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Queensferry in City of Edinburgh

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Queensferry, City of Edinburgh. Under this one heading it is proposed to cover a famous narrow passage of sea-water in the Firth of Forth between Fife and the Lothians; the vessels that have moved over it since the ferry took its name; two towns (South Queensferry in West Lothian, North Queensferry in Fife); and two bridges, both of which are triumphs of engineering and of considerable functional beauty one has had its effect on the life of Scotland for over seventy years, the other is bound to have an effect in the future. These two are, of course, the Forth Rail Bridge (1890) and the Forth Road Bridge (1964).

One cannot do better than quote from an article on the occasion of the opening of the Road Bridge, which looks back over the centuries. It says this: “Between the Bridge of Stirling” (the place where Wallace won his great but solitary victory over the English) “and the Isle of May there used to be quite a choice of 'watergangs' over the Forth, but the Queensferry has outlasted them all, just as it is probably the oldest”.

Having given a list of these, it goes on to say: “It is one of the oldest lines of ferry communication in the world with 800 years of recorded history and another century of more or less continuous service. Beyond that there are only vague tales of transit for the Roman legions. . . . Queensferry's story begins with the saintly Margaret” (Queen Margaret) “who found refuge in Scotland after the Norman conquest.” After Margaret had married the Scottish King, Malcolm Canmore, they used this passage between Edinburgh in Lothian and their favourite home, Dunfermline, in Fife. It was over this passage that the saintly Queen's body was taken from Edinburgh Castle to be buried in Dunfermline now a place of pilgrimage. It is because of this queenly history of over 800 years ago that the ferry bears its name.

That name of Queensferry and the occasion of the article quoted above the closing of the ferry service, with the opening of the Forth Road Bridge allowed the pleasingly appropriate phrase “It cam' wi' a lass, and it will gang wi' a lass”. The words are those of the dying King James V. when he heard of the birth of his daughter, who was to be Mary Queen of Scots. They referred to the Stuart line of monarchs a prophecy that was not fulfilled. In this context, of course, the well-known saying is applied to the fact that Queensferry was made by Queen Margaret at the end of the 11th century, and that it was to be closed by Queen Elizabeth (our present monarch) in the 20th century.

This same passage had one other royal and tragic connection with the reigning house in Scotland. In 1286 King Alexander III mysteriously dashed through a late winter storm from the Castle in Edinburgh to join his Queen at Kinghorn in Fife. He survived the crossing, which indeed was dangerous enough, but fell from his horse in the storm and darkness on the other side, and broke his neck. He thus unwittingly plunged Scotland into the chaos of dispute that ended in the Wars of Independence and at Bannockburn.

The ferry was in constant use by sail, by rowing-boat (see Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped), by steamboats, and finally by vessels that carried motorists in their vehicles and were themselves driven by electricity and diesel engines, until the 4th of September 1964. Now, if you are lucky enough to procure a boat, you can only row across Queensferry passage. You can, of course, if you are up to it, still swim across. For the rest, the passage is closed.

South Queensferry has preserved its identity and historic appearance. This ancient little royal burgh stands between a steep hill and the waters of the Firth. Seen from above (that is, by crossing either of the bridges), parts of the town appear to be wading in the sea, as they were built upon water-washed rocks. South Queensferry could expand only under the hill and along by the sea front.

Malcolm IV gave the monks of Dunfermline a grant of land in this town, subsequently confirmed by the Patriot King, Robert I. Later, a Carmelite chapel was founded by George Dundas of Dundas in 1330. The existing remains of this much-changed building date from the late 15th century. It was restored as an Episcopalian chapel in 1890. The burgh museum retains all the old charters back to the date of its establishment..The Tolbooth was remodelled in 1720. A particularly fine house, Plewlands, built during 1643 in the main street, was threatened by modern traffic. The house was saved by the National Trust for Scotland, who now own it and have converted it into flats. The general effect of South Queensferry is pleasing both aesthetically and to the historically-minded.

The Forth Rail Bridge was opened by Edward Prince of Wales on the 4th of March 1890, seven years and two months after work had begun on it. Built on the cantilever principle, with its central cantilever resting on the historic rock of Inchgarvie, it was and remains an impressive sight. The cantilever principle is as old as the science of engineering, and was known to the ancient Chinese. Never before, however, had the system been used to practical purposes on so huge a scale.

This Forth Bridge became, and for long remained, one of the wonders of the world. Victorian and Edwardian prints, in a mannered fashion, display it alongside or rather imposed upon St Paul's Cathedral, the Porcelain Tower at Nanking, the Obelisk at the Lateran in Rome, and some seventy other buildings. Until recently, any serious visitor to Edinburgh had to go down to Queensferry and see the Forth Bridge; visitors continue to do so, but now see it alongside its younger sister of 1964. Its stature and impressiveness are not reduced by comparison with the slim, lovely, more ethereal lines of the Road Bridge.

