Updated: Aug 7
William Williamson, one of the most notable architects from Fife, and one of the most accomplished of his generation, was born at a house in the High Street, Kirkcaldy, on the 19th of April 1871, the third of six sons of Joanna Williamson (nee Hutchison) and William Williamson. His mother was from the wealthy and successful family of flour millers and maltsters with premises located by the harbour and also Victoria Road. His father was a yarn weaver and later a Yarn and Flax Merchant from a ship-owning family, and other members of the wider family were also prominent in the town.
Williamson attended the Burgh School - the 1843 single storey school featured in our previous article, and this impressive building may possibly have been the source of his interest in architecture. He was then apprenticed to the architect James Wylie Hislop, who had an office in the High Street, as an apprentice between 1887 and 1889, and where he may have been involved in planning a terrace of worker’s houses for Townsend Foundry, a semi-detached cottage villa in Alexandra street and a double villa in Victoria Road. He then transferred to the Edinburgh office of James Bow Dunn until 1892 when he became a draughtsman. This allowed him to take classes at Heriot Watt College and gain valuable experience as Dunn and his partner James Leslie Findlay had been working on their winning design for the Adam Smith Hall (object 11) together with a variety of work on tenements, mansions, houses, pubs etc., in and around Edinburgh during that time.
He returned to Kirkcaldy in 1895 to commence practice on his own account and was admitted FRIBA in 1905. Thanks to his family connections one of his earliest commissions in Kirkcaldy was Alexandra House at 121 Victoria Road. This was later called Victoria House, and C-Listed, and was built for George Ferguson and his wife Isabella, the daughter of AH Mackintosh the founder of the Furniture manufacturers. Ferguson later became a director of the company. The house is of red sandstone with polished ashlar dressings in Queen Anne style and with a swept roof. He also built some fine villas for friends and family at Boglily Road, such as St Ronan’s for his father and Abbotsrood, next door, for his brother John Williamson.
Shortly after this came his C-Listed Abbotshall Infant School, an assured four-square exercise in English Baroque style with a central cupola, which was to become a feature of his other schools. In 1900 he designed a very stylish gate lodge for Braehead House in Victoria Road which was unfortunately demolished to make way for the much less stylish 1984 houses built on the site.
The Records of the Burgh of Kirkcaldy noted on 7 January 1704 that:-
'Takeing [sic] to their serious consideration the great abounding sins of cursing, swearing, excessive drunkenness and other immoralities committed in this place, and that the suppressing thereof would tend very much to the glory of God and the good of the place, and that the town of Edinburgh and several other burghs of this kingdom have, for suppressing thereof, elected constables for that end; therefore, the Councill has elected the persons following to be constables in the several quarters . . .’
Behaviour improved somewhat over the following 199 years and nine days when Kirkcaldy's new Burgh Buildings including Police Station was opened on the 16th of January 1903. Built at a cost of £27,000 to replace the previous cramped and unsuitable building in George Burn Wynd, it housed a courtroom (later a call-handling unit), mortuary, thirty cells - 21 male and 9 female, a long exercise yard as well as housing for lost dogs. A design competition for the building was assessed by Scotland’s Premier architect, Robert Rowand Anderson [see previous article], in which William Williamson with Alexander Russell Inglis, actually came third - but were promoted to first place on the recommendation of Colonel McHardy of the Police commission!
It was built on part of the grounds of St Brycedale House - now Hunter House - and one of the conditions attached was that any windows overlooking the house were to be of either stained glass or frosted glass. One early report said it presented 'a substantial front to St Brycedale Avenue - different from what one usually associates with a prison' and it is indeed now B-listed.
The foundation stone was laid on the same day as William D Sang’s Victoria Viaduct was opened and work started on Williamson’s Victoria Road Electricity Generating Station. This was built to power the trams crossing the East Burn over the new viaduct, so he will have been a busy boy that day. The last tram ran in 1931 and the Generating station has just recently been demolished.
Built of white freestone from the Grange Quarries in Burntisland the police building is a restrained Baroque design with the main elevation facing St Brycedale Avenue. This originally contained the main entrance doorway in a slightly advanced bay in the centre flanked by full-height pilasters. The 2-leaf door has a semi-circular fanlight with a canopy above and there is a small bellcote on the grey slated roof above that.
