The day the presses stopped for the Fife Free Press’big flit

The FFP's printers with the Linotyope printing machine after it was transferred from the Kirk Wynd office to new premises at Mitchelston in October 1969.
The FFP's printers with the Linotyope printing machine after it was transferred from the Kirk Wynd office to new premises at Mitchelston in October 1969.

Just over 50 years ago in October 1969 not only did the Fife Free Press report on the local news, it also featured in it.

A major step in the Fife Free Press Group’s evolution took place with the transfer of the firm’s production departments from its Kirk Wynd HQ to a factory in the Mitchelston Industrial Estate, a move coming just two years before the paper’s centenary.

A two ton printing machine is lifted above the Kirk Wynd rooftops

A two ton printing machine is lifted above the Kirk Wynd rooftops

It would involve the less than easy task of shifting several tons of printing equipment during an overnight flit that took 13 hours, shut off one of Kirkcaldy’s town centre streets and attracted a crowd of curious onlookers.

The Fife Free Press first began printing in January 1871 when the first issue of the paper was published by its joint founders, James Strachan and William Livingston.

Their office and printing works occupied a third-storey flat in the old Corn Exchange on Cowan Street – later demolished to make way for the Mercat Shopping Centre.

The machinery consisted of a second-hand printing machine and an old handpress, both of which were less than reliable.

A hole had to made in the wall for this machinery to pass through.

A hole had to made in the wall for this machinery to pass through.

Despite this the first copies were quickly sold and a reprint on the ancient machinery was necessary. It was put to even further use as the FFP – Kirkcaldy’s first penny paper – proved to be hugely popular.

Change was required and a brown two-cylinder machine, capable of printing 1800 copies an hour, was installed.

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As the popularity of the Press increased larger premises were required and for a few years the paper had its home in Hill Street where, in September 1876, the first halfpenny paper in Fife was born – The Kirkcaldy Times.

Whilst the Press concentrated solely on local news the midweek Times printed news from all over the UK. It quickly found a ready sale, and, with growing circulations, the problem of accommodation had to be faced once again by Strachan and Livingston.

A move was made to Redburn Wynd and there for a number of years the papers were printed, but not without occasional difficulties.

There was no Esplanade in these days, and in the winter months the Sands Road was often engulfed by the high tides. The printing works were flooded, the boiler extinguished, and the employees moved about the FFP office on improvised rafts.

As Kirkcaldy’s population increased so did the demand for newspapers and a ‘four-‘feed Hoe printing machine capable of producing 6,000 copies an hour was purchased in 1892. But it was then found that the machine could not be accommodated in the Redburn Wynd premises.

The FFP was on the move again, this time to a building on Kirk Wynd where the paper would stay until 2017.

At the end of the First World War a new rotary Goss printing press was installed, capable of producing 26,000 copies of a 16-page Press an hour which would be used until 1961 when a second Goss press, which was capable of printing 32 broadsheet pages, was bought.

It was this press plus nine linotype machines – each weighing nearly two tons – which were hoisted out of the Kirk Wynd offices five decades ago. They were passed through a hole which had to be smashed into an outer wall, on to a 60-foot high jib crane which swung the machines over the Kirk Wynd rooftops and lowered them on to a low-loader transporter.

Kirk Wynd was closed off and a crowd of Lang Touners gathered to watch the operation take place, signalling the beginning of a new chapter for the Fife Free Press and Kirkcaldy.