the new. This was because the undamaged girders of the old bridge were simply lifted over to be used on the new! There is an information board in Wormit at Bridgehead Place.
The fountain was gifted to the village in 1882 by Mrs Blyth-Martin. Mrs Blyth-Martin lived at Blyth House, now 72 Tay Street, and she also gifted the Blyth Hall to the community in memory of her three brothers. The Blyths were a fairly prominent Dundee family.
The fountain is made of cast-iron and was produced by Walter Macfarlane and Co at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. It is fairly typical of ones erected in the Victorian period, and closely resembles others still standing, some in far-flung corners of the world! At the time of its production, there was a widespread movement to provide clean drinking water whenever and wherever possible. It was also hoped that such provision would encourage habits of temperance.
Since the fountain’s extensive refurbishment in 2013 it is now well worth a close inspection. It is decorated with herons and stags, and inscribed with the reminder to “Keep the pavement dry”. A further plaque states “The gift of Mrs Blyth-Martin 1882”.
The War Memorial
The war memorial was designed by Robert Lorimer, and was unveiled in September 1922. There was some controversy surrounding the inscriptions on the memorial. One name, that of Peter Black, almost didn’t appear. Peter joined the army as soon as World War I broke out and, like so many others from this area, served in the Black Watch. During fierce fighting in 1915, he suffered from shell shock and was severely disturbed. He was to experience further fierce fighting in the Somme area in 1916, and at that point his nerve finally cracked and he deserted. Sadly, in the armies of World War I, there was no place for deserters, and as punishment and as an example to others, Peter was shot by firing squad in September 1916.
When the authorities were arranging the erection of the war memorial, local people, including many young men who had fought with Peter, and who therefore knew exactly what he had suffered, were outraged to learn that as a deserter his name would be excluded. Explosives were stolen from a local quarry and hidden in a house in Robert Street. Threats to blow up the memorial were made unless Peter’s name was included. His name was added, and the explosives found their way back to the quarry.
The Braes were traditionally the leisure area for the village, and villagers had permission from Tayfield to use them as such from the 1890s onwards. They were officially gifted to the village in 1946. They were much enjoyed by both villagers and visitors. Indeed, for generations of Dundonians trying to escape the smoke and grime of the city, the Braes provided the perfect day trip destination, easily accessed by the Fifie. For the people of Newport, the Braes provided an area to indulge in their favourite water sports, and they were home to both the bathing and boating clubs; both these clubs had premises there in the first half of the twentieth century. The cast iron drinking fountain, recently beautifully restored and refurbished, was a gift to the village from Mrs Blyth-Martin who also gifted the Blyth Hall. Like Tayfield grounds, the Braes today provide a pleasant walking area.
The first John Berry bought land and built Tayfield House in 1789. Most of Newport has been built on land which formed part of the original Tayfield estate. The house was extended in 1830 and the grounds of the estate have been carefully planned, landscaped and tended over the last 200 years. There is free access to most of the grounds and they provide a delightful walk. The sixth (and sometimes the seventh) generation of the Berry family are living in Tayfield now.
Until 1978 there were six active churches in Newport. Now there are four, all very different in style. Visits to any of these could be made on request.
Currently about to start a new phase, the Newport Inn dates from 1806. A turnpike road to Newport was built in 1808 and this put Newport on the main route north. The Newport Inn was well placed to take full advantage of the huge increase in coach traffic using the ferry and needing hotel facilities.
The Mars training ship was moored out on the river from 1869 until 1929. It provided a home for anything up to 400 ‘at-risk’ young teenage boys. It provided a naval type training as well as normal education and many boys in fact went on to join the navy. Discipline was strict but fair. The Mars enjoyed a close relationship with Newport, and the boys took part in many aspects of village life. Some of their names can still be seen, scratched in the pews of St Mary’s church!
During World War II soldiers of the 333 Norwegian squadron were stationed at Woodhaven. They used the pier to service their Catalina flying boats as they returned from their sorties over the North Sea and secret missions into enemy-occupied Norway.