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Patrick Don Swan

Patrick Don Swan
00:00 / 06:22


In the pantheon of Kirkcaldy's civic history, Patrick Don Swan is a collosus.

Businessman, politician, administrator, benefactor, innovator, visionary - Swan was a constant presence and influence as the town expanded throughout the 19th century.

In the era of 'Great Men', Swan inspired great progress which shaped Kirkcaldy's heritage to an extent that we hope our story will reveal.

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Patrick Don Swan

Municipal Giant

Past Objects have seen a significant number of mentions of Patrick Don Swan who strode the municipal stage of Kirkcaldy for over 50 years. He served as the town's Provost for 30 of these  including an unbroken spell from 1860 until his retiral in 1886. Kirkcaldy during his tenures saw vast improvements to its infrastructure and also significantly developed far beyond its original boundaries. From a small Royal Burgh hugging the coastline it rose to become, at the time, the 8th largest town in Scotland.


Patrick Swan was a Kirkcaldy man born in Whytescauseway in 1808. He was educated at the Burgh School by Thomas Carlyle which turned into a lifelong friendship. He completed his education at Edinburgh University before joining his father in the linen trade.


Patrick's father, William, had served as Provost on three separate occasions so perhaps council activity was in Patrick's blood. As well as being involved in the linen industry William was also the agent for the Glasgow Bank who had premises on the High Street. There were eight children in the family but only Patrick and his three brothers reached maturity. None of the four married therefore the immediate line came to an end on Patrick's death in 1889, although there was a wider family.


The driving force which motivated Swan was simply doing his utmost for Kirkcaldy and her townspeople. A successful businessman who, along with his siblings, formed Swan Brothers which prior to the advent of floorcloth and linoleum was the largest employer in the area. Provost Swan was liberal in using his own money for the benefit of the town and one estimate was that it amounted to over £4,000.


One of the earliest improvements he oversaw was the 1843 extension to Kirkcaldy harbour. Street improvements were uppermost in his thinking resulting in significant enhancements to sanitary conditions and the much-needed re-paving of many streets. Alterations to the Path and the construction of St. Brycedale Avenue were highlights in his road improvements programme. St. Brycedale Avenue becoming an outstanding tree-lined thoroughfare was only achieved through Swan gifting a significant strip of his property for the purpose. He later repeated that gesture in gifting ground as a site for St. Brycedale Church.


There was hardly an organisation in the town in which Patrick was not involved. For many years he was Chairman of the School Board, Water Commissioners and the Harbour Commissioners. Anything which worked for the common good benefited from his experience, influence, and often his money. The local Savings Bank, the Y.M.C.A., and St. Brycedale Church, were just some of his interests. He was also heavily involved in trying to reduce the effects of excess alcohol consumption in the town.


His major legacies were, firstly, introducing a fresh water supply from the Lomond Hills in 1865. What that did for public health, industry, and creating an explosion in housing, can never be over-estimated. That project alone transformed Kirkcaldy into an industrial powerhouse.


Secondly, in 1876, his determination and success in bringing together Kirkcaldy and the neighbouring  Linktown, Pathhead and Sinclairtown, turned modest  towns/villages into a major conurbation with a 24,000 population.


It is impossible in the space available to mention all that he was involved in or contributed to. Even the Fife Free Press itself remarked in his obituary “it would be impossible here to recall his many, varied, and great services to the community during that long period, or even to take note of all his benefactions”.


Sadly, he came to an undeserved end when, in 1886 during a period of trade depression, his firm collapsed and in the days of 'unlimited liability' he lost everything. Although he was 78 years old at the time and took little active part in the firm he was still a partner and therefore paid a heavy price. Thanks to the benevolence of friends he was at least able to retain his house until he died. He had also inherited Springfield Estate in 1837 with the house being a holiday home for him – that was also lost  as assets were sold to liquidate the debts of Swan Brothers.  Beware of 'unlimited liability'!


His funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the town. Almost as soon as his death was announced, in January 1889, a movement sprung up to ensure that there would be some tangible monument erected to his memory. The Swan Memorial Building stands at the junction of Kirk Wynd and the High Street as a physical testament to Patrick D. Swan's deeds and actions. It served as the town's Y.M.C.A. for many years and is a stone's throw from his monument in the Old Kirk graveyard.


He was publicly recognised by Kirkcaldy through a dinner in 1865 and another banquet in 1874 when his portrait was hung in the Council Chambers. His like will not be seen again!


Space prevents justice being fully done to Kirkcaldy's outstanding civic figure. However, his full story, which in many ways is a tribute to his memory, is told in the fully researched article reached from the icon on this page.

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