The Flemish in Dundee and Surrounding Areas

This is the second of a series of blog postings that are focused on evidence of Flemish involvement in specific areas of Scotland.  In this posting John Irvine examines the Flemish influence,  from the 12th century onwards, on Dundee and its surrounding areas.

The research on the influence of the Flemish on Dundee and the surrounding area has drawn upon a wide range of primary and secondary sources (see the list of references at the end). Up to now the work has concentrated primarily, but not totally, on people with the name Fleming and its variants, although there is a number of other Flemish rooted names that are common in the area – Bell, Erskine, Lindsay, Murray, Spalding, and Sutherland, to name a few.

The Earliest Flemings

The Flemish people may have settled in the area around Dundee as long ago as the 12th and 13th centuries.

In the time of King Alexander II (1198 – 1249) a knight called Bartholomew of Flanders, or the Fleming, can be found in Angus.[[1&2]] Where he settled initially is not known with certainty, but probably the lands of Flemington, near Forfar, had belonged to him, and received their name from his nationality (see box below).  Bartholomew later settled with his followers in the district of the Garioch, Aberdeenshire.  By one account his son, Malcolm de Leslie, was the progenitor of the Leslie family, although this is disputed in some quarters.

Flemington: Flemington is situated in Aberlemno, Angus. “Fleming Toun” literally means “settlement associated with Flemings”. Flemington comprises a farm and Flemington Castle (or tower house) that is of late sixteenth or early seventeenth century build. The castle was therefore not built by the original Flemish owner of the land, Bartholomew, but by a later resident of the area. It is about three storeys in height and stands on the left bank of the rivulet called Henwellburn, which flows through the Parish and passes Melgund castle. One author described Flemington as “a nice compact little property, the land being of good quality and the situation pleasant”. The name itself likely goes back to at least 1331 when the area was known as “Flemyngtoune”. However the name has been recorded in many different forms since that time, for instance Flemyingtoun and Flemyngtoun, until by 1861 it had been transformed into the present Flemington.

Another local Fleming of note is Michael De Fleming.  He was one of six barons of the name, who — following the English invasion of Scotland in 1296 — “submitted” to King Edward I at Berwick in 1296; and the remaining five, with two others who took the oaths at Aberdeen, were all from counties in the south and west of Scotland, and among them was the ancestor of the Earls of Wigton. Ironically it was Scotland’s close links with Flanders, including its trading relationship, which was one of the factors leading to the invasion of Scotland.[[3]]

Trade with Flanders

For much of the period from the 12th century through to the late 15th century the wool trade with Flanders – with good quality Scottish wools being sent primarily to Bruges – was effectively the engine of growth for the Scottish economy.  During that period it was often the Abbeys that farmed the sheep and took the initiative to ship the wool to Flanders. Coupar Angus Abbey, it is thought, produced wool that was shipped through Perth or Dundee.

AC Lamb in his Dundee book[[4]] examines the nature of the trade with Flanders. He consulted customs records dating back to the 14th century. Entries include payments made to Faskyn, Merchant of Bruges, for importation of materials for the King. The principle exports at the time were wool, sheepskins and hides, up to the middle of the 15th century.

The shipping records from the Dundee City Archives and work on shipping lists undertaken by Dr. David Dobson — for 1580-1589 and 1612-1618 — confirm that relatively strong trading links between Dundee and Flanders were maintained through to the late medieval/early modern periods.

Immigrants from Flanders

As noted above, some of the earliest Flemish arrived in Scotland in the 12th and 13th centuries. Later with the significant growth in trade there may have been Flemish seamen and merchants living in Dundee to facilitate the trade between Scotland and Flanders.  Some of these may have stayed in Scotland.  Others will have returned to Flanders in due course.

The Scots decided that there was value to be had from not just farming sheep but also by weaving the wool.  Accordingly, AC Lamb[[4]] tells us that in 1601, it was arranged that twelve Flemings should be sent from Leiden to Scotland, and distributed to various parts of Scotland so that they might teach the natives the art of weaving. Three were named as being sent to Dundee: Claus Lossier, Cornelius Dermis, and Henry De Turk.

A slightly different version of events is given by Warden.[[3]] His interpretation was that a number of “strangers” were brought in 1609 headed by a John Sutherland and a Fleming named John Van Headen, and in 1601 seven Flemings were introduced to improve cloth manufacture in Scotland.

AC Lamb also tells us that Flemings, who had been settled in small colonies around Scotland, were weaving cloth to be exported.  Interestingly, in an Act of Parliament in 1587, aimed at the Flemish weavers in Scotland, all cloth manufactured by them had the same duty levied on it as cloth made and imported from Flanders, Holland and England.

Immigration of Flemish tradesmen was not confined to the weaving trade but also, during late 1500s, the malting trade. This led to Flemings being involved in the setting up of the Maltman Incorporation in Dundee in 1623, Thomas Fleming and David Fleming swearing to uphold various acts of trade at that time.[[5]] The list of masters, apprentices, and excise men shows they continued in the trade for at least another 200 years.

The Burgess Rolls[[6]] for Dundee show that a number of Flemings are recorded, having gained the rights to become a burgess in the early 1600s. These included Merchants, Maltmen, a Brassworker and other occupations.

Migration from Surrounding Areas

By the 18th century the number of families with the name Fleming in Dundee had reached more than a hundred.

Where did they come from? It is unlikely that they were direct immigrants from Flanders by that stage. Some of the increase in the number of families reflects the organic growth of existing families. It is noteworthy, for instance, that the number of surviving children in families began to rise in the late 1600s and more so in the 1700s and 1800s. This of course would have spawned a general growth in the population and in family numbers.

Some of the Fleming family growth is likely to reflect movement to Dundee from rural areas. The industrialisation of Scotland began in late 18th century and early 19th century and this would have created an incentive for people to move from the rural areas of Angus, Perthshire, and Forfarshire. It is likely that many of those migrants with the name Fleming would have come from the “Flemings of Moness” lineage that was dominant in Northern Perthshire, while those coming from Central Angus may have been descendants of Flemings from the Flemington area.

Some of the migrants will have been poorer Flemings seeking work and better pay in some of the evolving industries of the time. Meanwhile, family history resources shed light on the movement of some notable and ultimately very successful Fleming families into Dundee. John Fleming of Kirkmichael in Perthshire, for instance, was one such migrant.  His two surviving sons Robert and John became well known, John as head of one of the most prominent timber importers and suppliers in Scotland, and, Robert as one of the founders of the financial trusts in Dundee, later founder of Flemings Bank (as well as being grandfather to Ian Fleming of James Bond fame). Both sons were to become philanthropists in Dundee and one of the first modern housing developments was sponsored by The Fleming Trust and is still occupied to this day.

Another major family moved to Dundee from Inverarity, Angus. It was the family of David Hood Fleming, a manufacturer who was head of the firm DH Fleming Sons & Co., spinners and manufacturers Gray Street, Lochee. It is believed this branch is also connected with the Orkneys and Fife.


To conclude, there had been people with Flemish ancestry in Dundee and surrounding areas from the earliest recorded times in the town’s history. The area was likely the beneficiary of all of the phases of Flemish immigration: the original settlers in the 12th century as well as the weavers and religiously persecuted in the late middle ages and early modern period. The name Fleming remains a common one in Dundee and the surrounding areas to this day and some of the families of that name — while likely no longer feeling any identity with their distant Flemish roots — have had a noteworthy impact on the city.


John Irvine is a member of the project team for the “Scotland and the Flemish People Project”.  He is a genealogist and local historian and is currently Chairman of the Local History Forum. He has written articles for local history journals on a wide range of topics. He has also published widely in the genealogy field and has researched the genealogy of both illustrious Dundee locals and the common man.



