12 April 2022
Workers who helped shape one of Scotland’s most enduring industrial success stories are being asked to share their memories with museum staff.
Curators in Fife want to speak to anyone who played a part in building the county’s reputation as a world-leading centre for linoleum production.
Staff are capturing employees’ reminiscences as part of a £115,000 project that seeks to engage people with Fife museums’ globally renowned linoleum collection.
The Flooring the World project – backed by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund – is also encouraging people to come forward with work-related artefacts.
Curators hope the two-year project will fill gaps in a remarkable collection that includes photographs, pattern books, catalogues, samples and workers’ tools.
Linoleum, and its many variants, has been dubbed the most ubiquitous and democratic of floor coverings, bought by customers across the social spectrum. Included in Fife’s collection is a piece of the linoleum that furnished Paul McCartney’s childhood home in Liverpool.
Products made in Kirkcaldy – and the Fife villages of Falkland and Newburgh – floored millions of homes, offices and public buildings at home and abroad.
The industry employed one in 10 of Kirkcaldy’s population at its peak in 1914 but, with consumers increasingly choosing vinyl flooring or carpets, just one factory was left by 1963.
The sole remaining factory – built by Kirkcaldy’s first floor covering manufacturer, Michael Nairn & Co – is still operational today and owned by international flooring company, Forbo.
The Swiss-based company recently gifted its historical archive, which dates back to Nairn’s foundation in 1847, to the cultural charity OnFife, which runs the region’s museums service.
A key aim of Flooring the World will be to make the expanded archive accessible to all – through museum displays or, by appointment, at OnFife’s Collections Centre in Glenrothes.
Forbo’s treasures includes a striking set of linoleum marquetry pictures, banners carried by workers on summer excursions and delightful promotional materials created by renowned sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Nairn’s very own factory fire engine also features.
Project engagement curator Lily Barnes said: “Our collection is strong on the first century of linoleum production, but has fewer objects from the 1960s onwards. This period, well within living memory of contemporary Fifers, will be a particular focus over the next two years.”
Curators are particularly keen to hear from women workers and anyone who took part in industrial action. They also want to learn more about production in Falkland and Newburgh.
As well recollections of day-to-day working practices, the team would welcome stories about the many musical bands, social clubs and sports teams linked to factories.
Gavin Grant, OnFife’s Collections Team Leader, said: “We’d like to find out as much as we can about the everyday experiences of people working with linoleum – not just manufacturing, but retail, marketing, administration and all of the other associated roles.”
The project will also explore the wider social impact of linoleum on people’s lives. The team is keen to hear from anyone who remembers having linoleum at home or in places of work.
The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, which is run by the Museums Association, supports initiatives that help collections achieve greater social impact. The fund has awarded more than £11 million to 162 projects since it launched in 2011.