The Beveridge Park
The Beveridge Park is undoubtedly one of Kirkcaldy's greatest public assets.
What originated as a 'dear green place' in a heavily industrial town has provided open spaces, amenities and events for the enjoyment of generations of locals and visitors.
But the gifting of the park by local industrialist and Town Provost Michael Beveridge originally stirred up the type of acrimony which seems to have accompanied several of the town's municipal schemes.
As we explore the roots of the Beveridge Park, we uncover controversy over who should be expected to fund the park, where it should be located and, indeed, whether a park was either desired or required.
Mr Beveridge's Park
Kirkcaldy's Beveridge Park has been in existence for such a lengthy time that it creates the feeling of permanence – almost as if it has always been there! Most readers will have enjoyed the delights of the park without giving any serious consideration as to how it came into being.
This month's object examines what prompted Michael Beveridge to leave money for a park. Why is it in that particular spot? Whose ground was it originally and was it bought or gifted? The bequest had also provided for a hall and a library, so how were the funds to be allocated between the two projects?
The answers to these questions have been lost in the mists of time and the intention of this object is two-fold – firstly, to answer these points and then provide a potted history of the park's growth from almost virgin land to the iconic spot it became. The one certainly is that, being Kirkcaldy, it was no simple transaction, rather it ruffled feathers and caused bitter feelings, especially in the Pathhead/Sinclairtown area.
The idea of parks was a national one which, in the 1870s and 1880s, which gained traction as a direct result of the industrial revolution. The desire was to provide open air recreational spaces for the masses toiling in the factories and mills. Kirkcaldy, with its significant presence in heavy industry, was simply a smaller version of the country at large. The country's issues through poor quality housing, a lack of sanitation, along with diseases such as typhus and cholera were, bit by bit, tackled and eliminated as medicine, science and understanding moved on.
Many enlightened observers also believed that the provision of fresh air exercise opportunities were paramount in helping maintain better health for the labouring classes. Parks were seen as one of the answers to the issue. Kirkcaldy's principal newspapers, through articles and letters, supported the campaign for a park but it all came to nothing. There had even been suggestions from some extreme letter writers that parts of the estates of the local landed gentry – the Ferguson's, the Oswald's and the Rosslyn family, should be seized for the good of the community – an early idea of 'nationalisation' to provide the town with a park?
The town did have parks but these were mainly nothing more than enclosed fields. There was nothing of the size and magnitude which Mr Beveridge's park bestowed on Kirkcaldy. More often than not the seafront, when the tide was out, provided the largest recreation area.
In 1886 Michael Beveridge was elected Provost and his first agenda was threefold – provide a public park, extend the harbour and improve the Sands Road. Beveridge was Kirkcaldy born and had set up a floorcloth/linoleum business in Pathhead. His partner was a former Nairn's employee, James Shepherd, and the firm traded as Shepherd and Beveridge. They were very successful as Beveridge's mansion Beechwood and the value of his Will both testify.
The 1887 celebrations of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee offered a glorious opportunity for a park. All over the country, councils were promoting memorials/monuments to mark the occasion. Kirkcaldy considered three possibilities – to provide a park, a hospital, or an institute. Committees were set up, sites and projects examined and approaches made – the provision of a park was the eventual choice and it did seem very likely one would be provided.
Almost unbelievably, all three were discarded. A motion, put forward and carried at a full meeting of the Town Council, stated that there should be no tangible memorial to the Jubilee if it added one penny to the rates. This decision derailed the whole idea. This explains why Kirkcaldy's contribution to the celebrations was a bust of Queen Victoria presented to the town by former Provost, Patrick Don Swan. The figure was to be placed in the Council Chamber which duly happened.
There was certainly a service of thanksgiving and Provost Beveridge, in the shape of a concert, provided food and entertainment for the poor from his own purse. These can only be considered as muted celebrations when compared to what other towns and cities had planned and executed. Michael Beveridge must have felt uncomfortable when attending other celebrations, especially when neighbouring Dysart produced new public buildings and nearby Kinghorn a golf course.
Did this failure to secure one of his main projects, together with Kirkcaldy's restrained efforts, play on his mind – did that influence his Will? After all, it was his Administration which voted down the proposal for a park. Michael Beveridge was also instrumental in determining that Kirkcaldy must recognise Adam Smith and had already promoted the idea for a substantial public hall. A committee, drawn from private individuals, had been set up to look into such a project and this certainly explains the second part of his legacy.
His unexpected death in 1890 provided Kirkcaldy with his rich legacy but not before much infighting and ill feeling, both in the Council Chamber and amongst the general public. There were four sites considered although only three could be suggested as being serious. They were what was known as Robbie's Park, Hayfield Farm and Sauchenbush Farm. Each had their supporters and the eventual choice of site became an issue. Robbie's Park was selected but – it was not central and those in Pathhead and northwards felt they were being excluded from sharing in the bequest.
The length of the town and the lack of public transport was a stumbling block for many, creating a move to champion the more central site at Hayfield. Astonishing scenes took place which included Councillors voting by secret ballot plus Indignation Meetings being held in Pathhead. Letters were carried by the newspapers both supporting and decrying the choice of site. A constant theme was that Beveridge was born in Pathhead, his factory was in Pathhead and he was a Councillor for Pathhead, yet the area was being disadvantaged.
Such was the indignation, annoyance and anger, that the Council were forced to reopen the question and another ballot took place. The result was no different and the present site, which incorporated Robbie's Park, won the day but not before Mr Oswald of Dunnikier and Provost Black had an unseemly spat via the Letters Pages of the Fife Free Press. The geography of the town would certainly be far different today if an alternative site had triumphed. It is also reasonable to assume that had transport, such as the trams, been in place at the time – temperatures and tempers would not have reached the level they did.
The park was opened on the 24th September 1892 with a full ceremony and a procession. For the first time Kirkcaldy had a large recreational area to call its own, albeit after much ill feeling and recrimination – but time heals!
The complete narrative of the arguments, squabbles and unrest, is told in the full story which is reached from the icon on this page. That story also covers, in much greater detail, the circumstances behind the choice of site along with the features which were available in 1892 and how they have been enhanced over the intervening years. The story is also augmented by clippings from newspaper reports and a raft of photographs and sketches.
The whole idea of this object was not to take Mr Beveridge's Will as the starting point but rather examine the circumstances which led to the choice of this particular site. It made for enjoyable, interesting and even startling research, much of which was totally unexpected.