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Nairn Linoleum Factory

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Former linoleum factory, 2007
Former linoleum factory
© Paul McIlroy

The site of the former Nairn Linoleum Factory lies on the Smeaton Road, Kirkcaldy in West Fife.

This was once one of seven factories, described by the 1885 Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, in Kirkcaldy which made linoleum using linseed oil. Forbo-Nairn still manufactures linoleum, and claims to be the largest producer in the world, but production moved to a new facility in the 1980s, leaving the original site empty and redundant, as the five other business ceased trading over the years.


The works were originally founded 1847 by Michael Nairn, as the Floor Cloth Manufactory, and did not begin making linoleum until 1877. The site was home to a large complex of stone and brick buildings, a number of which had the characteristically tall ground floor of a classic linoleum works.

In 1863, an Englishman (Frederick Walton) made a successful application for a patent for the exclusive manufacture of a new floor covering material which he called linoleum. Once his patent expired, in 1877, production of linoleum became widespread, with Kirkcaldy becoming one of the most significant locations in the world, thanks to the existence of its seaport, textile, and coal industries. Even as late as 1986, Nairn's factory was still classed as one of the top three such facilities in the world, still producing genuine linoleum.

World War II

During World War II, part of the works was given over to the maunfacture of war munitions, including bombs, shells and torpedoes - presumably these used the large machinery used for handling the rolls of linoleum. The casings for some of the 12,000lb and 22,000lb "earthquake bombs" were finished there.

Linseed oil Shortage

Linoleum is essentially solidified linseed oil (linoxyn) in combination with wood flour, or cork dust, over a burlap or canvas backing. During the 1970s, a shift in the Humboldt Current off South America led to the loss of much of the world supply of fish meal animal feed. This loss was replaced using cattle feed substitute manufactured from linseed oil, which resulted in an increase in the price of the raw material, which in turn caused problems for manufacturers of linoleum. By the 1980s, the situation improved as the popularity of linoleum increased, being used in public spaces, schools and the like, thanks to its use of natural materials, lack of allergens, durability, and relative non-toxicity in the event of fire.

The Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem extends along the west coast of South America from northern Peru to the southern tip of Chile. It is one of the major upwelling systems of the world, responsible for extremely high levels of organic production. The current contains cold, low salinity waters that flow in the direction of the Equator and can extend 1,000 kilometres offshore. The upwelling can be disrupted by El Niño-Southern Oscillation events, and when this occurs, fish abundance and distribution are significantly affected, often leading to stock crashes and cascading social and economic impacts.

Demolition proposal

The factory featured in the 2003 BBC TV series Restoration, in which viewers voted for a building to be restored - it didn't win. The programme about the factory included a still of the "earthquake bombs" being machined.

In March 2008, a news item noted that Scottish Enterprise, which purchased the grade A listed building in 2000, would be applying for permission to demolish the shell of the former factory, which has lain derelict since 1980 with no prospect of development.

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-



Aerial views



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