Cowdenbeath (Coilltean Beithe in Scottish Gaelic
, literally meaning 'birch woods', is a burgh
in west Fife
. The town was awarded burgh status in 1890. Before the growth of the coal
industries, it was just a collection of farms: today, almost 12,000 people live in the town. It was awarded the 'Best Kept Small Town In Fife' award in 2008.
The motto of Cowdenbeath is: "Stent Nae Stent", from the Scots, meaning: "Effort always effort" or "Don't stint, always give your best".
Cowdenbeath grew up around the extensive coalfields of the area and became a Police Burgh in 1890. The arms are partly a conventionalising of the device on the seal adopted by the Burgh in 1892 which showed a pit head scene. The silver field and the black chevron recall that this was once country owned by the Balfour family, but with its golden wheel the chevron also symbolises the pit head hoist just as the black barrulets denote the coal underground. It is also intended to indicate that the days of feudalism are long past and that coal mining is the major interest of the town. The birch trees are for Beath (the name of the Parish) which is a Gaelic word meaning, "birch tree".
Early Bronze Age Activity
The earliest indication of human activity in the immediate vicinity of the current site of Cowdenbeath was provided by the discovery of late bronze-age vessels containing the incinerated human remains in 1928. An article by A.D. Lacaille F.S.A Scot details the find of a late bronze-age cemetery near Tollie Hill. One of the urns found contained fragments of processed Arran pitchstone, indicating the presence of some economic activity & commerce.
Whittington Cowie & Yeoman in their abstract on Bronze Age activity in West Cartmore refer to a tumulus site excavated 1.4km SW of Wester Cartmore on Tollie Hill (NT19SE001). They also confirm the presence of a Bronze Age cemetery along with a major cropmark site of a possible henge (NT19SE009) and iron & coal workings.
Early Farming Settlement
However, there is no evidence of a permanent settlement establishing itself until the building of the original Beath Kirk in the 13th century to act as a focal point to serve the surrounding area. By 1790 the records show that the parish of Beath had about 100 families whose livlihood came mainly from the soil. The fact that Beath Church served a very large area led to the creation of many "kirke roads", roads that form right-of-way even today.
Cowdenbeath first came into prominence around 1820 as a stop on the north-bound coaching route to Perth. Indeed, Queen Victoria's entourage stopped at the Cowdenbeath Coaching Inn to change horses, on her first trip to Scotland in 1842, en route for Balmoral. The coaching inn, the Old Inn, was established at the junction of roads from North Queensferry, Perth, Dunfermline and Burntisland. The building still survives today as the Bruce Hotel. When the new turnpike road from Queensferry to Perth was constructed, the Inn gained more importance.
The Rise of Coal Mining
Prior to 1850, Cowdenbeath was just a collection of farms. The area was divided into four districts named after local farms: Kirkford, Foulford, White Threshes and Cowdenbeath farm, located close to the present-day site of Central Park. Local inhabitants of these focal points of growth, which were merging into a single town, met to decide on a name for the emerging town. The eventual decision was narrowed down to either White Threshes or Cowdenbeath - Cowdenbeath was the chosen name.
The arrival of the Oakley Iron Company around 1850, was to have a long-lasting impact upon Cowdenbeath, and make the name synonomous with coal-mining for almost 100 years. Shafts were sunk in the vicinity of the old Foulford Washer. It was in the mining for ore that the discoveries of the coal seams were made, and pits were sunk at every corner of the town. Prior to this, coal had been mined at Fordell for over a century, but the discovery of the coalseams at the depth they were found came as a pleasant surprise, considering the dip in the coal strata at Fordell, as it was previously thought that the seams at Cowdenbeath would be at such a depth as to be almost unworkable.
By 1850, the flourishing coal pits of Kelty, Lochgelly, Donibristle, Fordell and Hill of Beath surrounded the small town of Cowdenbeath. Within the area, which later became the Burgh of Cowdenbeath, there was little mining activity. Gibson, of Hill of Beath, and the Symes, of Cartmore, had opened small pits in the vicinity of Jubilee Park at the southern border of the Burgh, and other small pits appear to have been worked in the vicinity of Union Street.
However, the situation was about to change when (contrary to earlier speculation) the Oakley Iron Company proved the area was rich in iron and coal. The opening of the Dunfermline-Thornton railway, via Cowdenbeath, in 1848, enhanced the prospects for mining and pits were literally sunk in every corner of the area, primarily for ironstone, but when this became uneconomic around the late 1870s, for coal alone.
