Andrew Carnegie: Gold key given to philanthropist celebrates theatre makeover

A gold key given to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie when he opened a much-loved theatre is going on show to mark the venue’s refurbishment.

The keepsake was one of two presented to VIP guests when Kirkcaldy’s Adam Smith Theatre – recently given a £7.8 million makeover – was inaugurated in 1899.

Keys were gifted to the Dunfermline-born steel magnate and the widow of Kirkcaldy linoleum manufacturer Michael Beveridge, who funded the theatre’s construction.

The keys are being reunited for the first time since 1899 and will go on show together for 12 months at Kirkcaldy Galleries – across the road from the revamped theatre. 

It is the first time the Carnegie key has been exhibited in more than 10 years. The joint display marks the completion of a three-year refurbishment programme.

Programme for the event in 1899. Credit: OnFife

Speaking at the opening in 1899, Carnegie declared the venue ‘suitable for concerts, charades, private theatricals, meetings of philanthropic committees, lectures upon interesting and instructive topics and entertainments of all kinds’.

Accepting his ceremonial key from Mrs Elizabeth Beveridge, Carnegie said: ‘This key, presented in any circumstances, would have been precious beyond price.

‘Coming, madame, from you, the honoured wife of one of the benefactors of Kirkcaldy, I assure you this key must ever derive and retain tenfold value and (will be) handed down in our family as one of its most precious heirlooms.’

The theatre reopens on 23 September with a Grand Reopening concert of music, drama and dance hosted by Radio, TV and panto star Grant Stott.

Crafted by local jeweller Alex Constable, the keepsakes were not keys to the theatre itself but decorative items bearing Kirkcaldy’s coat of arms and inscriptions to each recipient.

The theatre was opened on 11 October 1899 to honour the hugely influential economist and philosopher Adam Smith, who was born in Kirkcaldy 300 years ago. 

A sculpture of Smith by Italian artist Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-67) will be on permanent display in the refurbished foyer. 

The marble bust is part of the extensive art collection managed by cultural charity OnFife, which runs the theatre – now transformed into a multi-purpose creative hub. 

The steel magnate was also given the Freedom of the Burgh of Kirkcaldy at the ceremony.

Sculpture of Adam Smith by Italian artist Baron Carlo Marochetti. Credit: OnFife.

The philanthropist’s key is being loaned by the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum

Mrs Beveridge’s keepsake is on long-term display at Kirkcaldy Galleries, which is also run by OnFife.

Following its inauguration, the Adam Smith quickly became a popular venue for plays, opera and concerts, as well as boxing tournaments and exhibitions of dance. 

In 1913, the first of many films was shown. 

The building saw active service during two world wars – housing members of the Highland Cyclist Battalion, as well as Polish troops billeted in Fife to bolster coastal defences. 

Major renovations were carried out to mark the 250th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth in 1973, creating a new-look venue designed to meet the changing needs of the community.  

Famous names who have walked the Adam Smith stage include singer David Bowie, comedian Tommy Cooper, actor James McAvoy, entertainer Jimmy Logan and former Prime Ministers, James Callaghan and Gordon Brown.

OnFife’s Collections Team Leader Gavin Grant said: ‘The theatre’s reopening is a wonderful opportunity to reunite the two presentation keys for the first time since 1899. 

‘We’re delighted that visitors to Kirkcaldy Galleries can view these significant objects from the town’s history over the coming year.’

Read more on Scottish Field’s News pages. 

Plus, don’t miss the October issue of Scottish Field magazine.