Despite some valiant efforts to revive our town's retail sector, long gone are the days when it was true to say without fear of contradiction that 'You Can Buy It In Kirkcaldy'. Indeed, such a claim in 2022 would surely fall foul of some kind of trades descriptions act.
But 70 years ago, it was confidently proclaimed, without fear of contradiction, as a tag line for the Kirkcaldy Traders Exhibtion - an event that celebrates a point in time and a golden era now lost.
It should have you reminiscing and reflecting on the sights, sounds and smells once connected with shopping in Kirkcaldy
In depth written study
"You Can Buy it in Kirkcaldy"
The above title and slogan were coined in 1952 as the headline for the inaugural Kirkcaldy Traders Exhibition. Our initial intention was to use that exhibition as a vehicle to provide a snapshot of a time many believed to have been Kirkcaldy’s golden age of shopping. At the outset this was the only trade’s exhibition that the team were aware of and therefore the narrative should have been compact and devoted to this one event.
As happens so often that idea was soon derailed as research unearthed another three such events. So, instead of dealing with a seven day event in 1952 – the story expands to travelling back to 1928, so widening the scope and range of the narrative.
In our full narrative, while all four exhibitions have been covered, the centrepiece remains the 1952 event. It is also necessary to give credit to the Fifeshire Advertiser and especially The Fife Free Press without whose excellent coverage this story would have been but a pale imitation. Other than through the columns of these newspapers, records of the events are very sparse and very sketchy.
Kirkcaldy’s first two trade’s exhibitions took place in 1928 and 1929, both being staged in the Adam Smith Hall’s complex. It would appear that they were speculative promoted events rather than organised by Kirkcaldy traders themselves. 1928 saw a Captain Robertson as the promoter with a Mr J. Robertson Mungo fulfilling the same role the following year. The promoters organised such events throughout the country – hiring a hall, organising the publicity, and inviting traders to take part. The traders would pay a fee to the promoters who would also charge for admission. From that income, the promoters would pay the expenses and retain the remainder as profit.
The 1928 event ran from the 2nd until the 7th April and as well as featuring local traders there were also mannequin parades and an orchestra to add to the entertainment. The mannequin parades were organised by J. & A. Grieve, a High Street stalwart of ladies wear, for many years. The name can still be seen, albeit now fading, above the Exchequer and Clinkards.
A feature of this event was Provost Kilgour opening the event on the closing day! Why this happened is curious, but it was not until the 7th that the event was formally declared open. The event was open from 2.00 pm until 10.00 pm each day with a supper dance held on the final night. The Rialto Tea Rooms provided the catering for those attending.
The event had to have been successful as it was repeated the following year. This time it was staged over a full week from the 30th March. A similar format was followed – although on this occasion the opening ceremony was indeed at the appropriate moment. Two well known names were added to those attending – Woodwards and A.K.Melville. Both were outfitters and had a presence on the High Street for many decades. On this occasion, it was D.S. Beveridge who organised the mannequin parade. Beveridges, who were also represented at the 1952 event, were another fashion wear outlet with a long history in the town. Their premises sat on the corner of Oswald’s Wynd and the High Street. The upper floors are now flats and sadly, at the time of writing, the ground floor remains empty (although showing signs of occupancy being a possibility). For whatever reason, the event was not repeated. The full narrative contains adverts associated with the event and some of the business names, if gone, are still familiar to older Langtonians.
1952 saw the advent of a major exhibition which was organised from within the town. The leading figure and driving force was Councillor J.Y. Dick, who was also chairman of the Chamber of Commerce at the time. In 1951, the Festival of Britain had been held and there had been ten million visitors attending. Kirkcaldy had not taken part in the festivities, the Chamber of Commerce turning down an invitation to host a Trades Fair as part of the countrywide celebrations of the Festival.
It would appear that Councillor Dick was not amused at this decision and strongly felt that, if London could showcase Britain, why could Kirkcaldy not showcase itself? He did not just talk but also acted and, along with a small team, conceived and created the 1952 Kirkcaldy Trades Exhibition. The event was held on 5 days between the 14th and 18th October. It was well organised, well publicised and immensely successful. Along with a considerable number of stalls, daily entertainments and competitions were also a feature. Each day also saw a number of demonstrations given by local firms. Over 16,000 people paid for admission and the event had only two negative sides – firstly, as everything was contained in the limited space of the halls, the pressure of visitor numbers could make moving around uncomfortable at times. Secondly, given the limited space, not every firm who wished to attend was able to secure a slot.
There was never any doubt that the event would be repeated and, as early as February 1953, the committee started formulating their plans. The committee certainly paid attention to where improvements could be made and 1953 saw a nine day event between the 15th and 26th October – principally designed to relieve congestion. In addition other venues staged exhibitions and demonstrations, again with the intention of making a visit less stressful. By using external venues more traders were accommodated and this was certainly an even better attended event where the admissions topped 20,000. The entertainments and competitions were again in evidence and all proved popular once more.
The Museum, Library and Art Gallery all offered supporting exhibitions and the Town Council ensured that in both years there were excellent floral displays.
Both events were a great success attracting huge crowds and those attending certainly enjoyed their visit. So, why were there no further such events?
There is nothing obvious which offers a reason. In an attempt to obtain an answer, the team poured over every published pronouncement of Councillor J.Y.Dick in 1954. There was not a mention of an exhibition to be found and, in fact, no mention of Dick himself after May 1954. We suspect that he may have retired from the council at the May 1954 elections or, if he stood, lost his seat. He was certainly still alive as he passed away at his home in Whytehouse Avenue in 1971.
Although there was a committee, our suspicion is that without the driving force of John Y. Dick perhaps the appetite and drive evaporated.
This is one story where the maximum benefit can only be derived by visiting the full narrative, where details and advertisements for the traders and entertainments are shown. They can transport the reader back to a time when Kirkcaldy was the pre-eminent shopping centre in Fife. The names of the traders and entertainers will certainly arouse memories, if not to the reader themselves, most certainly they will in the minds of parents and grandparents.
When you see what the town once boasted, it is sad to see the pale imitation that it is today. That is no criticism of today’s traders who do a fine job in keeping the High Street alive – it is, if anything, wonderment as to how it was allowed to reach the low level it did! We all have our opinions, but we are where we are!
To paraphrase the song, perhaps “we can still rise now and be a High Street again”.