Cupar’s Yesterdays …

When Steve Penrice was just a boy, his father’s job – working on the railways – brought the family to Cupar. “That was a few years ago now!” Steve tells us when we caught up with him to look over just a selection of the vast array of items in his incredible Cupar archive …

Steve was born in Glasgow. When he arrived in Cupar with his family in the 1970s, they lived in the station house – ironically, now the town’s Museum & Heritage Centre. His parents (his father is now retired) live in the house next door. Steve says: “That is where my love of history and the town’s heritage began.

As a youngster, he’d visit many of the family-run businesses in town and became fascinated by their history. He began digging for information – and collecting memorabilia … a school-time hobby that has flourished over the years and exists to this day.

Almost 25 years ago, he began exhibiting his collection – first at the Courtyard Bookshop and then at Cupar Library. He then created exhibitions in the tourist information centre – and the interest grew in his archive. As a result, Steve and some of his friends set up a local history group – the Heritage Arts and Leisure Society (HAL). He chaired the group for a decade.

Chatting through some of the amazing artifacts in his collection – enjoying a cuppa and a scone from JACS on Bonnygate – Steve’s passion shines through. It is not just what you might expect – photographs, postcards, papers, old company records and more: he lives and breathes the town’s heritage – creating working models and tableaux of different scenes from the town’s past. And his research is unending – crossing over into restoration work on some items that he has either rescued from demolition sites or acquired through sales and auctions. He talks through rare prints that he has tracked down – showing some of the earliest recorded scenes of the town, before many of the now iconic properties and landmarks existed.

Steve has become the ‘go to’ archivist for many and he often takes calls from folk who are clearing out offices or houses. Steve says: “Whether it is photographs, private papers, boxes of old receipts or company ledgers, I have had them all donated from those who just don’t want to see them thrown away. There is so much history behind them – each and every piece tells a story.

And the internet is a Godsend for Steve: he explains: “When I began, discovering more on any given document or artifact was a labour of love. It could sometimes take weeks – and finish in a dead end. But there is such a wealth of material online, it can help me and others in this field to research and track connections. It also means that materials get more visibility and, when people see an old photo or a letter or postcard, the faces or names may well trigger another branch of enquiry. I find it as fascinating today as when I was a kid.

Just one example is this old photo of the staff at Cupar’s sugar beet factory …

Opened in 1926 by the Anglo-Scottish Sugar Beet Corporation, Cupar’s sugar mill was the only processing plant for beet sugar north of the Tyne. In 1935, 1,500 Scottish farmers supplied beet to Cupar. The iconic silo was built in 1964, yet the refinery closed in 1971. We wonder if anyone can spy friends or family in this great shot?

Steve has many wonderful images of the town … from those showing a visit by Queen Mary …

… to those showing a ceremony and military parade in Haugh Park long before the trees that surround the War Memorial were such a part of the landscape …

His rolling collection is on display in the town’s Corn Exchange and Library – and he ensures they are refreshed on a regular basis – introducing new items from time to time. He is also enjoying giving talks to groups in the town. If you are interested in booking Steve, you can contact him via his Facebook page or his website.

He is very grateful to all those who support his work – a special note of thanks to the Fife Family History Society, the Library and Jim Adamson – and he’s aware of many in the town who have Cupar’s history and heritage at their heart. “I am fascinated by what is hidden away and will continue to unearth, research and exhibit Cupar’s history to keep it alive.

He is certainly doing that – and we look forward to the next chapters in Steve’s extraordinary archive.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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