Throughout the centuries a variety of kings and queens have passed through Queensferry’s boundaries. The picturesque town was granted Royal Burgh status in 1636 by Charles the First. Queensferry owes its name to that most revered of queens, the saintly Queen Margaret, who established a ferry here in the 11th century for pilgrims journeying to Dunfermline and St Andrews.
It is recorded that Alexander the First, who reigned from 1107 to 1124, was washed ashore on Inchcolm Island during a stormy crossing from Queensferry. The resident hermit gave the king shelter until he was rescued. Shortly after this, Alexander ordered an abbey be built on the Island. Probably the most tragic royal visitor was Alexander the III.
Against advice he insisted on being ferried across the Forth during a very bad storm. The king eager to return to his French wife at Kinghorn. He survived the stormy Forth, only to be thrown from his horse and fall to his death over the cliffs at Pettycur, a mile from his home.
In 1617 James VI passed through Queensferry during his only tour of Scotland following the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Although not a monarch, but the head of state nevertheless, Oliver Cromwell stayed at Dundas Castle in the 1650’s during his invasion of Scotland. He no doubt would have crossed the Forth at Queensferry.
We have to “fast forward” a couple of centuries for our next royal visitor. George the IV, at the invitation of Sir Walter Scott, no less, toured Scotland in the August of 1822. After a very successful visit, which went a long way to establishing what became the Scottish tourist industry, the monarch embarked his vessel at Port Edgar for the voyage south.
A celebrated visit to the area by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, occurred in September 1842. The Queen and Consort were travelling north to Balmoral Castle. Their ferry crossing on the steamer the William Adam, was something of an occasion. Forth steamers and local boats decorated and teeming with people lined the route across the river.
Queensferry’s engineering wonder of the world the Forth Bridge, was constructed between 1883 and 1890. Edward the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward the VII, visited the bridge works in 1884. He returned in March 1890 to “drive in” the final rivet declaring the Forth Bridge open.
Following the end of World War One, King George V and Queen Mary visited Queensferry, the King personally thanked some 6,000 sailors of the destroyer flotillas at Port Edgar for their efforts in the victory at sea. Meanwhile the Queen paid a visit to the naval hospital at Butlaw. During the Second World War, George the VI and Queen Elizabeth also visited Port Edgar. At this time Queensferry was home to the Norwegian Navy. The future King of Norway, Prince Olaf ran his navy in exile from what is now the council offices in the High Street. King Olaf returned to Queensferry in 1962, and showed his affection for the town in making a roof top speech from his old H.Q.
Queen Elizabeth II opened the Forth Road Bridge in September 1964. The occasion involved her taking the last official ferry across the Forth and making the first official crossing of the road bridge.
During the 1970’s Prince Charles was captain of HMS Bronnington a Rosyth based minehunter. He would have passed Queensferry on numerous occasions transiting the channel in and out of Rosyth naval base.
In September 1990 Prince Edward, now the Earl of Wessex, pulled the lever to switch on the floodlights on the Forth Bridge as part of its centenary celebrations. He did this from on board the P&O vessel St Clair moored between the bridges and apparently the lever came off in his hand.
What of princesses? A few years ago Queensferry boasted a Pierre Victoirre restaurant, the writer has it on good authority that Princess Anne used to dine there.
With all due respect to kings and queens. I suspect the royals that the people of Queensferry remember with most affection are Queen Margaret, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert the Bruce and the not so royal Sir William Wallace. All of them ferry boats that made the famous crossing on countless occasions.
Peter A. Collinson. Queensferry. March 2004.