Fife has a flair for linoleum!
Kirkcaldy was the leading centre in the world for making linoleum for around 100 years. Millions of homes, public buildings (and even ships!) in Britain and abroad were floored in linoleum made in Kirkcaldy. The two largest firms, Michael Nairn and Barry, Ostlere & Shepherd, were world leaders. Smaller factories were in Falkland and Newburgh in Fife.
Kirkcaldy is now the only town in the UK that still makes the product.
Fife Council Museums has the best collection of items from the industry held anywhere in the UK. With over 6,000 objects, photographs and archives, it’s a rich resource for researchers. Items date from the start of the Kirkcaldy industry in the 1840s up to the present.
The history of linoleum designs can be told through the collection of samples and pattern books. A huge range of patterns were made, to suit almost every taste and budget. The quality of the finished products is seen through the collection of eight medals awarded to Kirkcaldy companies at international exhibitions from the 1850s to 1890s.
A recent addition to the collection is a small piece of floor-covering from Paul McCartney’s council house in Liverpool! Amongst the rarest items held are the unique floorcloth banners – these were made by workers and carried in parades on holiday days.
The collection also features items used by workers. These include hand tools and printing equipment. Kirkcaldy Museum has a very unusual model of a cork plantation in Portugal, made of cork! This was one of the raw materials of linoleum.
Around 3,500 archives help tell the story of linoleum and over 500 photographs reveal much about the factories and the lives of the workers. Of note are the highly evocative shots of women workers in 1918.
Most of the collection is held at Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery. The building itself is part of the town’s War Memorial which was given by linoleum manufacturer John Nairn. A small permanent display on linoleum can be seen and researchers can view selected items by contacting the Curator. Next to the museum, Kirkcaldy Central Library also has a collection of linoleum archives and images.
Researchers can view collections from the Newburgh factory by contacting the Curator at St Andrews Museum. The Laing Museum in Newburgh has what is almost certainly the oldest surviving piece of floorcloth which is still in use. Visitors can walk across this 1890s pattern in the museum!
Tel: 01592 583204 Contact Museums general enquiries online
By Post: 16 East Fergus Place Kirkcaldy Fife KY1 1XT