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Two Iconic Buildings

Even along Kirkcaldy's rather blighted High Street, there are still gems of real architectural and historic interest.

 

This month's story looks at two buildings - the first commemorating one of our foremost citizens that became home to one of the town's foremost charitable organisations; the other a building that has had several uses but was latterly the place where the 50 Objects project was first conceived.

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Two Iconic Buildings
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As with so much of our urban heritage, to look up is to look back.  So this month we invite you to lift up your eyes to perceive the history sleeping in the surviving stonework and reflected in old windows. We would also like your help in making sense of some of the inscriptions that reveal (or conceal?) the story of one of the Lang Toun's most intriguing buildings.

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Two Iconic Kirkcaldy Buildings

Despite the perceived deterioration of Kirkcaldy's High Street as a shopping centre there remains some wonderful examples of Victorian architecture to admire. For this month's Object two are being brought under the spotlight although, in the case of one, we are also seeking information.

 

The first is the red sandstone building which sits at the junction of the High Street and Kirk Wynd. Almost everyone is guilty of walking with their eyes at ground level.  An upwards glance will often disclose much by way of information and sublime intricate architecture – even to the uninitiated. This building boasts a carving disclosing that it was the Swan Memorial although that was not its original purpose. Kirkcaldy had set up its own fledgling Y.M.C.A. in 1883. In 1889 the ball started rolling to secure their own premises with a building fund being launched by John Forrester. Provost Swan had been the first Honorary President of  Kirkcaldy Y.M.C.A., in which Association he had taken a great interest. So, just how did this intended home for the Association end up with the name of Provost Swan being carved on its facade?

 

The answer is quite simple although, it is fair to say that perhaps in the nicest possible way, their building plan was hijacked. In December of the same year the long serving ex-Provost Swan died and there was an immediate outcry for a tangible memorial to be erected to the town's  great benefactor. Swan, who had served as Provost for an unprecedented 37 years, had either bestowed on or organised many improvements to the town. Two of his major achievements were, firstly, to bring a running water supply into the town from the Lomond Hills. The difference this made to health and industry was immense. Secondly, he had managed to weld the communities of Pathhead, Gallatown and the Links, into one extended Kirkcaldy Burgh. So, we had two committees planning and working on their own individual goals.

 

It was these two separate objectives which became woven together into a memorial hall which would also serve as the home for the Y.M.C.A. Although their hall was now entwined with Swan's memorial – without question - that led to a larger and superior home for the Association than would have been hitherto possible.  Much planning and fundraising saw the hall come to fruition, ultimately opening in 1895, but not without problems on the way. In particular, a near disaster was narrowly avoided when the excavations started to undermine the foundations of an adjacent tenement. Had it collapsed it is almost certain there would have been a significant loss of life. The full story not only covers the building itself and the design of the architect, Scottish born, George Washington Browne, but also the work of the early officials of the Association including Michael B. Nairn are highlighted.  John Forrester, the first President, and James Forrester, the first Secretary, have the spotlight shone on them. Both were significant players in these early years. Michael B. Nairn was a major supporter and benefactor to Kirkcaldy and it was Nairn who donated the site free of charge and, of course, also made a large financial contribution. The opening of the building by Lord Overtoun is also featured.

 

The Hall was the home of the Y.M.C.A. in Kirkcaldy for the first 58 years of its existence. By the 1950s it was felt that, due to the movement in the town's population, the site was no longer the best place to serve the town's youth from. The property was sold and eventually a new home was erected in Valley Gardens.  The building's subsequent guise as a furniture store and then a building society are examined with the possible reason for the cladding at ground level being explained.  When it was converted into a furniture store the whole building was gutted internally including the staircase which was replaced by a lift!

 

The Association was able to celebrate its Jubilee in 1936 with James Forrester – the first Secretary, despite his advancing years, being able to attend. The red sandstone ensures the building stands out and without question remains a striking feature of the High Street's architecture even after the passage of nearly 130 years.

 

213 -217 High Street is the second building to be covered. This current home of the Cupcake Coffee Box is one of the most intriguing and ornate buildings in all Kirkcaldy – but you must look upwards! Monograms, exquisite carvings, date stones, a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, all add to the mystique of by whom and why? One distinguished architectural historian wrote – “that it would not look out of place in Venice”. Considerable research has been carried out to try and ascertain the building's exact history.  Just why was such elaborate work afforded to what was essentially a shop? Why was there felt to be a need for this impressive design  and intricate stonework?  Much has been uncovered and without question it was originally a draper's shop – Henry Horn, Son & Co, but just what are the significance of the sets of initials at the very top of the building? The history of the Horn family is covered but the question remains - how did they fund such an elaborate building, or did someone bankroll the firm? It is an intriguing story and is not without its own tragedy, courtesy of a fatal rail crash. The crash resulted in the loss of the driving force in the firm – Henry Horn Jnr. The firm carried on but it was never quite the same again. When Henry Horn Snr. died in 1881 the firm closed almost immediately.

 

The full story discloses what we have learned to date but does any reader have the elusive final pieces in the jigsaw?  While we know some of the history some questions remain, most notably, who built the premises and, if it was he, how did Henry Horn afford and seek such an elaborate property? Was he being bankrolled by a friend or acquaintance? While we have an idea it remains only an idea. Someone out there may have the answer.

 

Therefore, the hope we have for this story is that it encourages people to look up and see these wonderful carvings that are as fresh today as they were in 1860. Also, does anyone have the answers to the questions which remain outstanding? The full story augmented by sketches and newspaper snippets from the time can be reached from the icon on this page. The team hope you enjoy the story. Kirkcaldy certainly has some very grand architecture – look up to enjoy it!

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