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Kirkcaldy, 443-449 High Street, Sailor's Walk

Custom House (17th Century), Office(S) (20th Century), Shop(S) (20th Century), Town House (17th Century)

Site Name Kirkcaldy, 443-449 High Street, Sailor's Walk

Classification Custom House (17th Century), Office(S) (20th Century), Shop(S) (20th Century), Town House (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) 445-453 High Street; Customs House; Malcolm's Wynd

Canmore ID 94225

Site Number NT29SE 191

NGR NT 28446 92059

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Kirkcaldy And Dysart
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Kirkcaldy
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NT29SE 191 28446 92059


Scottish Field, February 1937 - 1 newspaper cutting. (Missing at time of upgrade, 2.9.1997).

NT 2844 9205 Drawn survey and analytical record of the complex roof structure of this 17th-century building was undertaken between March and December 2006 in advance of and during repairs; general reassessment of the analytical history of the building. The reappraisal of the building, hitherto dated variously between the 16th and early 18th centuries and often thought to be multi-phase, concluded that it was of a single general period - the late 17th century (1670s). This was based upon stylistic details, a dated fireplace of 1676, the arms of Charles II relief-moulded in plaster, general stratigraphic analysis of the masonry fabric, and the homogeneity of the roof structure.

A principal conclusion of the analysis was that five of the six individual roof structures were of the same construction programme and that the remaining one, over a rear jamb to the NW, was erected shortly thereafter. The six individual structures are essentially complete, with each frame in correct numbered order. Together they represent a wide repertoire of carpentry detailing, addressing a variety of individual constructional needs. It was concluded that the erection of the roof structures, following on from the mason work, constituted a discrete (presumably contractual) episode carried out by a single team.

It is suggested that, though built in a single operation, the building was originally intended as two properties for individual proprietors, a suggestion supported by the absence of evidence for intercommunication between the E and W parts of the structure. This might also explain the considerable contrast in the detailing of the two gabled street-facing jambs - one jettied-out on stone consoles and crow-stepped, the other originally flat-skewed with scrolled skew-putts.

The fitting out of the interiors appears to have been a separate operation undertaken by different craftsmen. In contrast to the homogeneity of the roof structures there is a clear division between interior schemes in the E and W parts of the building.

To the E there was a principal second floor chamber that extended up into the roof structure (now subdivided). The combing of the roof structure was furbished with lining boards and decorated with bold false panelling in tempera (there is an exact parallel at Law's Close, Kirkcaldy). However, the collars were finished as an open beam-and-board ceiling, the soffits of the boards decorated with a freehand 'scroll-like' scheme similar to the existing one on the floor below (also with an exact parallel at Law's Close). This decorative scheme necessitated the removal of the original, irregularly aligned roof collars and the insertion of new evenly set collars at a lower level. The rare remains of two early skylights survive in this roof area.

In the W part of the building attic rooms were formed by the laying of common joists upon the wall heads; these were unconnected to the roof structure. The ceilings thereby created were of open beam-and-board form, apparently undecorated. Wall plaster onto the hard incorporated moulded plaster motifs - thistles, roses, vines, etc.

It was possible to identify many direct parallels and contrasts between the constructional details and decorative schemes of Sailors' Walk and other such buildings in Kirkcaldy and further afield.

Archive to be lodged with NTS and NMRS.

Sponsor: The National Trust for Scotland.

T Addyman, K Macfadyen and F Boisserie, 2006.

Site Management (3 February 2011)

3-storey and attic, 3-bay, H-plan former Customs House (right gable) and town house/fisher tenement block, converted to offices and shop circa 1970. Harled with painted margins. Volute corbel table and crowstepped gable to W, corbelled stair and moulded string course (later) to E; stop-chamfered arrises.