Facing west onto St Brycedale Road is the five-stage bell tower set back slightly and with a round-headed doorway with a deep-set timber panelled 2-leaf door on the south face. The tower is topped with another domed bellcote/cupola, though neither bellcote ever had a bell.
There are a few ornamental touches here and there, decorative consoles, scrolls, a cartouche, and cast-iron downpipes with decorative rainwater hoppers, and generally it is a cool dignified building, and a promising start to his architectural career.
The building was extensively altered internally in 1997 by Fife Council Architects, and reopened on 26 May 1998, after alterations to the cell block. The original female cells were retained with new doors and plumbing.
John Gifford dismissed it in Buildings of Scotland, Fife (1988) as: ‘Free English Baroque; tall SE cupola an attempt to add Belcher-type panache.’ He was a hard guy to please. Mind you, Glen Pride does not even mention the police buildings at all in his 1990/1999 book; The Kingdom of Fife, an illustrated Architectural Guide.
His electricity generating station on Victoria Road was built for the Kirkcaldy Electric Tramway and Electric Light Committee to replace the previous horse-drawn buses. It was sited on Victoria Road on land feued from the neighbouring Nairn’s linoleum factory and alongside the railway line for ease of the delivery of coal. It opened on 23 December 1902 and after the official party had been shown around the building the power was switched on by the Provost at 3pm. Three cars carrying those and such as those, and be-decked with flags, evergreens and swathed with draperies set off past cheering crowds. It was noted that several people chose to alight at the top of the Path and walk down to re-board at the foot! During the first year of operation the trams carried 2.7 million people - 78 times the population of the town.
It was extended in 1909; 1912; and finally in 1922 to supply around 30,000 homes and street lamps. Mind you, by 1922 the future of the tramway system was coming into doubt and lack of repairs and frequent breakdowns as well as competition from buses in the next few years led to the last tram running in 1931.
The commanding B-Listed building was put on the Buildings at Risk Register in 2013 and given listed building consent for demolition in April 2017 and the bulldozers moved in within days. Now all that remains of the former impressively handsome facade to Victoria Road is a raggedy section of wall up to about cill height and a second-hand car lot at the east end.For this job Williamson worked in collaboration with the London-based architect Charles Stanley Peach (1858-1934), who also worked on tramways for Kilmarnock, and proposed Williamson for Fellowship of the RIBA in 1905. Williamson also built the tramcar depot in Oswald Road in 1903 - demolished in the early 1990s, as well as a number of sub-stations around the town. These are particularly hunky and substantial buildings and not unlike the mortuary in Crail Parish churchyard built to house the dead until they were sufficiently decomposed to be of no use to body-snatchers.
One building which may come as a surprise was his Royal Naval Base Mansions of 1904 at Jamestown, Inverkeithing. This was an exceptionally large lodging house built to accommodate six hundred men working on the construction of the new Naval Base at Rosyth - mainly Irish labourers. It is U-shaped and nearly 40 metres square and 14.02m high with 3 storeys and basement and is now the Comfort Store. ‘The contract was let to Messrs JA MacTaggart & Co, of 64 Bath Street, Glasgow, and executed to the complete satisfaction of the architect and all concerned.’
He worked on the design in 1904 and it was built in 1909 around the time when the main work started on the Naval Base. It was built using the French Hennebique technique of reinforced concrete although there is no external indication that the construction is anything other than very conventional. . . and very thrifty.The technique was adopted for fire safety as well as economy, and about the only concession to ornamentation is the round-arched and keystoned entrance doorway with raised stone letters above saying NAVAL BASE MANSIONS.
A notable feature was the recreational hall, 39m long and 10m wide with no intermediate supports. This was just one of a number of lodging houses built to house the workforce which reached a total of five thousand at its peak, and he later did a scheme of 20 houses for Inverkeithing Town Council in 1920.
Another rather curious project was his, along with Harry Hubbard, scheme for Westfield Court, multi-storey flats off Gorgie Road in Edinburgh. This distinctive curved 8-storey block was divided into six different tenements, each of which had its own staircase, and Hew Lorimer created a sculptured panel for above the central pend. The plans for 88 dwellings were originally drawn up in 1939 for a developer but it was not built until after the War and then for Edinburgh Burgh Council.
