Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

KIRKCALDY (surveyed in 1894)




Kirkcaldy is a seaport lying in Fife on the east coast of Scotland, to the north of the Firth of Forth and about ten miles due north of Edinburgh. The name Kirkcaldy means ‘Fort on the hard hill', and is derived from the Brythonic words caer meaning ‘fort’, caled meaning ‘hard’ and din meaning ‘hill’. Brythonic was the language of the Britons who inhabited British kingdoms such as Gododdin in the Lothian area in the sixth century AD. The fort may have been on the site of Ravenscraig Castle. The name occurs as ‘Kircalathin’ in 1150. The town was first established as a burgh of barony in 1334, under the control of the monastery of Dunfermline. In 1450, the monastery relinquished its interest and it became a royal burgh soon after. The limits of the royal burgh had been extended in an act of 1876 to officially include the suburbs, or former villages, of Pathhead, Sinclairtown, ! Gallatown, Invertiel and Linktown. In 1893 it had been further extended to include Beveridge Park. In the 1891 census, the population of the extended royal burgh was 27,155. The population had increased dramatically throughout the nineteenth century; in 1871, for example, it had been only 18,874.


Town Planning

Kirkcaldy is known as ‘the lang toun’ because it is a long, narrow settlement with a main road extending parallel with the coastline. In the old main part of the town there is a grid pattern of streets between this main road and the coast (sheets xxxv.12.15 and xxxv.12.20). The harbour lay to the north end of the main part of the town (sheet xxxvi.9.1 and xxxvi.9.6). The railway, which ran along the inland side of the town, had a branch line down to the harbour. By 1894, most of the land between the coast and the railway had been built up.



Ravenscraig Castle, on the coast by Pathhead, at the north end of the town, was a courtyard castle originally built in the fifteenth century; by this period it was a romantic ruin. Kirkcaldy Parish Church was founded in the thirteenth century, but had been largely rebuilt in 1808, although the tower is original. The Corn Exchange was built in 1859-60.



The harbour at Kirkcaldy, in common with many of the east coast ports, was probably used for trade both across the North Sea and south along the coast to England in the medieval period. By the mid-seventeenth century, there appear to have been around 100 boats sailing out of Kirkcaldy, both fishing boats and those exporting salt fish, salt and coal. The Civil War of the later seventeenth century, the restrictions placed on Scottish trade after the Act of Union with England in 1707 and the half century of unrest during the Jacobite revolts, all caused a severe decline in trade from Kirkcaldy, but in the late eighteenth century prosperity returned to the port. As a result, the harbour was improved and extended between 1836 and 1850. However, by the end of the century, it was not suitable for larger vessels and there had been several plans to build a new harbour. In 1855 there had been 96 sailing vessels and one steamer registered at Kirkcaldy, with Norwegian, Danish, Germa! n and Prussian ships also using the harbour. This had declined by 1892 to a total of 21 vessels, probably due to increasing competition from other ports such as Leith. Groome (1894-5), reports that, at that time, there was a fishing fleet of twenty-five boats and a steamship to London. Whaling ships had ceased to use the harbour.



The main industries in the town at this period were the production of floor cloth and linoleum and the manufacture of linen. The linen industry, which had prospered from the late eighteenth century, had increased dramatically after the introduction of mechanisation and, by the late nineteenth century, around 2,000 people were employed. Floor cloth had first begun to be manufactured in the town in 1847 by a Mr Nairn. Linoleum production had begun in 1876 and by the end of the century there were ten factories, and around 3,000 people were employed in making these products and exporting them, particularly to Australia and the United States of America. Kirkcaldy's other industries during this period were the iron works and engineering companies making ships’ engines and boilers, as well as sugar and rice mills for export to the East and West Indies. There was also a successful pottery.



Coal and iron ore were exploited in the area to the west of the town, the main colliery being at Dunnikier.


Religious Life

By this period there were, within the burgh, seven Church of Scotland churches, six Free churches, four United Presbyterian churches, an Episcopalian church, a Baptist chapel and a Roman Catholic chapel. There are also meeting places for the Congregationalists, the Original Seceders and the Evangelical Union.



The old burgh school had been replaced in 1893 by a new High School. There were also a number of other public schools and several private schools in the town.



There was a burgh Court and a Sheriff Court in the town. In the late nineteenth century. Denmark, the United States of America and Russia each had a consul at Kirkcaldy, presumably because of its trading links.


Culture and Society

The town had both agricultural and horticultural societies, as well as a scientific association. There was an annual art exhibition in the town. Adam Smith (1723-90), professor of moral philosophy in Glasgow and then Edinburgh, was born in the town. He is best remembered for his book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) in which he argued that free trade and individual enterprise were important for a successful economy. Another well-known person born in the town was the architect Robert Adam (1728-92).





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website – Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/