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20 Sep 2023

Open day at Sailors’ Walk

A large, white-stone-walled, 16th-century building stands on the High Street of Kirkcaldy, against a bright blue sky. It has a tiled roof and exposed stone chimneys.
Sailors’ Walk, by the harbour in Kirkcaldy
Join Trust specialists at an informal open day for Sailors’ Walk in Kirkcaldy on Saturday 21 October between 11am and 4pm.

This open day aims to share what has been happening with this property, giving visitors a chance to see inside and find out how it has been restored over the years. Sailors’ Walk has, among many other things, served as a merchant’s house, a customs house and a tenement for fishermen. More recently, it has been used for offices, an art gallery and a shop. It has an amazing 17th-century painted ceiling as well as some very interesting plasterwork. The Trust is currently using the ground floor as a regional hub office.

A number of National Trust for Scotland experts – including operations staff, the regional conservator and the building surveyor — will be at the open day to answer any questions as well as to gather your views on how this building could be used in the future. We will also be joined by one of the current tenants, who will share how she makes use of the building. There will be some fun interactive sessions, including make your own plaster fleur-de-lis!

Very little is currently known about the early history of Sailors’ Walk. The building dates from either the 16th or 17th century and is thought to be of Flemish design. It has been said that an earlier building stood here from the mid-15th century, but no evidence has been uncovered to confirm this.

The most reliable form of evidence that the building has to offer for its date is in the painted ceiling room, which includes a plaster relief of the coat of arms of Charles II (who reigned 1660–85) as well as the date 1676 (with the initials R and B W) carved over the fireplace. The coat of arms may be linked to the event in 1662 when Charles II confirmed the Royal Charter of Kirkcaldy. The fireplace is thought to have been added when the building was renovated in the 1670s, and the initials may therefore relate to the Whyte family who owned this part of the building during that period.

Another clue to dating Sailors’ Walk is found in the painted ceiling design itself. When an architect for the HM Office of Works assessed the ceiling in the 1930s, he believed the scrollwork, hound heads, birds and flowers to be the work of a late 16th-century artist. The earliest recorded date and owner on the deed is Patrick Rankin who in 1600 owned a section of the east side of the building.

In the early 1930s, a local woman, Gwendollyn Lendrum, extensively researched the building and discovered the area immediately behind Sailors’ Walk was used as a ‘kail yaird’ and corn barn until the early 1800s. At this point, the outdoor space was purchased by William Oliphant (who eventually owned all of Sailors’ Walk) and turned into a garden.

Gwendollyn Lendrum was instrumental in saving this building from demolition. Her early feature article in the Fifeshire Advertiser in 1932 caught the attention of others in the community, and she galvanised support for the restoration of Sailors’ Walk by attending meetings, writing articles and subsequently overseeing the work carried out. She painstakingly researched the deeds and created a chart noting the various people who lived in each section of the building. Although she moved to England in the 1950s, she remained involved in the restoration. Her views were sought by Jamie Stormonth Darling, then Secretary for the National Trust for Scotland, about various aspects of the building that were deteriorating.

The Trust has been involved with Sailors’ Walk since 1934 when, in response to a Demolition Order issued by the Department of Health, discussions were held about saving the building. It was intimated that if a local committee was formed to raise funds, the Trust would take on its care once the renovation was complete. Work began on the building in 1935 and Sailors’ Walk was placed in the name of the Provost and Town Clerk of Kirkcaldy until the Trust formally took ownership in 1952.


The open day is on Saturday 21 October 2023, 11am–4pm, at Sailors’ Walk, 443–449 High Street, Kirkcaldy KY1 2SH

There is no need to book.

If you have any questions in advance, please email us on Sailorswalk@nts.org.uk

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