Tue 03rd Oct. 2006
Built between 1810 and 1813 by John Rennie.
In 1811 the Ferry Passage was used by 1,515 carriages, 13,154 horses, 18,057 cows, 25,151 sheep, 2,615 dogs and 5,520 barrel bulk – not to mention people accompanying all of these!
The landing points and primitive piers were however really just slipways and there was no lighting system to aid navigation.
A lighthouse or lantern tower was needed!
This lantern tower was part of an overall construction scheme. The Town Pier underwent radical reconstruction. The Signal House was built to act as a waiting room for passengers on the ground floor and a meeting room and office on the upper floors for the Forth Ferry Trustees. Improvements were made to the East Battery Pier and a West Battery Pier was constructed – both of these can be seen on either side of the Forth Rail Bridge. The roads in North Queensferry were also surveyed by Rennie and the alignment of the main route in the village changed dramatically to cope with the increased traffic.
This small hexagonal lantern tower is built of droved sandstone ashlar and has a copper dome from the top of which rises a cruciform metal flue.
The small circular staircase, with 24 steps climbed by the keeper to trim the wick and top up the oil reservoir, is still intact.
Advice was taken from Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), constructor of the Bell Rock Lighthouse on lighting arrangements. The most likely method of illumination would have been the Argand oil lamp with a 21-24 inch diameter parabolic reflector. This was invented in 1780 by Aimi Argand, the Swiss chemical engineer and was a great improvement on existing oil lamps, producing a light equivalent to about 2000-3000 candle power. It had a circular wick mounted between two cylindrical metal tubes so that the air channelled through the centre of the wick, as well as outside. A cylindrical glass chimney around the wick was used to steady the flame and to improve the flow of air.
The fuel first used to light the warning signal was probably spermaceti - whale oil - which was commonly in use until about 1850 when the much cheaper paraffin became available.
The light given out by this little lantern tower would not have been very bright but it was sufficient to guide sailors into the safety of the pier.