The Forth Iron Company took over the Oakley Iron Company around 1860 then amalgamated with the Cowdenbeath Coal Company in 1872. When the Fife Coal Company subsequently took them over in 1896, the Cowdenbeath Coal Company's pits were listed as: Lumphinnans Nos. 1, 2, 7, 11; Cowdenbeath Nos. 3, 7, 9; Foulford No. 1 and Mossbeath. This effectively made the Fife Coal Company one of the largest coal mining concerns in Scotland.
Such was the upsurge in mining activity that the population of Cowdenbeath doubled (4,000 - 8,000) in the ten years between 1890 and 1900 and gave rise to the nickname "Chicago of Fife".
Coal Mining Infrastructure
Such was the extent of the importance of Cowdenbeath to coal mining at the turn of the century (circa 1900) that several institutions essential to mining became established there. The headquarters offices of the Fife Miners’ Association were opened in Victoria Street on 8th October 1910, the first Mine rescue station opened at Cowdenbeath on 4th November 1910 on Stenhouse Street, opposite Beath High School.
The Central Works, Cowdenbeath, (commonly referred to as "The Workshops") were built in 1924 by the Fife Coal Company Limited in order to centralise its supervisory staff and to cope with the greater amount of manufacturing and maintenance work caused by the intensive mechanisation programme which was being introduced in its mines.
Another significant mining-related building, which reflected Cowdenbeath's growing status at the forefront of mining technology, was the establishment of the Fife Mining School in 1895. The school had humble origins, operating out of two rooms in Broad Street School, until it was transferred to the basement of Beath High School on Stenhouse Street. It was not until 1936 that Fife Mining School acquired its own custom-built building on the site of the old Woodside House on Broad Street. The new Fife Mining School was erected at a cost of £22,500, and was opened on 22nd March by Mr Ernest Brown, MP, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Mines Department. The school trained apprentices in all aspects of the mining trade, however, it did have a temporary change of use during both World Wars, when it was used to train women working in the munitions industry. The mining school closed in 1976, reflecting the diminishing role of coal-mining in the community. Ironically, the mining school, itself, was subject to the prevalence of subsidence caused by the mine workings, and the main building was demolished to eventually make way for the Broad Street Centre.
The town quickly grew with the development of the coal and iron industries which was crucial to the town for nearly 100 years. With this growth came the emergence of some notable buildings.
The Empire Theatre of Varieties was established in 1899 by architect, John Daniel Swanston. The Empire attracted many big names of the time, including Will Fyfe, Charlie Chaplin and Sir Harry Lauder. In 1922 the building underwent a conversion into a cinema, and also had spells as an ice-rink and a dance hall. The Empire was re-named the Palais de Danse, and enjoyed a ressurgence in the 1950s & 60's when it was host to such acts as Joe Loss, Gene Vincent, and latterly, The Who and The Yardbirds.
The Drill Hall, which was located on the corner of Stenhouse Street and Bowling Green Street was built in 1908 by architects Gillespie & Scott as the first military building of its kind in Scotland. It was built for D Company, 7th Royal Highlanders (Black Watch), part of the 153rd Infantry Brigade. It later became known as the Tivoli concert hall and was used for dences, functions, boxing matches and public meetings.
Cowdenbeath lies in south-western Fife, near to the larger town of Dunfermline
. Its precise coordinates are 56.11°N 3.35°W. As the mining legacy of the town suggests, Cowdenbeath lies near the southern ridge of hills running through Fife.
In its formative years, the retail sector in Cowdenbeath was dominated by the Co-op (or "The Store" as it was affectionately known). The Co-operative movement in Cowdenbeath began in 1871 under the auspices of the Dunfermline Co-operative Society, and 4 years later became the Cowdenbeath Co-operative Society. From an initial membership of 75 it grew to become the largest trading organisation in the area. It's initial success was due in no small part to its principals of enabling ordinary members of The Store to effectively become shareholders. Each member had their own unique store Number, and as such was entitled to a dvidend (or "Divvy") which was paid out each quarter, based upon how much an individual had spent in The Store. Having dominated shopping habits in Cowdenbeath until the 1960s, through the provision of grocers, bakers, butchers, haberdashers, funeral services amongst others, the Store went into decline with the advent of large supermarkets in the 1970s, which changed shopping patterns away from provincial town centres to large retail parks on the fringes of larger towns. Ironically, the only service which the Co-op continues to provide in Cowdenbeath is its funeral service.
