WWII watch tower to be preserved as Kirkcaldy’s last linen mill demolished
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The structure on the roof of the former Peter Greig factory on the corner of St Clair Street and McKenzie Street is to be recovered and delivered to Fife Council’s museum service for preservation and display as an iconic remnant of the Lang Toun’s wartime defences and of the town’s contribution to Britain’s industrial war effort.
The tower, made of thick steel to protect the observer from blast and flying shrapnel, is believed to Scotland’s last surviving purpose built fire watcher’s post still in situ. Its preservation comes as demolition crews begin to tear down the near 200-year old factory and raze part of the town’s industrial heritage.
The factory, which opened in 1825, closed its doors in 2021, bringing to an end nearly two centuries on the same site. It employed generations of families and was once one of 15 mills across Kirkcaldy alone. Only around 20 people worked there when it closed its doors, and the brass nameplate quietly removed from its main door.
Councillors gave permission for the change of use in April - a decision which sparked sadness across the town at the loss of another part of Kirkcaldy’s industrial heritage. While there were calls to try to save the building and look at its possible use as a heritage centre, it was said to be structurally in a poor condition, and wasn’t listed or part of a conservation area.
Plans for the new Farmfoods store were modified to include some re-use of the stone from the existing building, while the distinctive look of the saw-toothed factory roof will feature in its design - but there were specific calls to preserve the watch tower which can still be seen on the roof to this day.
The tower on the roof which commands views across the Forth. Staff not called up on war duties took turns manning the turret, which can still be seen to this day.
During WWII, the mill’s location, overlooking much of Kirkcaldy, meant that it was able to play a vital part in contributing to the town’s defences against air-raid attacks.
The high roof gave a vantage point to mount the post. During bombing raids, an observer would man it, and, via a telephone link, report from their vantage point the fall of bombs and fires across the town. Their vital observations would be used to better co-ordinate the responses of civilian emergency services. Because of the dangerously exposed nature of the FWP it was especially constructed of thick steel to protect the observer from blast and flying shrapnel.
The mill itself dates back to 1825. It produced bespoke linen and fabrics from natural fibres for the furnishing and industrial markets, and textile designers. The Victoria Mill was Scotland's last operational linen mill when production finally ceased in 2021.
It will be replaced by a new frozen food store. Farmfoods’ application was approved subject to a legal agreement that the company chips in £7500 towards new traffic signals at the busy junction of McKenzie Street and St Clair Street.
The building of the store will also mark the company’s return to Kirkcaldy . Farmfoods was a long-standing tenant of the now demolished Postings Shopping Centre in Hunter Street. It was one of the last two businesses to move out in June 2021, leading to the mall’s ultimate closure and subsequent demolition.