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Kirkcaldy

(The Lang Toun)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Kirkcaldy (anc. Kyrc-aldyn), a seaport, a royal and parliamentary burgh, the seat of a presbytery, a market and manufacturing town, stands on the SE coast of Fifeshire, 10 miles N of Edinburgh in a direct line, but 15 by rail, 18 SSW of Cupar, 6 NE of Burntisland, and 33 SSW of Dundee. The North British railway main line from Edinburgh to Dundee, etc., by Burntisland approaches Kirkcaldy on the N side of the town, whose station is about ten minutes' walk from the centre of the High Street. A branch line of railway has been made to the harbour, and is useful for the coal export trade and the shipping in general. As a royal burgh, extended under an Act of 1876, it embraces, besides Kirkcaldy, Linktown in the parish of Abbotshall, Invertiel in that of Kinghorn, Pathhead, Sinclairtown, and Gallatown in that of Dysart; while as a town it is extended by the three last mentioned, and thus well deserves its name of ` the lang toon o' Kirkcaldy., The town consists of one main street, 'which stretches like a skeleton backbone that has been twisted with spinal curvature, while a few abrupt side streets and closes lead down to the shore or away back to the suburban villas which adorn the upper and country part of the town. ' This long street, called the High Street, and at its full extent almost 4 miles in length, is the oldest part of the town, and is built mainly on the flat ground along the shore. Before 1811 the appearance of Kirkcaldy was far from prepossessing, and strangers were wont to declare it dirty, dingy, and uninviting. In that year, however, as well as in 1860-62, considerable improvements were effected by widening and paving its streets.

Kirkcaldy has a town-hall, built in 1832, in the Roman style of architecture, at a cost of £5000; a corn exchange, built in 1859-60 at a cost of £2600; and public rooms for assemblies and amusements. A new town-hall is being built in 1883 at Pathhead by subscription, and is nearly finished. The town has two good libraries, the chief of which, the subscription library, has nearly 9000 volumes, and is furnished with a reading-room. Other institutions are a chamber of commerce, a public reading-room, an agricultural society, a horticultural society, a scientific association, cricket, football, curling, billiard, skating, lawn tennis, and bowling clubs, 4 masonic lodges, 3 good templar lodges, a total abstinence society, an institute for the relief of destitute sailors, their widows, and children, a local association of the Educational Institute of Scotland, a Sabbath school union, a branch of the Scottish Coast Mission, etc., etc.

There are in Kirkcaldy 25 places of worship, divided among 12 denominations; and all of them are comparatively modern. The parish church, built in 1807, is a large handsome building in the Gothic style. Its erection cost £3000, and it contains 1635 sittings. The tower of the church is extremely old, though the rest of the building is not. Some have referred it to as early a date as 1130, and indeed it forms the chief, and nearly the only, relic of antiquity in Kirkcaldy. St James's parish church was erected in 1842, cost £2000, and has 750 sittings. Abbotshall, Invertiel, Linktown, Pathhead, and Sinclairtown have either parish or quoad sacra parish churches. The chief Free church of Kirkcaldy is called St Brycedale. Its memorial-stone was laid on 15 June 1878, and it was opened for worship in August 1881. Exclusive of the site, given by Provost Swan, it cost £16,000; has accommodation for 1036 persons; and has attached to it a Sabbath school seated for 300, and a young men's hall for 150, persons. St Brycedale is in the Early English style, and has a fine spire 210 feet high, a stained-glass window to the memory of Douglas the missionary, a rose window, and a peal of 11 bells. Free churches, besides St Brycedale, are those of Abbotshall, Dunnikier, Gallatown, Invertiel, and Pathhead. Kirkcaldy U.P. church was built in 1822, and contains 1120 sittings. Sinclairtown U.P. church is a fine modern place of worship, built in the Gothic style at a cost of £5000, seated for 800 people, and remarkable on account of its commanding site and lofty spire, which is fully 115 feet high. Its memorial stone was laid on 12 Sept. 1881. The Union U.P. church is seated for 560 persons. The Baptist chapel was erected in 1822, and has 250 sittings. St Peter's Episcopal church is seated for 240 people, and was built in 1848. St Mary's Roman Catholic chapel, with 250 sittings, dates from 1869. The Independents, Original Seceders, members of the Evangelical Union, Baptists, Voluntaries, and ` Christians ' have each their special place of worship. From a religious census lately taken, it would appear that with 25 churches, which together have 15,670 sittings, the average attendance is about 7000, or 25 per cent. of the population.