Today, the High Street running through the town centre has many different shops. A Somerfield supermarket is located at the southern end of the High Street. Raith Centre is a small shopping development next to the supermarket, with a pet shop, pharmacy and renowned Tom Courts Butchers and its cafe. A small David Sands supermarket, Chinese take-away, newsagents and a post office (soon to be closed down) are situated on Dalbeath Crescent in the Moss-Side housing scheme in the south-west of the town.
A weekly market is held within the grounds of Central Park, every Thursday between 10.00am and 3.30pm.
Cowdenbeath Leisure Centre is situated next to Central Park (see below) in the centre of the town and boasts a swimming pool, gym, indoor sports facilities and three all-weather pitches for tennis or football. A small skatepark is situated outside the leisure centre. There are a number of playing fields situated around the town.
The expansive 'Public Park' is situated towards the north of the town. It was established in 1910, and formally opened in 1911. The venture was largely funded by the Public House Society, which donated over £7,000 to the initiative. In its prime the park boasted an ornate bandstand, a paddling-pool, putting-course and swing-park, and was a focal point for various leisure pursuits, and the venue for the annual "Store" (Co-operative Society) treat. Although most of these amenities have long since gone, the park is still tended by the local authority and provides a public open space for all to use.
Cowdenbeath also boasts a golf club which was originally built as a 9 hole course on the old Dora Coal mine site. Work began in 1988 and the course was completed and ready for play in 1991. The length of the course was 3315 Yards.
The course was extended to 18 holes and opened by Sir Michael Bonallack in 1996. The length of the course is now 6207 yards with a standard scratch score of 71. A new clubhouse was built and officially opened on 6th December 1998 by ex-provost James Cameron who had opened the first clubhouse.
Central Park is a rather dilapidated stadium in the centre of Cowdenbeath. It is home to Cowdenbeath F.C.
and has a maximum capacity of 5,270 (1,620 covered seating). The stadium has a tarmac track encircling the football pitch, one of Britain's fastest, used for stock-car racing. It has recently been announced however that the stadium has been sold for redevelopment (possibly a new retail park) with a new one being built nearby for the football club, complete with an all weather pitch, and presumably including stock cars too although nothing has been announced regarding their future as yet. Central Park is the site of Britain's most northerly speedway track. The team based in Cowdenbeath were known as the Fife Lions and featured riders from Edinburgh Monarchs and Glasgow Tigers in a series of challenge matches against league teams and scratch sides. The speedway track, which staged 8 meetings including a world championship qualifying round, was unusual in that it featured a brick wall safety fence.
The Medical Practice and Police Station
are situated on Stenhouse Street. There is a library
is situated at the north end of the High Street. There is a post office
situated at the southern end of the High Street. The red sandstone
Town House building is situated in the centre of the High Street.
Areas of Cowdenbeath
is an area in the north-west of Cowdenbeath. Foulford Road and Stenhouse Street run through the area. Housing here is typical of Cowdenbeath, with the exception of some large villas on Stenhouse Street and at the east end of Foulford Road. Flooding can cause problems in the area, especially at the bottom of Foulford Road (towards the High Street) with recently a local pub being closed because of flodding. Beath High School is situated here, as is the cemetery for Beath Parish. Many amenities are located towards the east end of Stenhouse Street.
Leuchatsbeath is a leafy affluent area in the north of the town. Most of the housing here was built by private developers. Broomfield Road was built first in the 1920s, consisting of large villas, and is home to some of Cowdenbeath's wealthiest residents, including Helen Eadie MSP for Dunfermline East. Johnston Park was built in the 50's for executives in the coal mining industry, but is now rather dilapidated. The Glenfield estate, is also one of Cowdenbeath's most sought-after areas and was built in the 70's. The Tulloch Court, Kirkton Place and the Northfield and Southfield developments were all built in the late 80's / early 90's. Bellway's Birchwood development is currently under construction in the area and will add around another 400 homes to the area. The area is home to the expansive Public Park and the playing fields of Beath High School, which is in within short walking distance. Foulford Primary School is also located here. Bus services - 17 and 18 run along Leuchatsbeath Drive.
The large Moss-Side housing scheme, in the south-west of the town, was built in the 1930s. Today, most of the houses are ex-council houses. Sinclair Drive, which runs through the estate, is one of the longest streets in the town. A church is also located in the scheme. A small shopping area is located on Dalbeath Crescent, in the centre of the estate. Unfortunately, the post office here will be closed soon. School pupils attend Cowdenbeath or Hill of Beath primary schools, both within walking distance. There is a playground on Westburn Avenue. The area is served by bus services 30 and 33 which run from Dunfermline to Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy respectively.
