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The History of Kirkcaldy

Old Kirk

Kirkcaldy is a former royal burgh and town. The area surrounding the modern town has a long history dating as far back between 2500 BC and 500 BC as a possible funerary landscape.

The town began as a burgh under the control of Dunfermline Abbey. A harbour built around the east burn gradually led to the growth of the town surrounding the harbour itself, main street and Tiel burn following the demand of trade with the Baltic. Early industries which soon prospered included the production of textiles, nailmaking and salt panning. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries proved to be the most famous period for the town which saw the introduction of linoleum. Originally developed in the town as floorcloth, this was quickly dominated by the Michael Nairn & Co but did not become popular across a worldwide scale until the beginning of the 20th century.

Early History

One of the earliest historical events in the vicinity of the town was the Battle of Raith in 596 AD, where the Angles fought an alliance of Scots, Picts and Britons led by King Áedán mac Gabráin of Dál Riata. Towards the end of the 11th century the Scottish king Malcolm II purchased the shire of Kirkaladunt from the crown lords of Fife to be given to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey as a means of aiding the funding of their newly built church which saw residents pay annual revenues.


Kirkcaldy, unlike most Scottish towns, had no stone wall. The town, instead relied on the sea acting as a shelter, which still could have left the town vulnerable to attack. The construction of Ravenscraig Castle lowered the risk, with the process of small walls or "heid dykes" built on rigs to the west of the High Street. The majority of the dykes contained small gates for the benefit of the town crofts and burgesses, who were responsible for their protection and maintenance. Three main gates became the focus point of the burgh, which were situated in East Port, West Port and near the Old Kirk on Kirk Wynd.

Kirkcaldy harbour was acknowledged for having "a sheltered cove round the East Burn", thus giving easy accessibility for boats. By the early 16th century the vessels of the harbour had begun to engage in trade with the Baltic; later dealing with the import of grain in 1618 and continental beer in 1625. A shipbuilding trade also existed on the site until this was phased out temporarily in 1645. The success led to the growth of the burgh, surrounding the harbour, Main Street and Tiel (West) burn, commented on by Thomas Carlyle. During his stay he described the town as being "a mile of the smoothest sand, with one long wave coming on gently, steadily, and breaking into a gradual explosion beautifully sounding, and advancing, ran from the South to the North, from the West Burn to Kirkcaldy Harbour, a favourite scene beautiful to me still in the faraway".


As Kirkcaldy entered into the 19th century, the arrival of the Kirkcaldy and District Railway, later to become part of the North British Railway, saw the town develop into the industrial heart of Fife—reviving the use of Kirkcaldy port, which had a severe setback during the mid–17th century. The harbour was catering for the growing trade of imports of flax, timber and hemp and exports of coal, salt and linen cloth, when a decision was made to build a new wet dock and pier from 1843–46. The subsequent demands for linoleum and coal led to a further extension from 1906–08 in the form of an inner dock.

By the middle of the 20th century, the production of both pottery and salt drew to a close. Around this time, also saw the development of the esplanade (from an unemployment scheme); the first council houses and the merging of Dysart into Kirkcaldy under an act of parliament in 1930. Further expansions of the town were to the north-west on B-class farm land (Hayfield, Boreland, Pathhead Muir, Dunnikier, Templehall, Mitchleson and Chapel) between 1930 and 1950.


A housing crisis arose in the town at the end of the Second World War. New residential and private housing estates to the north-west, multi-storey flats and the redevelopment of areas such as Sinclairtown and Linktown occurred between the 1950s and 1960s. Several primary schools such as Valley, Fair Isle, Dunearn and Torbain were also built to serve these new estates (with Capshard being a latter addition in the early 1970s). Provision was given to new junior secondaries (Templehall and Balwearie); a new Catholic secondary (St Andrews) and the re-location of Kirkcaldy High School to Pathhead muir on the north side of the town. During the middle of the 1950s, construction began of a new hospital - on the site of the Fever hospital and sanatorium - to replace the cramped facilities of the cottage hospital situated to the east of the town. The late 1950s saw a new bus station open on a site north of the town centre to relieve the existing one on The Promenade (which continued to deal only with country routes until this was phased out in 1980).

Kirkcaldy harbour, which had once been vital to the town’s well being, suffered its own fate when it was closed in 1992 to main traffic. In 2011, it reopened for commercial shipping once more, with much of the harbour area having been redeveloped as residential flats in the interim.

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This page was last updated on Thursday 23rd June 2011 at 01:57 | Edit This Page
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