Kirkcaldy (surveyed in 1855)


Kirkcaldy is a sea port 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. In the 1851 census, the population of the royal burgh was 5,093, but the population of the parliamentary burgh, which included the suburbs, was 10,475.

Town Planning

Kirkcaldy is also known as 'the lang toun' because it is a long, narrow settlement with a main road extending parallel with the coastline. In the main part of the town there is a grid pattern of streets between this main road and the coast (sheet 4). By the mid-nineteenth century, Kirkcaldy had merged with the suburbs or former villages of Pathhead and Sinclairtown to the north and Linktown and Bridgetown to the south.

The harbour lay to the north end of the main part of the town (sheet 3). The railway, which ran along the inland side of the town, had a branch line down to the harbour. There were stations at Kirkcaldy itself and at Sinclairtown.


Ravenscraig Castle, at the north end of the town, on the coast by Pathhead, was a courtyard castle originally built in the fifteenth century; it had been inhabited until around 1650. Kirkcaldy Parish Church was founded in the thirteenth century, but had been largely rebuilt in 1808, although the tower is original. It is now barely more than a ruin.


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 one hundred 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. In 1855 there were ninety-six sailing vessels and one steamer registered at Kirkcaldy, with Norwegian, Danish, German and Prussian ships also using the harbour. Flax and timber were the main imports. The main exports were coal from the hinterland and linen yarn spun from the flax.


A number of flax mills can be seen on the survey, particularly on the south side of the town, at Linktown, Newtown and Bridgetown (sheets 6 and 7). In the mid-nineteenth century, there were thirteen flax spinning mills, as well as bleachfields, and machine weaving. Other industries during this period were either connected to the needs of the port, such as the rope works, ship building and two iron works, or they supplied the needs of the surrounding area, for example the brick works and pottery (sheet 6), and the breweries, distillery and flour mills. There was also a whale oil factory at the north end of the town (sheet 3). Grain and cattle markets were held regularly in the town.


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

Religious Life

The parliamentary burgh of Kirkcaldy included the parish of Kirkcaldy as well as parts of Abbotshall and Kinghorn. The parish church of Kirkcaldy, which is situated in the middle of the town, was built in 1807 (sheet 4). Within the parliamentary burgh, there were also two other Church of Scotland churches, four Free churches, three United Presbyterian churches, one Independent chapel, two Baptist chapels, one Episcopalian chapel, a Roman Catholic chapel and two chapels of minor sects.


The main school in the burgh was the burgh school, but there were charity schools in Kirkcaldy, Pathhead, Linktown and Kinghorn. There were also six private schools and eight schools for girls, divided by Wilson (1857) into three for 'young ladies' and five ' for girls in the ordinary departments of education'. There was a public reading room, a subscription library and a mechanics library in the town at this period.

Culture and Society

The town had both agricultural and horticultural societies, as well as a scientific association. There was also a curling club. 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).