So, by the late 1890s, Watt was highly successful and in a position to build a house in Lundin Links. In the summer of 1897, the contracts were awarded for the erection of his villa, which he would name 'Norvil' - a name which the house still bears. In fact for a while the little section of street on which the house stands was called Norvil Road.
During the 1890s, a feuing plan was drawn up for the village of Lundin Links and names were marked on the plan to show who would build on each piece of land. A sizeable plot close to the railway line, down a side street off Crescent Road, was earmarked for 'Watt'. This was William Watt the Seed Merchant and Nurseryman from Cupar. Born in 1848 to an East Lothian farmer named James Watt, William moved to Fife as a young man, establishing his seed business in Cupar in 1869. The business grew to have bases in Cupar, Perth and Dundee and in 1895 moved its head office into the Old Jail building in Cupar (see photo below), where it remained until 1988.
When considering Watt's choice of name for the house, I discovered that it may have originally been spelled 'Norval'. As 'Norval' was a forename used at that time and a Norval James Watt was living in Perth around that time, I suspect that this was a family name. William Watt lived until the age of 93. He died at Middlefield House, outside Cupar in 1942. Upon his passing, the Edinburgh Evening News of 12 March described him as the "doyen of Scottish seedsmen" and noted that he had set up his business while still a teenager. During the second half of the 20th century, Norvil would have another interesting owner - more on that in the next post.
The landscape of this area - known as Massney Braes - has changed since the above postcard image was captured (around the 1950s). The planting of marram grass was undertaken to help prevent coastal erosion. The root system of the marram grass binds and stabilises the sand. As the dunes become fixed, other grasses also grow, along with other vegetation. A few decades on and there are now mature trees in this area and overall it is a much greener space than it once was. Other coastal defence measures have also been used such as the stone filled wire baskets called 'gabions' seen in the photo below (right of centre below the house).
I am currently looking into the origins of the name 'Massney' (or Masseney as it is sometimes written). Why did the name become associated with this area and from when? If you know (or have a theory), please comment!
Victoria Private Hotel
The above postcard shows the present Victoria Court on Victoria Road as a private hotel in the 1950s. The previous post included an advert for the hotel from 20 or so years earlier when the hotel itself offered putting, clock golf and tennis quoits as guest activities. It also had private bathing boxes on the nearby beach. Many indoor activities would have also been laid on, such as dances, whist drives, table tennis and other indoor sports. The establishment had 17 bedrooms plus a dining room and drawing room - plus good kitchen facilities and a bakehouse, and at one time a smoking room and additional parlours.
Earlier in its existence, the building was known as Victoria Boarding House. In 1923 the furnishings of the house were auctioned off, giving an insight into life there during its first two decades. Among the items listed for sale on 25 and 26 October that year at Dow & Co on the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh were Axminster carpets, a piano, a walnut display cabinet, oak sideboard, mahogany tables, chairs and bookcases, writing desks, butler's trays, marble clock, gong, palm stands, barometer, wicker chairs, baggage stools, crystal ware, oil and watercolour paintings, fire irons, garden seats, a mangle, a large quantity of tinned fruits and 20 head of poultry!
In the early 1970s, conversion of the building into flats took place and an advert from March 1972 shows only the penthouse remaining.
Given the building's elevated position above the shore, the "uninterrupted view over Largo Bay and Lundin Golf Course" must remain a stunning feature of the top-floor flat, more than a century after the building was first constructed for the visitors that flocked to the area.
Auctioneer's Sale Room
Following on from the previous post about the Slaughterhouse on Hillhead Street, which it seems was out of use before 1920, I have been looking for evidence of what the building was used for next. The advert show below from 1923 might offer an explanation. A business called 'Goodman & Co' were operating as 'Auctioneers and Valuators' in Emsdorf Street but state that their 'Sale Room' was located on Hillhead Street. Presumably, this sale room would have been a decent size to accommodate furniture and the like and we know that the old slaughterhouse had recently fallen out of use so I've concluded that this was most likely the same building.
The advert reads "Sales Conducted, Town or Country at lowest Commission; All Sales promptly settled day after Sale. Stocks valued or purchased or sold as Commission." I haven't been able to find out any more about the 'Goodman & Co' business but it may well have been connected to the Sydney Goodman who ran various other business ventures in the Emsdorf Street area around that time. This business seems to have been short-lived as just a few years later the phone number 'Lundin Links 16' (noted in the Goodman advert) was being used by the Victoria Private Hotel (see their advert below).
