SEA BREEZES APRIL 2011 • VOL 85 • NO. 784
As a young lad in the NE of Scotland even before I chose to make my living at sea, I was always fascinated by lighthouses, especially those offshore, subject to the full fury of the sea at its angriest. Day and night these lighthouses served as a warning to mariners of hazards to be avoided and played a huge part in reducing the loss of ships and seafarers lives.
February of this year saw the 200th anniversary of Robert Stevenson’s famous Bell Rock Lighthouse, the oldest ‘sea washed’ tower in the world. It was on the 1st February 1811 that the lamp was first lit, after the completion of a project hailed as one of the greatest feats of 19th century engineering. The lighthouse’s fame transcended the maritime world and it has often been described as one of the ‘seven wonders of the industrial world’.
Built 12 miles off the Angus coast (east coast of Scotland) the need for a lighthouse on these rocks had been discussed and argued over for years, but the loss of the HMS York (all hands onboard perished) in 1804 pressurised the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners into giving the project the ‘go ahead’. Until the lighthouse was built an average of 6 ships a winter foundered on the Bell Rock (also known as the Inchcape Rock) and it was also clear that many ships were lost on nearby rocks trying to avoid the perils of the Bell Rock.
The efforts to build the lighthouse were heroic (5 lives were lost during construction) and also generated considerable controversy and much friction between two brilliant engineers, Stevenson and John Rennie. The end result, however, was magnificent and the design and quality of build so good that no major rebuilding has been required over its 200 year life to date.
I am delighted to see that the bicentenary of The Bell Rock Lighthouse is being recognised with a programme of events in and around Arbroath. A shore station was also built (1813) at the mouth of Arbroath harbour to operate in tandem with the lighthouse – today it is the Signal Tower Museum and will no doubt attract many visitors during the course of the celebrations.
the lighthouse is a truly wonderful feat of engineering and marks a notable chapter in Britain’s rich maritime history. Sea Breezes wishes every success to the “Year of the Light” celebrations.
Captain Hamish A C Ross (Editor)