Situated in west Fife, and surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside, Cowdenbeath is a town which sits within the wider civil parish of Beath, containing a population of approximately 14,000. The word ‘beath’ is known to mean ‘birch’ in Gaelic, and P.W. Brown suggests that the word also means ‘abode’ or ‘settlement’. The Beath kirk represents the first sign of focused settlement for the surrounding area and dates back to 1429, although the earliest written record of Beath (Beth) can be dated back to 1178. Originally famed for farming, its emergence as a long standing settlement and the nickname ‘Chicago of Fife’ was precipitated by the establishment and subsequent boom of coal mining from 1850 onward.
The arrival of the Oakley Iron Company (to be taken over ten years later by the Forth Iron Company and later by the Fife Coal Company in 1896) around that time was to have a long-lasting impact upon Cowdenbeath and make the name synonymous with coal-mining for almost a century. By the turn of the century there were nine coal pits, making it one of the largest coal-mining areas in Scotland. The dramatic increase in mining activity led to the doubling of the population of Cowdenbeath from 4,000 to 8,000 in the 1890-1900 period (for comparison in 1820 only 120 people lived there). Various related industries and facilities were also created, including the Fife Mining School, which shut down in 1976.
Since the coal industry’s departure in the 1960s and 70s, Cowdenbeath acts as a local centre for several nearby communities, providing shopping, education and leisure facilities. The town benefits from the proximity of major transport links (A92 and M90) and its own railway station on the Fife Circle. Its High Street is like no other thanks to the recent beautification programme – a collaboration between Fife Council, police, local businesses and an artist which involved decorating the shopfronts and especially their shutters with artworks reflecting the business’s profile.
Beath High School
Beath was established in 1910 as Beath Higher Grade School. The school was often chosen by pupils who were hoping to progress to higher education. Over the years the school continued to grow in size. The ever-increasing number of pupils and changing expectations of education facilities eventually necessitated the construction of a new building. In 2003 Beath High moved into a new building with state of the art accommodation for all pupils and staff, including an all-weather pitch.
In the Footsteps of Geddes at Beath High
A group of ten Beath pupils, boys and girls from Cowdenbeath and surrounding villages, participated in In the Footsteps of Geddes project in the last quarter of 2016. The project was interweaved into the SQA Scottish Studies Course Level 3, specifically the Business, Industry and Employment Unit of this qualification, focus of which was on Travel and Tourism.
The group considered the role of heritage as a potential stimulator of local economy and creation of jobs. By using the Scottish Government’s Place Standard tool, the participants identified the strong and weak aspects of the area and the role of placemaking in the process of creating better communities which are attractive to locals as well as tourists. The group also developed skills in thinking about making inclusive places by assessing the local high street with the Place Standard tool from the perspective of people with movement difficulties.
The project participants also learnt how to use Google Cardboard, take panoramic photographs and create 3D scans. This development of digital skills resonates with the Scottish Curriculum of Excellence and was thoroughly enjoyed by the group. The new abilities were later used in and outside of the classroom.
Aberdour, also in Fife, is a scenic coastal village located on the north shore of the Firth of Forth, situated between Burntisland to the east and Dalgety Bay to the west. The place name is Pictish and its suggested meaning is confluence (aber) of water (dour). The harbour of Aberdour has been a focal point of the village both being used as a transportation point for nearby collieries such as Cowdenbeath, and latterly as a destination for pleasure steamers from Leith. Notably an area of historical importance, Aberdour is in close proximity to Aberdour Castle, St Filian’s Church, and consists of buildings of the 17th-19th century vernacular. Other geographical features include Aberdour’s two beaches, Silver Sands and Black Sands, and nearby Incholm Island which was inhabited by monks as early as the 12th Century.
Aberdour Castle, a Historic Environment Scotland site, dates from around 1200, making it one of the two oldest datable standing castles in Scotland, along with Castle Sween in Argyll, which was built at around the same time. The earliest part of the castle comprised a modest hall house overlooking the Dour Burn. Over the next four centuries the castle was successively expanded according to architectural ideas of the time. The hall house became a tower house in the 15th century, and was extended twice in the 16th century. The final addition was made around 1635, with refined Renaissance details, and the whole was complemented by a walled garden to the east and terraced gardens to the south. The terraces, dating from the mid-16th century, form one of the oldest gardens in Scotland, and great views across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh can be seen from them.
The castle is largely the creation of the Douglas Earls of Morton, who held Aberdour from the 14th century. The earls used Aberdour as a second home until 1642, when their primary residence, Dalkeith House, was sold. A fire in the late 17th century was followed by some repairs, but in 1725 the family purchased nearby Aberdour House, and the medieval castle was allowed to fall into decay. Today, only the 17th-century wing remains roofed, while the tower has mostly collapsed. Aberdour Castle is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.
The historic site was the focus of the field trip of Beath High pupils. This visit was made possible courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland. The group, led by two teachers, project staff and volunteer and a Historic Environment Scotland employee explored the historic ruins, learning about the past and present significance of the castle. The young participants engaged with place via the medium of digital panoramic photography and Google Cardboard. The group also conducted a Place Standard assessment, analysing both the historic site as well as the neighbouring community.
The Aberdour Castle trip can be viewed in the video here.
Pop-up exhibition at Cowdenbeath Library
The project culminated in a pop-up exhibition, hosted by the Cowdenbeath Library. The participants were able to present their findings and knowledge. They also engaged with members of the public by showing them how to use Google Cardboard and helping them fill out Place Standard questionnaires. The findings of this exercise, conducted by the project participants, can be viewed in the document here.