From the day of the opening of the Rail Bridge, men, not only in Scotland but from all over the world, recognized that, on the largest possible scale, here was a pre-eminent kind of new beauty functional beauty. It is still functional and shall remain so as long as the railway trains continue to run; it is still beautiful.

There had been schemes to bridge the Forth at Queensferry before one obscure one as far back as the middle 18th century. The great Thomas Telford, a native Scot, and constructor of the lovely Dean Bridge in Edinburgh, had schemes for building one, but was defeated by circumstances. Just before the bridge we now see was begun in 1883, an earlier scheme was abandoned because of the Tay Bridge disaster. Men did not feel like venturing on another great railway bridge across a firth until they were more sure of themselves.

However, in 1883 they did feel sufficiently confident to make the experiment. Under the impetus of the railway companies, and with the approval of Parliament, work began. The chief engineer was Sir John Fowler, assisted by the more youthful Sir Benjamin Baker, who was responsible for the bulk of the work. In carrying out the execution of the designs much of the task fell on Sir William Arrol and Mr Joseph Phillips.

The Bridge has two spans, each 1,710 ft, one over the North and one over the South deep-water channel. The highest part above high water is 361 ft, the total length including viaducts of approach is 1 mile 972 yds. An extraordinary amount of contraction and expansion in the metal had to be allowed for. The hitherto unsurpassed width of the central spans forced the engineers to make a bridge that could not only carry trains safely but could bear its own weight.

At least 5,000 workmen were employed on the job. Of them, over seventy years ago, Sir Benjamin Baker said: “The Forth Bridge is essentially a workman's bridge. Its successful construction was due to their collective pluck and individuality as much as to the labours of engineers and contractors. At hundreds of points each independent group of men had to use their own brains and originate expedients to overcome unlooked-for difficulties on the spur of the moment without waiting for instructions from engineers or leading foremen.”

The Forth Rail Bridge, then, was a triumph not only of high engineering but of a democratic desire to get the job done.

Apart from this triumph, the results were these. The coming of the Railway Age had made Fife almost into an island, an island from which Fifers could escape only on land and by railways at Perth or Stirling. The Forth Rail Bridge ended this. Industry in Fife immediately revived. Men were able to live in Edinburgh and work, let us say, in Dunfermline, or vice versa. The Fife holiday resorts became accessible to two generations of Edinburgh folk, who have always loved the sunny Fife coast. There was quicker communication with the North from all up the East side of Scotland. The effect on Edinburgh was secondary; that on Fife was revolutionary; on Dundee, and even on Aberdeen, it was perceptible.

One curious effect was on the water ferries. Almost immediately their use declined; nor did the beginnings of the Motor Age have much use for them. By 1915 the ferries were described as “almost entirely superseded”. The motorist of the inter-war years must have thought of that statement with a wry smile.

After the First World War, however, there was a demand for motor-ferries across the Forth, and the increasing frustration caused by the delays they inflicted was responsible for the first agitation for a road bridge begun in 1924, an agitation with which the name of the late J. Inglis Ker must be mentioned with honour.

Lying just to the West of the Rail Bridge and a little farther up the Firth, the lovely slender lines of this suspension bridge do not clash with or rival the impressive strides of its older sister. The Road Bridge, all questions of function apart, is complementary to that once wonder of the world, the Rail Bridge.

Work on the Road Bridge took almost exactly six years from September 1958 till September 1964. It is the largest suspension bridge in Europe. With the approach viaducts it is a little over 1¼ miles. The main towers extend 512 ft above the mean level of the Forth water. The dual 24-ft roadways on the bridge are designed to carry the heaviest loading permitted on any road bridge in the world. Some 39,000 tons of steel and 405,000 cubic ft of concrete were used in the bridge's construction.

“The men who planned and built the bridge” (these words are quoted from the official story published by the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board) “were a team working with pride and with precision on a massive engineering project. The construction of the Forth Road Bridge called for skills not used in this country before. The men at work needed every ounce of brain, dexterity and physical courage they possessed. The majority were Scots, but many came from south of the Border. Modern instruments, new devices and engineering resources saved manpower and lightened labour, but still it was a big job a dangerous task accomplished, happily, with very few accidents.”

Nearby cities: Edinburgh

Nearby towns: Broxburn, Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, Linlithgow, Livingston, North Queensferry, Rosyth

Nearby villages: Abercorn, Aberdour, Blackness, Charlestown, Corstorphine, Cramond, Cramond Bridge, Dalgety Bay, Dalmeny, Ecclesmachan, Gogar, Kirkliston, Kirknewton, Limekilns, Newbridge, Pitreavie, Port Edgar, Ratho, Sighthill, St. Davids, Turnhouse, Uphall, Uphall Station, Winchburgh

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