Royal Burgh of Kinghorn - for residents and visitors alike

The history of shipbuilding at Kinghorn

In Victorian times, Kinghorn's rocky shores became the unlikely home of a shipbuilding yard. This was established in 1864 by John Key soon after the railway was completed in 1847. It was located on a site immediately to the East of Kinghorn Parish Church. It may well have used an old quarry which had been used for local building stone. The slipway was so exposed that the steamships had to be launched with steam up and their engines ready to run. The shipyard finally closed in 1921.  Only a few remains of the slipway mark the birthplace of Kinghorn built ships which went on to travel the globe.

Despite the very cramped site in this small village, many ocean going ships both sail and steam powered were built here, some of them quite big for their time (e.g. the Mentmore 340ft LOA, launched in 1882 was designed to carry up to 1,200 3rd class passengers). By comparison, it is worth noting that Isambard Kingdon BruneI's first transatlantic steamship the Great Britain which was launched in 1843 (and is still preserved at Bristol) is only 289ft long so the Kinghorn yard was building big ships.

We can get some idea of the voyages and adventures of these Kinghorn offsprings from what follows:

“The URMS African arrived at the outer anchorage from England early on Thursday morning, after a very good voyage. She had on board 60 immigrants ­ 20 men and 10 women and children. The men are carpenters, blacksmiths, farm labourers, engineers, gardeners and joiners, and the women, housekeepers and domestic servants. This is one of the largest numbers of immigrants that has as yet reached Natal in one ship.”

The iron hulled paddle steamer "William Muir" was built at the yard of J. Key & Son, Kinghorn, 1879, for North British Railway to provide a passenger service across the Firth of Forth from Granton Harbour to Burntisland in Fife.  The ferry service was operated by "William Muir" and "John Sterling". These were named after the Chairman and a senior director of the North British Railway. Each of these ferries could carry 950 passengers - and a number of horses!  The North British Railway Company was taken over in 1927 by the London & North Eastern Railway but the "William Muir" served continuously until withdrawn from service in 1937.

This is only a fraction of the article that has been compiled by Curly Mills.  This new account is an update of his 2008 piece.   In the meantime, Dorothea Kindley produced her own excellent account of the shipyard drawn largely from the legal papers and newspaper references at   Curly has therefore concentrated on the ships built at Kinghorn (although there is inevitable a certain amount of duplication as both accounts also need to stand alone).

For the full text of the updated article by Curly Mills click here. at November 2014