Three Baronial Villas
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Three of the finest late-Victorian villas in Kirkcaldy are conveniently grouped together near the roundabout on Bennochy Road where it swings towards the west while also continuing as Hendry Road towards the north. They date from the 1880s when the wealthy were seeking to build homes above the smoke and grime of the town. These are Marchmont at No 24 Bennochy Road; Beechwood (later the Royal British Legion, then Legion Court) at No 26; and Kilmany, later Morningside, at No 31, and all of them are B-Listed.
The first two were the work of the Fettercairn-born, St Andrews based, architect John Milne (1822 - 1904) and were both built around 1880 whilst the third was by the Kirkcaldy born and bred architect Robert Little (1837 - 1901), and it was erected c-1890 - 92.
All three get pretty short shrift in the Fife architectural guides. Buildings of Scotland, Fife, by John Gifford (1988) says ‘Bennochy Road shows changing fashion. Nos. 24-26, absurd French chateaux of c 1880.’ And that’s all. He does not mention Milne and omits Little and Kilmany altogether. The Kingdom of Fife, An illustrated architectural guide, by Glen Pride (1990) on the other hand, does not mention Milne or Marchmont or Beechwood at all but does credit (credit?) Robert Little, saying ‘Morningside, Bennochy Avenue [sic] 1890-2, Robert Little. Overripe Baronial with all castellated trimmings . . .’
Marchmont was built immediately adjacent to Bennochy Cemetery which dates from c-1860 before being extended eastwards from around 1890. The house was built for James Whyte, a bank agent, and with George Whyte, a floorcloth manufacturer, as tenant.
It was advertised for sale at a reduced Upset-Price of £2,100 in May 1898 - ‘The House contains three handsome Public Rooms, four Bedrooms, Dressing room, Bathroom, servants’ Bedroom, Pantry, Store Room &c. There is a large, well-stocked Garden with Vinery and Conservatory.’ Other subsequent proprietors include the Iron Merchant, Alexander Barnet, of Barnet & Morton in the High Street, then in 1914 it was sold to George Wilson, who in 1920 sold it to Harold Ostlere, the son of the linoleum manufacturer Edward Ostlere and who was also a floor cloth and linoleum manufacturer, for £1,850. This included ‘dwelling house . . . the garage, glass house, hot water heating apparatus in the greenhouses . . . kitchen range, all grates . . . Venetian blinds, window blind rollers, brass curtain poles and all gasoliers and gas fittings.’ The builder Alexander Fraser of Millie Street, Pathhead, carried out the various works at that time and then in 1924 Harold Ostlere bought some land from his neighbour at No 24, Mrs Elizabeth Beveridge of Beechwood, for £426 12s. The house was converted to become a residential home in 1989, and various additions and other ancillary buildings were erected.
It is a pretty good example of Milne’s mature style in which he gave full vent to his enjoyment of quirky and exuberant inventiveness and detailing. (He was also responsible for the 1874 B-Listed East School in Glebe Park - a board school built on a very much tighter budget, and the Duncan Institute - now the library - in Cupar). Marchmont really packs a lot into the front (west) elevation with a tall octagonal roofed turret to the right, a curvilinear gable over a circular panel containing a fairly restrained ‘Star of David’ in the centre bay while an advanced bay to the left has a crowstepped dormer gable over a round-headed window which has a rope-moulded hood-mould which also encircles a quatrefoil moulding just for good measure. Like many Victorian architects he was fond of using ropework mouldings which are fine when well executed, as around the door to the right, but less effective as at some parts around the window.
The turret roof is particularly ornate as it includes little louvred dormer gables alternating with segmental moulded pediments, and French chateaux style decorative ironwork and a weathervane at the top above bands of fish-scale slating. Milne certainly did not do understated, and yet it all harmonises to produce a building full of interest. Some of the windows are square-headed, some round-headed and some are segmental, yet the only jarring note is that one of the central pair on the ground floor has been crudely blocked up.