[1] A.J. Warden, Angus or Forfarshire the Land and People (Charles Alexander, Dundee 1881), vol. 2, p. 315

[2] D.M. Peter, Baronage of Angus & Mearns (Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh 1861), p. 61

[3] A.J. Warden, Angus or Forfarshire the Land and People (Charles Alexander, Dundee 1881), vol. 2, p. 349

[4] A.C. Lamb, Dundee, Its Quaint and Historic Buildings (George Petrie, Dundee 1895)

[5] A. Pellow, The Maltmen, Customs & Excise men of Dunee 1700-1850 (Tay Valley Family History Society, 1991)

[6] Burgess Rolls, Friends of Dundee City Archives Records. Examples from Burgess Roll of Dundee are:

  1. Thomas Fleming entered 18th April 1615 – son of Thomas Fleming
  2. George Fleming, 23rd September 1609 – son of Thomas Fleming
  3. John Fleming entered 24th November 1561
  4. Alexander Fleming, Maltman, entered 1695 – his grandfather
  5. James Fleming – 20th June 1531 – simple burgess

Research for this blog post also drew on a range of other books and documents. A list of these additional references are available on request.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on The Flemish in Dundee and Surrounding Areas

DNA Testing of the Fleming Family: Interpreting the Findings

Genetic analysis is increasingly being used to complement more traditional studies of specific families and people groups.  The Scotland and the Flemish People Project includes a DNA project that readers, who believe they may have Flemish roots, are encouraged to join.  A primary goal of the DNA project is to determine whether an individual has a genetic match with a control group with origins in Flanders.  It is too early to report on the full results of the analysis, but an interesting early finding confirms what some other studies have found regarding the Fleming surname.

These are very early days in the Scotland – Flanders DNA project, which is part of the broader project aiming to understand the impact of the immigration of Flemish people on Scotland.  A preliminary examination of the DNA results suggests that, like earlier studies comparing the relationship between Y-DNA and surnames, people with the family name of Fleming do not all share a common male ancestor.

Before looking at some possible explanations for the lack of matching between men sharing the Fleming name, let us start with some of the basic science of genetic genealogy.  The Y-chromosome (Y-DNA) is only carried by men who pass it unchanged to their sons, who in turn pass it to their sons. As surnames are traditionally inherited by a son from his father, it follows that—unless there are exceptional circumstances of the sort discussed below—there is correlation between the Y-chromosome and a surname borne by a man.

Analysis of a man’s Y-chromosome yields the haplotype (signature) of his lineage. This so-called “genetic signature” can then be compared between men of the same surname.  When results for different men are compared, a computation is made to determine the probability that they shared the same paternal ancestor during the time-frame of the existence of their surname (i.e. Fleming).

F. Lawrence Fleming suggests (in blogs dated the 22nd and 29th of November 2013) that virtually all people who possess the surname Fleming are descended from one man, specifically Erkenbald the Fleming who came to Britain with William the Conqueror in 1066. If this were the case there would be a strong presumption that people with the surname Fleming would be related and that this would be reflected in men bearing the Fleming surname also sharing the same Y-chromosome signature. But this is not the case. From the evidence of Y-DNA analysis undertaken so far the Fleming name clearly has multiple origins. This evidence will be further reviewed as additional men with the surname Fleming are tested. The proportion of Fleming surname men with roots in Scotland and who can be attributed as having a geographical origin in Flanders is still to be determined.  The project is also, of course, looking at the probability that men with certain other surnames have Flemish roots.

So what are possible explanations for, in general, a lack of a DNA match between men with the Fleming surname?  First, it should be noted that evidence from other Y-DNA surname projects confirms that name bearers will share a variety of paternal ancestors.  That said, some possible explanations for the Fleming surname findings include:

  • Individual adoptions into a family:  It is possible that a male child may have been adopted into a Fleming family. If his biological father died and his mother married a Fleming then his Y-DNA signature would naturally be different from other men in the new family unit.
  • Other non-paternal events:  Sometimes illegitimacy occurs whereby a man would carry the Fleming name despite the fact that it was not the surname of his biological father.
  • The adoption of the Fleming surname by new immigrants to Scotland. There is debate about whether a newly arriving immigrant to Scotland would have adopted the Fleming name given that it was a family of some history and stature. However adoption of names describing ethnic and geographical origin was common practice, for example Inglis, Wallace (Walensis meaning Welsh), or Scott.
  • Certain lineages are under-represented in matching databases. Although Y-chromosome testing has been around since 1999 it may well be that some Fleming lineages are under-represented due to fewer males being produced over the centuries. It is a truism that some male lineages eventually go extinct. The paucity of potential male testers can therefore limit some participants from obtaining matching.
  • Fealtic and locational surnames. A final factor to consider is that with the way surnames developed in early Scotland, the indigenous population had the habit of adopting their masters’ names (fealtic surnames) or took place names for their surnames, therefore some of the early Fleming surnamed families may not have been of Flemish descent originally.

Despite a number of lineages being found not to match, several distinct family groups are emerging from the Y-DNA data. We will report on these in future blog posts.

While the findings to date on the Fleming surname may seem surprising, they should not in any way be construed as an indictment of the techniques of genetic DNA analysis.  The lack of a DNA match is as important as a match in that it can shed light on existing hypotheses and point to new avenues for traditional genealogical research to follow.

Alasdair Macdonald and Alex Fleming
February 2014

The DNA test involves a simple swab on the inside of the cheek. There are two levels of test for genealogical research. If you are interested in getting tested we recommend you purchase the 37 marker Y-DNA test as the minimum for surname research, which may well identify distant relatives within Family Tree DNA’s extensive database. The 67 marker test provides extra data and will help us in our analytic work.

This test may give you an indication of your “deep ancestry” by matching with other participants who have been found positive for advanced “deep ancestry” markers. These advanced markers can be ordered at a later date if required. The test kit can be obtained directly by contacting Alasdair Macdonald or via the join tab at There is a small discount by ordering through either route (£13-£20 or $20-$30).

The project is administered by Alasdair Macdonald from the University of Strathclyde (Department of Genealogical Studies). He is a leading authority in Scotland on DNA. Should you have any questions please contact Alasdair at Alternatively feel free to contact co-administrator Alex Fleming at

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Flemish Religious Emigration in the 16th/17th Centuries

The blog posting two weeks ago by David Dobson focused on Flemish immigration to Scotland in the late medieval to early modern period. Religiously persecuted Flemings fleeing Flanders over this period will account for some of this immigration. This week’s posting, prepared by George English, provides the historical backdrop for this phase of emigration from Flanders.


Flemish emigration in the 16th and early 17th centuries was mostly Protestants fleeing from religious persecution by the Spanish and Catholics. It is impossible to understand the time without looking at the reordering of religion and society that took place during the fast-changing world of the 16th century Reformation in Europe.

As noted in last week’s blog about defining Flanders and the Flemish, the area of northern Europe that constituted Flanders has evolved significantly under the pressure of war and politics. In the 16th century, the Low Countries were then seventeen provinces; and the province of Flanders spoke Flemish in the north but French in the southern part (see map below).

The Reformation, Flanders and the Revolt of the Spanish Netherlands

The Reformation was an age of discovery. Areas like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Britain were exploring the world. Spain, in her “Age of Expansion”, conquered large parts of South America and its wealth helped her to become the most powerful state in Europe. Advances in paper manufacture and printing technology were revolutionising communication. This would play a crucial part in the speed with which the messages of the Reformation spread.

