Welcome to Kirkcaldy
Kirkcaldy, the largest town in Fife, is situated between Edinburgh and Dundee on the northern shore of the Firth of Forth. Kirkcaldy is known locally as the Lang Toun for obvious reasons; it developed in a long sweeping arc along the curving coastline, its main street is 4 miles long, it has Europe’s longest street market (the annual Links Market established in 1304) not to mention one of the longest developed seafronts in Europe. Kirkcaldy is a fascinating town; its many fine buildings reflect a long and varied history and its many famous sons its importance to Scottish culture past and present.
Since prehistoric times this part of the coast has been settled, as excavations have confirmed in the eastern outskirts of the town around Bogleys standing stone. Nonetheless, the origin of the settlement which developed into Kirkcaldy is most probably a medieval fort. The town’s name is derived from caer caled din meaning ‘fort on the hard hill’. The elevated site where Ravenscraig Castle now sits, on the coast to the north east, is the most obvious site of the fort. The Celtic-Brythonic language which names the town suggests that it was a seat of the Britons, who dominated this area in the middle of first millennium AD.
As the Angles of Northumbria pushed north the Britons were led into alliances with the Picts and Scots who by the 550s had united under King Aiden (c.535-606) to repel the invaders. These two armies traded blows for much of the following centuries. One significant battle was the Battle of The Raith, which was fought immediately to the west of Kirkcaldy in 596. The defeat of Aiden and his supporters may have allowed Saxons to settle on the southern coast of Fife.
By the 11th century Fife had been well and truly established as part of the Kingdom of Scotland. Greater stability led to growth. It was in 1075 that King Malcolm III (r.1058-1093) gifted the lands of Kirkcaldy to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey who set about exploiting the significant coal deposits in the area. The prosperity generated enabled the clergy to construct a parish church in the mid 13th century and the town to expand. The site of the church, on High Street, is now occupied by the later Old Parish Church with its striking Norman tower, built around 1500.
The sheltered cove around East Burn began to be used by an increasing number of boats and ships. Indeed, by the 1600s Kirkcaldy’s was one of the most significant ports in Scotland with almost 100 vessels operating out of its bay. These ships were as at home in the waters around Scotland and Ireland’s coasts as they were in the Baltic and Mediterranean. King James II (1437-60) ordered the construction of Ravenscraig Castle in order to guard over this burgeoning trade centre. The castle is now an impressive ruin on the broken coastline at the eastern end of the town.
With considerable coal deposits and a thriving port, Kirkcaldy was well placed to benefit from the Industrial Revolution. Yet it was not all plain sailing for the townspeople. Kirkcaldy’s importance as a port meant it had become a major player in Scotland’s whaling industry. When gas lamps began to become more common in the 1820s the resultant decline effected many of Kirkcaldy’s seafarers. Moreover, the development of the ports in Glasgow and Aberdeen made Kirkcaldy relatively less significant.
The year 1847 marked a turning point in the town‘s fortunes. This year marked both the arrival of the railway and the development of the harbour. Immediately afterwards Kirkcaldy’s coal mining industry reached truly industrial proportions. In the latter half of the century Michael Nairn, a local flooring manufacturer, started to manufacture the recently invented linoleum. His business went into overdrive as demand for the material came from all over the world; Nairn became a rich man and Kirkcaldy became the linoleum manufacturing capital of the world. Linoleum is still manufactured in Kirkcaldy.
Kirkcaldy’s importance is reflected in the number of important figures who were born in the town. Kirkcaldy is the birthplace of Adam Smith (1723-1790), philosopher and founder of the discipline of Economics; Robert Adam (1728-1792) the leading architect of his day who designing many of Britain’s 18th century landmark buildings; Dr John Philp (1775-1851) a missionary in Africa and acquaintance of David Livingston; Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915) the foremost engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and inventor of Universal Standard Time; Ronald Munro Ferguson (1860-1935), the sixth governor of Australia; and Gordon Brown (1951-), the Prime Minister. And yet, these are but a few of the names which appear on the surprisingly long list of Kirkcaldy’s famous sons and daughters.