His 1902 design for the interior of the Feuars Arms, Pathhead, done with JD Swanston has already been touched on in a previous article. Suffice it to say that it is an outstanding interior with its two-toned tiled walls, mosaic floor, and bar counter as well as coloured glass and lamps making up a splendid Art Nouveau space. The single large mahogany U-plan bar counter is 18 metres long and the toilet has two marble urinals and a very rare glass-panelled Doulton’s cistern. Altogether it contains one of the best displays of ceramics in Scotland. The listing was upgraded from B to A in 2008 following survey work by CAMRA.
Shortly after this he designed a couple of ship interiors, the SS Princess Ena, launched in 1906, and the SS Titania, launched in 1908 and both built by Gourlay Brothers of Dundee. The Princess Ena was built in four months for the London and South Western Railway and served as a passenger ship to and from the Channel Islands before catching fire and sinking in 1935. She had dropped off her passengers, 500 Boy Scouts - in Jersey and was heading for St Malo when the fire broke out and blazed for two days before the crew of 42 abandoned her 11 miles west of Jersey. The Titania was built to run between Helsinki / Copenhagen and Hull and was requisitioned by the Admiralty then torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine about fifty miles east of Aberdeen in March 1917 with the loss of four lives.
Another building in which Swanston and Williamson combined was the King’s Theatre in the High Street. RC Buchanan and associates of Glasgow encouraged the building of new theatres which could then be sold to local shareholder companies with Buchanan becoming its managing director. Following Falkirk’s Grand Theatre and Opera House in 1903 they purchased a site in the High Street by Redburn Wynd in 1904 and the joint complex of theatre and shops and tenements was erected with Swanston responsible for the theatre while Williamson dealt with the commercial shops and tenement.
The contractor was WS Cruikshank & Son - the son, Stewart, then 27, later became one of the top figures in British theatre business, but the theatre had a chequered history from the start while Williamson’s ‘Wrenaissance’ style upper two floors are still smart, the first floor commercial properties and shops on the ground floor are decidedly less so.
As noted in our previous article he also built schools; the first of these, Abbotshall Infant School for 600 pupils and built at cost of £6,000 in 1898 in Ramsay Road was early in his career and is described by Gifford as ‘blocky English Baroque with a confident cupola.’ Cupolas were to feature frequently in his work. Altogether he worked on around fourteen school to various extents from alterations or additions to full original design and construction.
In 1901 he entered and won the competition to build a new public school (now the Primary School) at Anstruther Easter - as reported in The Builder:- ‘A new school has been erected by the Anstruther School Board at the west end of Melville Terrace. The school was designed by Messrs Williamson and Inglis, architects, . . . and provides accommodation for 320 pupils. The classrooms are planned so that, by means of sliding screens, a large room is provided. The building has two entrances and a corridor 10 feet [3.05m] wide running from end to end. From it the five classrooms enter, three being used by senior pupils and two by infants. The cost has been upwards of £3,300.’
Although not originally intended as such it is now an annexe to Waid Academy and not to be confused with the handsome Academy proper with its impressive square tower a little further up St Andrews Road. Williamson’s school is prominently situated on a raised site at the main road junction near the top of the town, and is roughly T-plan and with symmetrical gables and discrete Art Nouveau touches. There are carved thistle motifs on the gables and dormers and while there is no cupola in this case he has included a distinctive timber roof lantern making it a focal point in the town.
Andrew Waid (1736-1803) a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, had left a substantial sum of money to erect an academy on his property ‘to be called in all time coming Waid’s Orphan Academy’ in order to train, from the age of seven ‘orphan boys in indigent circumstances’ to qualify as ‘useful seamen for the British Navy.’
Incidentally, both schools are C-Listed, and a photograph of the 1884-86 Waid Academy, built by the St Andrews architect David Henry, is used on the British Listed Buildings website rather than one showing Williamson’s school. Not only that but their entry for the former academy itself shows five photos of the adjoining head master’s house plus a close-up of the blue plaque showing that the diplomat Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, the son of the first rector, had been born in the house in 1887!