In the early 16th century, most of Europe was adherent to the Church of Rome, that is Roman Catholic. Then, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous ninety-five theses to the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. There was a strong mood for religious reform and this “caught the imagination of central Europe as a symbol of social transformation”.[[1]]

Map of the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries in 1579

Map of the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries in 1579

In 1522, King Charles Quint instituted the Inquisition in the Low Countries for the suppression of heretics, which came to include the emerging Protestants.[[2]] An imperial edict, in 1535, condemned all heretics to death; repentant males to be executed with the sword, repentant females to be buried alive, the obstinate, of both sexes, to be burned.[[3]]

The number of people who were burned, strangled, beheaded, or buried alive for religious reasons, as a result of Charles V’s actions, has been estimated at between fifty and a hundred thousand. These were violent times. Protestant leaders such as Luther and Calvin also advocated the execution of those who did not adhere to their own doctrines.

In 1556, Philip II became sovereign of the Netherlands and Spain, as well as other countries, after his father Charles V abdicated. Charles urged his son PhilipThe to “Take all the means in your power to cut out the root of the Evil with vigour and rude handling.” The ideas of Luther and Calvin continued to take hold. The first public Protestant services were in 1562. Meanwhile, Scotland had become officially Protestant in 1560, following the lead of John Knox.

In 1566, a climax was reached with the year of the “iconoclasts”.[[4]] “Hedge-preaching” convinced people that the central government and the Catholic Church were powerless to stop the Protestant advance.[[5]] Churches at Lille, Valenciennes, Antwerp, Ghent, and many others were “purified” for Calvinist worship by destroying their icons and statues.[[6]] Philip II was warned that “if the Netherlands situation is not remedied, it will bring about the loss of Spain and all the rest.”[[7]]

In 1567, the Duke of Alba was appointed as Governor by Philip II.[[8]] The Revolt of the Spanish Netherlands, led by William of Orange, was gathering momentum in the northern provinces. It was, in part, led by Catholic nobles who valued religious freedom and were against the extreme measures of the Spanish. Alba started a reign of terror and set up the Council of Troubles. This became known as the “Council of Blood” because of the thousands of people who were executed or exiled by it. In 1568, Alba executed the Counts of Egmont and Hornes in Brussels, and the Eighty Years War between the Netherlands and Spain began.

Although Alba’s policy of selective brutality had success, “The great Revolt” was triggered by the Sea-Beggars. On 1 April 1572, six hundred Gueux,[[9]] recently expelled from the English Channel ports, on Queen Elizabeth’s orders … seized the small port of Brill, in Holland, which had been temporarily left without a Spanish garrison.”[[10]] However, in August, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots in France removed their support. The hatred of the Spanish was now intense.

In 1576, the provinces of the Netherlands signed the Pacification of Ghent with the aim of driving the Spanish from the country. Alessandro Farnese (later made Duke of Parma), was made governor by Philip II and negotiated the 1579 Treaty of Arras with southern French-speaking provinces and towns. This gave the areas autonomy, but the Catholic religion was imposed and the Calvinist leaders were banished. In response to the Treaty of Arras, the Union of Utrecht was signed by the northern provinces, and a few others, in the same year.

Parma then set about re-conquering the remaining parts of Flanders and Brabant, and his Catholic “Army of Flanders” progressively captured town after town. Maastricht was taken in March 1579 with the loss of 4,000 Spanish soldiers; as a reprisal, the Spanish slaughtered 8,000 inhabitants. At first, many Protestants fled north to cities like Brussels and Antwerp or abroad to countries such as England. In 1581, the Dutch provinces declared independence. William of Orange was assassinated in 1584, which dealt a heavy blow to the resistance movement.

From 1584 to 1585, Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, and Antwerp also fell, and the flow of refugees became a flood. They went further north to the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, which were the only main areas not to fall, or abroad. Between 1583 and 1589, the population of Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges halved, while that of Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden doubled. It was not until 1648 that the Treaty of Munster finally put an end to more than a century of religious wars across the Low Countries, France, and Germany. The Treaty recognized, among other things, the independence of the seven provinces of the Dutch Republic.

The Flemish should not be confused with the Huguenots, who were from France.[[11]]

Flemish Immigrants in the 16th/17th Centuries

In some of the countries where the Protestant refugees went, formal arrangements were made for them.

In England, Henry VIII allowed them to settle and refused all requests from Charles V that they should be forbidden to remain there. Between 1535 and 1550, about 5,000 Flemish and Walloon refugees living in the London area were granted citizenship and there were many more living in country towns.

The need was realised for them to be able to have church services in their own language, so in 1550 the first Strangers’ Church was established at Austin Friars Church in London, which was a Dutch (Flemish) Church. Other Flemish or French (Walloon) churches were established at Sandwich, Norwich (in 1565), Southampton and Canterbury. In 1568, an order was issued that all Strangers must become members of the Strangers’ Church or leave the kingdom.[[12]] The Church was important to the immigrants, with elders and deacons visiting the flock regularly. Money was collected, clothing was distributed and they maintained their own elderly and sick.[[13]] Their textile skills were much appreciated in the places where they settled.

The United Provinces of the Dutch Republic were a natural place for the Flemish to flee to, particularly after they had declared independence in 1581. They could attend services of the Dutch Reformed Church in their own language. Many Walloon Churches were also established for the immigrants from French Flanders and other French-speaking provinces.

Emigration to England fell away rapidly in the 17th century; whereas that to the Dutch Republic reached a peak in the first half of the 17th century and continued into the 18th century. The balance changed, so eventually most emigration was for economic, i.e. work, reasons rather than religious ones. Many Flemings and Walloons who had fled first from Flanders to England later returned to the Dutch Republic as the situation there improved.[[14]]

Flemish Immigrants to Scotland

The contrast with England and other countries is interesting. David Dobson’s excellent recent blog suggests that “Flemish immigration into Scotland in the early modern period was relatively small scale”. “In 1594 an Act authorising them to have their own church and minister was passed”, which was many years after the various Strangers’ Churches were established in England. Dobson states that “Some Flemings arrived directly from Flanders, others arrived via the Flemish communities in England, specifically from Norwich and London.”

George English is a director of the Family History service Research Through People ( He has undertaken extensive genealogical and historical research and published work in United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He can be reached at 9 Glebe Avenue, Mauchline, Ayrshire, KA5 6AF or by email at


[1] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation, Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700 (London, 2004), xxiii.
[2] Charles V was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556. He was known as ‘Quint’, a version of the French for fifth. He inherited the Kingdom of Spain from his mother. In 1556 he divided his holdings and the Spanish crown went to his son Philip II and his Austrian holdings went to his brother Ferdinand I.
[3] John Lothrop Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic: a History (London, 1856), Historical Introduction, Part 2, xii.
[4] The term “iconoclast” describes people who destroy “icons” i.e. religious images or sacred objects.
[5] “Hedge-preaching” was the practice of preachers holding meetings in the fields and woods of the countryside in order to escape the attentions of the authorities.
[6] Solange Deyon and Alain Lottin, Les casseurs de l’été 1566: l’iconoclasme dans le nord (Paris, 1981), 213.
[7] Fernando González de León and Geoffrey Parker, The Grand Strategy of Philip II and the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1559-1584 in Philip Benedict, Guido Marnef, Henk van Nierop and Marc Venard, eds., Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands 1555-1585 (Amsterdam, 1999), 222-223.
[8] Fernando de Toledo (1507-82) was the 3rd Duke of Alba in western Spain.
[9] Gueux was the French for beggars. The name arose after a Petition demanding the dismantlement of the Inquisition was presented to the then Governor, Margaret of Parma in 1566; and an advisor said aloud “What madam! Afraid of these beggars?”
[10] Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 (Oxford, Eng., 1995), 170.
[11] In France, there were eight Wars of Religion between the Catholic government and protestant Huguenots between 1562 and 1598. The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 led to many Huguenots fleeing from France. Then the Edict of Nantes in 1598 gave the Huguenots religious freedom. It was not until 1685, that Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, causing some 200,000 Huguenots to flee from France.
[12] G. B. Beeman, The Early History of the Strangers’ Church, 1550 to 1561, part of the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, vol. XV, no. 2 (London, 1935), 261-282.
[13] W. H. Manchée, Dutch, Walloon, and Flemish Clergy List. 1550-1874, part of the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, vol. XI, no. 3 (London, 1917), 402.
[14] Johanna W. Tammel, The Pilgrims and other people from the British Isles in Leiden 1576-1640, (Peel, Isle of Man, 1989).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Flemish Religious Emigration in the 16th/17th Centuries

Defining Flanders and the Flemish

There are two key issues that need to be addressed at this stage in the Scotland and the Flemish People Project. The first is to identify the geographical scope of Flanders in the medieval and early modern periods and the second is to define precisely who the Flemish are for the purpose of the Project. Neither have straightforward answers. This blog posting, which draws heavily on the helpful inputs of George English and F. Lawrence Fleming, explores the two issues.


