1902 Encyclopedia > Kirkaldy


KIRKCALDY, a royal and parliamentary burgh and seaport on the south-east coast of Fifeshire, Scotland, 12 miles north from Edinburgh. The chief topographical feature of the town is its length, which is nearly 4 miles within the municipal boundary, as extended by Act of Parliament in 1876. Formerly there was little besides one main street with lanes and shorter streets branching from it, but during the last five-and-twenty years a large number of new streets and villas have been built along the high ground to the north. The parish, however, is a very small one, the landward part (now Abbotshall) having been disjoined in 1650. In population and most other statistical respects Kirkcaldy is the principal town in the county, and the tenth in Scotland, ranking next after Perth and Kilmarnock. The valuation of the burgh in 1881, includ-ing railways, was £87,622, and the census of the same year showed a population of 23,632. Besides some importations of flax, timber, whiting, &c, the chief regular trade of the port is that carried on by means of coasting vessels with Leith, Glasgow, and London. The annual harbour revenue is about £2000, and that of the custom-house £52,000.

The linen manufacture, begun in the early part of the 18th century, has long been the staple industry, the town being one of the chief centres of the trade in Scotland. The spinning of flax by machinery was introduced into the district in 1792, and in 1807 steam was added as a motive power. At present there are six mills with 18,830 spindles, employing when in full operation about 1450 persons. There is also an extensive net factory. Twelve power-loom factories, with an aggregate of 2100 looms, broad and narrow, employ fully that number of operatives. In these, as in the spinning mills, a large proportion of the workers, about 80 per cent., are females. Hand-loom weaving has almost entirely disappeared. The principal fabrics manufactured are sheetings, ticks, hollands, towel-lings, diapers, dowlas, &c.; and one or two firms are now making cotton goods to some extent. There are three bleachfields, with 180 workpeople. Next in importance to the various branches of the linen manufacture are the floor-cloth works. First introduced by the late Mr Michael Nairn, the production of floor-cloth at Kirkcaldy has for some years been the largest in the world. There are six factories employing about 930 workpeople. The linoleum manufacture has also been successfully established. In 1877 the Messrs Nairn built the first factory in Scotland for this branch of industry, and its success has resulted in the formation of other two companies. The three firms employ an aggregate of nearly 450 hands. A large amount of machinery, including steam-engines, boilers, sugar-mills, rice-mills, and the like, is also manufactured in Kirkcaldy. There are eight works in operation, several of them extensive, and about 800 men and lads are employed. Among miscellaneous works may be noted two potteries (one of them including a tile-work with 400 operatives), malting barns, flour-mills, several dye-works, a brewery, and a large printing and lithographic business.

The educational, ecclesiastical, and literary institutions of Kirkcaldy are numerous. There are seven public schools, with 3490 children on the roll, and nearly as many private and ladies' schools, with about 350 in attendance. In addition there are three schools belonging to Philp's trust, at which 500 children receive gratuitous education and clothing; the revenue of the trust for the purposes of these three schools was £2115 in 1880'. There are
twenty-six churches,— the finest architecturally being St Brycedale Free church. The town has two public libraries, one of them with nearly 10,000 volumes; and there are three weekly newspapers.

For much of its recent prosperity Kirkcaldy is indebted to the water scheme, for which an Act was obtained in 1867, and an Amendment Act in 1870. The sum author-ized to be expended by these bills was ¿£53,000, but an Extension Act was passed in 1881 giving power to raise ¿640,000 additional when required. An extensive system of drainage is also in process. A sheriff-substitute has recently been appointed for the Kirkcaldy district.

Kirkcaldy, with Dysart, Kinghorn, and Burntisland, returns one member to parliament.

An Ecclesia do Kirkcaldie is mentioned in the list printed by Sibbald of the churches in the county of Fife in the year 1176. In 1240 it was bestowed by David, bishop of St Andrews, on the abbey of Dunfermline. The name of Kirkcaldy also occurs in the map of the civil divisions of Scotland in the 13th century prefixed to Pro-fessor Cosmo Innes's Scotland in the Middle Ages. In 1334 the town, with its harbour, was given by David II. to the abbey of Dunfermline, and in 1450 it was "disponed" by Richard, abbot of Dunfermline, to the bailies and council of Kirkcaldy.

The commerce of the place has suffered many fluctuations. In 1573, as we learn from the Register of the Privy Council, the district of Kirkcaldy had the largest manufacture of salt in Scotland, and about 1650 it was assessed as the sixth town in the kingdom. About 1644 there were one hundred ships belonging to the port, in 1760 only three, in 1792 the number had risen to twenty-nine, and in 1843 to ninety-one. Since then, chiefly owing to the abandonment of the whale-fishing, and the insufficiency of the harbour to admit large vessels, the trade of the port has considerably declined. The number of vessels belonging to it may be stated at twenty-seven. A considerable extension of the present harbour is among the possi-bilities of the future.

Adam Smith, whose great work The Wealth of Nations formed an era in the history of political economy ; James Oswald of Dunnikier, a schoolfellow of Adam Smith, and a statesman of much promise ; George Gillespie, a leading member of the Westminster Assembly ; and Balnaves of Halhill, a lord of session in the time of Queen Mary, were natives of Kirkcaldy. Michael Scot, of wizard fame, was born about a mile from the burgh boundary.

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