1973: How the Adam Smith Theatre was created

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy

The Adam Smith Theatre is one of the town’s most important buildings – and one with a rich history.

It can be traced back to June 1889 when Provost Michael Beveridge called for a memorial to social philosopher, and renowned Kirkcaldy son, Adam Smith.

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy -  1973 refurbishment  created the new 450-seat theatre

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy - 1973 refurbishment created the new 450-seat theatre

Back then it was known as the Adam Smith Halls – and its 1000-seat auditorium hosted everything from dances to exhibitions.

But times were changing – and a major symposium to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mr Smith was the catalyst for a new era.

With plans to bring the world’s greatest economists and philosophers to town, the suitability of the halls was put into question.

It was Councillor Roy McNab who, in 1971, proposed that the building be 
re-designed.

Citing the hall’s lack of atmosphere and poor acoustics, he proposed a new look which would turn the building into the town’s cultural hub.

A notional cost of £150,000 was pencilled in – in fact the bill was £250,000 – and the wheels began to turn.

The principal feature was the creation of a concert hall in the upper part of the building with seating for 450.

The question of what to do with the ground floor saw excited talk of an indoor bowling alley.

Rankin Grimshaw, Honorary Treasurer of the town council – who noted the “very large expenditure”– felt such a sporting facility would be ideal for the old folk who already enjoyed a thriving summer league.

The re-design also sparked concern over what to do with traditional civic events such as flower shows, while Kirkcaldy Amateur Operatic Society (KAOS) lobbied for a seating capacity of 750-800.

But the biggest grumble centred on the council’s decision to approach George Wimpey & Co to do the work.

Fife Building Trades Employers Association argued there were local companies more than capable of handling the project.

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A meeting with officers and councillors was sought to “ascertain the true facts and the reasons for this action.”

The trade association said its members were “more than a little perturbed” and added: “It seems decidedly strange that, as we look forward to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Adam Smith, Kirkcaldy’s most famous son, today’s sons are not even given the opportunity to either discuss the matter with our council or to enter into open competition for the work. Naturally this is disturbing – the association can only hope that full consultation may yet take place when the full facts may bring the matter into better perspective.”

In the end, the work went to Wimpey who operated to a strict timetable - not a day late lest the symposium planned for June 1973 be put at risk.

It was a tight turnaround, and some of the tensions were hinted at as the keys were formally handed over on June 11.

Told it would not be ready in time, a “terse” meeting of the Adam Smith Halls committee was convened, and it was agreed every effort would be made to meet target. Interestingly, the Press reported that the council agreed to no recriminations if it was not finished on time.

John Mason, regional manager of Wimpey, admitted: “I cannot cross my heart and say it has been the simplest and most straight forward of jobs.”

There was a strike, a shortage of materials and a shortage of skilled workers all to contend with.

He added: “Undertakings of this kind are always much more complicated than straight forward housing or factory contracts. It says a great deal for the relationship that exists between the town’s technical staff and our on site staff that the job has been carried through so efficiently and to such a tight programme.”

In true theatrical tradition, the show went on.

The dignitaries poured through the doors to toast Adam Smith and the symposium was hailed a huge success.

Provost John Kay – who accepted the keys from the contractors – was in no doubt, the new venue would be welcomed by locals.

He said: “Once the people of Kirkcaldy are able to come and see the halls and see what we have got for our money, there will be at all in the minds of any that the venture was worthwhile and that the vision and the courage of the council in agreeing to this and pushing it forward with the vigour they did was justified.”

More than 40 years on and the Adam Smith Theatre remains at the heart of Kirkcaldy’s cultural scene.