90 years on... the story behind the unveiling of an important Kirkcaldy landmark

Kirkcaldy museum and art gallery circa 1925
Kirkcaldy museum and art gallery circa 1925

On Saturday, June 27 1925, Kirkcaldy paid tribute to the local men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Great War by unveiling a memorial in their honour.

The town’s brand new museum and art gallery was officially opened to the public along with the dedication wall in the gardens.

The men who gave their lives for the town and their country were honoured with a memorial which would last a lifetime.

Ninety years on, the memories of that day can be relived through the archives of the Fife Free Press, housed in the very same building.

As the Town House clock struck 2.00 p.m., flags were raised at half mast on the burgh’s principal buildings and shops closed for two hours to mark the occasion.

The Provost and the Town Council in their new robes of office, were joined by guests including Admiral Lord Wester Wemyss, as they marched to the ceremony via the High Street and Whytescauseway, lead by the Barry, Ostlere and Shepherd band playing war time airs.

This unveiling is a ceremony which could not help but profoundly move all those who assisted in it

Admiral Lord Wester Wemyss

A crowd of 25,000 people including ex servicemen and their families, crowded onto Bennochy and Abbottshall Road to witness the official opening.

A mass choir led the service with special prayers given by Rev. Dr Campbell, minister of Kirkcaldy Parish Church.

Black Watch pipers played a lament and buglers sounded “The Last Post,” followed by a two minute silence.

Speaking as the purple curtain covering the war memorial fell away, Admiral Wemyss said: “This unveiling is a ceremony which could not help but profoundly move all those who assisted in it.

A two minute silence is observed as part of the ceremony

A two minute silence is observed as part of the ceremony

“For it recalled to their minds those four blood stained years and all that was won and lost.

“Greater love had no man than that he should lay down his life for another.

“I hope that it fulfils its high purpose and honours the men of Kirkcaldy who scarificed their lives for us and their country.”

The proceedings concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

Standing on the grounds of the former Balsusney House, the new art gallery, museum and dedication wall bearing the names of close to 1000 men, was gifted to the town by John Nairn, grandson of linoleum manufacturer, Michael Nairn.

Originally just a simple bronze plaque was planned with the names of the fallen.

However, following the donation by an anonymous donor (later revealed to be Nairn) it was decided an art gallery and museum would also be included.

Nairn commissioned the memorial in honour of his son Ian Couper Nairn who was killed during the First World War.

He donated £1000 and other local businesses soon followed suit.

The architects chosen to create the large project were J S McKay of Heiton & McKay of Perth and the bronze panels on the memorial were designed by Paulin’s of Glasgow who also produced sculpture for war memorials at Dollar Academy and Kirkcudbright.

The design and construction took close to six years at a cost of £60,000.

It was first erected in 1923 but it wasn’t until 1925 that the museum and art gallery was opened to the public.

Further additions were made in 1928.

The two-storey Kirkcaldy Central Library designed by the same architects, was built in the same Beaux-Arts classical style.

A Second World War memorial which lies to the right of the original, designed by Thomas Hubbard, was unveiled in 1958.

It was hoped that as members of the public walked through the doors for the first time, the museum and art gallery would be a centre of inspiration and knowledge for future generations.

And similiarly, the war memorial would pay homage to the 1,012 local people tragically killed in the First World War, and the 452 who lost their lives during World War II.

To watch a video of the full ceremony, click here

Celebrating a milestone

To celebrate turning 90, staff and everyone associated with the landmark building will join together to celebrate the special milestone.

An appeal has gone out from Fife Cultural Trust, which runs the galleries on behalf of Fife Council, to anyone who may have been at the opening as a youngster or living in Kirkcaldy at that time and recalls the day, to get in touch.

They would also like to hear from anyone who has special anecdotes of the building through the years.

As part of the celebrations, there will be objects and images relating to the 90th anniversary on show running until Monday, August 31.

In the Moments in Time display on the ground floor there is a film showing the opening ceremony in 1925.

Two paintings on show are connected to the anniversary – an oil portrait of John Nairn, as well as a painting of Balsusney House, the building that formerly stood on the museum’s site.

Until August there will be a display case with objects connected to the start of the museum collection.

These will include some of the first donations, such as objects that belonged to the Kirkcaldy child author Marjorie Fleming (1803-11).

The galleries will be open every day from 9.30 a.m. but changes can be made so check the website for updates.

For more log on to Kirkcaldy Galleries