The 1975 firebug who torched a church and planned to burn down Fife College

St John's Church, Kirkcaldy, destroyed by fire in 1975 - one of several major buildings burned down that year. (Pic: Fife Free Press)
St John's Church, Kirkcaldy, destroyed by fire in 1975 - one of several major buildings burned down that year. (Pic: Fife Free Press)

Kirkcaldy found itself at the mercy of a firebug in 1975, and several major buildings sustained horrendous damage.

The first blaze saw the Odeon Cinema destroyed on Boxing Day 1974 – two youths aged 14 and 16 were culpable for £250,000 of damage.

St John's Church, Kirkcaldy, destroyed by fire in 1975  (Pic: Fife Free Press)

St John's Church, Kirkcaldy, destroyed by fire in 1975 (Pic: Fife Free Press)

Torbain Primary School was gutted, and firefighters then raced to save St Brycedale Church as flames swept through it. The Co-op on the High Street also burned down.

One of the worst incidents came in July 1975 when the historic St John’s Church was destroyed by a fire started deliberately.

The Gothic building on the corner of Meldrum Road and Elgin Street was targeted in the early hours of the morning – just 48 hours after Torbain was gutted.

As police and firemen sifted through the remains of St John’s, Chief Constable Robert Murison called a hasty meeting of representatives of churches across the town, and asked them to step up supervision of their buildings

Pic: Fife Free Press

Pic: Fife Free Press

CID and uniformed patrols were stepped up during the hours of darkness as real concern grew over where the firebug might strike next.

You may also be interested in:

{https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/news/kirkcaldy-sudden-death-police-seal-off-house-1-4869042 |Kirkcaldy sudden death: Police seal off house|Click here}

Compensation for Fife families whose baby ashes were dumped in waste disposal

Pic: Fife Free Press

Pic: Fife Free Press

Video: 400 customers queue as M&S foodhall opens in glenrothes

Police issued an appeal to trace four youths seen in the area, one of them wearing the uniform of teen pop band the Bay City Rollers – wide white trousers trimmed with tartan, and a white shirt.

The church blaze was spotted by Inspector John Black on his way home from Kirkcaldy Police Station. Five units from Fife Fire Brigade raced from Kirkcaldy, Thornton and Methil and they managed to prevent flames spreading to the nearby garage and houses.

At the height of the blaze, the gable wall of the church collapsed and fell through the roof of the adjoining church hall.

Pic: Fife Free Press

Pic: Fife Free Press

The Rev Samuel M. McNaught, who only took up his post three months earlier said: “I am desolate, but there is more to a church than a building and the life of this church will continue.”

He conducted his Sunday service in the canteen of the nearby Meikle’s carpet factory which, interestingly, was where the church had its roots – the congregation began as a breakaway from the old parish in Kirkcaldy, and the first group met in the factory which was then known as Wemyss Linen Works

In front of a packed congregation he christened 15-month old Heather Anne Schulenberger whose parent, John and Ruth, had travelled 3000 miles from Morrestow, New Jersey, to have her baptised at St John’s – and become the third generation of their family to be baptised at St John’s.

The fired outraged the town. In a rare front page editorial, the Fife Free Press asked: “What new breed of vandal is at large in Kirkcaldy?

“What type of hooligan, vandal madman – call him what you will is prepared to commit such senselessness and savage crimes against the community?”

The editorial concluded: “ Let there be full retribution in the form of the absolute maximum penalties the law will allow. Public opinion will accept nothing less.

St John's Church, Kirkcaldy, destroyed by fire in 1975.  Days after the blaze, the Rev Samuel McNaught conducted a christening in the church's temporary home in Meikle's Carpet Factory. He is pictured with baby  Heather Ann Schulenberger, and parents Mrs and Mrs John Schulenberger who had flown 3000 miles from  Morrestow, New Jersey to ensure their child was the third generation of their family baptised at St John's (Pic: Fife Free Press)

St John's Church, Kirkcaldy, destroyed by fire in 1975. Days after the blaze, the Rev Samuel McNaught conducted a christening in the church's temporary home in Meikle's Carpet Factory. He is pictured with baby Heather Ann Schulenberger, and parents Mrs and Mrs John Schulenberger who had flown 3000 miles from Morrestow, New Jersey to ensure their child was the third generation of their family baptised at St John's (Pic: Fife Free Press)

“Deterrents, not do-gooders will provide the only real answer to this problem.”

St John’s was a landmark. It was founded in 1707; a suite of halls was added in 1931 and, in 1959, a magnificent stain glass windows was incorporated at a cost of £250.

As the extent of the damage became evident, the sealed casket laid in the foundation stone in 1707 was recovered from the ruins, and deposited unopened in a bank for safe keeping

Workmen also recovered a plauque bearing the names of the war dead and a brass plate marking the opening of the transept in 1969.

The firebug was finally caught when he mistook a police car – patrolling the area to protect local buildings – for a taxi!

A 16-year-old youth was arrested and charged with starting the fire at St John’s, and Torbain, and other incidents at Kirkcaldy High School and the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.

The repair bill in total ran to some £700,000, but, in the case of St John’s the cost of the damage was beyond calculation. He was sent to the High Court for sentencing.

Jailing him for six years, Lord Cameron said: “The community must be protected and other people have to be deterred from wanton enterprises of this kind.”

The extent of his trail of destruction also became apparent in a chilling postscript. Written notes divulged at his trial showed he planned to burn down Kirkcaldy Tech, now Fife College, before “retiring.”.

He said it “would have been the most spectacular blaze of them all.”