Beechwood was built for Michael Beveridge who died at just 54 in March 1890 and thus can have had only a few years in the house. He was the Provost of Kirkcaldy and left £50,000 for the creation of a library, a hall, and a park for the town. During the war Beechwood was used by Polish soldiers and was then bought by the Royal British Legion who added halls and a bowling green. They sold it in 1994 and it was converted into flats while other flats were erected on the bowling green with the whole complex being renamed Legion Court.
Beechwood has many of the same architectural motifs, a polygonal bay to the right with stepped corbelling to the first floor, prominent machicolations at the eaves cornice, and bands of fish-scale slating to the shapely roof which is topped with an iron weathervane. To the left of this bay are two dormer gables, the left of which has rope-moulding in a hood mould with a circular panel and the other has blank panels rather than a ‘Star of David.’ And again the most northern of these bays is slightly advanced and is crowstepped while the central bay has a skew-slabbed gable with block finials. And, strangely enough, though clearly not the original intention, on the ground floor the window to the left of the central pair has also been crudely blocked off.
To the front all the windows are square-headed on the ground floor and segmentally-headed on the first floor with the one to the far left having a semi-circular niche over it to set off the hood-moulding - though here the rope-work is continued right across the whole facade and on to the turret at the entrance. This turret rises to three storeys and is capped by a pyramidal pavilion roof - with bands of fish-scale slating, and is topped with decorative ironwork called brattishing. The tower also has stout bartisans with candle-snuffer roofs capped by tall skinny finials on the south and west faces.
This entrance tower, and part of the corner bay, was for a while largely obscured by a two-storey 20th-century flat-roofed blockwork extension which has now been mercifully swept away. This then allowed access to the rear of the property on which has been built flatted accommodation. In 1939 the noted St Andrews architects Gillespie & Scott made
alterations and in 1950 Kirkcaldy-based Williamson and Hubbard made minor changes. Like Marchmont and Kilmany the grounds have been packed with modern additions, accretions,
and extensions. These at Beechwood are the best of them but it is a very low bar indeed.
George Whyte, who bought Marchmont, was the Whyte of Henry, Whyte & Strachan, National Floorcloth Works, and the census shows that he lived there with two sons, two daughters and four staff. Next door Michael Beveridge lived with his wife, a cook and a housemaid, and also had a visitor staying at the time of the census. Another visitor to Beechwood was General William Booth of the Salvation Army who came to Kirkcaldy to receive the Freedom of the Burgh on 16 April 1906 (see object 12). Arriving from Cupar on the train at 6.23pm he went straight to Beechwood to visit Mrs Beveridge, before collecting his award at the King’s Theatre and then catching the 10.24pm to King’s Cross. A pretty full evening for a 77-year-old.
Kilmany, now known as Morningside, like the other two villas, is B-Listed and was originally built for John Love junior. It was converted to become a residential home during the 1980s after having been, despite its name, a doctor’s surgery for many years. It is built of rock-faced sandstone with polished dressings throughout, and erected in 1890 sometime after the other two. It is a very striking building and a curious mixture of Disneyland fairy castle in profile and ruggedly hunky Scottish Baronial from close up, with the full works of crowsteps, castellations, machicolations, hoodmoulds, etc. A tall skinny central bartizan acts as a central pivot or hinge at the corner. And it has graded fish-scale slating and is also topped by a weathervane - though this one is the least ornate of the three.
It’s architect, Robert Little, was practising with his father William from 1882 as William Little & Son, ‘architects, builders, joiners, lath splitters, sawmillers & c.’. The firm employed up to nine men and two boys and from 1888 Robert practised under his own name from his home in Albert Road, and went on in 1895-98 to build the impressive Whytehouse Mansions block of Baronial tenements and shops in the High Street. This was clearly intended to have matching corner towers at Whytescauseway and Whytehouse Avenue but for some reason this never happened at the southern end. We hope to find the story behind the missing tower for a future article.
Another notable contribution to the High Street was his 1893-5 three-storey tenement and shop for Barnet & Morton at 192-196 with its balustrade and carved griffins flanking their ornate B & M initials in a segmental panel. He also built the Abbotshall Primary School in Ramsay Road - which is now for sale, and the Abbotshall Church Hall and Beadle’s House.
