The Sea Wall
Walking Kirkcaldy's windswept prom is rarely tranquil. More often than not it is rather bracing, occasionally tempestuous.
On one of these stormy days, it would be fitting to recall the background to the building of the town's original sea wall and esplanade - a political controversy as turbulent as any in Kirkcaldy's history.
This story commemorates not only the men who wrought to build a wall, but the men who fought to have it paid for.
In depth written study
Kirkcaldy Promenade Completed
Plain Sailing or Stormy Seas?
Kirkcaldy at the dawn of the 20th century had no sea wall to defend the town from significant flooding when the sea ran at its worst. Unlike today the Wynds, Closes and Vennels running from the High Street to the sea were packed with humanity, making flooding a serious matter for those living there. Also the seashore was no better than a coup through the unchecked dumping of both household and industrial waste. In addition many shipwrecks were simply left of the foreshore to rot
Townsfolk and the Town Council had long dreamed of a barricade in the shape of a wall stretching from the Port Brae to the Tiel Burn. There were false starts, but in 1921 the dream became a reality.
The end of the war had seen a short boom period, followed by a major depression. Kirkcaldy did not escape and urgent action was required to reduce unemployment.
One Government strategy was the Unemployment Grants Committee. This body was set up to provide financial aid to municipal schemes whose purpose was reducing unemployment. Conditions applied, principally that 75% of the men engaged should be local, unemployed and ex-servicemen. Kirkcaldy grabbed this opportunity of relieving unemployment and enhancing its foreshore.
Plans were prepared including a wall, promenade, bathing pool, bandstand, play areas and above all – widening the Sands Road and also building a bridge over the Tiel Burn, thereby creating a through road from the Port Brae to Bridgeton. Until then the burn was only crossed by a footbridge. The Council agreed to proceed, but only on the express condition that the grant was secured. Little wonder as the sum involved was £85,000.
Sir Robert McAlpine & Son won the contract and work commenced in February 1922. Whilst the building went well, trouble loomed. The contractor appeared to be importing labour, not using local unemployed men. Protest marches and meetings followed. Eventually the fact that the conditions were possibly not being met reached the Unemployment Grants Committee. After securing reports, the Grant was withdrawn in September 1922 to the consternation of the Council.
It took two years for the Council to eventually secure the full grant with The Provost, Town Clerk, Members of Parliament and barristers all being involved. An offer had eventually been made amounting to 50%, but the Council stuck to their guns – it was to be all or nothing, even if legal action had to be contemplated.
This was a time of rancour and recrimination both inside and outside the Council Chamber. All set against a backdrop of protest meetings, an “invasion” of a Council meeting and many verbal assaults on senior Council employees. Possibly nothing like it has been seen in the Town’s civic history.
However, the Council and townsfolk deserve credit – never a murmur to discontinue the work. Kirkcaldy wanted its wall and it got it!
It was estimated that had the grant been lost 5 1/2d per pound would have been added to the rates.