3 MIN READ TIME
Throughout history, North Queensferry has been an essential crossing point of the Firth of Forth, seeing armies, royalty, commoners and cattle pass through its streets.
The view from the pier today displays each chapter of this passage’s history, from the modern road and rail bridges to evidence of the ferry that gave the town its name.
However, one important piece of the puzzle could easily be missed if you didn’t know it was there. That’s because North Queensferry is home to the world’s smallest working Light Tower.
While this narrow gap in the Forth has been a well-used crossing for thousands of years, the town’s name originated in the 11th Century. Queen Margaret had been married at Dunfermline and was influential in making it a royal centre, establishing a new abbey on the hill. To assist the influx of pilgrims travelling there and on to St Andrews, the Queen established a free ferry across the Forth that still carries her title 950 years later.
Traffic steadily increased, but for centuries ferrymen could only safely travel across the passage during daylight hours. With deadly currents swirling around this narrow point, the safe route across the passage was also a closely guarded secret that allowed North Queensferry men to charge whatever they wanted. By the early 19th century, the government decided to act, bringing the ferry system into part-public ownership and setting about improving operations.
Amongst other changes, the famous lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson created this small light tower in 1817. It gave boats just enough guidance to make the short crossing without losing their way. Originally, the lamp sat on top of the nearby Signal House, until it was discovered that the position was causing boats to arrive with a thump in the darkness, hitting the pier at completely the wrong angle.
Moved to its current location, the whale oil lamp shone brightly for over 70 years and many famous faces passed this way such as Queen Victoria. After the construction of the Forth Bridge, reliance upon the ferry began to dwindle and night-time crossings became far rarer. Car transports continued right up until 1964, but by then the once vital North Queensferry Light Tower had already fallen dark.
In 2009, this important little building became the focus of a project by the North Queensferry Heritage Trust. With endless local enthusiasm, they set about restoring the abandoned light tower, hoping to make it fully operational once more. Reopened in 2010, Princess Anne became the first person to rekindle the historic lamp in around 100 years.
It’s now a focal point for North Queensferry and a great starting point for everything else there is to see in the area. People often visit here for the spectacular views of the Forth Bridge, but not many realise what other treasures are hiding around them. A 200-year-old piece of heritage is waiting to be experienced first-hand and the story behind the world’s smallest Light Tower is there to be discovered.
For something a little bit special, contact the North Queensferry Heritage Trust in advance to organise lighting this historic lamp and join an exclusive club of honorary keepers of the light.
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