Kirkcaldy's Heritage in 50 Objects: The Road to Allen Litho

The Allen Litho complex in Kirkcaldy.The Allen Litho complex in Kirkcaldy.
The Allen Litho complex in Kirkcaldy.
One of the intentions of the Kirkcaldy’s Heritage in 50 Objects project was to feature a medium sized firm, steeped in Kirkcaldy’s history, operating in a niche market.

The Allen Lithographic Company was the choice for a number of reasons, the principal one being its longevity in its complex bordered by Townsend Place and Church Lane. Another consideration was that three generations of the Allen family contributed to making it a company famed far and wide for the quality of its lithography and printing.

The real driver was the discovery that Allen Lithographic came into being in 1900, yet celebrated its centenary in 1967. How could this be when the founder was still at school in 1867? This intriguing fact could not be ignored and research commenced to solve this conundrum.

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The journey began in 1851 when Andrew Drummond set up in Kirkcaldy as a lithographer and engraver. Lithography, which was printing from stone, had been invented in the last years of the 18th century. Drummond’s time in Kirkcaldy was short, leaving in 1857 and selling his business to John Crawford. Crawford was primarily a bookseller and stationer but had started a printing sideline around 1850. With the purchase of Drummond’s equipment he soon started the Kirkcaldy Steam Printing and Lithographic Works which operated until his retiral in 1881.

In 1858, Crawford employed an apprentice, Archibald Beveridge, who recognised the possibilities of lithography. To enhance his knowledge he moved to Edinburgh, but returned to Kirkcaldy to set up a lithographic outlet for the Fifeshire Advertiser. This was short lived as Beveridge also set up his own works nearby. He went from strength to strength as he quickly saw the possibilities of printing facsimile pattern books for the linoleum manufacturer’s sales-force. His business expanded and soon he moved to the site in Townsend Place.

Ill health led to his death in 1892 and the business was bought, in partnership with Roderick Couper, by J. Henry Allen. Allen had started as an apprentice with Beveridge but rose to be his foreman. The business prospered before a devastating fire in 1900 led to the partnership being dissolved and the Allen Lithographic Company coming into being.

The full narrative covers the history of the firm, both its successes and the grim times during two World Wars. The expansion into the sale of office equipment and stationery in Kirkcaldy, and subsequently also Glenrothes and St. Andrews, is explored, plus the 1968 acquisition of the Markinch Printing Company.

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The difficulties caused by the decline of the linoleum industry and the efforts to find fresh markets are all examined. This successful company was probably laid low by succession planning failing due to resignations and retirals. In 1988 an amalgamation with the Falkirk Printer, Inglis Paul, appeared to be a salvation but – this was a false dawn and today the whole complex is flats and a great Kirkcaldy name consigned to history.

The full story enhanced by sketches, photographs and newspaper snippets, can be found at www.kirkcaldyin50objects.com

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