A Brief History of South Queensferry

The small town of Queensferry lies on the south shore of the Firth of Forth just eight miles west of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city.

As a convenient crossing place, the area may have been known before the Romans arrived, but the town is traditionally associated with Saint Margaret, the Anglo-Saxon princess who married King Malcolm III Canmore.

Saint Margaret.
Saint Margaret.

By the early 14th century the town had become a Burgh of Regality along with Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Musselburgh, owing duties to the convent of Dunfermline, which also controlled the ferry passage.

Burgh crest

A charter issued by David II, King Robert Bruce’s son, in 1364, which confirmed the Burgh’s rights and liberties, is held in Queensferry museum. With the privilege of a weekly market and an annual Fair, the town’s trading activities increased.

Queensferry had become a flourishing seaport by the 17th century, trading in coal, wool and hides and importing wine, silk, linen and timber from Europe and Scandinavia.

The town’s leading burgesses were merchants, ship-owners and masters as well as local guild craftsmen. In 1627 Charles I erected the town into a Royal Burgh and freeport and in 1636 it separated from the parish of Dalmeny, with a church building of its own.

War, pirates, the plague and even witches were a common threat, but the town’s prosperity at this time is evident from the number of fine 17th century buildings which still survive. For this reason the old town is safeguarded as an ‘Outstanding Conservation Area’ with many listed buildings.

Old houses

Despite the development of a soap-making industry, the first of its kind in Scotland, and the continuation of linen weaving and candle-making, the town’s fortunes and its trading fleet declined. A fishing industry and a distillery brought some employment, but apart from the arrival in 1866 of the railway branch line from Ratho, the industrial expansion of the Victorian period had little impact.

Until, that is, the year 1883, when the Forth Rail Bridge and the demands of it’s 3000 workforce brought renewed prosperity. The bridge workers were well served by the town’s hostelries, like the Hawes Inn, made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s Antiquary and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

Old postcard showing The Forth Bridge and a ferry.
Workers on the Forth Bridge
The Forth Bridge seen from the Naval Base at Port Edgar.
The Forth Bridge seen from the Naval Base at Port Edgar.

With the first World War came the establishment of the Navy’s destroyer base at Port Edgar, just west of the town. Over the previous years the Royal Navy, and in particular the training ship ‘Caledonia’ had played an important role in the town, but serving the needs of the Navy at Port Edgar provided renewed prospects. At one time the town had two cinemas!

Responsibility for the ferry passage had been transferred from the various individuals into the hands of a Board of Trustees in 1810.

They ordered improvements to the service and to the various landing places on each side of the Firth to cater for the ever increasing number of passengers and vehicles. As early as 1929 a report on the possibility of a road crossing was produced, but the ferries continued until the Forth Road Bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1964, bringing to an end the traditional ferry passage.

The Forth Road Bridge - opened by Her Majesty The Queen
The Forth Road Bridge – opened by Her Majesty The Queen

As a desirable residential area, the town has expanded appreciably in the last several decades but without losing its significant charm and quality.

Today the ancient Royal Burgh of Queensferry is a community offering a unique glimpse of times past, as well as the fabulous prospect of three of the world’s engineering masterpieces.

The Distillery Fire - picture courtesy of The Scotsman.
VAT 69 - courtesy of user hsp 60 on Flickr - see the image and more from the photographer here.
VAT 69 – courtesy of user hsp 60 on Flickr – see the image and more from the photographer here.

Images from South Queensferry. Click any image below to see a larger version.

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