1999: The fight to stop Wetherspoons opening in Kirkcaldy

A landmark anniversary for Kirkcaldy town centre slipped past almost un-noticed recently.

Wetherspooons bid to open new pub in Kirkcaldy - Fife Free Press 1999
Wetherspooons bid to open new pub in Kirkcaldy - Fife Free Press 1999

It was 20 years ago in April that J.D. Wetherspoon got its licence to open in town.

Councillors on the Central Licensing Board gave the company the go-ahead to refurbish the old TSB building and turn it into the single biggest pub in Kirkcaldy.

Approval came in the face of strong opposition from the licensed trade which branded Wetherspoon’s “the bogeyman” who sold cheap beer and “put everyone out of business”.

TSB, Kirk Wynd, Kirkcaldy - Fife Free Press 1999

The application was certainly controversial.

October 1998 saw councillors reject a bid from a different company to turn Royals Amusements on the High Street into what was billed as a family tavern on the grounds of over-provision, and, just months later, found themselves wrestling with an even bigger application from Wetherspoon.

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Wetherspooons bid to open new pub in Kirkcaldy - Fife Free Press 1999

The pub giant first appeared on the scene in 1998 when TSB moved out, leaving behind a historic two-storey baroque building where man of letters, Thomas Carlyle, once stayed.

Wetherspoon’s interest sparked an immediate and hostile reaction.

Mike Poxon, owner of the Pancake Place was reported in the Fife Free Press saying: ““My concern is for Kirk Wynd – it was not created for this type of establishment.”

Ann Watters, secretary of Kirkcaldy Civic Society, said: “ The proposal will spoil a very special Kirkcaldy street.”

There were concerns over vandalism and disturbances at the nearby Kirk Wynd gateway to the historic Old Kirk. while one councillor even suggested it would turn Kirkcaldy into a red light area!

Much of the opposition was driven by Fife Licensed Trades Association which played the ‘over provision’ card in a bid to have the licence application thrown out.

Tom Johnston, secretary, argued: “The place is seeking to attract large numbers of people to the town centre, and the objections are made on the grounds that the premises are not suitable for the sale of alcohol on the scale proposed.”

He described it as similar to three pubs opening in the town centre.

Wetherspoon took a different view, pointing out no pub had ever closed as a result of it moving into town.

Interestingly, Kirkcaldy was only its sixth pub to open in Scotland – an indication of how fast the chain has grown in the past two decades.

It said there would be no music, television, snooker or darts, and that food and drink would be served in a “partially smoke free atmosphere”.

And the pub had support.

The owner of the Auld Hoose pub – now known as The Wynd – had no fears of competition and wished it well.

Wetherspoon’s agent, Archie Mcver, added: “She has been pestered to the point of harrassment to object by other publicans and the licensed trade association – but says the Auld Hoose has nothing to fear from competition.”

With approval from the licensing board and the council, talk switched to the name of the new pub; the Thomas Carlyle, the Adam Smith and even the Wealth Of Nations were all considered before opting for the Robert Nairn – although most folk simply call it ‘Spoons’.

The final choice won the support of the Nairn family.

Sir Robert Spencer-Nairn of Barham, Cupar, great great nephew on Robert, said he was delighted with the choice of name which, 
he believed, would keep the family name alive.

He added: “I’m sure my ancestor would have enjoyed a dram or two himself!”

Twenty years on, the brouhaha over the planning application has long been forgotten, and Wetherspoon’s continues to trade as one of the busiest bars in town ...