Playfield MAI F NO297024 1 70m
the Play-fields 1790s OSA, 647
Playfield 1856 OS 6 inch 1st edn
‘An open space for public festivities, performances etc’ (CSD). The low-lying land on the north side of Markinch Hill was known by this name at least as early as 1790s, when OSA suggested that one explanation of the remarkable terraces on Markinch Hill, overlooking Playfield, was that they were ‘made to accommodate spectators, assembled to behold certain public games, performed in the plain below; which plain is called the Play-fields to this day’ (OSA, 647). In 1829 Lieut-Col. Miller read a paper to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in which he speculated on the archaeology and possible historic function of this site, and he there suggested that ‘as the ground ... forms an amphitheatre, some have supposed it to be a playfield, and that the terraces were intended for spectators’ (Miller 1857, 32).
In the latter source, Miller implies that the name Playfield was invented by antiquarians in the context of trying to make sense of these terraces. In the former, the minister presents the name as a genuine local and traditional one, itself evidence for an explanation of the terraces. The OS Name Book cites these explanations without reference to the terraces: ‘believed by the authorities and quoted to have been used in the Feudal times as a place of tournaments and other sports. It is still well known by the name of Playfields’ (92, 21).
While the matter of the name remains contentious, it has to be said that there is nothing inherently impossible in the use of this area as a ‘performance space’ or place of games. The biggest obstacle to accepting this has to do with drainage. There is no doubt that the area is naturally ill-drained, which is why a drain was installed in the eighteenth century: Markinch Plan /1765 shows the ‘Old Tract of the Burn’ meandering its way through this area, with ‘Drain’ running beside it in a straight line, and to a large extent replacing the drainage function of the old burn. This plan also shows the present course of the burn further to the north, with the description ‘Burn New cut about 1780’. To the north of the ‘new-cut’ burn the plan shows Newton Boggs (beside which is Butter Well). However, while tracts of ground to the west of the road are described as ‘Marshy’ and ‘Boggy’, no such description is applied to the area later known as Playfield. Playfield was in fact dry enough for a golf course to be laid out there in the early twentieth century, but the drainage system was destroyed by heavy military machinery during World War II, and the area is currently very wet and used for grazing. In short, the evidence suggests that Playfield was far from the morass or bog which some commentators have presented it as. Another consideration is that the building of the massive railway embankment along the east side of the Playfield in the middle of the nineteenth century will have increased drainage problems.
Apart from impeding the flow of water, the railway embankment has perhaps also impeded our understanding and interpretation of this important landscape. At the east end of the Playfield, and now hidden from it by the embankment, lies the long, low hill by the Markinch or Back Burn, the site of the nineteenth-century cemetery of Markinch. This hill may well have been the original Dalginch, the site of the chief legal assembly in Fife and Fothrif until the twelfth century (see MAI Introduction, Early Importance: Secular, and Dalginch KWY). Such assemblies would have been the focus for public festivities and games (see discussion under Inchinnie # MAI and Markinch, above). Given the proximity of Playfield to the presumed original site of Dalginch, it may indeed have been used for such events. If this possibility is accepted, it in turn has a bearing on our interpretation of the terraces, with which this discussion started. Until further investigation has been carried out on the ground, we should certainly not rule out the theory that these terraces were for spectators at events held on the area which later became known as Playfield.
This place-name appeared in printed volume 2