History in Structure

Fife Ness Lighthouse

A Category B Listed Building in Crail, Fife

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Latitude: 56.2788 / 56°16'43"N

Longitude: -2.5859 / 2°35'9"W

OS Eastings: 363816

OS Northings: 709750

OS Grid: NO638097

Mapcode National: GBR MDZ3.VFB

Mapcode Global: WH8TM.7FVX

Plus Code: 9C8V7CH7+GJ

Entry Name: Fife Ness Lighthouse

Listing Name: Fife Ness Lighthouse

Listing Date: 4 December 2020

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407355

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52557

Building Class: Cultural

ID on this website: 200407355

Location: Crail

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: East Neuk and Landward

Parish: Crail

Traditional County: Fife

Tagged with: Lighthouse


Fife Ness Lighthouse is a major light built by the Northern Lighthouse Board to plans by the board's engineer, Peter H. Hyslop, and became operational in 1975. The lighthouse is a single rectangular building comprising the lantern and adjacent engine room and control room. The lighthouse is located around 12m above sea level on the point of Fife Ness, a prominent peninsula on the northern side of the shipping entrance to the Firth of Forth.

The lighthouse is a single storey brick building measuring 5m in height, with a flat roof, and rendered walls with painted dressings. The lantern is contained within a glazed extension to the engine room. A concrete roof supported by large cantilevered concrete beams, together with painted astragals formed by extruded hollow stainless-steel tubes and welded bars, act as a framework into which the polycarbonate glazing has been fitted. The light faces in a north-east direction with an arc of around 240° towards the treacherous navigation hazard of the Carr Rocks, a partially submerged reef that extends around 2.5km out to sea from Fife Ness.

Fife Ness Lighthouse remains operational (2020).

Historical development

The construction by the Northern Lighthouse Board of a lighthouse at Fife Ness represents the last in a series of initiatives by the board over a period of more than 150 years, to mark the treacherous reef of the Carr Rocks in order to safeguard shipping at the mouth of the Firth of Forth.

While engaged in the construction of the nearby Bell Rock Lighthouse, Robert Stevenson had recorded the loss of sixteen vessels on the treacherous Carr Rock over a nine-year period, 1800-1809 (Stevenson 1824; 52). On the orders of the Northern Lighthouse Board, a floating buoy was anchored off the Carr in September 1809, but this frequently broke its mooring chain. The Northern Lighthouse Board decided to replace the floating buoy at Carr Rock with a tide-operated bell tower built from Fife sandstone. The building of this was unsuccessful but a cast iron beacon was eventually completed in September 1821. Robert Stevenson considered that beacons, without a light or bell, were an imperfect solution for marking reefs to warn shipping. He considered that the situation at Carr Rock might be improved by provision of additional leading lights, either on the Fife mainland, or the Isle of May. These were not initially progressed on cost grounds (Stevenson 1824) but in 1843–44, a low-level lighthouse (Canmore ID 57878) was built on the Isle of May in a position so that when the two May lights were observed one above the other, mariners knew that they were in line with the Carr Rock to the north.

Ultimately however, North Carr Beacon did not prove to be particularly successful on its own, and the first of a series of light vessels took up station at the North Carr in the 1880s. The last of these remained in service until 1975, when the Fife Ness lighthouse became operational. Fife Ness Lighthouse continues to mark Carr Rock in conjunction with a cardinal navigation buoy 1.5km to the east [2020].

Statement of Interest

Fife Ness Lighthouse meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

Architectural interest


Fife Ness Lighthouse is of design interest as one of the last major lighthouses to be built in Scotland, the work of Northern Lighthouse Board's engineer Peter H. Hyslop (Munro, 1979;240).

Hyslop's design of the lighthouse at Fife Ness clearly draws inspiration from the Stevensons' 'house style' with architectural details included the astragals painted in Northern Lighthouse Colours. However, Munro calls Fife Ness 'unconventional in several ways.' The building makes use of 20th century adaptations in materials and plan form and fits within its landscape context. Hyslop appears to have designed a building similar in style to the area's Second World War coastal defences including a pillbox (SM6461), directly in front of the lighthouse, that was part of the network of defences for Crail Airfield.

The light was purpose-built for mains electric power with a standby diesel generator to operate the light and radio beacon in the event of failure of mains power. As a full 360° arc of light was not required, the lantern could be incorporated within a single storey building as an extension to the engine room. The light itself comprised parts of a large fixed section lens which originally came from Stoer Head, using a 3.5kw 100-volt lamp to mark the Carr Rocks offshore.


The location for lighthouses and beacons is critical to their function. Fife Ness Lighthouse occupies a promontory looking out towards the Carr Rocks, a long reef system extending in a north-easterly direction from Fife Ness that represented a significant hazard for vessels either entering or leaving the northern approaches to the Firth of Forth.