Reputedly the oldest building in Kirkcaldy with a house recorded on this site in 1460. Sailor's Walk, possibly originated as two dwellings of wealthy merchants or shipowners and was due for demolition in the late 1940s, but was taken over by the National Trust for Scotland and restored in the 1950s with additional funding from the Historic Buildings Council and public appeal. A fire (started by vandals) in 1994 caused charring and discoloration of the 1st floor painted ceiling. At the time of The Inventory, the western house was derelict and the more easterly had tabled skews with scrolled skewputts, and two string courses crossed the gable. The panel bearing the Arms of Charles II was originally sited on the east elevation and is dated either 1662 (when Charles confirmed the Royal Charter of the town) or 1682. The principal room of the west house (with plasterwork decoration) has been known as 'The Queen Mary Room', possibly connected with Mary of Guise. Coming into single ownership in 1826, Sailor's Walk was known as Oliphant's House until the early 20th century. (Historic Scotland)


Publication Account (1995)

To the east of the town are two important buildings (seep 45).

339-343 High Street is a sixteenth-century dwelling of significance, currently undergoing restoration by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. A three-storeyed building with a floored roof-space, its front exterior has undergone little change, other than new windows and doors being inserted and older ones blocked up, although the shops on the frontage are a major disruption. Originally, an internal stone spiral staircase was sited at the front of the house; the ground floor probably contained a kitchen at the east end; the first storey housed a large central hall with a massive fireplace and a chamber at each end; the second floor was probably of similar design. The original decorations also indicate that this was a dwelling of substance. The soffits of the second floor joists and boards were adorned with tempera painted designs, and there were pictorial decorations on the plastered walls, two of which at least survive-a lion, and a ship in full sail. In keeping with its continuing importance, the interior was modernised, possibly in the 1670s, with the addition of wooden panelling on internal partitions, and lath-and-plaster ceilings and cornices, the first floor ceilings being embellished with deep covings and decorative bands, roses and putti. Later internal changes altered its character: the front stair was taken down and a rear external staircase substituted; a pend was inserted right through the building; and there was a realignment of some rooms. External alterations created a west wing to the rear and added various outbuildings. This restoration project is a good example of the archaeological potential of historic standing buildings.

443-447 High Street (Sailors' Walk) may have originated as two dwellings. A characteristic seventeenth-century block, it probably incorporated an earlier building. Gables project to front and rear, the western gable being crow-stepped and corbelled out over the ground floor, while the roofs are pantiled, perhaps reflecting trading contacts with the Low Countries. In due course the building came to be divided into four dwellings. One of these, the East House, is approached by a turnpike staircase, and incorporates two interesting apartments. A rear room is finely panelled; another has a painted wooden ceiling, probably of early seventeenth-century origin, with arabesques and birds' and animals' heads on the boards, and biblical texts on the beams. An inscribed lintel over a fireplace bears the date 1676. A repositioned stone tablet bears the arms of Charles II. This was originally located on the east elevation.

Both of these buildings throw light on Kirkcaldy's past. Their position outside the East Port and near the harbour suggests that, as has been proved for 339-343 High Street, both dwellings were the homes of wealthy merchants or shipowners. Their sites offered ready access to the port and perhaps an oversight of the owners' ships. (Could it be that the ship painting in 339-343 High Street was an illustration of the owner's own ship?) It is unlikely that these were the only prestigious dwellings in this area of the town.

Development outwith the town port suggests that this suburb was becoming desirable in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because of the increasing economic importance of Kirkcaldy's harbour, in spite of the hubbub and dirt associated with a port. Cartographic evidence, moreover, indicates that burgage plots were wider here than in the central core of the town, which would also have attracted, and might indicate, prestigious building. The later subdivision of both houses, certainly by the early nineteenth century, into a number of tenements is partly a reflection of the area becoming socially less desirable. Manufacturing premises moved in towards the harbour region, and the wealthier elements of society opted to move to quieter suburbs, further removed from the industrial core of Kirkcaldy.

Any refurbishment to these two standing buildings, the ground to the rear of the properties and the pend at 339-343 High Street, such as the insertion of new services, new floors or re-surfacing, would have archaeological implications. This might reveal, for example, successive floor levels associated with early phases of the buildings, or secondary structures attached to the rear of the properties. As both these buildings are situated outside the northern limit of the medieval burgh, any archaeological deposits that can be demonstrated to predate the construction of the standing building would also provide a date for the establishment of what may be a later suburb.

Information from ‘Historic Kirkcaldy: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1995).


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