Sunday, 2 April 2023

B is for Burntisland - Day 2

B is for Burntisland

Day 2 of my April A to Z Blog Challenge


Burntisland was known to me from my childhood as a Fife coastal town which was popular for holidays in the 1950s, especially if you lived in Glasgow near the west coast and wanted to go east but not to Edinburgh, which was regarded as a taboo tourist destination for a Glaswegian! (Friendly, fun rivalry) Apart from that, I knew little about Burntisland till recently when I needed to get the main character in my current writing in progress from the Fife town of Milnathort to Edinburgh, in 1851. Off I went to research the shortest and cheapest way for her to travel. She’s still only twelve at this date, and not rich enough to be a train passenger, yet she needs to get to Edinburgh by the fastest, cheapest method!

Burntisland is a coastal town on the Fife shoreline of the Firth of Forth. It’s a former Royal Burgh which, since regionalisation in 1975, is nominally allowed to retain its Royal Burgh status, though it has none of the traditional privileges Royal Burghs once had.

No-one really knows where the name comes from but the Reverend James Wemyss, Minister of Burntisland, in the 'Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799' says:

"It is difficult to ascertain the origin of the name. The traditional story is that it arose from the burning of a few fishermen's huts, upon a small island on the west side of the harbour, which induced them to take up their residence where the town now stands."

There are a number of theories, one of which I’m naturally drawn to as it refers to my other favourite period of history i.e. Roman Scotland.

I’m quoting a little bit from this site below to whet the appetite, since this blog post is meant to be shortish, but the whole article about Burntisland is worth a look!

“Sibbald refers to the legendary burning of fishermen's huts on the island, and a supposed attempt of the Romans to destroy the town by fire, and quotes the lines of a 'native poet':

Brave ancient isle, thy praise if I should sing,

The habitation of a Pictish King,

Dreftus, who made against the Roman strokes,

Forth's snakie arms thee to enclose with rocks,

They often pressed to vanquish thee with fire,

As Macedon did the sea embordering Tyre,

But thou didst scorn Rome's captive for to be,

And kept thyself from Roman legions free.

Roman history has some references to the fact that Emperor Severus may have made a bridge of sorts across the Firth of Forth during his invasion of approximately AD 208 - AD 210. This bridge might have been of lashed-together flat-bottomed boats, a technique used by the Roman Army /Navy in other areas of the Roman empire. It’s not unthinkable that the shoreline of the present Burntisland was involved as there was a Roman Fort across the waters at Cramond, near present-day Edinburgh, that was improved and used in the time of Emperor Severus. (It’s unknown if Roman General Agricola did something similar re: crossing the Forth in approx. AD 83)

However, my theme for this April of 2023 is Victorian Scotland and Burntisland became pretty famous in 1850 for something historically definite. It became the very first place in the world to have a railway ‘roll on-roll off’ ferry crossing! (It’s in the Guinness Book of Records)


There had been different passenger ferry crossings across the Forth between Fife and the Lothians for many centuries, but by the time railways began to sneak their way across mainland Scotland, it was important to find a way to circumvent long train journeys going north of the central belt, and from Edinburgh in particular. The first railway routes left Edinburgh and headed for Stirling and Perth, different train operators then heading off to destinations across the north, and east towards Fife.

Although the technology for a reliable railway bridge across the Forth had not yet been invented/developed, it was evident that a short crossing over the River Forth would considerably reduce travel times to destinations in the north-east, and more immediately to towns in the Kingdom of Fife. A different solution was sought and it was decided a train ferry would be a suitable interim measure. In Scotland, there was some precedent for a rail ferry crossing since rivers and canals had already been crossed by rails. The Monkland and Kirkintilloch Railway (mining freight) had already established a rail crossing over the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1833, so the concept of traversing the Forth was not new, though the distance sailed across was going to be considerably greater.

In 1849, the ferry systems were designed by Thomas Bouche, the engineer employed to not only design the ferry boats but also the harbour infrastructure needed to load and unload the wagons at the ports. By 1850, the Leviathan, the first roll-on roll-off railway freight-only ferry built by Thomas Grainger, began to operate between Burntisland on the Fife coast to Granton, which lies on the southern coast of the Firth of Forth north of the city of Edinburgh. The railway engines remained on shore; it was the wagons which were manoeuvred on and off the 'Leviathan' ferry.

Granton ferry teminal

Railway passengers got ‘off and on’ the train at each side of the forth and were ferried across the waters of the Forth by a passenger ferry. My main character sees the ‘Leviathan’ at Burntisland and is awed by all the hustle and bustle around her as she makes her way to a much smaller passenger ferry!

The distance plied by the ‘Leviathan’ ferry across the Forth Estuary was 5 miles (8km).