Lundin Mill Slaughterhouse
I've often wondered about the history of this building at the corner of Hillhead Lane and Hillhead Street. Obviously old, it's clearly not just a garage, as it's very long and has an upper doorway with evidence of some kind of contraption above that door. The answer came from the 'valuation rolls', which were compiled annually, listing every house, building or piece of ground, together with the names of the owners and tenants and the annual rateable value.
This building clearly features on an 1894 map and, on the 1895 valuation roll, a Janet Grieve or Simpson (flesher) is listed as owner of three entries ('Slaughterhouse and Stable', 'House, Shop & Garden' and 'Huts') on Hillhead. Janet was by this time the widow of the butcher David Simpson who had died earlier that year after a fall from the Largo viaduct.
Looking at other valuation roll entries and at census information, it seems that David Simpson had moved to Largo parish around 1878 from Markinch. Initially, he was a flesher in Kirkton of Largo before moving to Lundin Mill Farm before 1885. By the 1891 census, Simpson has his own butcher's shop, which I'm guessing is the same one noted as belonging to his widow four years later on Hillhead. So, more than likely the slaughterhouse was built for him sometime between 1885 and 1891.
After David Simpson's untimely death early in 1895, his widow continued the business. In the 1901 census, she is recorded as living in 'Croft House', Hillhead Street and her occupation is given as 'butcher'. Two of her sons also are listed at the same address with the same occupation (as is another man who is a non-family member). So at the turn of the century, this business was employing at least four 'butchers'. By 1911, the whole butcher business had changed hands and was being run by Andrew Robertson. Robertson appears in the 1915 valuation roll as owning the 'House & Garden', 'Huts' and 'Shop, Slaughterhouse and Stable' on the west side of Hillhead Street, however, he dies in 1916. The 1920 valuation roll shows that the buildings are in the hands of solicitors and the butcher's shop is empty. This I believe marked the end of the building's original use. There was, of course, by this stage an established butcher on Leven Road, which remains to this day. So what happened next to the building shown above? Find out in the next post.
Viaduct as a Footpath
Probably from the moment it was completed and opened, until the time it ceased use and was fenced off, the viaduct was used by pedestrians as well as by trains. A figure can just be made out in the above postcard image on top of the bridge to the right hand side. The trains were infrequent and ran to a well-known timetable, so people could be reasonably confident that they wouldn't encounter rail traffic while crossing the bridge. Plus, for those living on the Drummochy/Lundin Links side of the viaduct, it was much handier to leave the train at Largo station and cross the viaduct than to get off at Lundin Links station, which was a greater distance away.
It was such common practice that even children and pram-pushing mothers would routinely use the viaduct as a footpath. However, with such use over a very long period of time, inevitably there was the odd accident. One particularly serious and sad incident relates to a local butcher. According to the Courier of 20 February 1895.....
"On the arrival of the 3.25 train at Largo on Monday from Thornton, where he had been to attend the cattle market, Mr David Simpson, butcher, Lundin Mill, crossed the railway viaduct which spans the end of Largo Harbour, with the intention of walking along the railway line to Lundin Mill. Immediately after getting past where the parapet of the bridge ends, Mr Simpson stumbled, it is supposed, against the wires in connection with the signalling apparatus, rolled down a portion of the embankment, and fell over the wing wall of the bridge, a distance of 24 feet, on to the hard frozen footpath below."
The article notes that Dr Palm was quickly on the scene to find that Mr Simpson had a seriously fractured skull. He was carried home but never regained consciousness and passed away during that night, around ten hours after his fall. The 49-year-old butcher left behind a wife and eight children, most of whom were still of school age.
More Provisions from the Past
Here are some unusual 'essentials' for the Spring and Summer, as sold at the Lundin Links Pharmacy back in 1915. Firstly, Liver Saline (or liver salts) were aimed at "sufferers from sluggish liver, billious headaches, etc so prevalent after a spell of hot weather". Secondly, the Sulphur and Lime Juice Tablets were designed to be cooling and aid constipation. Lastly, Liebig's Beef and Malt Wine was marketed as "the finest tonic and restorative in the world"! This contained Port wine, extract of meat and extract of malt. Official adverts for this product contained the slogan "life-giving, sustaining, comforting".
