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Elie & Earlsferry History Society

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Elie Ness Lighthouse

In the very early part of the 20th century pressure was building on the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses for the erection of a lighthouse on Elie Ness a promontory of land on the North coast of the Firth of Forth between the Isle of May and Inchkeith. Master Mariners of all nationalities were in favour of this and their main argument was that in bad weather, when off Elie Ness, they couldn’t see the light on Isle of May or on Inchkeith.

Engineer to the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses at the time was David Alan Stevenson B.Sc. F.R.S.E. M.Inst. CE, grandson of Robert Stevenson (of Bell Rock fame) and cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson.

In his report New Works 1907-8 Mr Stevenson made the case for a light to be sighted on Elie Ness. This light would undoubtedly be of great assistance to vessels coming up the Forth of Forth. Problems with a great number of harbour and shore lights, increased traffic to ports on the Fife coast, Elie Ness is a decided projection from the line of the coast and he agreed with the Mariners that in dirty weather lights on Isle of May and Inchkeith could not be seen when off this part of the Coast.

The Commissioners approached Trinity House in 1906 and on 17th October approval of Trinity House was received to go ahead with plans.

30th January 1907 Board of Trade. London. General Lighthouse Authority meeting for approval of new lighthouses. President of the Board of Trade at this time was David Lloyd George MP (later Liberal Prime Minister) and he made the final decision of approval to erect a light on Elie Ness.

September 1907 permission from the Admiralty was received to approach Coast Guard to become attendants.

16th October 1907 financial terms were agreed with HM Coast Guard and Reserves, Edinburgh that the Coast Guardsmen stationed at Elie would become attendants of the light.

This allowed the power of light to be increased from 2000 to 20000 candle power and employ a revolving optical apparatus and fixed acetylene light showing a character of 1 flash every 6 seconds.

This is still the character of the light in 2014.

Trinity House gave their approval to this lighting arrangement in November 1907.

21st October 1907 after discussion with Mr Jamieson Factor for Elie Estate, on whose land the Beacon would stand, its position was agreed as Lat. 56° 11′ 5″ North.  Long. 2° 48′ 50″ West. This position was locally referred to by some locals as the Fish Rock. Mr Stevenson had originally chosen the high ground of Elie Ness on Shepherds Law for the site of the two structures. This position was rejected on the instructions of Mr Baird owner of Elie Estate as this land was under cultivation so the lower area locally known as the Fish Rock was agreed on.

24th October 1907 James Lawrie Builders Anstruther was chosen by tender to erect ElieNessTower and the Gas Room.

Reported in the East of Fife Record 24th June 1909 on the death of Mr Lawrie. “He was born on the high seas in 1855 on a transporter on its way back from the Crimean War”.

Work commenced in December 1907 and the buildings were completed by June 1908. Then work commenced on installing the equipment and lighting apparatus.

  • Lantern and Machine.   Messrs J Dove and Co. Edinburgh.
  • Acetylene Plant.   Messrs W Moyes and Co. Glasgow.
  • Apparatus. Chance Bros. Co. Ltd. Birmingham.

Postmark Elie August 2 1910

Notice to Mariners No. 9 of 1908  stated that on or after 1st October an unwatched  Beacon Light will be exhibited from Elie Ness showing a FLASHING WHITE LIGHT – one flash every six seconds, visible all round the horizon.

By order C Dick Peddie.  Secretary.

The light had been on trial for several months and was officially lit to the Mariner on 1st October 1908.

Mr Stevenson reported in 1909 that “the light is a powerful one and is giving satisfaction to sailors”. The cost of the light was reported as £978-4s-3d.

The light remained as calcium carbide and water generating acetylene gas till converted to mains electric in July 1959. This was when the lantern room was taken away and the tower altered to as it stands now. Back up light was on batteries and in 1964 a single acetylene cylinder to gas lantern (buoy type) was installed as additional backup. Full time Coast Guard ceased at Elie 1969. Local man Eddy Stephen was eventually appointed by the Lighthouse Board as attendant and observer.

After changes to Local Attendants by NLB, from August 2004 the attendant for Elie Ness was also attendant for Tod Head, Scurdie Ness, Fife Ness and Isle of May.

Under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 Elie Ness should have come under the jurisdiction of the local harbour Authority, Elie Harbour Trust could not take over ownership for financial reasons. As it is sited within the harbour area of Forth Ports discussions took place between Northern Lighthouse Board and ForthPorts and it was agreed that following an upgrade to modern technology and an increase to 17 miles range the light would be taken over by Forth Ports.

Modernisation, upgrade and full repainting took place during 2010. Access to the lantern again being made from the inside of the tower.

The running and upkeep of Elie Ness Lighthouse was finally taken over by Forth Ports in 2013.

Alan Provan Elie 2014

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