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.