A crowd of former employees and interested onlookers gathered to witness the demise of a piece of Kirkcaldy’s industrial heritage at the weekend, as the oldest surviving linoleum factory in the country was pulled down.
There were a few misty eyes as memories were recalled, and one former employee took the opportunity to say goodbye by having his photograph taken in the office where he used to work.
A long-armed crane with a massive claw-like attachment on the end pulled down the walls, which have stood proud since the building was built in the early 1880s, while another smaller one scooped up the rubble and used it to form a ramp to the side of the building, which is being used for access now that the structure is down to first floor level.
James McAllister, contracts manager for Hunter Demolition, which is carrying out the work, said bringing down the building had taken a little longer than anticipated because of its solid structure.
A section of Victoria Road in front of the premises was closed off to traffic from Saturday morning until Tuesday lunchtime for the main part of the demolition to take place. Half of the road has now re-opened with traffic lights in place.
“Everything has gone pretty smoothly, although we ended up working a bit later at the weekend as the steel structure was a bit heavier than we thought and took a bit longer for the machines to cut through,” said Mr McAllister.
“We apologise for any inconvenience to people in the area, who have been very patient.
“Traffic lights will be in operation over the next week until it is taken down to ground level, then we will process the rubble on site, and it will be ground down and used to level off the site and fill in any voids. We will then install a new palisade fence around the site and we should be finished on site around mid-April.”
Mr McAllister said the demolition had prompted huge interest.
“I have never seen so many people out with their cameras taking photos as the building came down,” he added.
“One man came up and introduced himself as a former maintenance manager who used to work in the building – he was full of interesting stories.
“We gave him a tour around and took a photograph on his own camera of him in his old office as a keepsake.”
Floorcloth factory once employed 2500 workers
David Muncey is honorary archivist for Forbo Flooring in Kirkcaldy and worked in export sales and marketing with the company in Kirkcaldy from 1968 until he retired 10 years ago.
He explained the building currently being demolished was not the original Nairn’s Linoleum factory but an extension to the main factory, which was built in 1882 and housed activities important for the preparation of the linoleum for sale.
In 1847 Michael Nairn built his original floorcloth works on the cliffs near Ravenscraig Castle, the first factory of its kind in Scotland. The business flourished and expanded.
However, in 1863 an Englishman, Frederick Walton, patented a floorcovering which he called linoleum because linseed oil is its key raw material. Michael Nairn & Co recognised this product had certain advantages over floorcloth but were prevented by Walton’s patent protection from building their own linoleum factory until the 1870s, when the patent ran out.
The extension or the south works, as they were known, were built in 1882 and were one of six floorcloth factories, and in its heyday it employed around 2500 workers.
During the war years, the factories were turned over to munitions works and their structure re-inforced with concrete encased steel, before returning to their original purpose.
The factory continued production until 1982 when it moved to more modern premises in nearby Den Road, where production still continues today.
The old factory fell into disrepair over the next few decades and was bought by Scottish Enterprise in 2000.
It featured in the 2003 BBC TV series ‘Restoration’, in which viewers voted for a building to be restored, but it didn’t win, and in March 2008, Scottish Enterprise applied for permission to demolish it.
Over the past 20 years, the site has been considered for many different uses including a supermarket, library, industrial museum, swimming pool and petrol station, but nothing has come of the plans.
Christine May, chairman of Fife Historic Buildings Trust, said: “We’re disappointed that no viable use could be found for it because, obviously, our ethos is to preserve historic buildings whenever we can bring them back into use.
“We regret its demolition but the practical reality is nobody could come up with a viable use for it and it was an eyesore.
“Forbo is a major employer, not just in the town of Kirkcaldy but in the whole of the Fife area, so the legacy carries on and the history continues.”