Today Flanders – which has a population of some 6.3 million – is a well-defined part of Belgium comprising five provinces: West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp, Flemish Brabant and Limburg. But it has not always been so well defined. Flanders is situated in a very vulnerable part of Northern Europe. Because of its location it has seen many wars and invading armies throughout its history. It has also been the subject of shifting alliances. So the borders of Flanders have moved over time and the region has experienced periods of independence and of subservience.


From around the 11th century Flanders, or more precisely the County of Flanders, was considered to be the land situated along the North Sea from the Strait of Dover to the Scheldt estuary, with ill-defined southern borders. Through marriage the County of Flanders was joined with most of the rest of the Low Countries around the 15th century, and it lost its independence.


In the 16th century the Low Countries comprised seventeen provinces that encompassed what we now know as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, plus parts of France. The province of Flanders included Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres where they spoke Flemish [a dialect of Dutch], but also the southern French Flanders, including Lille and Douai, most of which became part of France in 1668. Since the establishment of the independent country of Belgium in 1830, Flanders has been the northern area of that country that covers mainly the Flemish speaking inhabitants.


The lack of a geographical scoping of Flanders through time or a precise definition of who the Flemish are has not to date impinged on the progress of the Scotland and the Flemish People Project. Up to now the work has mostly been focused within Scotland. A range of medieval Scottish sources has been used and reference is usually made in them rather generically to “the Flemish”, “X the Fleming”, or “Y from Flanders”. There is no way to tell whether these terms accurately reflect the origin of, say, a person or import at a particular point in history.


As the historical analysis under the Project proceeds, however, it will be examining the relationship between Flanders and Scotland in various dimensions: trade, culture, religion etc. For this purpose it will be important to get an accurate handle of how Flanders has changed over time. Accordingly, in the next stage of research an effort will be made to define, for each century: what the borders of Flanders were; who ruled Flanders; what influences were there that would have influenced emigration; and why some went to Scotland rather than another country.


The second issue is one of how to define the Flemish. Within Flanders there has historically been two primary sets of inhabitants, the French speaking population in the south and the Flemish (a Dutch dialect) speaking population in the northern area. The issue comes down to whether the Flemish should be defined for purposes of the Project simply as the Flemish speaking inhabitants of Flanders or whether the definition should include the French speakers also. The criteria for inclusion are whether an immigrant group is of measurable size and brings something noteworthy to Scotland.


Most of the weavers and religious émigrés that came to Scotland in the late middle ages and early modern period had Dutch sounding names and so many of them likely came from the Flemish speaking part of Flanders. These immigrants are clearly a group of interest for the research being undertaken as part of the Project and meet the criteria.


Many of the early immigrants to Scotland came up from England and were descended from people who had arrived in Britain with William the Conqueror. Some may have come north following David I’s ascent to the throne of Scotland. These were perhaps kinsmen of David’s Flemish queen consort. These would have almost certainly have been either French speakers from Flanders or people from France who would have had Flemish roots. These early immigrants are also people of interest to the Project because they gave rise to some of the most important Flemish families in Scotland. This group of immigrants also meets the criteria. From the Project perspective therefore it is important to include both French speaking and Dutch speaking people in a definition of Flemish.


In summary, as the Project unfolds further work will be undertaken to get a good fix on the changing boundaries of Flanders during the period under consideration. A broad definition of the Flemish will also be adopted comprising both Flemish and French speakers.


Alex Fleming

January 2014.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Defining Flanders and the Flemish

Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Torching of the Red Hall

In this first posting devoted to examining the Flemish influence in different parts of Scotland, Jim Herbert looks at Berwick-upon-Tweed and in particular the torching of the Red Hall that has been the subject of varying accounts in books on Scottish history. While Berwick is no longer a part of Scotland, its geographic location on the border of Scotland and England resulted in it changing hands over time. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the University of St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.

Berwick’s story possibly begins in the 9th century. The name comes from the Viking “Berevic” meaning “barley farm”. Berwick is mentioned as early as 833 when a Danish king, Oseth, attacked Bernicia.[[1]] There are other mentions of Berwick in the 870s,[[2]] then part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. A Saxon village called Bondington existed north of the area Berwick then occupied by the river Tweed. What the relationship between the two was is unknown. One theory is that “Berwick” was a fishing area used by the people of Bondington that then grew in importance while Bondington’s fortunes declined. The earliest contemporary and reliable mention of Berwick can be found in a charter created by King Edgar of Scotland in 1095[[3]] in which the town is granted to Bishop William of Durham.

In 1113, with the backing of Henry I of England, David (later David I of Scotland) became Prince of Cumbria, an area encompassing the Borders and Lothian. Within his new power base, David founded the Border abbeys of Dryburgh, Selkirk, Kelso, Melrose and Jedburgh. David made Berwick a Royal Burgh by 1119 and this indicates that the town must then have been one of great importance.

The Tweed valley provided excellent pasture for sheep farming that led to the development of the wool trade with Flanders. One of the earliest mentions of the Flemings dates from 1248 when Alexander II instructed Robert Bernham, then Mayor of Berwick, not to stop foreign merchants coming to Coldingham Priory (near Berwick) to buy wool and other goods.[[4]]

Another piece of evidence regarding Flemish settlement about this time is the village of Flemington,[[5]] situated a little to the east of Ayton. Not much is known about it. Now it is merely a farmstead but there is evidence of a tower house, and in 1583 it is recorded that certain houses in the “toun” of Flemington were burnt,[[6]] suggesting a settlement of some sort existed earlier.

Berwick was at the height of its prosperity in the late 13th century, during the reign of Alexander III. His death in 1284, the eventual crowning of John Balliol in 1292, and Balliol’s subsequent downfall led to Edward I’s invasion of Scotland which began at Berwick on 30th March 1296. Possibly the best-known story involving the Flemish merchants resident in the town at the time – that of their Red Hall – stems from this very bloody episode of Berwick’s history.

Yet much of the accepted story probably owes as much to the imagination as history. The Red Hall is first mentioned in “modern” histories of Berwick in Dr John Fuller’s History of Berwick (1799). All that is said is that the land of the Red Hall was given to the Flemish merchants in exchange for their pledge to defend the town against the English, and that when Edward I attacked the town thirty of them held the Red Hall for a day before it was burnt to the ground, killing them all.

The young John Mackay Wilson, who wrote a romanticized account in the early 1830s, would certainly have read this history. He wrote:

“This state of prosperity it owed almost solely to Alexander III, who did more for Berwick than any sovereign that has since claimed its allegiance. He brought over a colony of wealthy Flemings, for whom he erected an immense building, called the Red Hall (situated where the Woolmarket now stands), and which at once served as dwelling-houses, factories, and a fortress. The terms upon which he granted a charter to this company of merchants, were, that they should defend, even unto death, their Red Hall against every attack of an enemy, and of the English in particular.”[[7]]

This, in turn, was likely to have provided material for John Rennison’s Border Magazine (vol. 1) (1833)[[8]] and Frederick Sheldon’s History of Berwick-upon-Tweed (1849). Sheldon’s “sketches” of Berwick’s history are written in an equally romantic style, even embellishing Wilson’s version of events!

