John Key & Son: A glimpse into Kirkcaldy’s industrial heritage

Workers at John Key and Son Ltd
Workers at John Key and Son Ltd

John Key & Son Ltd. is just one of the many names from Kirkcaldy’s industrial past.

The engineering works was set up by Mr Key in 1850.

He operated the Whitebank Engineering Works at Heggie’s Wynd with just two other tradesmen and three labourers.

After initially supplying local orders for small pumping engines, the business moved into making marine engines and in 1852 built the engine for a boat belonging to an Australian company.

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By 1864 it employed around 200 workers, building boilers, as well as engines, which were shipped all over the world.

Around that time Mr Key moved on to making ships and their engines with a yard at Abden in Kinghorn which was to make many iron-hulled vessels, some of them quite large, with the earliest orders being for ships for the passenger trade carrying between 100 and 200 people.

In 1999 the Fife Free Press printed an appeal on behalf of the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand where one of John Key’s giant steam pumps was located.

From 1877 to 1936 it had supplied the town with its public water and an electric motor was being used by the museum to let visitors see how it worked.

But the curators had plans to revert back to its original steam power and had contacted the Press in the hope of obtaining some of its original documentation.