Nostalgia - The Restoration TV bid that couldn’t save Nairn’s

Derry Sinclair at the former Nairn factory in August 2003
Derry Sinclair at the former Nairn factory in August 2003

The fate of a derelict factory in Kirkcaldy that was once the linoleum capital of the world was decided in a national television vote in August 2003.

The historic Nairn’s linoleum works on Victoria Road appeared on a BBC2 programme ‘Restoration’, where viewers were encouraged to vote to save their chosen building.

Each week the programme, presented by Griff Rhys Jones, featured three different projects which had fallen into disrepair, with the eventual winner of the series to be rewarded with a multi-million pound restoration.

The neglected Michael Nairn works, built in 1882, were chosen to be highlighted in a segment presented by the then Conservative MP Michael Portillo – better known nowadays for his presenting work – as his father had lived in the Lang Toun and had worked at the factory.

On August 15 the viewing public had the choice between the 130-year-old lino works which had closed in 1982, a Palladian villa in Mavisbank, Edinburgh, and the Britannia Music Hall in Glasgow, where in 1906 a 16-year-old named Arthur Jefferson, later to change his name to Stan Laurel, made his first ever stage appearance.

Before the show was aired Kirkcaldy man Derry Sinclair, who was production manager with the company for 25 years, spoke to the Press about his memories of the works.

“I remember it as a very busy place,” recalled the 69-year-old.

“The only time we had off was on a Sunday morning. Other than that the plant was in 24-hour operation.

“Making lino was a slow process – it was like baking. You had to check that it was properly cooked so that it wasn’t soft centred or too brittle.

“There was no other place in the world that produced as much floor-covering. We made up to 81 miles in length per day.

“It’s hard to believe that it has changed so much in a life time.”

Derry, who was made redundant from the company in 1980, was also interviewed by the BBC for the programme. He added: “It’s a shame that the building has been left to go into such a state

“I feel there should be something kept in the memory of the great output of a company that did so much for the town, not just in terms of lino, but throughout the community.

“If it wins the programme it could help tidy up this part of the town because it doesn’t give people a good impression of Kirkcaldy when they see such a run-down area.”

Sadly, the factory lost out to Edinburgh’s Mavisbank with the Victoria Baths in Manchester emerging as the winner of the series, but despite the loss, owners of the building, Scottish Enterprise Fife, were hopeful that the publicity could encourage renewed interest in the site and stated that they were applying for Lottery funding and aimed to turn the building into a education, business and cultural centre for the local community.

Sadly, it was not to be. The Kirkcaldy site fell into further disrepair and despite various plans and attempts to renovate the site, it was finally demolished in February 2014, the last of the town’s linoleum factories.

As a large crowd of former workers and onlookers gathered to watch the demolition Christine May, chairman of Fife Historic Buildings Trust, told the FFP: “We’re disappointed that no viable use could be found for it because, obviously, our ethos is to preserve historic buildings whenever we can bring them back into use.

“We regret its demolition but the practical reality is nobody could come up with a viable use for it and it was an eyesore.”

The site remains empty.