One of these is the notion that it was named after the reddish local sandstone – that is not impossible.  However, another description with a theory about the colour is:

“Probably the greatest of the “halls” in Berwick was the Red Hall of the Flemings. Certainly it is the most frequently mentioned and was a factory with its own palisading and trench. It would have had two or three inner courts smeared with red paint as was the custom of the Low Countries.”[[9]]

The original accounts however bear out Fuller’s version of events.

“And soon, the trumpets sounding, they [the English] crossed as nothing an embankment which the Scots had made with boards, and attacked the enemy, slaughtering them from here to the sea. The Scots were astonished by their onset, and there was not one of them who raised a sword or threw a spear, but they stood dumbfounded like men beside themselves.  But thirty Flemings, who had received the Red Hall on condition that they should defend it against the English King at all times, defended the house manfully until evening, but at length it was set on fire, and they were burnt with it…”[[10]]


“But Flemish merchants who had a very strong house in that town, in the manner of a tower, threw bolts and spears at the English, and by chance struck Richard de Cornubia, the Earl of Cornwalls brother, with a dart; and since it was not easy to get at them, fire was brought, and they were destroyed by the flames.”[[11]]

There is no evidence for the Red Hall being located in Woolmarket as suggested by Wilson, presumably because of the association with wool (the medieval name for this Woolmarket was Crossgate).[[12]] It is far more likely, however, to have been located in the area now occupied by Bridge Street. It is theorized that long before the medieval walls were built, the River Tweed flowed along what is now Bridge Street and that over time land was reclaimed allowing warehouses to be built serving the port. The Flemings were not, incidentally, the only overseas traders in the town. The White Hall belonging to merchants from Cologne was located in Segate, the medieval equivalent of today’s Sandgate that leads through the walls at the quayside.

Medieval Berwick

Medieval Berwick

Assuming that it is a reference to a replacement building in the same location, a clue comes from about 1314 when we are told that the wall needs to be repaired between John de Weston’s house and the Red Hall and from the Red Hall to the Segate. The Red Hall (Rodehawell) is also mentioned in a document of works as late as 1445 but whether by then there was still any Flemish involvement in it at that time is not known.

A number of renowned Flemings have been associated with Berwick over time. For instance, Mainard the Fleming was the King’s burgess of the town in the 12th century and is credited with having laid out its plan.  He was then moved to St. Andrews where he was appointed provost and had much to do with its layout also.

Later, in 1316 Flemish pirates, including John Crabbe, blockaded Berwick and the English had to move their forward supply depot back south to Newcastle.

The Fleming family prospered in Berwick. They were Freemen of Berwick and indeed the name is today displayed on the portico of Berwick Town Hall — that of Joseph Fleming who was Mayor of Berwick in the mid-19th century when the Town Hall was restored.

Berwick Town Hall

Berwick Town Hall


Jim Herbert
January 2014

Jim Herbert is a local historian who has lived in Berwick-upon-Tweed for over 30 years and works at Berwick Museum. He is especially interested in discovering and bringing to life Berwicks rich and colourful medieval past. Through his regular blog, Berwick Time Lines, he shares some of his discoveries with the interested public.

For more about Berwick-upon-Tweeds rich history, visit Jims blog at:
Facebook: Jim Herbert – Berwick Time Lines
witter:  @berwicktimeline


[1] Langtoff Chronicle.  Quoted in Berwick-upon-Tweed: The History of the Town and Guild (1888), J Scott.
[2] History of the Guild of Berwick-upon-Tweed, John Scott (1888)
[3] NCC, Berwick-upon-Tweed Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey
[4] History of the Guild of Berwick-upon-Tweed, John Scott (1888)
[7] The Red Hall; or, Berwick in 1296, Tales of The Borders, (vol. 11), John Mackay Wilson (1804-1835)
[9] The Life and Times of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Raymond Lamont-Brown (1988)
[10] The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough H.Rothwell (ed.) (Camden Third Series Vol.89, 1957)
[11] Willelmi Rishanger Chronica et Annales (1296), ed. H T Riley (1865)
[12] History of the Guild of Berwick-upon-Tweed, John Scott (1888)


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Torching of the Red Hall

Flemish Migration to Scotland in the Early Modern Period – Preliminary Research Findings

This posting, prepared by David Dobson, who is a member of the core team for the Scotland and the Flemish People Project, outlines the first results of his recent research on Flemish migration during the early modern period. A range of primary resources was used as a basis for the research. 


The initial research on migration patterns has focused on assessing the level of Flemish immigration into Scotland during the early modern period, roughly from the Reformation of 1560 until the close of the eighteenth century.  While the medieval period is known to have been the phase of maximum Flemish settlement in Scotland, a certain level of migration did occur later.  Some was a result of religious persecution in Flanders at that time and some reflected an inflow of skilled artisans who were encouraged to settle and share skills with the Scots.  For example, in 1587 an Act of Parliament in favour of John Gardin, Philip Fermant, and John Banko (all Flemings) permitted them to establish textile factories in Scotland. Later in 1594 an Act authorising them to have their own church and minister was passed.[[1]]

The research suggests that while some Flemings arrived directly from Flanders, others arrived via the Flemish communities in England, specifically from Norwich and London.  The contemporary English Patent Rolls, and to a lesser extent the Irish Patent Rolls, were used to identify those Flemings who were naturalised and denizised, which enabled them to settle and establish businesses there, some of whom may have made their way north.

As the Flemings are more likely to have arrived by sea, either directly from Flanders or indirectly from England (overland travel was notoriously difficult), various sources, particularly the Scottish port books, have been consulted to establish the shipping links.  Unfortunately the port books are far from comprehensive until 1742, after which there are highly detailed records of ships, cargoes, skippers, and merchants.  In the medieval period Bruges was the Scots staple port and it had a virtual monopoly of trade between Flanders and Scotland until 1508 when the port of Veere in Zealand became the Scots staple port and remained so, at least nominally until 1799.

Research on trade and shipping links has concentrated on the ports of Aberdeen, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, and Leith, and is still in progress.  Indications are that there was regular shipping between Flanders and Scotland that would have enabled direct emigration.

Interestingly, emigration from Scotland to Flanders in the period may have exceeded any influx of Flemings into Scotland.  The Low Countries attracted economic migrants, merchants, seafarers, scholars, religious refugees (Catholics in the sixteenth century and Presbyterians in the 17th century), and soldiers from Scotland.  Some of these married and settled there, while others returned to Scotland.  The Dutch and Flemish marriage registers, for example those of Leiden, record a number of marriages between Scots and Flemings.

To date research has concentrated along the east coast of Scotland from Aberdeen to Edinburgh.  This has been undertaken in manuscript and printed sources in archives and libraries in Aberdeen, Dundee, St Andrews, Perth, and Edinburgh.  One problem with research in this field is that Dutch and Flemish surnames are difficult to differentiate. However, Dutch immigration was relatively small scale so most such surnames are probably Flemish.

The burgh records of Edinburgh record that the council sent to Flanders for skilled masons and then later for skilled textile workers.  Similar evidence can be found in the Records of the Convention of Royal Burghs.  Such records often provide the names and skills of particular Flemish immigrants, for example Jacque de la Rudge, a camber and spinner, Jacob Peterson, a shearer, and Abigail Van Hort, a spinner, all of who were bound for Perth in 1601.

The Registers of the Privy Council of Scotland also contain mention of Flemings, such as an act dated 1600 authorizing the immigration of 100 families from abroad with textile skills.[[2]] According to the Records of the Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements in Scotland, a group of French Huguenots and Flemish émigrés with weaving skills were settled in Edinburgh in 1729.

