Inverkeithing is a town many more people pass close by than travel through. Just north of North Queensferry and the Forth Bridges, it is bypassed to the west by the A90 and M90, and to the north by the A921 as it makes its way along the north shore of the Firth of Forth.
Partly as a result, the town probably features on few "must visit" lists of visitors to Scotland. Which is a shame, because if you take the trouble to look, you find an attractive and bustling town with a long history and a number of fascinating buildings in the area around the broadening of the High Street to form the market place.
Unless you look at a map, it is a surprise to find that Inverkeithing was first established as a port, on the Inner Bay of Inverkeithing Bay. The bay bites westwards into the neck of the promontory on which North Queensferry is located, not quite leaving North Queensferry on an island, but reaching as far as the line of the railway.
Inverkeithing itself has very ancient origins, which some claim date back to Agricola's Roman adventure into Northern Scotland in AD83. It certainly seems that the area was well settled by the AD400s, when a church was founded here by St Erat, a follower of St Ninian.
In medieval times Inverkeithing was a walled town, with four ports or gates. The walls were removed in the 1500s, their stone doubtless being recycled to help fuel the growth of the town. Despite this, a number of structures still stand today that were originally built within this walled town. The nave of the Parish Church, also known as St Peter's, only dates back to 1827. But the tower is much more ancient, being originally built in the 1300s. It's sobering to think that even this takes us less than half way back in time to St Erat's original church on this site.
At the north end of the market area is the Mercat Cross, whose pillar dates back to around 1400. And near the south end of the High Street is a building variously known as the Friary or Greyfriars Convent. This once formed the guesthouse of the Franciscan convent established here in about 1350. After the Reformation of 1560, the convent was sold to a local merchant who converted the guesthouse for use as a house, and presumably sold the stone from the remainder of the convent for use in other building projects.
Other slightly more recent buildings of interest in Inverkeithing include the Tolbooth from around 1770; Thomsoun's House from 1617; and Fordell's Lodging from 1670.
More recently Inverkeithing harbour benefitted from the export of coal from the Fife Coalfield. And in the late 1800s shipbuilding briefly flourished here. But from the 1920s it was for shipbreaking that the town became chiefly known. Amongst the famous ships that met their end here were the battleship HMS Dreadnought in 1921, the Titanic's sister ships the Homeric and Olympic in 1932, and the Mauritania in 1965: plus countless aircraft carriers, battleships, and vessels of every other shape and size over the years.
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