Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

In recognition of the essential restrictions and measures imposed by the Scottish and UK Governments, we have closed all sites, depots and offices, including the HES Archives and Library, with immediate effect. Read our latest statement on Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders

Date 2007

Event ID 610075

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Burntisland, the best natural harbour on the Forth estuary, was known in ancient times as Portus Gratiae. In ca.1540 James V caused a bulwarks and piers to be constructed within it. The west quay was reputed to have been built by Cromwell and developments continued into the 19th century with shipbuilding and herring and whale fisheries. By 1836 Farnie’s dry dock, 200 ft long with a 44 ft wide gate, existed. Nothing of the early harbour now exists. In 1876 the West Dock was opened and continued in use until 1962 when its entrance was widened to 80 ft and new gates were fitted. Burntisland also exported coal in large quantities, mainly through the larger East Dock, which was opened in 1903.

A new industry began in 1917 when the British Aluminium Company opened a new plant for the processing of imported bauxite ore from West Africa, now demolished.

Today the harbour is operated privately by the Burntisland Shipbuilding Company, who have modernised it for use on oil industry projects and shipbuilding.In 1850 the harbour had the distinction of being the Fife terminal of the world’s first public train ferry from Granton designed by Thomas Grainger, but with an ingenious loading mechanism accommodating the state of the tide designed by Thomas Bouch.

The Leviathan ferry-boat, built by Robert Napier & Sons on the Clyde, was used only for goods wagons except on its opening day when it transported a railway carriage with passengers. In 1862 the North British Railway took over the ferry from the Edinburgh, Perth & Dundee. The ferry continued in use until the opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' with kind permission from Thomas Telford Publishers.

People and Organisations