The burgh records of Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Edinburgh, Canongate, Arbroath, and various Fife burghs have been partially checked for people bearing Flemish surnames and for links to Flanders.  Such records include the burgess rolls, court books, and register of deeds. A number of other government records have also been carefully examined. See below for list of these materials.[[3]]

Based on the research so far, it would appear that — be it textile workers or the religiously persecuted — Flemish immigration into Scotland in the early modern period was relatively small scale when compared to that of the medieval period.

David Dobson
January 2014

Dr. Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews.  His research interests are focused mainly on the Scottish Diaspora as well as Scottish history in the Early Modern Period.  His publications include ‘Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1683-1783’ [Georgia, 1994, 2004]; ‘Scottish Trade with Colonial Charleston, 1683-1783’ [Glasgow, 2009], over 115 historical and genealogical source books [Baltimore 1983-2013].

Primary Sources
[1] Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, c119.iii.507-509, and C72.IV.85
[2] Register of the Privy Council of Scotland.VI.124
[3] The government records consulted included: the Records of the High Court of the Admiralty, the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, the Accounts of the Masters of Work, the Acts of the Lords in Council in Public Affairs, Acts of the Lords of Council in Civil Causes, the Registers of the Privy Council of Scotland, the Register of Deeds of the Court of Session, the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, and the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Flemish Migration to Scotland in the Early Modern Period – Preliminary Research Findings

Crowsteps in Fife: The Flemish Connection, Part 2

This guest blog is the second of two that examine the influence of the historic links between Fife, particularly the East Neuk, and the Low Countries, including Flanders, on its distinctive style of vernacular architecture. This posting focuses in particular on the evolution of the use of pantiles in Fife. The two blog postings are based on a recent article published in the Institute of Historic Building Conservators’ journal Context, the full text of which can be found online:

Another factor that may have contributed to the prevalence of the distinctive Flemish style stepped gable in Fife was the increasing availability and use of pantiles for roofs that occurred at about the same time. Also known as Flemish tiles, this type of tile had developed in the Low Countries in the 15th and 16th centuries from the earlier Roman forms of roof tile. ‘Pan’ is Dutch for tile, although it is also suggested that the derivation may be from the Finnish ‘paan’ meaning shingle. At the beginning, in the 16th century, they were used only on high status buildings, but later, as the cost came down, assisted by better roads and larger scale local production, on ever more modest buildings, until they reached a peak in 19th century.

Thatched roofs may have already had roughly finished, slightly raised, gable walls, providing support for turf and thatch at the gables. The custom, however, was to take the thatch over the gable wall head. On changing to pantiles, which are particularly prone to being lifted by the wind, the established practice in the Low Countries of building up the gable wall to a level higher than the roof slope to provide added protection was adopted. So much so over time that Naismith in Buildings of the Scottish Countryside notes that “The stone skew is normal in Scotland…”

17th century house in Pittenweem

17th century house in Pittenweem

This vulnerability to wind lift even resulted in the Low Countries in the production of left-hand and right-hand versions to enable roofs to have the overlaps on the leeward side of the tile. Where fire or storm damage was not an issue, thatch remained the common roofing material well into 19th century. Pantiles have even on occasion been used as the sub-stratum to a thatched roof instead of turf. A raised skew would have provided similar added protection for a thatched roof as for a pantiled one. This produced a distinctive new architectural element, particularly prominent where buildings presented their gable wall to the street, ripe for embellishment. If the topography and plot dimensions resulted in a long elevation to the street a central curvilinear gablet or ‘Dutch’ tympan gable was sometimes added as well.

Mixture of red and grey pantiles

Mixture of red and grey pantiles

Pantiles were known in Scotland from 1669. Customs records and correspondence confirm that they were imported to this part of Scotland from Rotterdam in the last quarter of the 17th century. It is claimed they were imported as ballast in boats from the Low Countries, making the crossing to Fife for coal, salt and wool but there is no evidence of this. Conversely, there is evidence to suggest that pantiles were a valuable commodity, carefully stored on board.

As early as 1709 a consent was granted for digging clay for the manufacture of bricks and tiles, across the Forth from Fife, where the nearby town of Linlithgow was already importing pantiles. However, a significant event in the story of the development of this characteristic style of roof was when in 1714 William Adam, mason, entrepreneur and later of architect fame, started the first pantile works in Scotland, at Linktown of Abbotshall, Kirkcaldy, Fife. He had been forced to return home to Kirkcaldy from his studies at university in the Low Countries, to take over the family business on the death of his father. As well as his academic studies he had studied the manufacture of bricks and pantiles and no doubt been influenced by the houses he saw with shaped gables, built of brick and with pantiled roofs. He started the works in partnership with William Robertson of Gladney, his future father-in-law, and by 1716 was calling himself ‘Master of the Tyle Manufactory in the Links of Kirkcaldy’. Gladney House that he built in 1711 used imported pantiles and with its shaped gables would have had a consciously Dutch aspect.

At first pantiles were used mostly on prestige buildings. As the works became established and techniques improved, the price fell. An early building was nearby Aberdour Manse which was roofed in 1722. It was still a luxury item and most roofs remained thatch or turf. Tiles continued to be shipped from Holland and Flanders. Some of the affluent burgh towns could support their own brick and tile works. Cupar for example had a seam of suitable clay by its river even though it had to import coal. From its first brick and tile kiln in 1764, producing small quantities of tiles, it was by 1811 producing 150,000. Pantiles also need a relatively even surface to be laid on so must have sawn or evenly split timbers for at least the tile battens. At first it was only economic to lay them on prestige buildings. Even where there was a supply of suitable timber from water powered saw mills it was still expensive until the advent of steam mills.

Transport costs had also restricted the market. At first roads were poor or non-existent. It was easier to transport by sea and supply the east coast towns. To make pantiles, in addition to water, fuel was needed in relative proximity to the right alluvial clay, and this was present as coal along the south east coast of Fife. The clays produced the characteristic red pantile and also an unusual distinctive blue-grey variation.

Over time, aided by improvements in roads under the Turnpike Acts (1780-1800), the market grew steadily. The start of the 19th century saw the benefits of steam power, and the industrial and agricultural revolutions increased demand for roofing tiles and clay drainage tiles. The General View of the Agriculture of the County of Fife, drawn up by the Board of Agriculture & Improvement and published in 1800, noted that: “Brick and tyle are manufactured at Cupar, Kirkaldy, and Leven. About 750,000 are made annually; and the duty is about £300.” Incidentally, there is no recommendation in this document regarding the use clay ‘tiles’, as the pipes were known, as a method of improving the drainage of land. It was not until the mid-19th century when the extrusion method of machine-making clay pipes (using Thomas Scragg’s patented method) that they became cheap enough to be widely used. Similar technical improvements helped the manufacture of pantiles move away from the past laborious hand method of production. The east of Scotland, and particularly Fife, led the agricultural revolution. Their use in land drainage and for new buildings, as part of the farming improvements which replaced the former ‘runrig’ system, helped fuel a rapid growth in tile and brick production and availability. Climate also helped to concentrate the use of pantiles and create a recognisable regional style. On the western side of the country heavier rainfall and access to slates saw less used than on the drier east coast. Further helped by the removal of the Brick and Tile Tax of 1784, use peaked in the first decades of the 19th century.

Just as with the extensive re-introduction of the stepped gable in post WWI rebuilding in Belgium, pantiles have been re-introduced in Fife as elsewhere, sometimes not without, at least initially, controversy. Early projects were Sailors Walk, Kirkcaldy in the 1950s, Rossend Castle, Burntisland in 1975 and from the 1960s on the many other buildings re-roofed in Fife as part of the National Trust for Scotland Little Houses Scheme.

