A quiet green space near to the present day Promenade seems an unlikely source of rancour and political manouvering.
Yet the Volunteers Green more than lived up to its military past when it was central to a bitter dispute that saw national politicians involved and local people power mobilised.
It also, happily, led directly to the birth of Kirkcaldy Civic Society.
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The Volunteers Green
A history stretching back to the 17th Century
The Volunteers Green is a well known spot and a little oasis in which to sit and reflect away from the hectic pace of everyday life. It was not always so and several battles have been fought over the centuries to preserve the Green as a place of recreation.
In 1644 King Charles 1st granted Royal Burgh status to Kirkcaldy and gifted 8.172 acres to the fledgling Burgh as common land for the purpose of recreation, bleaching and dyeing. This ground stretched from Thistle and Market Streets to the shoreline and from George Burn Wynd in the east to Louden’s Wynd in the west. The area at the time was known as the common or South Links. Part of it became known as the Volunteers Green when the militia drilled there. The Town Council were appointed Trustees for the ground. In keeping with many towns, as the pressure for housing and factories increased, common land was sold off.
In 1821 a court case brought against Musselburgh Town Council to prevent the sale of common land was won. This outcome stopped such sales for the time being.
In 1836 clothes poles and an enclosing wall were erected in the portion we now know as the Volunteers Green. This was to serve the houses in the surrounding area and had a well in the centre. New housing, especially in the Nicol Street area, led to “night soil” being dumped on the western side of the Green rendering it unusable.
With the expansion of the town in 1876 the Council required to build new stables and a fire station. They chose the portion of the Green which had suffered from the dumping of the excrement. James Graham, a dyer, challenged this loss of common ground and, after an appeal, the Council lost. Perhaps foolishly the Council had started to build and rather than pull down their buildings they conveyed a piece of ground at Nicol Street as an alternative. That ground still exists today, complete with a plaque to explain its origins.
When the old houses surrounding the Green were pulled down in the 1970s there was no longer a need for the drying area. The Green was left forlorn and bedraggled, but it became the scene of two battles. One was at the instigation of the Town Council and the other where the town Council defended an attack on the Green.
An attempt by the Council to build a multi storey car park on a substantial part of the Green brought a furious reaction from the townspeople and resulted in a petition signed by 1842 people condemning the idea. It also led to the founding of Kirkcaldy Civic Society, with the initial purpose of defending the area. In the face of opposition and, being unsure they could secure permission to turn common ground into a car park, the Council shelved the plan. It was subsequently built on its present site.
In 1973 the holding of an unauthorised market several times each week often reduced the Green to a grassless mud bath. This time the Council were determined to support the local shopkeepers who felt it was unfair competition, although the townspeople believed “a bargain is a bargain”. The dispute became deadlocked, with neither side giving way, but ultimately the Council secured their legal victory and the market was gone.
Vans from the Traders Market on Vounteers Green September 1976
In the 1990s plans which had been drawn up twenty years previously came to fruition and saw the transformation of the Green into the restful spot it is today.