Kirkcaldy Burgh School, as an institution, dates as far back as l582, though the present school buildings are not414der than l843, when they were erected at a cost of £1600. Once under the direction of the town council, from whom it received an annual grant of £100, it passed in 1872 to the burgh school board, and is now divided into a lower and upper school. The former, taught by 3 masters, a mistress, and 6 pupil teachers, has an average attendance of 246; while the latter, conducted by the rector and 2 masters, has an average attendance of 60. The grant earned by the Burgh School in 1882 was £194, 12s. Of the two schools erected by the school board of the parliamentary burgh of Kirkcaldy at a cost of £10, 000, and with estimated accommodation for 11, 000 pupils, the East School has an attendance of 633 children, and earned £537, 7s. of grant; while the West School, with 763 children, earned £600, 14s. 6d. of grant. The half-time school, with 214 children, earned £95, 5s. 9d. of grant. By the will of the late Robert Philip of Eadenhead, £70, 000 was left to erect schools in which poor children of either sex might be educated. Three of these schools, able to hold 600 children, have been built. John Thomson, another native of Kirkcaldy, left a sum of money to be spent on the education of poor children. In addition to the above, there are in the town several good private schools. The burgh school board consists of a chairman and 8 members.

Besides the old church-tower, Kirkcaldy has almost no antiquities. At different times, however, especially when the improvement scheme was being carried out, sculptured arms, inscriptions, stone coffins, and human remains were dug up.

Kirkcaldy has a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, 3 hotels, branches of the Bank of Scotland, British Linen, Commercial, National, Union, and National Security Savings' Banks, numerous agencies for fire, life, accident, and insurance companies, an annual art exhibition, and 3 Liberal newspapers-the Saturday Fife Free Press (1871), the Saturday Fifeshire Advertiser (1838), and the Wednesday Kirkcaldy Times (1878). Denmark and the United States of America have each a consul at Kirkcaldy.

The chief industry of Kirkcaldy is the manufacture of linen cloth. The town is said to have had weavers working in it as early as 1672; but it is not until 1792, when flax-spinning by machinery was introduced, that Kirkcaldy made itself felt in this branch of manufacture. In 1733, 177, 740 yards of linen were stamped here, a. quantity doubled in the course of three years. In 1743, 316, 550 yards, valued at £11, 000, were woven in Kirkcaldy and the surrounding district, while the quantity woven in 1755 was worth £22,000. Forty years later the Kirkcaldy merchants had 810 looms at work for them, a number which grew in time to 2000 looms, which wove in 1783 linen cloth worth £110, 000. In 1807, when steam-power was introduced, about 1, 641, 430 yards were woven; and eleven years after 2, 022, 493 yards were stamped at Kirkcaldy. Since 1860 great advance has been made. In 1867 there were in the town 18 factories, with 1612 looms and 28,670 spindles, and employing 3887 hands; and in 1883, 14 powerloom factories (exclusive of one or two finishing works), with 2300 looms, and employing 2500 'hands.' The linen woven is worth annually nearly £410,000. That exported to the United States from Kirkcaldy and district in 1882 was valued at £75, 968. The articles chiefly made are sheetings, towellings, ticks, dowlas, while damasks are made to a slight extent. At the present time (1883) the flax-spinning industry of Kirkcaldy is far from being in a brisk condition. Several of the works are shut down, and hence the annual produce is much diminished. Five factories, with 15, 500 spindles and employing 1150 men, turn out annually 2, 250,000 spindles of yarn, worth £200,000. Netmaking is carried on in one factory, which has 70 net machines, attended to by 90 ` hands.' Yarn-bleaching has 6 bleachfields devoted to it, of which 3 in the town employ 160 men, and 3 at some distance from it employ about 190 men. One of the last has 120 men upon it.

The kindred industries, however, of which Kirkcaldy is especially the home, are the manufacture of floorcloth and linoleum, of which the former was first made in 1847 and the latter in 1876. In 1847 the late Mr Michael Nairn built a factory at Pathhead, known at the outset as 'Nairn's Folly' for making floor-cloth 'according to the most approved methods then practised.' The original factory has been so much extended and added to that it is now the largest work of the kind in the world, while the firm of Nairn & Co. still keep the lead in bringing this manufacture to perfection. In 1883 floor-cloth and linoleum are made in seven factories, which employ fully 1300 hands. The value of the floor-cloth and linoleum annually produced amounts to not less than £400, 000. They are largely exported to Australia and the United States, to the last of which was sent in 1882 a quantity worth £27,152.

