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Beacon construction site, 40m north east and 30m ESE of Fifeness Cottage

A Scheduled Monument in East Neuk and Landward, Fife

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Latitude: 56.2798 / 56°16'47"N

Longitude: -2.5879 / 2°35'16"W

OS Eastings: 363694

OS Northings: 709858

OS Grid: NO636098

Mapcode National: GBR MDZ3.M5G

Mapcode Global: WH8TM.6FX5

Entry Name: Beacon construction site, 40m NE and 30m ESE of Fifeness Cottage

Scheduled Date: 8 December 2020

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13733

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Industrial: marine

Location: Crail/Crail

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: East Neuk and Landward

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises the remains of a construction site used from 1813-17 by the Northern Lighthouse Board in the building of Robert Stevenson's uncompleted tide-powered stone bell tower to mark the tidal reef of the Carr Rocks. The surviving remains comprise a collapsed rubble quay and a series of cut features visible on the foreshore that were formed in connection with the cutting of sandstone blocks for the bell tower, and their transport out to the Carr Rocks.

The partially collapsed rubble quay runs in a north to south direction, measuring 23m wide and up to 3m high. It is situated at the edge of a natural creek that was probably used as a harbour since the 16th century. Close to its centre, a roughly circular structure, measuring 4m in diameter and built of roughly squared blocks, is believed to be the footing of a circular crane base built into the top of the quay. There is a further circular crane base 30m to the west, cut into an artificially levelled rock platform. Curving towards the crane base on the quay is a series of paired holes, likely the anchor points for a small tramway used by the workmen to transport cut stone in containers to the quayside where they were loaded onto sailing vessels for transport to the Carr Rocks.  Rock-cut segments of circles on either side of the western crane base are the remains of setting-out jigs for cutting and trimming the interlocking stone courses before shipping them out for assembly on the reef. At least one interlocking stone remains on the foreshore. Around 47m to the south of the centre of the western crane base, a small circular pool with a well-dressed masonry surround has been identified as a quenching bath for sharpening and tempering the masons' tools.

The scheduled area is in two parts. The first area is irregular in shape, to encompass the remains of the pier, tramway, and crane bases; the second to incorporate the quenching bath is circular. Both areas include the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the work of the Northern Lighthouse Board and its construction of lighthouses and other sea markers/beacons around the coast of Scotland during the early 19th century.  

b. The monument retains structural, architectural, and physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the construction of lighthouses and beacons during the 19th century.

c.   The monument is a rare example of a sea beacon construction site recorded in Scotland. It is the only such site in the National Record for the Historic Environment and may be unique.    

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past, in particular it is of historic and technological interest in relation to the work of the engineer Robert Stevenson, and the Northern Lighthouse Board during the 19th century.  

g.  The monument has significant associations with the internationally renowned engineer Robert Stevenson, engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, and the important story of the challenges faced during construction of the North Carr stone bell tower while Stevenson was engaged in work on his masterpiece at Bell Rock.  

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The remains of the beacon construction site at Fife Ness contribute to our understanding of the design and construction of Robert Stevenson's tide-operated bell tower, which was never completed as intended. While engaged in the construction of the nearby Bell Rock Lighthouse. (Stevenson 1824), Stevenson 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 stone-built tower with a bell operated by the power of the tide. It was to be built from sandstone quarried from near the mouth of the Pitmilly Burn, around 10km to the north west.

In June 1813, a shore station was set up at Fife Ness harbour, a creek on the coast next to Fife Ness, and work began at Carr Rock under Stevenson's direction (Stevenson 1824; 52).  Dovetailed stones were cut and assembled at the shore station and then shipped to site and fixed in place with puzzolano mortar, a hydraulic cement. The survival at the construction site, of remains of the quay, an interlocking stone, and features associated with the work of the stone masons, mean that this site can significantly improve our understanding of the equipment and techniques deployed by Stevenson's workmen in their construction of the North Carr beacon. Researchers believe that the harbour at Fife Ness, where the rubble quay is located, probably began as a natural angular creek with a shingle beach. It is first recorded in 1537 and it was one of the harbours from which the burgh of Crail collected customs and shore dues (Fife Council).

