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There’s a little lighthouse…


... only 6 metres high, on The Shore at Leith. It is located in this historical area near the former Sailors’ Home, now Malmaison Hotel and Restaurant, just along from one of Salveson’s harpoon gun placed there in acknowledgment of the whaling industry’s importance to Leith before the Second World War.

How many times have you walked past this little lighthouse and not really thought too much about it? And why here? It doesn’t appear to be sited where it would be of any use to shipping. It wasn’t until I was doing some research for our 2024 Newhaven Heritage calendar, the theme of which this year is Lighthouses of the Forth, that I found out that it was originally located on the east breakwater at Burntisland harbour.

The calendar contains views of thirteen lighthouses that are situated within or upon the shoreline of the Forth Estuary, our inspiration being (it will come as no surprise) Newhaven’s picturesque lighthouse, which is still the best place in the area to capture stunning sunsets on your phone or camera. The curiosity of this “landlocked” lighthouse intrigued and beckoned us to include it.

Burntisland developed as a significant port for herring and the coal trade in the nineteenth century. By 1850 the first roll-on roll-off rail ferry service, from Granton to Burntisland, was established. The ferry service continued until the opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890.

In time, the harbour was enclosed with two breakwaters with a lighthouse on each side, one beacon flashing green and one flashing red.

The East Breakwater Lighthouse was established in 1876 and continued operation until the mid-1950s. In 1990 it was relocated to Leith, close to the signal tower.

Unfortunately, that was as much as I was able to find out about its history until Capt. Tom Sutherland, the former Port Superintendent for Forth Ports, got in touch to give us the story behind it.

It starts with the Royal Navy’s connection with Burntisland when they had a degaussing station there. This is a system, named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, which decreased or eliminated the magnetic field which all ships have. Which was especially important with minesweepers during World War II.

Throughout this degaussing process, to calibrate the effectiveness of the treatment the ships had to go up and down past the harbour entrance and it was found that the lighthouse was affecting the readings. The Royal Navy asked for it to be removed and it was replaced with the current light.

This was eventually placed in storage until it was decided to scrap it. Fife Council saw no value in it, but Capt. Sutherland saw its historic value and was determined that it shouldn’t be lost.

He arranged for it to be moved to its present prominent position, close to the Merchant Navy Memorial and the Salveson Whaling harpoon gun, but unlike the gun, sadly there is no information plaque to tell the passerby about the history of this unique lighthouse. The only plaque has displayed on it, in Roman numerals, the date that it was placed at its present site.

Newhaven Heritage’s fund-raising 2024 calendar is proving popular and is still available for sale, priced £7.50, at the old police box next to Newhaven Harbour, staffed by members of the charity from 10am to 1pm, on Saturday mornings. It can also be found at Mason’s the Bakers at 1 Starbank Road or from the The Haven Cafe, 8 Anchorfield. ■

The Lighthouse
The rocky ledge runs
far into the sea.
And on its outer point.
some miles away.
The Lighthouse lifts its
massive masonry.
A pillar of fire by night,
of cloud by day.
Henry Wadsworth

Info: Contact Dougie Ratcliffe (who wrote this article) at or 07508 029736

Newhaven Heritage’s 2024 calendar and left, the former Burntisland East Breakwater lighthouse

The East Breakwater Lighthouse was established in 1876 and continued operation until the mid-1950s



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