The iron-works of Kirkcaldy employ nearly 1100 men. Three engineering firms have in their works fully 250 men each, employed in making the machinery for marine engines, boilers, sugar and rice mills for the East and West Indian trade. The pottery works of Kirkcaldy require the labour of some 500 men, who make earthenware of different qualities, from coarse brown up to fine white. A market is found for the articles made chiefly in Scotland and Ireland, but they are also exported to the Continent and the Colonies. Dyeing is carried on at Kirkcaldy on a considerable scale, being a necessary adjunct of the linen trade. At one time it was usual for even the small weavers to dye their own goods, but latterly the trade has been gathered into the hands of a few who are dyers solely. Kirkcaldy has also breweries, brass foundries, corn and meal mills, which, along with the many fine shops in the town, are dependent for their prosperity partly on it and partly on the well-peopled surrounding country, whose population is considerable owing to the numerous collieries in the immediate vicinity. A corn market is held in the town every Saturday, and fairs on the third Friday of April and October. Kirkcaldy was made a royal burgh by Charles I. in 1644, and is presided over by a provost and 27 councillors. Burgh courts for civil and criminal cases and justice of the peace courts are held at stated periods, and sheriff courts on the first Monday of February, April, June, August, October, and December. The corporation revenue amounted to £1107 in 1882. Kirkcaldy unites with Burntisland, Dysart, and Kinghorn-the Kirkcaldy burghs-in returning a member to parliament, (always a Liberal since 1837). The municipal and the parliamentary constituency numbered 4097 and 1976 in 1883, when the value of real property within the municipal and the parliamentary burgh amounted to £90, 200 and £52, 585, against £80, 397 and £49, 572 in 1880. Pop. of the parliamentary burgh (1841) 5704, (1851) 10, 475, (1861) 10, 841, (1871) 12, 422, (1881) 13,320; of royal and police burgh* (1881) 23, 288; of entire town (1871) 18, 874, (1881) 23,315, of whom 12, 587 were females. Houses (2881) 5146 inhabited, 275 vacant, 35 building.

* The royal burgh was extended in 1876.

If we accept the legendary origin of Kirkcaldy, we must allow that the town was founded as early as the 6th century, when it is said to have been one of the 300 churches planted by St Columba. As was his wont, the first endeavour of the northern apostle would be to have a chapel erected. Beside it, a religious house would naturally spring, and then laymen would cluster around them, both for the protection and the spiritual advantages they were able to afford. This may have been the beginning of Kirkcaldy, but it is only conjecture, and it is not until 1334 that we get on the solid ground of history. In that year it was mortified by David II. to the monastery of Dunfermline, and became a burgh of regality, holding of the abbot and monastery. In 1450 it became a royal burgh, and the monastery conveyed to the bailies and town council the burgh, burgh acres, petty customs, harbour, municipal rights, etc. Nothing is known for certain of the state of the town at this time, but, as it was probably the port of the monks, it would reap advantage from the foreign trade of the period, in which churchmen often largely shared. Before the Union all the burghs on the Fife coast maintained a brisk export trade with England and the Continent in such articles as coals, salt, salted fish; and Kirkcaldy's considerable share in this is shown by its possessing in 1644 a fleet of 100 ships. In 1644 its original charter was ratified by Charles I. as a return for services it had rendered, and the town was erected anew into a free royal burgh and free port. In the years that followed 1644, its prosperity received severe checks. Not fewer than 94 vessels, of the aggregate value of £53, 791, were lost in the course of a few years, either destroyed at sea or captured by the enemy. This loss was aggravated by another sustained at Dundee, when £5000 worth of goods, stored there for safety, fell into the hands of General Monk, and by a third which arose from some of its wealthier citizens finding it impossible to recover certain sums of money lent to the Committee of Estates. Kirkcaldy suffered in the loss of its men as well as of its money, 480 of its citizens having been slain in battle, of whom 200 are said to have been killed at Kilsyth alone.

