The men and women of Fife’s industrial past

Miners are pictured underground at the Frances Colliery in 1942, a rare image as itwas unusual for the men to be photographed at work near the coal face. Althoughrumours of the pits closure were active in 1982, miners were assured that their jobswere safe, but in 1985 the National Coal Board announced that the Frances was toclose with the loss of 500 jobs. PIC Contributed.

Miners are pictured underground at the Frances Colliery in 1942, a rare image as itwas unusual for the men to be photographed at work near the coal face. Althoughrumours of the pits closure were active in 1982, miners were assured that their jobswere safe, but in 1985 the National Coal Board announced that the Frances was toclose with the loss of 500 jobs. PIC Contributed.

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The men and women who supported Fife’s beating industrial heart during the 19th and early 20th Century have been celebrated in a new book.

Carol McNeill, author of Fife at Work, said she wanted to pay tribute to the workers who were central to the area’s rich industrial legacy, from the miners to the potters and the textile weavers to the shopkeepers, shipbuilders, fishermen and farmers.

Joan Clark, thought to be the last fishwife in St Andrews, wheeled her barrow roundthe streets until the 1920s selling freshly caught fish. She wore the traditional stripedskirt and white apron, red knitted bodice with a shawl, and spotless white stockingswith elastic-sided boots.  PIC Contributed

Joan Clark, thought to be the last fishwife in St Andrews, wheeled her barrow roundthe streets until the 1920s selling freshly caught fish. She wore the traditional stripedskirt and white apron, red knitted bodice with a shawl, and spotless white stockingswith elastic-sided boots. PIC Contributed

Ms McNeill, of Kirkcaldy, said “It was when I was researching something else that it struck me that Fife had such a vibrant collection of industries. So much of these have virtually vanished. Just a few are carrying on, but in a much smaller way.

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The area’s geography helped to encourage a diverse mix of enterprise with the raw materials of coal, clay and water drawing companies to Fife to exploit its natural resources.

The book looks at villages such as Kinghorn, which has a population of less than 3,000 but produced around 20 giant cargo vessels for Australia after it opened in 1863 with ships also built for London, Glasgow, Malta, Singapore and Spain.

A young woman in one of Fife's many textile companies. PIC Contributed.

A young woman in one of Fife's many textile companies. PIC Contributed.

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Meanwhile, more than 310 ships were built by The Burntisland Shipbuilding Company Ltd in just 50 years from 1918. Dysart was also an important shipbuilding centre.

Many other harbour towns became busy export points given the area’s vast deep coal mining activity which lasted until 1988 when the last pit of its kind, Seafield, closed.

Textiles are considered one of Fife’s oldest industries. While Dunfermline, with its three silk mills, was famous for its fine quality table and bed linen, Kirkcaldy was known for flax spinning and Falkland for its handloom weaving.

Shortage of money did not mean that holidays were out of the question, and the Fife coast was a popular spot for alfresco camping. The local paper in 1911 reported: Thereare over 200 young men from Glasgow, Airdrie and Edinburgh in tents on the shore,a record number. They have called their camps the Jolly Boys, the Woodbines, or the Naughty Boys. PIC Contributed

Shortage of money did not mean that holidays were out of the question, and the Fife coast was a popular spot for alfresco camping. The local paper in 1911 reported: Thereare over 200 young men from Glasgow, Airdrie and Edinburgh in tents on the shore,a record number. They have called their camps the Jolly Boys, the Woodbines, or the Naughty Boys. PIC Contributed

Meanwhile, Kirkcaldy also had four main potteries, including David Methven and Sons and Fife Pottery, which produced the famous Wemyss Ware. This style, which is still considerably sought after and demands high prices at auction, was championed by Lady Wemyss of nearby Wemyss Castle and her admiration for Czech decorator Karel Nekola.

Clay for the potteries were taken from nearby fields and transported to the kilns on a specially-built track, McNeill said.

The Wemyss Ware tradition is still continued in Ceres, Fife.

Ms McNeill added: “I felt quite sad that so much of this industry has gone. I wanted to pay tribute to the men and women who spent their working lives contributing to the industries of Fife, many of them who would have left school age 13 or 14 and worked in very difficult conditions.”

Workers at Methvens pottery had a summer excursion by charabanc where they had atrip into the country and a meal out, courtesy of their employers. The group includedAnn Dewar, a skilled pottery gilder in the works, whose husband Henry was a signwriter with the charabanc firm General Motor Carrying Company. PIC Contributed.

Workers at Methvens pottery had a summer excursion by charabanc where they had atrip into the country and a meal out, courtesy of their employers. The group includedAnn Dewar, a skilled pottery gilder in the works, whose husband Henry was a signwriter with the charabanc firm General Motor Carrying Company. PIC Contributed.

This 1923 image shows workers in the lithographic machine room of the Allen Lithographic Company Ltd in Kirkcaldy, who printed pattern books for manufacturers across the UK. Thelarge printing plant which stretched from Townsend Place to Church Street has sincebeen turned into housing. PIC Contributed.

This 1923 image shows workers in the lithographic machine room of the Allen Lithographic Company Ltd in Kirkcaldy, who printed pattern books for manufacturers across the UK. Thelarge printing plant which stretched from Townsend Place to Church Street has sincebeen turned into housing. PIC Contributed.

MacLeods saddlers and harness makers in Dysart supplied farms across Fife. The owner, James MacLeod(pictured at the right of the front door), became Provost of Dysart in 1919, a positionhe held until 1930 when Dysart amalgamated with Kirkcaldy. PIC Contributed.

MacLeods saddlers and harness makers in Dysart supplied farms across Fife. The owner, James MacLeod(pictured at the right of the front door), became Provost of Dysart in 1919, a positionhe held until 1930 when Dysart amalgamated with Kirkcaldy. PIC Contributed.

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