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The Industrial Age

The 18th Century: a Visit from Rob Roy - the Georgian New Town Begins


Little is recorded of the impact of the Jacobite rebellions on the town of Markinch. A single incident is mentioned from the 1715 Rebellion: Rob Roy MacGregor, whilst waiting for the Old Pretender to land at Peterhead, captured a group of Kirkcaldy militiamen and Swiss mercenaries after ambushing them in the streets of the town. However, the rebellion was soon over, due to the incompetence of its leader, the Earl of Mar. Not a single tale is recounted of the town's fortunes during the much more famous 1745 Rebellion.

The later 18th Century began to see the town expand as the marshes surrounding it were drained and toll roads were opened linking it with the rest of Fife. A period of sustained peace allowed the town's baillies and major landowners to plan a major southward expansion, just as Edinburgh was expanding northwards across the Nor Loch marshes. It was a time of confidence and ambition. By the end of the century an entire hill, Ward Knowe, where the Post Office now stands, had been levelled and used for the foundations of the newly constructed Commercial, Betson and Balbirnie Streets.

In the later years of the century, the Markinch schoolmaster sent a local shepherd's ballad to Robert Burns. He rewrote some of the words and it comes down to us today as "Ca' the Yowes tae the Knowes" (Ca' the yowes [ewes] tae the knowes, Ca' them where the heather grows, Ca' them where the Birnie rowes [runs], Ma bonnie dearie). One of Markinch's many knowes had been flattened in the name of progress, but the Birnie still flowed by the town to the Leven.

The 19th Century: New Entrepreneurs - Loch Leven Tapped


The picture above shows the water lade and railway viaduct.

There had long been corn mills along the Leven but the spirit of enterprise unleashed in the earth 19th Century led to a string of manufacturing enterprises from Leslie to Leven.

The Balgonie estate was now in the hands of David, Earl of Leven and Melville and, despite the coal mines on the estate, it was already in financial trouble by the early years of the century. The Earl tried to extricate the estate by gambling on the success of an iron works based on local ore but, when that eventually failed, the family sold out to the Balfours of Whittingham and from 1824 Balgonie came to be run alongside the more successful Balbirnie estate owned by another branch of the Balfour family.

It was the intelligence and expertise of the Ballingall family, the Balfour factors, that put Markinch on the industrial map. Good management of the coal mines and an ingenious scheme to regulate the flow of the Leven through a waterway linked to Loch Leven ensured economic success for the riverside factories.

When the Balfours secured the route of the railway past the town in the 1840s Markinch's industry began to prosper. Industrial benefactors began to dignify the town with handsome public buildings and private houses. Shops spread from the old town down Commercial Street and into Betson Street, Balbirnie Street and the High Street towards the station. By the end of the century the town was a confident metropolis with Police Burgh status and a growing reputation as the "garden of Scotland".

The 20th Century: a New Neighbour Arrives

Despite the Wars, the town continued to prosper during the first half of the 20th Century. Papermaking and whisky bottling (see picture above) were major employers and Markinch was still an important agricultural centre with a thriving co-operative society.

Nevertheless, there continued to be areas of poverty, so the clearance of "unsanitary" but often historic houses and council house building were a priority.

In the 1950s a new town began to establish itself on Markinch's doorstep. The causal factors are complex but, gradually, the shops of Markinch declined in number and some of the major employers shut down. Even the burgh status was lost when the town was absorbed into Kirkcaldy District. The town was now remotely administered and some say this led to an increasing loss of identity.

The nearby new town of Glenrothes, however, with its own development company, gradually began to prosper and, when the regional administration was moved there in 1975, many older houses in Markinch began to be bought up and improved.

The 21st Century: Suburbia?


Now, the town is under pressure from developers, as the ripple effect of Edinburgh's growing importance begins to reach out to new commuting areas. Newcomers and long-term residents alike are beginning to take a fresh look at the history of their town and its surrounding parish.

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