Till my next April A to Z post...


Saturday, 1 April 2023

A is for ACCESSION (April A to Z blogs)

Accession of Queen Victoria

Welcome to the first of my April 2023 posts about Victorian Scotland.

Describing the accession of the British monarchy is seldom easy to relate so hold on to your hat! Grab a drink and relax.

Queen Victoria was born on 24th May 1819 and died on the 22nd January 1901. However, her accession to the throne to become queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland wasn’t simply that having no brothers she succeeded after her father died, as is sometimes the case.

Beechey- Victoria and her mother
Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield

Victoria acceded to the throne on the death of her uncle William IV on the 20th June 1837 and her coronation was on the 28th June 1838 at Westminster Abbey, London. She was the longest serving British monarch reigning for 63 years 216 days till the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, whose reign was 70 years and 214 days.

Queen Victoria’s reign was an era of vast improvements in the fields of medicine, industry, and science. Many of the achievements of the Victorian era regarding the expansion of the British Empire are no longer regarded as laudable but, at the time, they formed a huge part of Victoria’s success as a monarch.

Those are probably some of the most well-known facts about Victoria but how did she come to succeed after William IV?

Hayter - (painted 1838-1840)

Victoria’s grandfather was King George III (sometimes unkindly called mad King George) and her grandmother was Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. They had 15 children: 9 sons and 6 daughters, though not all survived to the end of King George III’s long life. George III lived for 81 years and 239 days, his reign being of 59 years and 96 days. Not quite as long as the queens who followed him, but not shabby either.

For the last decade of King George III’s life he was medically unfit to reign and his eldest son, the Prince of Wales (George IV), became the regent and ruled in his stead. This period is often referred to historically as ‘The Regency’ era.

When Princess Charlotte, daughter and only child of the Prince Regent (George IV) died in 1817, it prompted a succession crisis. The surviving unmarried sons of George III were hastily wed, to do their duty and produce legitimate heirs, illegitimate offspring not considered for the succession! This list of unwed sons included Queen Victoria’s father Prince Edward.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, married in May and June 1818 (Lutheran and Church of England ceremonies), Prince Edward being the fourth son of King George III. At this point, Edward was already over fifty years of age. Alexandrina Victoria was born the following year on the 24th May 1819.

Unfortunately, when Victoria was only months old, Prince Edward died of pneumonia on the 20th January 1820, followed six days later by King George III. That didn’t immediately put Victoria next in the line of succession but she was inching her way up there!

On the death of King George III, George (the Prince Regent) officially became King George IV and reigned till his death in 1830. He was succeeded by William (IV) - the third son of George III - who reigned till 1837, at which time he died without issue.

The throne then fell to Victoria, though I have yet to work out why Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, the youngest son of King George III did not become king and Victoria did become queen! We’ll not confuse the situation here with mentioning Prince Ernest Augustus since he became the King of Hanover! …And another son of George III was forbidden the throne since he married a commoner (??). Clearly, some further research is required here as some of King George III's nine sons are not mentioned.


Bassano 1882

So, Victoria acceded to the throne at eighteen years of age having been brought up with an expectation that should the worst happen to her uncles, she’d become queen. She did and it seems her reign was a formidable one.

You’ll hear more of Victoria, her husband Albert, and her own children later in April. No guesses which letter will entitle that post!

See you tomorrow!


Friday, 31 March 2023

April A to Z Blogging Challenge

Hello! It's difficult for me to realise that April is almost here!

It embarrassing that this blog has been dormant again but, hopefully, will be more lively during April. I'm about to embark on another April A to Z Blog Challenge. 

April is the Cruellest Month according to the poet T S Elliot, but it doesn’t need to be! 

If you use the search bar, accessed via the sidebar, you'll find that my first April A to Z Blog Challenge was in 2013 . (As far as I recall)  I didn't do a challenge every April after that but I have done quite a few that you can read, if interested. 

I haven't signed up for any official Blog Challenge this year, as I have sometimes in the past. Instead, this is a very personal challenge for me to really get back to writing every day but more so to find a home for some of my current research. Since my WIP is set in Victorian Scotland, that is my theme for the month. 

My current novel begins in 1849 with the birth of the main female protagonist, who is planned to feature in a 3-book series. This April challenge for 2023 mainly contains research that relates to the 1840s through to the 1860s.  

Short items should appear on my blog every single day beginning with an ‘A’ post on Saturday 1st April 2023, continuing with a post titled with the next alphabet letter, and ending with a ‘Z’ post on the 26th April. This should give me a few days at the end of the month to do a round-up of my progress, and/or add any other research themes I’ve been tackling as I write.

I hope you'll join me on this little journey: some company is always welcome. 

 More to follow... tomorrow!