Back in the nineteenth century (and likely before then too), one of the occupations carried out in Largo was cork cutting. Among the men who described themselves as 'cork cutters' over the years were John Ballingall, Edward Johnston, Henry Kirk, John Edmonson Miller, Thomas Rankin and James Rodger. In addition, there were several boys employed to assist in this line of work.
Henry Kirk was a cork cutter based on the upper part of Kirkton of Largo's North Feus, shown in the above postcard image. At the time of the 1861 census Henry Kirk employed '1 man and 1 boy' in his cork cutting business. He was listed in the 1862 Westwood Directory (above) under 'miscellaneous'. It's likely that the cork cutters' main output would have been stoppers for bottles and other containers, such as the stoneware containers shown in the advert below for Henry Kennedy and Sons of Glasgow.
Tragically, Henry Kirk died in 1862 aged just 28, leaving behind a wife and baby daughter. Fairly quickly Henry's business was taken over by an English cork cutter, who relocated from Norwich to Largo. Edward Johnston stayed for decades to continue the business and in 1864 he married Henry Kirk's widow Annie. The couple went on to have 7 children of their own, as well as raising the daughter of Henry. The 1871 census tells us that Johnston employed '2 men, 4 apprentices and 1 woman', suggesting that the business had grown significantly since 1861.
Details of Edward Johnston's bankruptcy show that money was owed to Fisher Howard and Sons cork merchants of Leith, David Gillies net manufacturer, Alloa Glasswork Company, Henry Kennedy Potteries in Glasgow (see advert further above), Robert White grocer of Largo, and J.A. Bertram and Company cork manufacturer, among others. This information confirms that bottle stoppers and floats for nets were a large part of the business. Edward then left Largo, never to return, and Norwich House was sold (see 8 Oct 1887 Fife News insert below). But there was another cork cutter operating in Upper Largo, who continued to trade for some time after Edward's departure. More on him, and on changing times as cork stoppers were being replaced with other forms of bottle closure, in the next post.