The Randolph housing scheme, in the south-east of the town, was built around the same time as the Moss-Side scheme. However it is a lot smaller than Moss-Side. It has few amenities other than a church, but is close to the town centre, with the Somerfield supermarket within short walking distance. School pupils attend Cowdenbeath Primary School. It is close to the junction for the A92 Fife Regional Road
The Stevensbeath housing scheme is located in the geographical centre of the town. It was built in the 1920s. The housing is typical of Cowdenbeath. The roman catholic St Bride's Primary School is situated here, on Barclay Street. It is relatively close to the town centre, and has few amenities rather than a newsagent on Moss Side Road.
The Town Centre is the heart of Cowdenbeath. The High Street runs the length of the town centre, with roundabouts at either end. There are plenty of shops here, but a rather disproportionate number of hairdressers for the size of the town. A Farmfoods supermarket is located on the High Street. The largerSomerfield is situated just off the High Street, via a small shopping arcade called Raith Centre. Lidl proposed to open a supermarket on the High Street, but plans were rejected by councillors. Central Park and the leisure centre are located just off the High Street on Pitt Road. Apparently, the owners of Central Park will sell the stadium to build a retail park (including a Tesco supermarket) and move to a new state-of-the-art stadium near Mossmorran Ethylene Plant. The railway station has two ramps to the platforms, one on the High Street to the Kirkcaldy platform, and the other on Station Road to the Edinburgh platform. The police station, and new dental surgery are located on Stenhouse Street.
Since the end of the coal and iron industries, there has not been a lot of industry in Cowdenbeath, other than the three industrial estates, situated on the outskirts the town – Glenfield, Thistle and Woodend.
Glenfield Industrial Estate
The Kingdom Cheese Company
is based in Glenfield Industrial Estate. They are one of the longest established pizza and cheese manufacturers operating in the UK today. Created 15 years ago in 1992, Kingdom Group has grown to employ around 90 people.
Stagecoach East Scotland's regional headquarters are located at Glenfield Industrial Estate. Stagecoach East Scotland is an operating region of Stagecoach UK Bus, comprising the legal companies Bluebird Buses Ltd, Fife Scottish Buses Ltd, Strathtay Scottish Omnibuses Ltd and JW Coaches Ltd.
Woodend Industrial Estate
Diamac Engineering Ltd
is a Sub-Contract precision machining company which was established in May 1997. The standard of their specialist work has earned them ISO9001 recognition. .
, Double-glazing retailers/manufacturers, have their production facilties located in Cowdenbeath. CR Smith was the first company in Scotland to advertise replacement windows on TV (in 1981).It was also the first company in Scotland to sponsor a Premier Dividion Football Club (both Rangers and Celtic at the same time in 1984).
The eastern skyline of Cowdenbeath is dominated by the Mossmorran
Ethylene Cracking plant. This fractionation plant processes Natural Gas Liquid, piped to it from the St Fergus
Terminal (near Aberdeen) and effectively cracks these long-chain hydrocarbons into their constituent parts. The resulting products of ethane, propane, butane and gasoline are subsequently piped to the marine terminal at Braefoot Bay, for onward distribution by tanker.
There are three primary schools in Cowdenbeath.
- Cowdenbeath Primary School - serving the south of the town.
- Foulford Primary School - serving the north of the town.
- St Bride's Primary School - Roman Catholic school serving Cowdenbeath as well as Crossgates, Hill of Beath and Lumphinnans.
Some pupils in the north east and south west of the town attend Lumphinnans and Hill of Beath primary schools respectively.
Beath High School
Main Article - Beath High School
Beath High School was founded in the late 19th century as a grammar school, mainly for the children of local mine executives. It was an imposing building built of red sandstone and stood on Stenhouse Street. Unfortunately, the mine-works emanating from the No. 7 pit, whose, original pit-head was in close proximity to the school, caused significant subsidence in latter years. Such was the extent of this subsidence, that a framework of steel girders was erected, girdling the building in an attempt to prevent further sinking. The west wing of the building sank at a greater rate than the east wing, and a common practice amongst teachers, when inducting new pupils into the school, was to demonstrate the incline of the building by gently placing a marble at one end of the classroom and slowly watch it overcome inertia and roll towards the other end.