In 1902-04 he built Auchterderran Junior Secondary School, Woodend Road, a very elongated single-storey block which is now Auchterderran Staff Development and Resources Centre and Teachers’ Training Centre. This is C-Listed and cost £11,000 to build for 900 pupils. It extends to no fewer than 18 symmetrical bays grouped in threes in grey ashlar in what Gifford calls a ‘Relaxed Free style.’ It has an abundance of advanced bays, gables, pediments, and dormer windows breaking the eaves, and with carved flowers and thistles and mouldings. It was added to in 1961 by Fife County Education Architects Department but closed in 1989 with the pupils moving to Lochgelly High School. The novelist Ian Rankin spent two years here before being offered a place at Beath Senior High School, and it could well be the best of Williamson’s schools
In 1906 he won the competition to design the Burntisland Carnegie Library from a field of no fewer than 26 architects. This was with a rather English Renaissance style design which could well have been at home in Windsor or Oxford. There is a nicely curved projecting entrance doorway and above at the first floor are flanking medallions and carved swags. The library is now B-Listed.
Although the designs and layouts of the Carnegie Libraries were generally pretty standardised in that typically ‘Queen Anne Style’ with red brick and contrasting dressings of pale stone or terracotta were the norm in the south and midlands of England, local stone was normally used in the north and in Scotland. The site for the library was donated by James Shepherd of Rossend Castle and the Kirkcaldy Linoleum manufacturers Barry, Ostlere & Shepherd. This had previously been occupied by the Erskine United Free Church, seating 700 and originally built in 1744. They were moving to their new church opposite the Links and Mr Shepherd, who had already donated the land for the building of the new church, also purchased the site of the old one and gifted that to the town as the site for the library. His offer to purchase and donate the land had provided a considerable impetus to the campaign to raise the necessary funds - Carnegie just supplied the £3,100 - £3,500 required for the building work, while the funds to purchase books and everything else was to come from the town .
The library was opened by Andrew Carnegie himself on 18th September 1907 while he was in
Scotland to attend a meeting of the Library Association. He also received the Freedom of the Burgh at the ceremony, and on the following day the library opened to the public - with the police having to control the crowds wishing to use it.
A little later he and his then Assistant Peter Reid built another school to serve the Cardenden, Auchterderran, Bowhill, Jamphlars, Denend and Dundonald conurbation. This was Denend Primary School (Not Dunend, as the British Listed Buildings website calls it).
It opened in 1910 and is essentially square-shaped on plan with three roof ridges running N and S and covered in red pantiles. It is B-Listed and although simpler it has many similarities to Auchterderran including carved thistles and flowers on the numerous gables as well as tall dormer windows breaking the eaves. There are also lead-roofed pagoda style air-vents on the roof ridges to the east and west. Apparently “the small turrets on top of the main building were used for housing air-raid sirens during World War II.”
Around the same time he prepared competition winning plans for the new Kirkcaldy
Technical and Elementary Schools to be built alongside the Burgh School in St Brycedale Avenue. The Technical School was not built until much later - 1926 in fact, and then to the designs of Walter Alison. However, his Elementary School Building, to the rear, was built, but then demolished in 1960. In 1912 he made additions and alterations to Sir Robert Rowand Anderson’s Milton Road School - the West School, appropriately enough, in William Street!
In 1913 he was appointed as architect for the third iteration of Pathhead Board School, for 1,050 pupils in Cairns Street. His design came first, another design by him came second while third place went to William Dow, the architect of Victoria Mansions and St Andrews Church in Victoria Road. This followed the replacement of the Philp School in Nether Street which had moved about 500 yards northwards to the junction of Factory Road and Smeaton Road and he then moved it a further 400 yards or so northwards again to Cairns Street. His school had an extremely long symmetrical frontage to the street with, of course, a bell-tower at the midway point. A photograph in Duncan Glen’s book (p 60) shows the multitude of high tall windows facing Cairns Street; while the respective Boys and Girls entrances will have been at either gable end. The school was burnt down on the 10th of March 1989 after a suspicious blaze causing £1 million worth of damage and requiring up to 50 fire-fighters. A new one was built on the same site two years later - and which now has 259 pupils plus 87 nursery places.