A little way outwith Kirkcaldy he built the neat little Scots Renaissance-style Mitchell Hall at Kinglassie with a tidy caretaker’s house alongside. This is a
worthy addition to a Main Street with a surprising amount of good architecture for a small village, including some rather superior 1930s Council Housing by William Williamson.
Both architects came from relatively humble backgrounds. Milne’s father was a joiner and contractor and his early training was as apprentice to his father before becoming a pupil of a John Henderson of Edinburgh and he then transferred to act as Clerk of Works to the eminent Edinburgh architect David Bryce for his works in Fife. He became an enthusiast for the Free Church at the time of the ‘Disruption’ in 1843 and received a number of commissions for churches and manses in Fife and Angus. As well as his competition-winning design for the Duncan Institute (now the library) in Cupar he had also, nine years earlier in 1860, produced an innovative design for the interior and frontage of Foote’s retail premises at 10 Crossgate, Cupar, making extensive use of metal pillars to make full use of the light from roof-lights. As these premises are now, since February 2021, a cafe, one can admire the Leith-built columns while enjoying a coffee in the very civilised, ‘No. 10.’ cafe, and then stroll across the road to admire the richly detailed facade of the library.
Following the 1872 Education Act he was responsible for the design of no fewer than sixteen schools throughout Fife - all of which were said to have ‘given the greatest satisfaction.’ Among them was Kirkcaldy East School (Glebe Park) of 1874/5 with a Headmaster’s House and Janitor’s Lodge. The school has Gothic detailing and not just one but two towers - a lofty square-cut and rather severe one at the Boy’s entrance with a tall pyramidal spire, slightly softened with bands of fish-scale slating. At the entrance door for the Infants the tower has much more of a gingerbread house and friendly feel about it for the wee ones and is rather stumpy with a single band of fish-scale slating on the polygonal roof.
The decorative carvings to the stonework of the school generally are more restrained and minimal than usual for him with more use of angled flat surfaces, as, for example the way he turns the chimney stacks throughout through 45 degrees to form lozenge shapes towards the top. I guess he could not resist the temptation.
The Jannies lodge is single storey and faces Glebe Park right alongside the Infants entrance to the school, while the Headies house is two-storey and sits soberly and sedately at the head of Maryhall Street where it forms an effective vista stop - and was well separated from the kids. However, the Jannies lodge does have a turret roof over the porch - and with banded fish-scale slating - and with a ball and spike finial on top.
His photo, taken in his late 30s, shows a gentle, rather wistful man who never married, lived alone, and ran a very small office with no partner. This will have meant that he was solely responsible for producing the wealth of working drawings and details required for his highly inventive buildings. Twelve of his presentation designs were hung in positions of honour at the RSA’s exhibitions in Edinburgh in the 1860s - a rare thing for a provincial architect.
His plans for Westerlee in St Andrews, now known as the Wardlaw Hall, were selected for the 1874 London International Exhibition of Architecture where they received an honourable mention.
As well as all this he was a very active and committed member of the (Free) Church and the wider community; and a member of the town council at St Andrews for 25 years and a bailie for four of these.
In 1878 he proposed that lime trees should be planted in South Street and took over the upkeep of them personally. He then went on to repeat the tree planting in Market Street, The Scores, and North Street as well as at Lade Braes Walk - which was largely his creation - and which now contains a somewhat paltry commemorative stone. When he died in 1904 the funeral cortege went along South
Street to the Cathedral Burying-Ground accompanied by virtually all the leading citizens. Flags at the Town Hall and West Port were at half-mast and all business premises in South Street and Argyle Street were closed and their blinds were drawn.
Little died on 7 July 1901 and is buried in Bennochy cemetery at just about the closest point to Kilmany, and where he was joined five years later by his wife, Euphemia Landale.
Their gravestone is the one at an angle.
The first wife of Michael Beveridge died in 1885, and was also buried in Bennochy cemetery, within sight of his new house, and she was joined there when he died at the age of just 54, in 1890. His second wife survived her husband for another 48 years.
DSA, the online Dictionary of Scottish
Architects, 1860 - 1980
Building for a new age.
Annabel Ledgard ed John Frew