1863 – Generous Gifts

Grass on the ground, three bare trees on the right and on the left a line of gree leaved trees into the distance.

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.

1854 Ordnance Survey Town Map, detail from Bruce Street showing Calender Works, North Free Church and Damask Linen Warehouse
1854 Town Map Calender Works detail. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

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.

Grass on the ground, three bare trees on the right and on the left a line of gree leaved trees into the distance.
Lime Tree Avenue at Public Park
Infographic showing the donations given by Mr and Mrs Kerr from 1847: Notable donations to charitable causes from Mr and Mrs Kerr included; * 1847 subscription to Church of Scotland £150 with wife Christina Kerr subscribing £50 they gave 2% of funds raised in the country * 1859 £100 donation, headed list of subscribers to Dunfermline Industrial School * 1859 £300 donation, led list of subscribers of new Volunteer Unit, Dunfermline Rifle Corp * 1861 Asked artist Joseph Noel Paton to design a monument for Robert the Bruce’s new burial place in the New Abbey Church. The brass plaque now there was laid in 1889. * 1861 pledged to donate money for a public park for residents’ recreation * 1862 December, Christina Kerr gives ’40 carts of coal amongst poor of the town’ * 1862 monthly distribution of bread, tea and sugar * 1863 Christina Kerr purchased seven acres at Hawbank (£1400) and gifted to town for park with £1000 additional gift
Mr & Mrs Kerr’s Donations from 1847

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