In 1914 he designed Blairhill Board School at Dysart which was opened in September 1916. It is prominently sited by the crest of Normand Road across from JD Swanston’s fine tenement block of houses and corner shop. The school is in Queen Anne style and like others by him it is symmetrical despite its remarkably long frontage on a steep hill. Naturally it is centred around a cupola with a weathervane finial. It cost £7-8,000 to build, was again won in competition, and is now C-Listed and known as Dysart Primary School. It was also to be the last of the school buildings with which he was involved.
He was not particularly involved in church building although he did build a hall for Thornton United Free Church in 1896 followed by the Free Gothic style Free church itself in 1906. This had red brick sides and a red sandstone front as well as a steep roof with a flèche, a small and slender spire. The cost was just £2,200, and the church, like so many others, is now disused.
In 1905-08 he carried out alterations to William Dow’s Victoria Road United Free Church and in 1911 he designed a rather undistinguished late Decorated style St John’s Church in Meldrum Road. This had a large roof with no cupola, spire, or flèche, but only a simple stone cross on the front gable wall rising above the roof line. A tower had been proposed but never built and the church was badly destroyed by fire in 1975. A new church by Marcus Johnson was built in front of the original building which then became the church hall.
In 1909 he built the St Brycedale Church Mission Institute in Coal Wynd. This has a very attractive Baroque frontage to Coal Wynd but a muckle great backside which is now exposed. It is set back from the road with neat wrought iron railings to prevent folk falling down to the basement, as it is built on steeply falling ground. The church’s previous Mission Hall in Oswald Wynd was not particularly suitable and the new hall costing £1,250 was proposed. It eventually cost £1,650 and the Nairn family and particularly Sir MB Nairn, contributed most of the money (see object 13 ‘Philanthropy almost without Limit.’). Sir Michael was presented with a gold key to mark the opening on June 30 1910. During the First World War the hall was used by the 7th Volunteer Battalion of the Black Watch for drill purposes, and by 1921 the Ministry of Labour had use of part of the Institute while the Boys’ Brigade were using one of the halls for drill. In October 1930 the lower hall of the Institute was let to Kirkcaldy Labour Exchange and they remained until 1936 by which time the halls were let for most evenings. It was used as a Food Office during the War and then the Ministry of Works decided to make an offer of £4,000 to buy which was accepted in September 1947, and the building was used as Inland Revenue offices, for a time. Eventually, in 1996 it was converted to become a dance studio.
In 1925 he took on the restoration of St Fillan’s Church in Aberdour which had been a roofless ruin for over a century, as the roof was taken off around 1796 and a new church was built in West Aberdour, closer to where most of the congregation lived. The reason for this was that the Countess of Morton may not have been best pleased that the poor people were passing by close to her home - Aberdour Castle - on their way to the church. Certainly it is recorded that a ‘lady of title’ wanted to have the walls and churchyard flattened as they got in her way while out hunting. At least that did not happen but the church remained in a dismal state until a number of local people and particularly the Misses Laurie of Starley Hall, had the vision and commitment to raise the funds for the restoration. The communion table, pulpit, font, organ and other gifts came from local parishioners, and members of the congregation gave time and labour in laying the paving around the church and also in removing a large tree growing in the nave. The original font was found lying in the churchyard and was restored to the church, and the bell which used to hang at the ruined St Bridget’s church at Dalgety was also given to the church. This bell was 14 inches (35cm) high and with a diameter of just under 12 inches (30cm) and with a Latin inscription in a scrolled band, and is now set within the birdcage bellcote on the west gable.
The restoration of the church was carried out in just over a year with local masons and joiners repairing the walls and roof, and the re-dedication was carried out by the Moderator of the General Assembly on July 7th 1926. It is now a particularly fine example of a small Romanesque church with later additions, and having been originally founded in 1123 it is one the oldest ecclesiastical structures in Scotland, and certainly one of the oldest still in regular use.
The cost of restoring the fabric, including the preparation of the ground, removal of the Morton Vault, and the provision of the oak doors came to £2709. This was met by members of the congregation and further gifts from present and past parishioners amounted to £1300 raising the total cost of just over £4000.
