The Man I' The Rock
Walkers on the Dysart to West Wemyss stretch of the Fife Coastal Path may pass unaware the site of a long-gone work, now commemorated only in the Dysart pub of the same name.
The 'Man I the Rock' was carved by Dysart hand-loom weaver John Paterson in 1851 and stood on a popular and picturesque pathway for almost 120 years.
The story behind the carving is inspirational. But the saga of its demise, partly due to natural erosion and the weather, but partly also due to civic dithering, is less edifying.
In depth written study
The Man in the Rock
Kirkcaldy has few statues and certainly none to its famous sons and daughters. This is a story of a statue not of but by one of its unsung citizens. Writing this account of the demise of “The Man i’ the Rock” in 2020, which is exactly 50 years after it vanished for ever. draws a parallel with another longstanding historical landmark which is getting dangerously close to meeting the same fate. That landmark is of course Seafield Tower.
The “Man in the Rock” stood on the low shore road between Dysart and West Wemyss. This footpath was also known as the lockout road. Much of its construction done by miners during periods when they were locked out of their work through wages disputes.
The road was initially intended as a short cut for miners and factory girls making their way to and from work, as well as being a means of communication between the two villages.
It also had the advantage of having some of the best views over the firth of forth and allied to the woodland, flora and wildlife it was a wonderful and enjoyable trail for social life and exercise. It is hard to imagine that in days gone by Dysart was a magnet for visitors and holidaymakers alike with it the Dubbie Braes, the piper braes with their attractions and cafes – all lost to the uncontrolled dumping of slag and redd by uncaring coal companies plus the relentless work of the sea eroding the coast.
In 1851, Joseph Paterson a local weaver who had no training, started to try his hand at sculpture and after some attempts, determined to attempt a sculpture of “The Prisoner of Chillon”. This was inspired by his having read Byron’s poem of the same name.
He chose a niche in the red rocks just above the path and working in his spare time throughout the summer produced his masterpiece. It was so admired that the Earl of Rosslyn together with Captain Wemyss added a plinth and iron bars to both protect and enhance the 5 foot figure. Visitors came from far and wide to view the work and the people of Dysart ensured that the figure was regularly painted, spruced up and kept in a manner reflecting local pride in the figure.
But time and tide wait for no man and over the years the mining, the tipping and the sea did their worst. Attempts were made to protect the man and the path, often by voluntary means as well as civic efforts but the latter were often hampered by disputes as to which body or council should take responsibility.
Eventually lack of action allowed the sea to erode up to 80 yards below the figure, which led to the path being unstable and ultimately too dangerous to use. The man was left alone and uncared for ultimately collapsing into the sea in October 1970. Concern had been expressed that the figure was at risk, with preservation work desperately needed or to cut out and move the figure to another site. These pleas and suggestions fell on deaf ears, the Council baulking at the cost. They also refused to attempt to move the statue to the new Town House, preferring to splash out £1800 on a new brass statue.
It has to be admitted that with the benefit of hindsight, the carving was perhaps in a perilous place but something more could and should have been done to save it. Certainly Dysart people felt that Kirkcaldy left it to its fate, on the basis of cost alone and firmly believed that had part of Kirkcaldy promenade been swept away in a storm, action would have been taken.
The last 20 years has seen vast improvements and now that portion of the Fife Costal path is a pleasant and enjoyable walk once more. When you pass that way, remember the people of long ago, making their way to and from their daily toil and reflect on the efforts of local lad, John Paterson in creating a landmark figure, which those in authority forsook, deserted, neglected and abandoned. It is now only a name and a memory.
Must Seafield Tower follow?