Boxfuls of rare documents lift lid on town’s intriguing past

Rare archive material documenting more than 500 years of a Fife town’s fascinating history is being made widely accessible for the first time. People can gain intriguing insights into Kinghorn’s eventful past now that archivists have catalogued two boxfuls of artefacts collected by a local dignitary.

The collection, which belonged to local history enthusiast Jimmie Edmiston, spans from 1478, when a royal decree established a hospital in the town, to the end of the 20th century. Included in the archive is a copy of a charter, signed by James III in 1611, confirming Kinghorn’s royal burgh status, and a duplicate of the earliest town plan drawn up in 1828.

As well as collecting artefacts, Mr Edmiston, who died in 2017 aged 95, kept pages of handwritten notes, gathered over a lifetime of local history research and giving talks. The former councillor’s collection also features photographs of local people and landmarks – among them one that captures the unveiling of the monument to Alexander III in 1887. Archivists from the cultural charity OnFife have been working with Kinghorn Historical Society chairperson Ginny Reid to preserve the collection and help place its contents in their wider context.

Local history enthusiasts can gain insights into key events such as the coming of the railway, the loss of Kinghorn’s ferries and the fortification of Inchkeith, begun in 1878. There are details too of the town’s vanished industries, including its tannery, bottle works, golf club making factory and, on the eastern fringes of the parish, Invertiel brick works. Major construction projects are recorded as well, with references to the demolition and rebuilding of South Overgate in the 1960s and the arrival of new homes at Pettycur harbour in the 1990s.

Historical curiosities abound

Among the collection is a transcript of hearth taxes imposed on local homes in the 17th century and valuation rolls from the 1920s, 30s and 60s. The archive mixes business with pleasure. Mundane accounts of drainage, sewage and rights of way contrast with exhilarating glimpses of musical shows, a pro-golf tournament and the Children’s Gala. There are also insights into the formation of the Kinghorn Lifeboat service in 1965 and the creation of one of Scotland’s first caravan sites, which began life as a camping ground in the 1930s.

OnFife Collections archivist Andrew Dowsey says the archive illustrates how diverse the history of small towns can be: “We get a real sense of how towns and burghs such as Kinghorn, although outward looking, were much more the centre of their own worlds than they are today.”

The archive has been donated to OnFife by Ross Brown of Glenrothes, who is a grandson of Mr Edmiston. Also instrumental in transferring the collection to the OnFife archives was Kinghorn resident Roy Mackie. Mr Edmiston, who was born and raised in the town, was awarded an MBE in 1999 for his services to the local community.

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