The men and women who supported Fife’s beating industrial heart during the 19th and early 20th Century have been celebrated in a new book.
Carol McNeill, author of Fife at Work, said she wanted to pay tribute to the workers who were central to the area’s rich industrial legacy, from the miners to the potters and the textile weavers to the shopkeepers, shipbuilders, fishermen and farmers.
Ms McNeill, of Kirkcaldy, said “It was when I was researching something else that it struck me that Fife had such a vibrant collection of industries. So much of these have virtually vanished. Just a few are carrying on, but in a much smaller way.
The area’s geography helped to encourage a diverse mix of enterprise with the raw materials of coal, clay and water drawing companies to Fife to exploit its natural resources.
The book looks at villages such as Kinghorn, which has a population of less than 3,000 but produced around 20 giant cargo vessels for Australia after it opened in 1863 with ships also built for London, Glasgow, Malta, Singapore and Spain.
Meanwhile, more than 310 ships were built by The Burntisland Shipbuilding Company Ltd in just 50 years from 1918. Dysart was also an important shipbuilding centre.
Many other harbour towns became busy export points given the area’s vast deep coal mining activity which lasted until 1988 when the last pit of its kind, Seafield, closed.
Textiles are considered one of Fife’s oldest industries. While Dunfermline, with its three silk mills, was famous for its fine quality table and bed linen, Kirkcaldy was known for flax spinning and Falkland for its handloom weaving.
Meanwhile, Kirkcaldy also had four main potteries, including David Methven and Sons and Fife Pottery, which produced the famous Wemyss Ware. This style, which is still considerably sought after and demands high prices at auction, was championed by Lady Wemyss of nearby Wemyss Castle and her admiration for Czech decorator Karel Nekola.
Clay for the potteries were taken from nearby fields and transported to the kilns on a specially-built track, McNeill said.
The Wemyss Ware tradition is still continued in Ceres, Fife.
Ms McNeill added: “I felt quite sad that so much of this industry has gone. I wanted to pay tribute to the men and women who spent their working lives contributing to the industries of Fife, many of them who would have left school age 13 or 14 and worked in very difficult conditions.”