In the 1950s the level of scholarship was high, with eight languages taught: Hebrew, Latin, Ancient Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. The headmaster of the time is said to have told pupils at the start of each assembly "Scottish education is the best in the world, Fife education is the best in Scotland, and Beath education is the best in Fife. I"m not going to let any of you lot mess that up."
A modern school was opened in 1964, built in Kirkford next to Kirk of Beath Church and cemetery. At this point the school was split, with the old building becoming the lower school, and subsequently commonly referred to as "Old Beath", whilst the modern school was referred to as "New Beath". The old building was demolished in the 1990s and in 2003 the 'new' school, itself, was closed due to subsidence and a new Public Private Partnership school was built. It is maintained by Sodexo.
On 25th March 1983, Mrs Jane Cosans of Cowdenbeath changed discipline in Scottish schools. She was awarded £11,846 by the European Court of Human Rights, plus costs, in her protesting against her son’s being suspended from Beath High School for refusing to be belted. This much contributed to the banning of the use of the belt in Scottish schools.
Sir James Black
Alumni of Beath High School include Nobel Prize
winner, Sir James Black
, whose work is behind the drug Ranitidine
. In an excerpt from his autobiography, Sir James is quotes as saying: "The imprinting mathematical influence was Dr Waterson at Beath High School, a brilliant and rumbustious teacher, who more or less man-handled me into sitting the competitive entrance examination for St Andrews University."
Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge
Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge
, attended Beath High School. She graduated from Edinburgh University and worked as a teacher in Cowdenbeath before being adopted the ILP candidate for the North Lanarkshire constituency, which she won at a 1929 by-election, becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons. A member of Harold Wilson's government of 1964, she was influential in the creation of the Open University
Another noteworthy student of Beath was one James Curran Baxter, or "Slim Jim" Baxter, one of Scotland's most prolific football players. A statue commemorating Jim Baxter
can be found in adjacent Hill of Beath
, outside the working men's club.
, the celebrated author of the Inspector Rebus novels also attended Beath High School.
, the Scottish politician and Member of Parliament for Falkirk West was born in Cowdenbeath in 1942 and attended St Brides Primary School.
(Baron Ewing of Kirkford) was born in Cowdenbeath in 1931. Son to miner, William Ewing, Harry served as a Member of Parliament for 21 years before being made a life peer.
QC, born in Cowdenbeath on March 17, 1951 is a well known senior advocate and Queen's Counsel in Scotland. He has also held positions as a vice chairman of Rangers Football Club and twice Rector of the University of St Andrews.
As previously stated, Cowdenbeath commanded a strategic location at the juncture of emerging routes between Queensferry, Burntisland & Dunfermline, and was indeed a coaching stop for fresh horses on the route to Perth. The arrival of the Dunfermline-Thornton railway (via Cowdenbeath) in 1848 consolidated Cowdenbeath's developing infrastructure, and was essential in underpinning Cowdenbeath's increasingly important coal mining activities by providing an economically viable means of transporting such large volumes of material. The next significant advance in Cowdenbeath's transport network came in 1909 with the advent of the tram.
Electric trams were introduced to Dunfermline in November 1909 by the Dunfermline & District Tramway Company which had a depot at St. Leonards Street (the present Stagecoach depot), and one in Cowdenbeath (also the present Stagecoach depot). The work was carried out by the Edinburgh contractors, Balfour Beatty Ltd. The track, which was of 3'6" gauge, was brought to the town by ship from Middlesbrough via the harbour at Charlestown. Granite setts for the trackbed were imported from Norway. The first 20 trams were brought to Dunfermline by rail and were all of the open top double deck kind. The main tram-line ran from Dunfermline to Lochore via Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly along the route of the present-day 19 bus-route.
The A92 Fife Regional Road
is a motorway-standard dual carriageway
road running from the M90 motorway
(which runs from Edinburgh
) in Dunfermline
(and further to Glenrothes
). The A92 bypasses the east of the town with a junction at Bridge Street.
Cowdenbeath railway station
is situated just off the High Street, via a steep ramp off each platform. It is on the Fife Circle Line
with a half-hourly service to Edinburgh
(Monday to Saturday daytimes).
Stagecoach In Fife operate bus services throughout the town, including the flagship Service 19, which runs from Ballingry to Rosyth through Lochgelly, Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline at up to every 10 minutes. Services 17, 17A and 17B run through most residential areas of the town.