Going back a little further to 1904, and the adverts were even more extravagant in their claims. Below is a skin ointment on offer at Hogg's Chemist in Lundin Links made by Budden & Co, Liverpool. Judging by the description, this is a miracle cure-all! This ointment was not the only wonder treatment on offer from Budden's, a similar advert for their 'Balsam of Horehound and Coltsfoot' claimed to be the....
"Best remedy for coughs, colds, difficulty of breathing, hoarseness, tightness of the chest or lungs. One dose will relieve; one bottle generally effects a cure."
Provisions from the Past
I have often wondered what it would be like to step into the Lundin Links and Largo shops of the past and find out what provisions were on offer. These old adverts give a little insight into what locals might have been shopping for and how times have changed. The above advert from 1912 is for a product known as 'Water Glass'. Also known as liquid glass, this was a sodium silicate solution which was popular for preserving eggs before refrigeration. Many households would have had a bowl full of eggs in water glass sitting in their pantries, especially in the winter when egg production was lower.
Below is a 1915 advert for Gilbey's Invalid Port available in both Somerville's Grocer and Nisbet's Grocer. This 'invalid port' or 'tonic wine' claimed to have invigorating and restorative properties and was commercially very successful, becoming a household name. A few more interesting products from the past which were sold locally coming in the next post.
John George Gerrard
So, the Mr Gerrard behind 'Mr Gerrard's Villas' (now Peacehaven Care Home) was John George Gerrard, a furrier in Edinburgh. John Gerrard was born in 1856 in Banff but in adulthood he moved to Edinburgh and became part of the drapery business. Eventually, he decides to specialise in fur and creates 'Gerrard Brothers' around 1883. The company had bases in both Aberdeen and Edinburgh before focussing its business in the capital where it moved between various addresses in the city centre. Below is an advert for a Hanover Street shop and a photograph of a later store at the corner of Frederick and Princes Street.
The 1901 census finds John Gerrard and his wife in Woodielea Road Lundin Links (while still conducting the furrier business in Edinburgh). Perhaps at this time he was formulating his plans to invest in the village. We can presume that he was a regular summer visitor and he is recorded in newspaper archives as having been present at the official opening of the Lundin Links Hotel on 24 May 1900. In 1905, Mr Gerrard was noted as residing at 'Eastfield' on Leven Road - another Tudor revival style building (shown with its twin 'Mayfield' in the photograph on the left below). I don't think that it's too much of a stretch to suppose that John Gerrard was such an admirer of the style of both the hotel and Eastfield that he decided in 1907 to create the villas that would become Peacehaven in a very similar style. So, although they do not share the same architect, perhaps the three buildings shown below do have a common link, in the shape of John George Gerrard.
Mr Gerrard's Villas
Back in 1907, a Mr Gerrard commissioned a pair of villas to be built in the up-and-coming summer resort of Lundin Links. The architect was to be James M Thomson of 63 George Street, Edinburgh, who was known for his work on churches and tenements in Edinburgh and surrounding areas. A few years before, he had created tenements on Shandwick Place in Edinburgh (see small photograph) which were noted for their bay windows and symmetry. Echoes of this style would be designed into the villas for Mr Gerrard on Station Road, Lundin Links - two dwellings made to look like one unified building.
The villas would become known as the twin boarding houses of 'Roseneath' and 'Linksfield'. Much later, after a number of name changes and consolidation into a single building, this would become Peacehaven Old People's Home - which is how it is known today. The Seventh's Day Adventist Church bought the building in the mid-1960s, when they moved their Edinburgh retirement home out of the city to this quieter spot. They owned Peacehaven until 1993. The building remains a care home and has been extended on several occasions.
Below are the original plans for 'Mr Gerrard's Villas' (which are held at RCAHMS). Note the extensive gardens, with suggested areas for kitchen gardens and a bleaching greens. The gardens still remain important and in fact the BBC's Beechgrove Garden TV programme has twice visited the garden at Peacehaven. But who was Mr Gerrard? Find out in the next post.
This blog is about the history of the villages of Lundin Links, Lower Largo and Upper Largo in Fife, Scotland. Comments and contributions from readers are very welcome!
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