The Tram Cars That Never Were
Tramways criss-crossed Kirkcaldy in the first quarter of the last century, delivering significant changes to the town's topography and infrastructure.
The trams rumble through our collective memory but it is not too widely known that this particular mode of transport might have arrived almost 20 years earlier.
In a time of bold but ill-fated initiatives - a deep water harbour at Seafield and a new rail link to central Scotland did not come to pass - at least the launch of the trams was merely delayed rather than cancelled.
A False Dawn
The Trams That Never Were
One enjoyable aspect of producing this series has been stumbling on people and incidents which were unexpected or relatively unknown. From the outset the intention was to write one story covering the tramcar network which served Kirkcaldy so well between 1903 and 1931. That idea was soon derailed after stumbling on an attempt to bring steam tramcars to the town in the 1880s. While ending in failure it is an interesting and intriguing story well worth recounting. As a result the coverage of the tramways will now be in two parts – firstly, the failure and, later in the year, the scheme that did come to fruition.
It was in February 1882 that the notion of a tramway first surfaced. Following the 1876 extension to the town's boundaries it had been felt that a way had to be found to make internal travel easier and faster. From this sprang the idea of a tramway to be undertaken by a newly formed private company unlike the later Corporation scheme. It was intended to secure the requisite funding via a share issue. The plan seemed to be on solid ground when it was reported that one gentleman would take up one half of the share capital.
It is not clear where the seeds of the idea sprang from. There are two possibilities – firstly, the interested parties approaching a solicitor and the engineers to get the scheme underway on their behalf, or secondly, the solicitor and the engineers having the idea themselves and then seeking out local directors/promoters. The answer remains unclear even after legal arguments in court.
It was a bold and elaborate scheme initially intended to run from the West Bridge to Dysart plus a branch line running up St. Clair Street to Gallatown. The branch line was soon dropped and replaced by a line running up Whytescauseway to the station. It was envisaged that one advantage was that many old buildings would be compulsory purchased to allow the widening of narrow parts of both the High Street and Links Street. Another advantage was that the company would re-lay much of the cobblestones on the route – a significant saving to the Council.
Throughout 1882 the project appeared to be going well with plans drawn up and experienced engineers appointed. The plans were passed by the Town Council and by December of 1882 the Bill seeking authority for constructing the line was ready for submission to Parliament.
Parliamentary approval was secured in July but no attempt was made to issue the shares until December of 1883. No reasons for the delay in issuing the Prospectus can be advanced although one of the promoters, John Speedie, had died in November 1883. Worse was to follow when it was discovered that at the time of his death Speedie was insolvent and his estate sequestrated. Given his financial circumstances at the time it is unthinkable that John Speedie was the individual prepared to take up half of the share capital.
The share issue was a complete flop with a fraction of the target of £30,000 raised. Obviously, whoever had intended to make the major share purchase had had a change of heart. Despite strenuous efforts to find fresh finance the project sunk into oblivion with a Bill for abandonment being passed in Parliament in 1887. It was another 16 years before tramcars became a reality in Kirkcaldy.
In the end the project failed to lay even one rail. Certainly a lack of funding was central to the failure but the timing itself was perhaps unfortunate. The idea was launched just as the day of electric trams dawned and possibly there was simply no longer an appetite for using steam traction. Even the Parliamentary Committee who scanned the Bill had suggested that electricity should be considered.
It really was a false dawn as two other significant engineering projects bit the dust at the same time. Firstly, the idea of a new deep water harbour at Seafield and, secondly, a rail link connecting Kirkcaldy to Dunfermline and Alloa. Both would have given Kirkcaldy a major share in exporting coal from the central Fife Coalfields but – it was not to be - “the best laid schemes of mice an’ men gang aft agley”.
The whole fascinating story, the individuals concerned, the subsequent legal challenge for fees and the possible reasons for the failure, are examined in the full story which can be reached via the icon on this page. It is augmented by newspaper snippets from the time and some useful maps of the route. Despite the failure the chosen route was the one used when the project came to fruition in 1903 proving that that aspect at least was well thought out.