The nearby setting of Fife Ness Lighthouse contributes to our understanding of its function or historical context. Around 2.5km to the north east is the North Carr Beacon, constructed to a design by Robert Stevenson. The construction site for the beacon is located around 160m to the north west of the lighthouse. Together, these features demonstrate the steps taken by the Northern Lighthouse Board to safeguard shipping at this important but hazardous location of the Scottish coastline over a period of more than 150 years.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

Fife Ness Lighthouse is of interest as it belongs to the last phase of major light construction in Scotland and is one of only 15 built during the period 1900-1977. Of these, only five (including Fife Ness) were built after the First World War (Munro 1979). Fife Ness is also unusual as it is the first to be built as an un-manned station. It therefore forms an important chapter in the story of Scotland's lighthouses.

There are over 200 operational Northern Lighthouse Board lighthouses within Scotland, with many other examples either decommissioned or operated by other organisations and groups. They range from elegant stone pinnacles on remote reefs far out to sea, to small navigational beacons and modern modular lights. Of these, around 150 lighthouses of various shapes, sizes and types are currently designated as either listed buildings or scheduled monuments, representing a wide range of specific navigational dangers that required marking at night.

Social historical interest

Fife Ness Lighthouse is of social historical interest as it was the first un-manned major light to be built in Scotland, and also as it is one of only two purpose-built electric major lights.

The significance of Scotland network of lighthouses and beacons to the country's history is high. As an island nation with over 18,000 kilometres of coastline and over 900 islands, maritime industries such as fishing, coastal trade and transportation have long been significant social and economic factors. Scotland's coasts are also located on international sea-routes linking northern Europe with the rest of the world. The use of lighthouses and beacons was therefore vital to the safety of shipping in Scottish waters. Prior to the construction of Scotland's lighthouses, most navigation markers were landmarks visible only during daylight, and so nautical navigation at night or in poor conditions was a highly dangerous but sometimes unavoidable undertaking. This is reflected in the large numbers of records of ships and sailors lost in wrecking incidents around the coasts of Scotland during the 19th and 19th centuries.

The first lighthouse in Scotland was established on the Isle of May (SM887) in 1636. This light aided navigation into the many harbours around the Firth of Forth and took the form of a stone tower mounting a coal fired brazier. Although the Isle of May beacon was far from as bright as later examples, in good weather it good be seen from as far as the entrance to the Tay, and it would remain operational for 180 years. The Isle of May was followed by several other lighthouses and beacons being built from the late 17th century, improving navigation for the Tay, the Solway and the Clyde.

A common factor in all the lights established in the first 150 years was that they were conceived, built and operated by private interests and organisations, such as local magistrates, councils and individuals, supported by the king and parliament when necessary. By the early 1780s, however, there was a growing recognition that many shipping and navigational dangers existed far beyond the profitable harbours and estuaries that had driven the development of the early lights. To address this, in 1786 parliament passed "An Act for erecting certain Light-houses in the Northern Parts of Great Britain" and established a board of Commissioners (subsequently to become the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses and then the Northern Lighthouse Board), initially to undertake the work of building and maintaining lights at four locations, including Kinnaird Head (LB31888), Eilean Glas (LB13487), Mull of Kintyre (LB19874) and North Ronaldsay (SM6596). These lights were the work of the Board's first engineer, Thomas Smith, and his assistant Robert Stevenson, and used improved lighting technology in the form of whale oil burners and mirrored reflectors to enhance the brightness.

Following the 1786 Act, the number of lighthouses around the coasts of Scotland began to rapidly grow, along with the technology and engineering skills employed. By the early 19th century oil lamps were replacing the earlier coal burners, and Robert Stevenson had been able to design and build a lighthouse on the Bell Rock (LB45197). Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Robert Stevenson and his descendants continued to push the boundaries of technology and engineering to expand the network, including lights on Skerryvore (LB17489), Muckle Flugga (LB17479), Dhu Heartach (LB12320), and the Flannan Isles (LB48143). With the advent of reliable electric lighting, Northern Lighthouse Board continued this tradition of innovation by beginning a programme of electrification of its lighthouses, starting with the first purpose-built electric station at Strathy Point in 1958, then Fife Ness (1975). Many of the major lighthouses in Scotland were electrified during the 1960s and 1970s.

Fife Ness Lighthouse is also of social historical interest in helping us to understand how the operation of lighthouses changed during the 20th century. During the 1890s, Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) employed more than 600 lighthouse keepers around Scotland. These numbers generally reduced in response to advances in lighting technology and communications that allowed lighthouse operation to become increasingly automated. In addition to the advantages electrical lighting brought over oil, paraffin and acetylene gas technology in terms of power output and reduced requirement for fuel storage, electrical lighting could be controlled with a switch and this reduced the need to have keepers perpetually on watch. Fife Ness is the first major light to be built as an un-manned station.

Association with people or events of national importance

The buildings do not have a close historical association of national importance.

Fife Ness Lighthouse is amongst the first Northern Lighthouse Board lighthouses in Scotland, not to be designed by one of the Stevenson family. Fife Ness Lighthouse was designed by Peter H. Hyslop, board Engineer (1955 -1972) and Engineer-in-Chief 1972-1978). Hyslop also designed other major stations: in Scotland, Strathy Point (1958) and Point of Fethaland, Shetland (1977); and in the Isle of Man, the manned lighthouse Calf of Man (1968).

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

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