The interior is particularly fine and it was said that “Just to enter St Fillan’s is to worship.” When Williamson died his funeral service was held there and he liked to visit the church in his later years and would frequently tell the minister “It is complete, don’t let anyone spoil it”.
On the 11th of March 1903 Kirkcaldy's new Station Hotel and Ballroom opened in Bennochy Road, just across the road from the station. Designed by Williamson it was built by George Smith & Sons, and being situated alongside the Adam Smith Halls it helped to form an impressive entrance to the town for rail travellers. It closed as a hotel in 1987 to briefly become a nursing home for a few years before being refurbished as flats.
Throughout his career he had a number of partnerships with other architects beginning in 1897 when he went into partnership with a fellow apprentice from Dunn’s office, Alexander Inglis who was slightly older, and worked from an office in Edinburgh. The practice soon made a name with high quality work in both Renaissance - the Police Station - and arts and crafts style work. Sadly Inglis suffered from chronic insomnia as a result of overwork and took a desperately fatal overdose of sleeping draught - two days before his wedding! Williamson then closed the Edinburgh office and worked alone until 1932 when he was joined by Henry (Harry) Hubbard, a Glasgow man who had moved to Edinburgh around 1923 to work as chief assistant to Sir Robert Lorimer.
At that stage it was said that Williamson got the jobs and Hubbard designed them, particularly the more adventurous designs, as, for example his 1933-34 villa, built at a cost of £1,000, for the builder R Ritchie Fraser in Bennochy Avenue, an excellent example of International Modern style, with original metal windows, and a flat roof, which thanks to regular care and maintenance by the owners, remains
sound. Fraser was responsible for the building of many of the fine Art Deco style villas along Lady Nairn Avenue and elsewhere in the town. One of their first joint works was the Trustee Savings Bank building at 130 St Clair Street which opened in November 1934. This is a very successful combination of classical elements - the paired polished granite Doric columns on either side of the door, and the Art Deco fanlight over the door with very large metal windows opening up the view of the interior. This C-Listed building became a dry-cleaners in 1997 and is now a hairdressers and has happily retained the essential features.
Incidentally, it should be mentioned that the handsome 1914 former bank building on the corner of St Clair Street and Loughborough Road was not the work of Williamson despite the remarkable similarity to his 1905 Royal Bank (now Savers) building in the High Street with its channelled pilasters, round-headed ground-floor windows and mutuled pedimented cornice. This B-Listed ‘National Bank of Scotland, Pathhead Branch,’ was designed by William Syme who worked from an office in Redburn Wynd and later went into partnership with JD Swanston - and then, around 1920, he went into a very brief partnership with Williamson, again from Redburn Wynd, so there were presumably no hard feelings about the amount of cribbing involved.
Another fine building of theirs in that vicinity was the Sinclairtown Library and clinic of 1933-34 in the Wrenaissance style - now converted to ‘Luxury Flats.’ On the subject of conversions they converted a mansion at Forth Park, which had been donated to the town by the daughter of John Nairn, into the administration block for the new maternity hospital, after a limited competition. They also converted St Brycedale House into Hunter Hospital around the same time, and made a particularly striking addition to the townscape with the Ice Rink.
Fife Flyers had their first game on the 1st of October 1938. The Art Deco plans had been approved by the Dean of Guild on 17th of February and the Rink had been built for £37,000 - in the same year the town's Marks and Spencer store opened and the Fire Station was built
at a cost of £15,000. In that same year Ice Rinks opened at Falkirk, Dunfermline, and the Dundee/Angus Rink in Dundee, while one at Ayr opened in 1939. The Rink had 4,500 seats - mostly wooden benches but tip-up seats could be obtained for an extra charge. The Rink opened at 2.50pm and the Opening ceremony drew a capacity crowd of 4625, and caused two-mile tail-backs on St Clair Street. Members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and local dignitaries attended as Lord Elgin threw the first curling stone. Glasgow Speed Racing Club staged an exhibition and world Figure Skating champion Megan Taylor gave a demonstration - and received a gift of a set of golf clubs. Season tickets for 1938/9 cost from 10/- to £3 for tip-up seats rink-side and included free skating after the match- a practice which was discontinued in 1997.
