Crail's Past

Why does Crail have a museum? Because.......

Crail was probably made a Royal Burgh in 1178 by King William the Lyon. It was one of the earliest Royal Burghs in Scotland. It had conducted trade with the Low Countries – Holland, since the 900s. A Royal Burgh gave rights to hold markets which were obviously beneficial for Crail’s merchants but also enabled the King to collect taxes. The royal connection was very strong at the start of the first millennium, with a royal castle and religious connections with the Cistercian Nunnery in Haddington across the Forth. Evidence remaining of this is the Priory Doocot at Roome Bay. The castle fell into disrepair in the 16th century.

Crail was a very large and important medieval market town based on trade from the harbour – now one of the most photographed locations in Scotland and which is also recreated in Legoland, Billund, Denmark, the home of Lego. Over the centuries there were three market places – Rumford just above the harbour, then the High Street and finally Marketgate. There are many features visible today of Dutch influence - pantiled roofs, the design of the Town Hall and parts of the harbour were built by the Dutch. The bell in the Church was cast in Holland and sounds out every Sunday. The bell in the Town Hall was cast in 1520 in what is now Belgium and rings the curfew at 10pm every night.

The Church of St Maelrubha was an important ecclesiastical centre from the 12th century and was made a Collegiate Church in1517. John Knox preached a rousing sermon in Crail, 1559, before proceeding to St Andrews at the start of the Reformation.

During the 20th century Crail came to be the home of airfield bases at the end of the First World War and during the Second World War. There are no visible remains from WWI but the buildings and runways from WWII form the most complete naval airfield from that time. The majority of the airfield was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1997 and this was reviewed in 2006 with a reduced area of scheduling covering the runways and a selective listing of the built structures. The buildings are now in a very poor state but a few are in use and some were listed by Historic Scotland. The airfield was developed at the start of WWII as HMS Jackdaw to train naval pilots in dropping torpedoes before the pilots were deployed to aircraft carriers. The torpedo was a very effective weapon. Towards the end of the war there were around 2000 people stationed at Crail.

Following the war, the airfield was recommissioned as HMS Bruce, a training station for boys going into the navy. Then from 1956 to 1960 it was the Joint Services School for Linguists where National Service men were taught Russian and other eastern European languages to provide a capability for the Cold War. The station was closed completely in 1960.