A Tour Round Old Methil
The commercial heart of Methil has traditionally been the High Street. Over the years, shops opened up along most of its length without a strong focus of activity at any one point. Some frontages, such as Lindsay Square, replaced in the inter-war period by the attractive St Andrew Square, were mean, but buildings of real quality, like those shown on the photograph on the right, were built, particularly at street corners. The picture shows the High Street looking east from the foot of Methil Brae. The red-sandstone National Bar building on the right still survives, converted into flats a few years ago, while the turreted building on the left has been demolished and the site redeveloped with the two-storey white-harled housing shown later. The underground toilets on the right, a 'big city' feature for a small town, are similarly but a distant memory.
The view of Station Road on the left is from the same point, but taken a few years earlier before the days of the underground toilets and showing, on the left, the red pantiled building which preceded the National Bar. Off to the right was Methil Railway Station, the buildings of which still survive, although the passenger service was withdrawn in 1955. The railway had been extended from Buckhaven in 1887, the station's opening coinciding with the opening of the Number 1 Dock at Methil.
Just visible in the background of the Station Road photograph is the bellcote of the old Methil Parish Church; the picture on the right shows a much more recent view of the building, taken in 1975. It was on the construction of this building in 1838 that a provost of Leven is alleged to have said: 'A church in Methil! A gallows would be more useful!'. The building was vacated in 1926 after the construction of the new parish church in Wellesley Road (for details of this fine building, see the 'Upper Methil' web page). Soon afterwards, it was converted into a hall for the Wellesley Colliery (Brass) Band, and, in its final days, the building became the nerve centre of Jimmy Taylor's haulage contractors and scrap business. Now the sites of the building and the scrap yard are occupied by the unimaginatively-named South Grove housing scheme.
Continuing along from Station Road was Main Street, on roughly the same line as the present lightly-trafficked 'distributor' road (to use the technical jargon). Main Street had a number of notable buildings overlooking the docks, although without direct access to them because of the various railway ramps constructed in connection with the No. 3 Dock. First on the left were the Wemyss Arms Hotel and the Eagle Building, once fine buildings which had fallen into decay, and further along, the Customs House, a suitably grand building in red sandstone (see photograph on left). In the distance can be seen the side of the also now-demolished Palace Cinema at the corner of High Street and Wemyss Place. Methil had two other cinemas - the Western in Wellesley Road and the Imperial in Fisher Street, the last to close.
Although close to the main shopping area in Leven, and despite the establishment of rival shopping facilities, such as the 'store' or Co-op in Wellesley Road, Methil's High Street retained quite some vitality until the early 1970s. Although it had a few 'multiple' outlets, its main 'draw' was the Wonder Store which had expanded since 1931 to include several outlets along almost the whole length of the High Street. There was a large DIY shop at the foot of Fisher Street and a warren of a clothes shop near the Dock Gates, created from several adjoining shops and their upper floors. Regular sales were advertised on national television and customers used to flock from far and wide.
Disaster struck in March 1975 when a major fire almost completely destroyed the main clothing outlet (see picture on left). The site was redeveloped with a single-storey modern building, all on the one level, but it had lost its essential character and never gained its original popularity. One by one the various Wonder Store departments closed down, leaving only the respected furniture and carpets store at the west end of the High Street which was the last to trade. Without the Wonder Store, there was little special to attract customers from outwith the area to Methil High Street and the shopping centre succumbed to today's commercial pressures towards centralisation in fewer, larger centres.
Behind the commercial facades, housing conditions in Lower Methil were generally regarded as deplorable, but it was to be the mid 1970s, much later than in the neighbouring town of Buckhaven, before any new houses were built, other than the two 12-storey multi-storey blocks and intervening housing at the west end. Perhaps the delay was a good thing, because the traditional designs fashionable by that time spared Lower Methil from the 1960s' architectural fads which did so much to destroy the character of Old Buckhaven. The first phase of the Lower Methil redevelopment was the construction of houses mainly between Durie Street and Wellesley Road around the time of the local government reorganisation in 1975. These houses were attractively designed by local architects, Sinclair and Watt. The next area to be developed was Innerleven by the Scottish Special Housing Association (see below), followed by South Grove by Kirkcaldy District Council, which was accompanied by an attractive children's playground for the general area.
A few years later, by 1985, Kirkcaldy District Council substantially completed the redevelopment of the area with the construction of the red-tiled, white-harled two-storey housing on the slopes between Fisher Street and Methil Brae, including the new streets of Haven Court and Braeside. These streets were built on the line of Marr Street, a road which had never been properly made up and still had undeveloped ground occupied by hen runs. The cries of hens used to be another of Lower Methil's distinctive sounds! More recently, a local housing association has developed an attractive scheme in vernacular style on the site of the former Methil Primary School. After the demolition of the school, its site had been laid out as a car park - but, with the decline of the shops to serve purely local needs, the spaces were no longer required.
The original name of the burgh, as established in 1891, was the 'Burgh of Buckhaven, Methil and Innerleven', in recognition of the three distinct villages which then existed. But, some time later, 'Innerleven' disappeared from the burgh's name, and, by the mid 1970s, the ancient village itself was no more. The photograph on the right shows the last remaining buildings along the narrow High Street in 1973.
In times past, Innerleven was as fishing hamlet in a detached portion of the Parish of Markinch, supplying fish to the priory there. It contained weavers' cottages and, prior to the expansion of Methil Docks, had its own beach and golf links (in 1867, the Innerleven Golf Club moved to Leven where much more recently it merged with the Leven Golf Club to form the Leven Golfing Society; Methil had its own golf course at Shepherd's Park). One feature was the 'Dead Wynd' up to Aberhill, so-called because this was the route to the cemetery at Methilmill.
Around 1980, nearly the whole area was redeveloped by the Scottish Housing Association, and the houses were given the official postal address, 'Dubbieside', which has long been the local name for Innerleven. It is a pity, however, that individual streets in the development were not given names including 'Innerleven' and 'Caldcoits' as well, the latter being another old name for the village. While on the subject of road names, would it not have been a good idea to call the new relief road alongside the docks something like 'Earl David's Way' rather than the rather bland and inappropriate 'South Street'? And it's hard to see any harbour from Harbour View, the new name for the road serving the recently built Bayview Stadium!
Methil Heritage Centre
Housed in the former Methil Post Office in the High Street is the very interesting Methil Heritage Centre, a local museum now run by Fife Council and previously having been a very commendable voluntary effort. The red sandstone building itself is of special interest as one of very few crown post offices established during the short reign of King Edward VIII. The photograph on the left shows the inscription on the front of the building, dated 1936. Inside is a treasure trove of exhibits and memorabilia relating to the town and the docks. The Heritage Centre runs a regular programme of events, the most notable of which have been two visits by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh who had previously made critical statements about Methil during the war years. As demonstrated by his willingness to visit twice, he seems genuinely interested in the items on display in the Heritage Centre and has long been forgiven for his previous remarks!