Work proceeded very slowly over the next five years and was eventually abandoned after much of the masonry was swept off the Carr Rock on several occasions. The last storm in November 1817 occurred shortly after the completion of the final stone course. The board decided against attempting to rebuild the stone tower and instead, to complete the beacon with a cast iron structure built onto the remaining stonework. The cast iron beacon (LB52556) was eventually completed in September 1821. Stevenson estimated that the cost of the entire venture was around £5000.

Contextual characteristics

The construction site at Fife Ness harbour is the only lighthouse/beacon construction site recorded on the National Record for the Historic Environment. It can be further understood through the survival of the cast iron beacon at North Carr (around 2km to the north east). The circular masonry base of the beacon comprises the four or five lower courses of sandstone surviving from the unsuccessful tide-operated bell tower. The surviving courses illustrate the dovetailed, interlocking masonry Stevenson deployed elsewhere at sites such as Bell Rock. 

The location for lighthouses and beacons is critical to their function. North Carr Beacon occupies the seaward end of a long reef system extending in a north-easterly direction from Fife Ness. It therefore represented a significant hazard for vessels either entering or leaving the northern approaches to the Firth of Forth.

The beacon continues to perform this function, remaining visible from the sea, and from the coast.  Although the beacon continues to mark the Carr Rock, it was not successful on its own. The construction of the 1975 Fife Ness (160m to the south east of the construction site) demonstrates that additional safety measures were required for shipping at this important but hazardous location of the Scottish coastline.

Associative characteristics

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 construction site for the North Carr bell tower is directly connected to the work of the internationally renowned engineer Robert Stevenson, engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board (1799-1843). His design of a tidal-powered bell tower to warn seafarers away from the hazards of the Carr Rocks took shape while Stevenson was working on his masterpiece at Bell Rock. The work at North Carr was well documented and illustrated by Stevenson himself (1824).

Robert Stevenson was the first of several generations of Stevenson family appointed as engineers to the board. Robert, Alan, David, Thomas, and David A Stevenson were jointly responsible for the design and construction of lighthouses in Scotland over a period of nearly 150 years. In addition to his masterpiece at Bell Rock, Robert Stevenson's legacy is evident at sites such as Isle of May, Sumburgh Head, Tarbat Ness, Mull of Galloway and Dunnet Head. He also played a significant role in other civil engineering projects in Scotland. The story of construction work at North Carr appears to have been a significant chapter in his work at Bell Rock, illustrating the practical challenges Stevenson encountered in lighthouse engineering at some of the most exposed locations around the Scottish coast. It is a rare example of a project by the 'Lighthouse Stevensons' that was not entirely successful.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Canmore: CANMORE ID 78221

Printed Sources

Martin, C J M. (2000) 'A Maritime Landscape in East Fife', in Aberg, A and Lewis, C, The rising tide: archaeology and coastal landscapes. Oxford.

Martin, Martin and Martin, C, P and E. (2011) 'Fife Ness, Fife (Crail parish), coastal survey', Discovery Excav Scot, New, vol. 12, 2011. Cathedral Communications Limited, Wiltshire, England. Copy available at {Accessed 23/06/2020]

Munro, R. (1979). Scottish Lighthouses. Stornoway, Lewis [Scotland]: Thule Press.

Paxton and Shipway, R and J. (2007) Civil engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders. London. Page(s): 364-67

Online Sources

Stevenson, R (1824) An account of the Bell Rock light-house including the details of the erection and peculiar structure of that edifice, to which is prefixed a historical view of the institution and progress of the Northern Light-houses, 'illustrated with twenty-three engravings'. Edinburgh; London. Available online at [Accessed 16/06/2020]

Marine Scotland. (2019). Facts and figures about Scotland's sea area. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan 2020].


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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