These losses went far to cripple the town. The suspension of the trade with Holland after the Restoration seemed all that was wanted to finish the commercial ruin of Kirkcaldy. As a consequence, we are not surprised to find it praying the Convention of Burghs, in 1682, to consider its poverty, and ease it of its public burdens. During the civil wars, however, the burgh had acted in a way that had displeased the court, and therefore, not only was its petition disregarded, but its annual assessment was increased by the addition of 2000 marks. In 1687 a new application met with a better fate. In the following year a committee of investigation was appointed, and reported that, owing to the death of many substantial merchants and shippers, the decay of trade and the loss of ships, the royal customs were diminished by half, and ` that all the taxations imposed on the town could do no more than pay the eight months' cess payable to the king.' Before the result of this inquiry was declared, the Revolution intervened and changed the whole aspect of affairs. The men of Kirkcaldy had always been on the side of civil and religious liberty, and they now reaped the fruit of their steady adherence to the constitutional rights of the subject. The Earl of Perth, who was acting as governor, had espoused the Stewart cause too warmly to feel safe in Scotland after the success of the Revolution. He attempted, therefore, to escape, and got as far as almost to the mouth of the Firth of Forth, but he was pursued and captured by a Kirkcaldy vessel, brought back to the town, and kept a prisoner until handed over to the Earl of Mar. For this and other services, £1000 Scots were taken off the yearly assessment. The Revolution brought a revival of trade, which was checked at the Union by the taxes, customs, and restrictions imposed upon commerce by the English. From this and other reasons, the shipping of Kirkcaldy fell so low that in 1760 it employed only one coaster of 50 tons and two ferry-boats of 30 tons each.

On the return of peace in 1768, the shipping trade revived, so that in 1772 there belonged to the port 11 vessels, carrying 515 tons, and manned by 49 sailors. Twenty years later, its shipping consisted of 26 square-rigged vessels, 2 sloops, and 2 ferry boats, carrying 3700 tons, and manned by 225 sailors. Its chief intercourse was with Holland and the Baltic ports, but it traded also with the West Indies, America, and the Mediterranean. Since 1792 the number of its ships has varied at times in a notable, if rather inexplicable, manner, as the following table shows:—

Date. No. of Vessels. Tonnage.
1831, . . . 95 10,610
1861, . . . 76* 7,458
1868, . . . 35 3,689
1871, . . . 29 3,496
1875, . . . 27 3,309
1880, . . . 21 2,290
1883, . . . 18 1,565

* 74 Sailing vessels and 2 steamers.

Kirkcaldy has a fishing fleet of 18 boats, with 27 fisher men and boys. As a port, it extends from Fife Ness on the E to Downey Point on the W, and comprises the creeks of Crail, Cellardyke, Anstruther, Pittenweem, Elie, Largo, Leven, Methil, Buckhaven, Wemyss, Dysart, Kinghorn, Burntisland, Aberdour. Kirkcaldy harbour, situated near the E end of the royal burgh, was tidal until some years after 1843, when it was considerably improved. Not less than £40, 000 were spent in constructing an outer harbour of 11/3 acres, an inner harbour of 3 acres, a dock of 2¾ acres, and extensive wharfage. In 1875 further improvements were proposed. There is considerable likelihood that before long a tramway will run through the High Street of Kirkcaldy, and that a new Fife railway line will have Kirkcaldy for one of its stations.

Earliest of the celebrated natives of Kirkcaldy was Sir Michael Scott, who lived in the 13th century, and on account of his researches in natural science-wide for his day-was held a wizard by the ignorant. Henry Balnaves (died 1579) held different political appointments, having been Lord of Session, Secretary of State, Depute-Keeper of the Privy Seal. George Gillespie (1613 - 48), his brother, Patrick (b. 1617), principal of the University of Glasgow, and John Drysdale (1718-88) were well known as learned divines, who took an active part in the affairs of the Church. Robert Adam (1728-92) was a famous architect of his day, having been the designer of the University and Register House of Edinburgh and the Infirmary, Glasgow. He sat as member of parliament for Kinross in 1768, and on his death was buried in Westminster Abbey. Adam Smith (172390) was educated at Kirkcaldy Grammar School, Glasgow University, and Baliol College, Oxford. He was appointed Professor of Logic in Glasgow University in 1751, and of Moral Philosophy in 1752, from the last of which chairs he retired in 1764 in order to accompany the young Duke of Buccleuch on a continental tour. In 1766 he settled down quietly in his birthplace to write his great work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Among other of his works may be mentioned as next important to The Wealth of Nations, his Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759).