The war came shortly after the season ended and the league was disbanded. The rink was used as a dance hall during the war, and right through to 1954, with famous name bands like Joe Loss and Ted Heath appearing. It is an extremely rare example of rinks of the time and is now the oldest rink in operation in Scotland. Twenty-seven ice-rinks were built in Britain between 1927 and 1939 and just three others remain - Murrayfield in Edinburgh and two in London.
There was a desperate shortage of decent housing after the First World War due to a lack of new starts and shortages of materials, particularly bricks, and later slates, for ten years. There began a nationally co-ordinated programme of municipal housing in 1918 and substantial developments began in Kirkcaldy District with the first plans drawn up in 1919 but work did not start until 1920 or 1921. Williamson was by then a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and had been appointed architect to Kirkcaldy District and thus his main work during the 1920s and ‘30s was in Local Authority Housing. starting in Kinghorn in the ‘20s and either on his own or with GB Deas, WB Wylie or William Syme and then after 1932 with Harry Hubbard. Schemes of various sizes were built around Kirkcaldy - starting with fifty houses at Ramsay Road; 40 houses at Overton Road; two schemes of 42 and 46 houses at unknown locations; 24 houses at Hendry Road; all planned in 1920 and then 16 houses on Massereene Road in 1926.
Outwith Kirkcaldy he built schemes at East Wemyss; Kinghorn; Lumphinnans, Auchterderran, Leslie, Glencraig, Cardenden, Kinglassie, Thornton, Kingskettle, Auchtertool, Markinch, Burntisland, and as far as North Queensferry (36 houses) and even Limekilns (12 houses) as well as two hundred at Kelty and forty at Largo. These were not just for local authorities but also for the Tayside Floorcloth Co at Newburgh and Tullis Russell at Markinch.
His Local Authority Housing was of a high standard as for example at Kinglassie and the Glebe site at East Wemyss and at the Balgreggie area in Auchterderran - all built around a hundred years ago when Councils actually had a housing budget worthy of the name - but that situation did not last long.
He obtained additional income from the Bentsfield Sand Quarry near Burntisland which he had acquired and in 1906 his family had also inherited the Fife Pottery - of Wemyssware fame - at Gallatown and as a director he kept it going for over twenty years. In 1914 he moved to the attractive eighteenth-century house, Bowbutts, in Kinghorn, where he became a member of the Town Council; Dean of Guild; and Provost from 1925 to 1931. He was also a JP for the County for a number of years. The house dates from the late 18th century and probably incorporates some earlier fabric. It was altered in the 19th century and again between 1920 and 1935 by Williamson, the Kirkcaldy architect of so many schools and libraries, who lived in it for nearly 40 years until his death in 1952. Sadly he seems not to have redecorated since 1935 as I was informed by the man who bought the property after him that many of the rooms were painted, up to dado height, with the ubiquitous municipal nasty green shiny gloss paint common to so many schools and libraries, etc., at that time. (Possibly left over at the end of jobs).
It is worth noting that Duncan Glen (1933-2008) in his book clearly identifies Betty Nicoll’s (see next page) at 295-297 High Street as being by Williamson in 1902. This is certainly confirmed on stylistic grounds by familiar Williamson motifs such as channelled pilasters, Queen Anne style, mutuled cornice at first floor and third floor cill level, tabbed margins and elliptical and round-headed windows. See for example the former Royal Bank (now Savers, at 151-153 and the red sandstone former Sang’s building at 182 the High Street).
However, the British Listed Buildings website attributes it to ‘A MacMaster’ along with (‘possibly’) 299-305, next door. (No mention of Williamson) The online Dictionary of Scottish Architects also attributes it to ‘A MacMaster,’ about whom ‘nothing is yet known’ and they do not include this in their list of Williamson’s known works. Glen, who knew the Williamson family, also pointedout that Angus MacMaster was a spirit merchant, and thus probably owned the property.
William Williamson, Kirkcaldy Architect.
Duncan Glen. Akros 2008
Housing the Heroes. John Frew. Kirkcaldy Museums booklet.1987
Dictionary of Scottish Architects. 1660-1980
Buildings of Scotland, Fife. John Gifford. Penguin 1988