Across the street from where Queen Anne Street (previously Rotten Row) meets Bruce Street, stood a Damask Linen Warehouse, owned by Robert and James Kerr. It is named on Wood’s 1823 map and the Town Map of 1854 – a successful long-running business by the two brothers.
They were ambitious with trading accounts showing customers across England and even one in Montreal, Canada. They were also innovative: in 1825, along with Alexander Robertson, they introduced the town’s first “Jacquard Machine” to their manufacturing. These looms simplified the weaving design process, reducing the skill level required to operate it and therefore increasing the number of people who could use it and grow the volume of output. You can view one of these looms at the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum and even see it working at various times during the year.
James Kerr’s business acumen brought him wealth and he was described as an “…architect of his own fortune…” in his obituary. By 1843 he was living three miles outside the town on his Middlebank Estate and is listed with Heritors: ‘Right Hon. Earl of Elgin, James Hunt of Pittencrieff, etc.’ – a position of status making decisions for the town, such as where to create the new cemetery.
James’ fortune was also boosted when he inherited the estate of his brother Robert, who died in 1847.
While Dunfermline is renowned for world famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and his wife Louise (who gifted Pittencrieff Park to the town in 1903 along with many other buildings) James and his wife, Christina, had also been generous with their wealth, some 40 years earlier.
By August 1863 the area of Hawbank was designated a Public Park thanks to the donation of land and money by the couple. Sir Joseph Paxton visited in 1864 to draw up designs. Kerr is credited with this vision, although it was not actioned until after his death. The Kerr’s generosity enabled the Town Council to create the 27 acre Public Park which is still enjoyed by many today.