Nostalgia 1975: £1m blaze that destroyed Co-op’s High Street store

Co-op fire, April 1975 - �1m blaze which destroyed the four-storey building in the High Street, Kirkcaldy (Pic: Ian Rice)
Co-op fire, April 1975 - �1m blaze which destroyed the four-storey building in the High Street, Kirkcaldy (Pic: Ian Rice)

Kirkcaldy High Street has witnessed many dramas, but few on the scale on the fire which destroyed the old Co-op.

The gap site that sits to this day at the east end, almost opposite the old cinema, was the scene of the blaze in April 1975 which razed the original four-storey bulding.

Front page of the Fife Free Press on the great fire

Front page of the Fife Free Press on the great fire

The Co-op was a major player in the town centre, employing 85 people,

CEFCO – Central and East Fife Co-operative Society – had 30,000 members and a turnover of £5m.

It had been part of the town since opening circa 1907, the original building being developed over four floors which included a self service grocery department and a bakery, and sold everything from clothes – there were both men’s and women’s departments – to household fittings, stationery, haberdashery, electrical goods and jewellery.

Incredibly, the fire broke out at lunchtime – when it was closed and there was no-one in the building!

Co-op fire, April 1975 - �1m blaze which destroyed the four-storey building in the High Street, Kirkcaldy (Pic: Ian Rice)

Co-op fire, April 1975 - �1m blaze which destroyed the four-storey building in the High Street, Kirkcaldy (Pic: Ian Rice)

It was thought to have started in the cafeteria and tea bar on the second floor, and this, according to the Fife Free Press reports, was confirmed by the fire service as their investigations continued.

Damage was estimated at £1m – a huge some of money in 1975 – and it brought chaos to the town centre.

Fire crews raced from across the county to help as flames shot hundreds of feet in the air.

Hundreds of shoppers on High Street and staff in nearby shops and offices were evacuated, and roads blocked to keep traffic away.

A paint store in Kirk Wynd was cleared when there was thought to be a risk of an explsoion, and staff were also led from the nearby Trustee Savings Bank – it’s now Wetherspoons’ pub – as the heat from the inferno threatened to shatter windows.

The roof caved in, sending showers of sparks over the firefighters and shooting tongues of flame into the air. When a section of the wall collapsed minutes later, firemen standing on the roof of Wm Low supermarket next door had to jump clear.

The fire was brought under control after two and a half hours, but it affected neighbouring businesses including Wm Low supermarket, next door, Beveridge’s drapers and outfitters, and Coopers Fine Fare.

George A Wood, Kirkcaldy’s burgh engineer, and his depute, Mr R. J. Brand, were on the scene and immediately ordered the store to be demolished because of its dangerous condition. Local contractor, David Nicol Limited, was called in.

The Co-op vowed to rebuild within two years, and quickly submitted an application to Kirkcaldy District Council’s planning committee to move into the former Cordiner’s garage on Abbotshall Road after that business had relocated to Nicol Street.

Robert Young, the Society’s managing secretary, said: “Our main objective is to get back into business in some way as soon as posisble, and all our energies are being devoted to finding temporary accommodation.

“We are examining alternatives in or near the High Street a a matter of urgency.”

In the longer term we envisage erecting a purpose-built store on the cleared site. Our objective would be to get it done within two years.”

The Co-op was the second High Street building to go up in smoke. On Boxing Day, 1974, flames also destroyed the Odeon Cinema about 100 yards away.

in July 1975 Torbain Primary School was destroyed by fire, one month after a serious blaze at St Brycedale Church Hall.

And they all happened on a Thursday ...