Inchkeith is a small island that sits in the Firth of
Forth, to the southeast of Kinghorn and northeast of Leith; the island would
likely have been used as a convenient stopping point for people crossing the
Forth from around either area. In the late 15th century, Inchkeith, like nearby
Inchgarvie, was used as an isolation hospital for plague victims from Edinburgh;
the island has also been used as a prison.
In the mid 16th century Inchkeith was occupied and
fortified by English soldiers; the English were removed by a combined French and
Scottish force and at this time the island became known as L’Île des Chevaux,
the Island of Horses. The fortifications were strengthened by the Scots
and during the 1560s were instpected by Mary, Queen of Scots; a stone inscribed
MR (Maria Regina) with the date was later incorporated in to the
lighthouse buildings. After Mary was deposed, the fortifications on the island
were demolished; however, during the 17th century the island was once again
occupied and fortified by English forces.
Inchkeith Lighthouse was designed by Thomas Smith and his
son-in-law Robert Stevenson; work started in 1803 and the light was operational
the following year. Further fortifications were built in the 19th century,
initially due to fears of invasion by Napoleon’s forces; further fortification
work was carried out in the 20th and Inchkeith was manned during both the First
and Second World Wars.
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