St Serf's Tower and Church

The ruins of the church and the remarkably well preserved tower overlook Pan Ha' with its renovated 16th and 17th century houses. The name Pan Ha' is shortened form of Pan Haugh, a level piece of ground where salt pans were situated. Production of salt by evaporating sea water over coal fires was once a major industry in Dysart, so much so, that Dysart was once known as the "Saut Burgh".

The remains of the church are thought to date from the early 16th century, but the first church in Dysart was dedicated to St. Servanus or Serf, the 8th century holy man who took up residence in a nearby cave, a place of religious retreat called in Latin a "deserta". The name Dysart came from this, corrupted and mis-spelt over the years. A church on this site was re-dedicated by Bishop David De Bernham on the 26th March 1245.

The church was approximately 142ft long by 50ft wide, comprising a central nave with north and south aisles. In 1800 the church was felt to be beyond repair and inadequate for the size of the congregation and a new Parish Church was built at Townhead, opening for worship in 1802. The north aisle of the old church was demolished along with most of the remaining structure in 1805, in order to make a road through to the harbour from the nearby Engine Pit. The coal from this pit was exported to Scandinavia and the Low Countries.

The Tower appears to have been added at a later date, probably in the 1540s when the English were raiding the east coast of Scotland. A change in the masonry is visible on the west face of the Tower where it joins the gable with the large window. As a place of refuge and defence in those troubled times, it was ideally placed to defend the only clear landing beach on this stretch of coast. The lower windows on the south elevation are in the shape of gun loops, similar to those at Ravenscraig Castle, not what is usually associated with a church tower.

The Tower is 84ft high with eight floors. The ground floor was used as a Session House and it is recorded as having been used by Dysart Town Council for their meetings. Large windows in the top floor room and supporting corbels for the bell carriage indicate that this was where the bell to summon worshippers was hung. Many mason's marks, the individual mark made by stone masons on their work, can be seen all over the Tower and the remaining pillars of the church. There are few surviving examples of ornate stone carvings from pre-Reformation times although contemporary records show that the people of Dysart were not over zealous in destroying any remnants of the Roman Church. The south entry to the church, now a burial vault, has a delicate carving above the entrance of a pot of lilies, a symbol of the Virgin Mary and there is a niche for a religious statue on the interior wall of the vault

The cemetery contains many fine examples of table tomb stones with symbols of the trades and occupations of the people interred there.

If you manage to climb the 103 steps of the newel, or turnpike stair of the Tower, you emerge on to the parapet with its cap house. This contains a large fireplace and would have been used by the guards who kept a lookout for the marauding English. The views from the top on a clear day are spectacular and well worth the climb.