The previous post looked at the early life of local joiner and building contractor, Robert 'Bert' Band. In this part, we pick up his life story in 1958, when Robert and his wife Catherine's first child Jane was born. In the same year the family moved into a newly built local authority house at 11 Woodlaw Park in Upper Largo. Soon after moving to Upper Largo, Robert was offered a job with Robert (Bob) Donaldson's joinery firm in the village. He worked for Donaldson's for the next seven or so years. During this time, the young John Donaldson joined the business and was apprentice to Robert Band.
In the 1960s the family expanded with the arrival of Neil in 1960, John in 1964 and Helen in 1967. The mid-60s saw Robert build nine timber 4-berth chalets at the caravan park, as well as a shop. In 1968, Robert made the decision to become self-employed. The same year saw the family move to 15 Pitcruvie Park in Lundin Links and saw further development at the caravan park - with the construction of purpose-built ladies and gents toilets and showers and the conversion of the cottage back into a dwelling.
Early jobs as a self-employed joiner included alterations to Briary Cottage on Upper Largo's North Feus (forming a large roof dormer and attic bedrooms). There was also the conversion of cotter houses at Blinkbonny. As Robert's reputation and work load grew, he employed his first two joiners, Bruce Sibbald and Roy Jamieson and expanded his workshop at the caravan site. The three men set off further afield than usual in 1971 for a job up in Sutherland - at a croft named Rhinivie at Bettyhill. The project, to modernise a cottage, was for Mrs Jean Barclay, owner of Barclay Brothers builders in Colinsburgh. The following year Robert built his own home, seen through the viaduct arch in the postcard image below, with the balcony, and named it Rhinivie. This was completed in October 1972 and became the family home for many years.
In 1973, Jean Barclay sold Barclay Brothers builders, including their yard in Colinsburgh (previously the site of a gasworks), to Robert Band. The firm Robert Band Limited was formed. Barclay's foreman builder and stonemason, Victor Howie and another employee, Thomas Myles, stayed with Robert Band's firm for many years. The firm took on its largest project to date in 1975, after winning the contract to upgrade and modernise John Wood's Hospital in Upper Largo. The work involved taking the building back to its outer shell, aside from the central hall, constructing new rear stairwells, replacing windows and forming new flats at both ground and first floor levels. The John Wood Trust had sold the nearby farm of Monturpie to finance the project.
The business was something of a family affair, with Robert's wife Catherine assisting with the paperwork and eldest son Neil joining the firm in 1976 as a joiner apprentice. Many apprentices were taken on over the years in various trades. They attended day release at Kirkcaldy Technical College, while learning practical skills on site or in the workshop. Many apprentices won the annual 'Best Apprentice Award' for their chosen trade at the college and many stayed on with the firm long-term. At its height 25-30 tradesmen and apprentices in joinery, brickwork/stone masonry, slating/tiling and plastering were employed. Robert Band Limited carried out a great number of projects throughout Central and East Fife. Among the notable projects in the Largo area were:
- Various alterations to the Lundin Links Hotel, including the cutting down in height of the large redundant chimneys, roof repairs, and internal upgrading of the main stairwell.
- Alterations to the Old Manor Hotel, including the removal of the entrance conservatory and its replacement on the original stone base with a steel framed and slated roof vestibule, plus work on the function rooms and upgrading of the chef's cottage (later the separate restaurant known for a while as The Coachman's).
- Works to upgrade the Upper Largo Hotel - covered in the 14 January 1976 East Fife Mail (see below).
- Upgrading of the Montrave Hall to add new masonry outer skin and tiled roof.
- Repair and reconstruction work to Sir Andrew Wood's Tower (which received a Saltire Award).
- Alterations and extension to the Durham Hall.
- Alterations to East Lodge, Church Place, Upper Largo and adjacent former Largo House laundry.
- Alterations to the Royal Bank of Scotland in Lundin Links, including extending the bank into the adjacent former Gulland's Tea Rooms (the bank manager's garage on Crescent Road being turned into a temporary bank (later becoming The Finishing Touch curtains and blinds supplier).
- The construction of the lower section of Seatoun Place in Lower Largo.
The image above shows Seatoun Place phase one in 1984 close to completion. The intention had been for Seatoun Place to be a two-phase development, with the development of the former mill dam area being the second phase. However, before that could happen, Robert Band Ltd was forced into liquidation, as a result of non-payment for works carried out earlier to modernise 40 flats and cottages at Denbeath. One sad day in 1985, the plant, equipment, vehicles and property belonging to the firm were sold.
After taking some time to regroup, Robert and Neil Band formed a new joinery business, working mainly from their own workshop at Dumbarnie Farm, outside Upper Largo. A notable job was to carry out alterations to 'The Grange' on South Feus. Robert and Catherine Band bought the former market garden and small cottage adjoining 60 Main Street, Upper Largo. Their younger son, John, drew up the plans for turning this into a larger dwelling in 1987 and the house was given the address 60B Main Street.
Bert Band retired in the late 1990s to enjoy life with Catherine and his growing number of grandchildren. He passed away on 10 February 2009, aged 74, and was buried in Upper Largo cemetery. His former apprentice, John Donaldson, carried out the funeral, remarking that of all the funerals he had overseen, this one had been the hardest. Many of Bert's former employees were in attendance to pay their respects to the man who had made them the tradesmen and men that they had become.