Matthew Price
December 2013

The author is a Chartered Surveyor and former post-graduate in European Urban Conservation at Dundee. He has wide experience of the conservation of traditional buildings over a career that includes periods with the Scottish Lime Centre, Scottish Civic Trust and City of Edinburgh. A passion for vernacular buildings and the rich built heritage of this part of Scotland has seen a number of related articles published. He is currently Conservation Officer for Fife Council.


J. Bell, Broomlees Tile Works (2005) Elie and Earlsferry History Society

G. L. Pride, Dictionary of Scottish Building (The Rutland Press, 1996)

The Journal of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (1989)

D. Howard (ed.), William Adam: Architectural Heritage (Edinburgh University Press)

G. Emerton, The Pattern of Scottish Roofing (2000)

Historic Scotland Research Report, ISBN 1903570

Historic Scotland, Rural Buildings of the Lothians: Guide for Practitioners

Stuart Eydmann, ‘Pantiles’, in Moses Jenkins (ed.), Building Scotland:
Celebrating Scotland’s Traditional Building Materials
2010: John Donald), pp. 143-155.

F. Bennett F and A. Pinion, Roof Slating and Tiling (Donhead Publishing. 1935, rpt. 2000)

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Crowsteps in Fife: The Flemish Connection, Part 2

Crowsteps in Fife: The Flemish Connection, Part 1

The Kingdom of Fife is known to be a part of Scotland where the Flemish settled and where their footprint can be discerned, even today.  This guest blog is the first of two authored by Matthew Price that examine the influence of the historic links between Fife, particularly the East Neuk, and the Low Countries, including Flanders, on its distinctive style of vernacular architecture. The following is based on a recent article published in the Institute of Historic Building Conservators’ journal Context, the full text of which can be found on-line at:


A characteristic feature of many of Fife’s vernacular buildings is the corbie or ‘crow-stepped’ gable that is often seen combined with a clay pantile roof, particularly in the picturesque East Neuk fishing villages. Although seen elsewhere along the eastern coast and inland, these distinctive roofs contribute much to their special character and sense of place. It is likely few of the many visitors who now enjoy these buildings will have paused to wonder why they are so common in this part of Scotland.

17th century house in Pittenweem harbour

17th century house in Pittenweem harbour

Fife’s historic burgh ports have had a long tradition of contact and trade with the Low Countries. As is so often the case, this was accompanied by an exchange of ideas, skills and even building materials. Bruges in Flanders (now northern Belgium) was the first Scottish Staple port in the 15th century that gave it trading rights, importing Scottish skins and wool which had been traded between the countries since the 12th century. The Staple Contract granted the port a monopoly on importing, storing and trading Scottish goods in the Netherlands. Later in the 16th century coal and salt replaced wool. When Bruges harbour silted up, the Staple moved to Middleburg, Zeeland (1518) and then to nearby Veere (1541), aka Campvere, which became the main Staple port. By the end of 18th century it had declined and by 1799 Rotterdam had taken over. In 1680 there were already more than a thousand Scots in Rotterdam. Two of the houses remaining from that time, occupied by Scottish traders, are the so called ‘Scottish Houses’ (Het Lammeken, built in 1539, and De Stuys, built in 1561) both of which, although much altered, have stepped gables (‘trapgevel’).

Typical 'crow-stepped' gable

Typical ‘crow-stepped’ gable

A close relationship with the Netherlands also existed further south, in East Anglia, where ‘Dutch’ gables are commonly seen in combination with pantile roofs. One gable style was the simpler regular, though often exaggerated, stepped gable. In the Netherlands these trapgevel became extremely common. There are many surviving examples also to be seen in Belgium and the Dutch colonial settlements. The historic perspective can be distorted though by more modern re-building in this style, such as occurred in Belgium. There large-scale post WWI reconstruction in the Flemish style had a major impact, ‘correcting the architecture’ and sometimes introducing crow-stepped gables where they did not previously exist. Early examples of stepped gables survive from the 15th century in England, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden and from the 16th century in Scotland.

Unlike East Anglia and the Netherlands, Fife did not have a tradition of building in brick but had an abundance of building stone. Stone, being less easy to fashion into intricate gable shapes than brick and render, no doubt favoured the simpler stepped style of gable. The old, narrow form of stepped gable, which developed in Scotland, however, had its own distinctive character, different from that seen on the continent. Also known as ‘crawstep’ or ‘crowstep’ gables, the breadth is no more than between 150mm and 200mm. Steps are on average 250mm high and the depth will vary, according to the roof pitch, between 150mm and 180mm. A variation can be found in Orkney that has examples of gables with diminishing sized steps. The later Gothic and Baronial styles of stepped gable, in the last quarter of the 19th century, belong more to the continent than to Scotland.

The second of this two part blog—posted next week—will focus on the use of pantiles, also known as Flemish tiles, in Fife.


Matthew Price

December 2013

The author is a Chartered Surveyor and former post-graduate in European Urban Conservation at Dundee. He has wide experience of the conservation of traditional buildings over a career that includes periods with the Scottish Lime Centre, Scottish Civic Trust and City of Edinburgh. A passion for vernacular buildings and the rich built heritage of this part of Scotland has seen a number of related articles published. He is currently Conservation Officer for Fife Council.


Uyttenhove P Conservation and reconstruction in Belgium – the continental experience Context Magazine Issue 55 IHBC Sept 1997

Pride G L (1996) Dictionary of Scottish Building The Rutland Press, ISBN 1 873190 45

Naismith R J (1987) Buildings of the Scottish Countryside Victor Gollanez Ltd

The Journal of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (1989) William Adam: Architectural Heritage, Ed. Howard D, Edinburgh University Press ISBN 0 7486 0232 1

Historic Scotland Rural Buildings of the Lothian’s Guide for Practitioners 1 ISBN 1 900 168 89 8

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Crowsteps in Fife: The Flemish Connection, Part 1

My “Flemish” Ancestry, Part Two


This guest blog posting is the second of two that trace F. Lawrence Fleming’s personal search for his “Flemish” ancestry. In this posting he explains why he believes that the name “Fleming” would not normally have been adopted by newly arriving immigrants to Scotland from Flanders. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.


If you type “Fleming+surname” into your search engine, this is more or less what you obtain as a result: “Fleming is the surname that was adopted by various immigrants to the Britain from Flanders during the twelfth century”. You’ll find that there is little variation from one website to another. The Flemings—that is, those whom I call members of the Fleming family—are generally described simply as Flemings; that is, people from Flanders. Supposedly, Fleming was nothing more than a convenient surname for descendants of Flemings, like Smith was a convenient surname for descendants of blacksmiths.

Medieval records show, however, that Fleming (that is, le Flemeng, le Flamang, le Flemanc, and all the other spelling permutations in Norman French) was the surname adopted by the grandsons of Archembald the Fleming, almost certainly as a perpetual tribute to their grandfather who had been a companion of the Conqueror. We know exactly who these grandsons were, specifically:

  • Erkenbald (Archembald) le Fleming who can be traced to Devonshire, Cornwall, and Ireland (where he went with Henry II);
  • Robert, who also went to Ireland with Henry II;
  • Baldwin, who went to Scotland in 1147 or 1148;
  • William le Fleming, son of John, in Wales, and;
  • William, Michael, and Reiner le Fleming who were found in Cumbria and Hampshire.

It has been said, however, that this historic Fleming family was only one of several immigrant families from Flanders in the 12th century that had taken the name “Fleming”. So, what of these other families, who, although unrelated to the well-known Fleming family, had nonetheless assumed the Fleming surname? Have these other Flemings ever really existed? As far as I have been able to discover, there is no historical record of them.