Three men deserve mention as inhabitants of Kirkcaldy at one time or another, one of them because of his peculiar pulpit gifts, and the other two on account of the high eminence they afterwards attained to. The first of these was Mr Shirra, minister of the Burgher Church of Kirkcaldy in 1750. His peculiar style of preaching, his intense earnestness, and the broad vein of humour that ran through his ministrations in the pulpit and out of it, are proverbial. Thomas Carlyle and Edward Irving may be mentioned together because of the close connection between them that arose from their residing in Kirkcaldy at the same time. When Carlyle went to the ` lang toon ' in 1816 as teacher of mathematics, etc. in its burgh school, he was welcomed by Irving in the most cordial fashion, and given ' will and waygate ' over all the latter's possessions. Carlyle in a certain way supplanted Irving, but that was not able to abate even to the slightest degree the friendship that existed between them. ` But for Irving,' wrote Carlyle, ` I had never known what the communion of man with man means.' And this communion was drawn closer by their frequent intercourse with one another in the woods of Raith or on the beach of Kinkcaldy-` a mile of the smoothest sand -upon which they were wont to walk in the moonlight, or in Irving's 'litterly library' amid French and Latin classics. Doubtless it was mainly owing to Irving that Carlyle was able to say in after years, ` I always rather liked Kirkcaldy to this day. ' Carlyle spent three years there, and Irving spent seven years. After the latter had become a famous preacher, he revisited it in 1828 and preached in the parish church, his audience being so large that the gallery fell and killed 28 people.

The parish of Kirkcaldy is now of comparatively small extent, but till 1650 it comprised the present parish of Abbotshall. Bounded N by Kinglassie and Dysart, E by Dysart and the Firth of Forth, and S and W by Abbotshall, it has an utmost length from N to S of 25/8 miles, a varying breadth of 6¼ and 8½ furlongs, and an area of 1248½ acres, of which 71¼ are foreshore. The coast-line, 7¼ furlongs in extent, is level and sandy; adjacent to the beach is a belt of flat land; and the surface thence inland first makes a somewhat abrupt ascent, and then continues to rise in easy gradient, till near Dunnikier House it attains an elevation of 316 feet above sea-level. The rocks belonged to the Carboniferous Limestone series, but include some intersecting trap dykes. Coal occurs in seams from 9 inches to 3½ feet thick, and at Dunnikier has been worked to a considerable depth. Iron ore, in globular masses, lies dispersed through much of the coal-field; and was formerly worked for the Carron Company. The soil, in the low tracts light, on the southern part of the higher grounds a dry rich loam, on the grounds further N is clayey, cold, and wet. About 180 acres are under wood; and all the rest of the land, except what is occupied by houses and roads, is in tillage. Dunnikier House, noticed separately, is the only mansion, and its proprietor is much the largest in the parish, 3 others holding each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 40 of between £100 and £500, 75 of from £50 to £100, and 165 of from £20 to £50. The seat of a presbytery in the synod of Fife, this parish is divided ecclesiastically into Kirkcaldy proper and St James's quoad sacra parish, the former a living worth £413. Landward valuation (1883) £7273, 11s. 2d. Pop. of entire parish (1801) 3248, (1821) 4452, (1841) 5275, (1861) 6100, (1871) 7003, (1881) 8528, of whom 5739 were in the ecclesiastical parish of Kirkcaldy, and 2789 in that of St James.—Ord. Sur., sh. 40, 1867. The presbytery of Kirkcaldy comprehends the quoad civilia parishes of Abbotshall, Auchterderran, Auchertool, Burntisland, Dysart, Kennoway, Kinghorn, Kinglassie, Kirkcaldy, Leslie, Markinch, Scoonie, and Wemyss, and the quoad sacra parishes of Invertiel, Kirkcaldy-St James, Lochgelly, Methil, Milton of Balgonie, Pathhead, Thornton, and West Wemyss, with the chapelries of Linktown and Sinclairtown. Pop. (1871) 56, 868, (1881) 64,775, of whom 11,582 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.-The Free Church has a presbytery of Kirkcaldy, with churches of Buckhaven, Burntisland, Dysart, Kennoway, Kinghorn, Kinglassie, Invertiel, Abbotshall, Gallatown, Pathhead, Dunnikier, St Brycedale, Leslie, Leven, Lochgelly, Markinch, and Wemyss, which 18 churches together had 4814 communicants in 1883.-The United Presbyterian Church has a presbytery of Kirkcaldy, with three churches in Kirkcaldy, 2 in Leslie, and 13 in respectively Anstruther, Buckhaven, Burntisland, Colinsburgh, Crail, Dysart, Innerleven, Kennoway, Kinghorn, Largo, Leven, Markinch, and Pittenweem, which 18 churches together had 4865 members in 1882.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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