Genealogical websites are not generally known for conducting any groundbreaking research. The information you can get from such sites has usually been uncritically extracted from the genealogical literature of the nineteenth century. In the case of these Flemish immigrants purportedly taking the name Fleming, the information undoubtedly comes from a book entitled Caledonia, Or an Account, Historical and Topographic, of North Britain, from the Most Ancient to the Present Times, by George Chalmers. On page 600 of the first volume, published in 1807, one can read: “The Scots Flemings descended from natives of Flanders, the most enterprising merchants of their time, who in the 12th century emigrated first to England, whence being banished they removed to Scotland. Several of this name are witnesses to charters of Malcolm the Fourth, William the Lion, and the three Alexanders. Baldwin, a distinguished Flemish leader, settled with his followers at Biggar in Lanarkshire under a grant of David the First.” Here again we have mention of Baldwin, who in reality had never set foot in Flanders, although he undoubtedly was a Fleming; that is, a member of the Fleming family of Devonshire and Cornwall.

The account Chalmers gives is correct insofar as many immigrants from the Low Countries did come to England in the early twelfth century. The tradition is that this wave of emigration was prompted by a combination of natural catastrophes and overpopulation. Reportedly, a series of violent storms hit the coasts of northern Europe in 1108 and again in 1112, and Flanders was devastated.[[1]]

The more or less forced settlement of Pembrokeshire in Wales by Flemish immigrants during the reign of Henry I is well documented. And it is also true that Henry II banished many of the Flemings who had supported Stephen of Blois during the Anarchy. Without a doubt, some of these exiles ended up in Scotland. The question is: did any of these exiles or their descendants ever adopt Fleming as a surname? The answer would have to be: no, they did not. That surname was already taken, and by a wealthy and politically influential family, the Flemings. Chalmers wrote that several of this name were witnesses to charters of Malcolm IV, William the Lion, and Alexander I, II, and III, and this is true, but what he didn’t realize is that all these witnesses were members of the same family, the Flemings.

But what of the Flemish weavers and the religiously persecuted Flemish that came to Scotland in the late 16th Century and early 17th Century?  Is it not possible that some of these would have taken on the name Fleming?  I believe that the name Fleming would still have been one of considerable renown at that point in history.  So while it is just possible that an immigrant might adopt the name Fleming at that point in history I think it would have been most unlikely.  I have found no evidence to support the adoption scenario during this phase of history.

Despite my insistence that the Flemings of the Britain were essentially a single extended family during the Middle Ages, I concede that in later times there have been wholly unrelated families that have taken the Fleming surname, notably in the United States.  According to the United States census from the year 2000, 85,112 individuals in the United States had the name Fleming; of these, 18,918 were Afro-Americans.  This was the result, no doubt, of slaves adopting the surname of their master.  This is obviously a special case.

The point I want to make is this: I do not believe that Fleming is a name that was taken by Flemings coming to the Britain from Flanders—save one, of course, but he was not from Flanders. In the court of Duke William of Normandy, Archembald was called “the Fleming” because his father had come from Flanders.


F. Lawrence Fleming

November 2013

F. Lawrence Fleming is a genealogist, family historian and author



[1] Samuel Lewis. A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, Vol 11. (1833)

F. Lawrence Fleming. A Genealogical History of the Barons Slane.  Paragon Publishing. (2008)

F. Lawrence Fleming. A Genealogy of the Ancient Flemings.  Paragon Publishing. (2010)

F. Lawrence Fleming. The Ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and other essays relating to the family history of the Flemings. Paragon Publishing (2011)

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on My “Flemish” Ancestry, Part Two

My “Flemish” Ancestry, Part One

This guest blog posting is the first of two that trace F. Lawrence Fleming’s personal search for his “Flemish” ancestry. His many years of genealogical research have led to the publication of three books. These are referenced at the end of the blog post. His focus is on the Fleming family itself and, taking this week and last week’s post together, he addresses one of the key issues identified in the posting of 8 November 2013 (“Flemish Rooted Names in Scotland: the Key Issues”). The issue is one of whether the name Fleming was so renowned in medieval times that new Flemish immigrants to Scotland would not typically adopt it. F. Lawrence Fleming believes that the name would not normally have been adopted. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.

It has been seven or eight years since I learned from my Aunt Enloa in Nebraska that the progenitor of my particular line of American Flemings was an Irishman who arrived in America as a British infantryman in 1774, but switched sides in 1776 and fought against the British for five years. Upon learning this, I made a resolution. I would trace this Irish family of mine back to ancient Flanders, even if it took me the rest of my life.

It didn’t take that long, fortunately. In fact, it was not difficult at all once I decided to work from the other end; that is, to go to the oldest historical documents first, look for mention of people who might have been members of my ancestral family by virtue of bearing the Fleming surname, and then work my way forward in time from father to son, in order to see if they had belonged to a single family.

The original Fleming family of the British Isles is evident in charters and exchequer records from as early as 1086. I am far from the first to have noticed this. The British historian J. Horace Round noticed it in the 1890s. In 1866, Sir Bernard Burke, in his book titled A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire, wrote about the Flemings of Slane in Ireland. To quote him: “Archembald, a nobleman of Flanders, accompanied William the Conqueror to England, and acquired the manor and lordship of Bratton, in Devonshire, with other manors in that county and Cornwall, which he held in 1087. His son, Stephen Fitz-Archembald, Lord of Bratton, paid a fine of ten silver marcs to the King for trespass in 1139 and in 1145, he witnessed the charter of Henry de Tracy to the abbey of Barnstaple by the name of Stephen of Flanders. In 1165, his son, Archmbald of Flanders, returned as possessor of the family estates that he held de veteri feoffamento (by virtue of ancient grant). He attended Henry II in his invasion of Ireland.”

Concerning the lineage of the Earls of Wigtown in Scotland, Sir Bernard wrote in the same book that the Earls of Wigtown and the Lords Fleming of Scotland had common origin with the Flemings of Slane. To quote him again: “Sir Malcolm Fleming was sheriff of Dumbarton in the reign of King Alexander III. He was great grandson of a distinguished Flemish leader, Baldwin Flandrensis, who had a grant of the lands of Biggar from King David I, and was sheriff of Lanark in the reigns of Malcolm IV and William the Lion. Baldwin was a younger son of Stephen Flandrensis, or Stephen of Flanders.”

I surmised that all the people I had found recorded by the Fleming surname in charters and rolls of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries could indeed have been from the same family. I was very satisfied with this hypothesis. In order to trace my own family back to the ancient county of Flanders, all I had to do was to determine from where Archembald, the nobleman of Flanders, had come – surely an easy enough task.

But, as it turns out, Archembald the Fleming had not come from Flanders, but from Rouen in Normandy. However, a certain entry in the single surviving exchequer roll from the reign of Henry I indicates that King Henry and his court considered Archembald and his descendants to be closely related to the castellans of Saint-Omer. Saint-Omer was once part of the county of Flanders and so I thought that I now knew as much of my paternal ancestry as I would ever know, and I was content. My ancestral road back to Adam and Eve comes to an end when it comes to the father of Archembald, who, by the way, was also named Archembald. No one knows who the father of the father of Archembald was. But what does that matter? The tenth century is more than far enough back in time. I’ve heard that most of us are descended from Charlemagne in one way or another. Why, then, go to the trouble of proving it? Besides, I had come to ancient Flanders, which was the goal of my original resolution.

F. Lawrence Fleming
November 2013

F. Lawrence Fleming’s account of his genealogical search is continued in a second posting next week.He is a genealogist, family historian and author.


F. Lawrence Fleming, A Genealogical History of the Barons of Slane, (Paragon Publishing, 2008).

F. Lawrence Fleming, A Genealogy of the Ancient Flemings, (Paragon Publish, 2010).

F. Lawrence Fleming, The Ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and other essays relating to the family history of the Flemings, (Paragon Publishing, 2011).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on My “Flemish” Ancestry, Part One