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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNO72NE0001
NRHE Card No.NO72NE1
NRHE Numlink 36215
HES LB No. 45197
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Complete 2
Details Lighthouse, still in use but now unmanned, built in 1808-11 by Robert Stevenson, engineer, with John Rennie, consulting engineer. It is the oldest functioning rock lighthouse in the U.K., and situated on Bell, or Inchcape, Rock 11 miles off the Angus coast near the centre of the great sea bight between Fife Ness and the Red Head of Angus. The rock is barely uncovered at low water, while at high water it is submerged to a depth of some 16 feet (4.8m), and there had been several unsuccessful attempts to establish a light upon it before the present structure was built using the principles established by Smeaton at Eddystone. It is a 100 feet (30.48m) high curved tapering masonry tower, built of granite from Rubislaw, Aberdeen, and sandstone from Mylnefield, near Dundee, and has a diameter of 42 feet (12.8m) at the base, tapering to 15 feet (4.57m) in diameter at the top. It is of solid dovetailed masonry for the first 30 feet (9.14m), half of which is below high water. As originally constructed it had a reflecting light in lantern of octagonal form, a fog bell tolled by machinery was installed subsequently. The original optical apparatus consisted of twenty four parabolic reflectors, 1ft 2in (63.5cm) in diameter, with their inner surfaces silvered to better reflect the light. The whole apparatus was caused to revolve by the action of a clockwork arrangement powered by a weight descending through the tower. As the optical system revolved a distinctive character of alternating red and white light was seen. This was the first revolving light in Scotland. This was changed to Stevenson's hyper radiant dioptric system in 1902 (the original lantern and parapet wall being replaced) and an incandescent paraffin oil burner or mantle was installed, initially on an experimental basis, in 1904-5. The door cill is dated '1809', and is reached by a bronze ladder. A gallery was later added at the doorway. There is a corbelled lantern platform with echinus moulding. Inside there are six levels of accommodation. From the bottom to top are an entrance chamber, salt-water lavatory, generator room, battery room, bedroom, and kitchen/living room. The rooms are separated by flat-vaulted floors of dovetailed ashlar. The roof of the kitchen/living room, at the base of the lantern platform, are similarly constructed but domed. There are also two external walkways leading to landing places, both with cast or wrought-iron frames, with cast-iron grid inserts. The tower suffered machine gun damage from a German aircraft in October 1940, March 1941 and April 1941. On 1st April 1941, a bomb was dropped near the lighthouse but caused no damage. No one was injured during any of these attacks. The tower was modernised and the light electrified in 1963-4. The lantern platform was extended in the 1960s in steel, and there is an aluminium railing with radio and television aerials attached from this time. A helipad was installed in the 1970s. The light was automated on 26th October 1988 and is now remotely monitored from 84 George Street, Edinburgh. An acetylene gas system was also fitted at this time. This in turn was replaced in 1999 by a hybrid system of solar battery, acetylene gas and diesel generator for backup. During these works a fire occurred which caused much damage to the interior, especially the kitchen and lightroom, and cracks in the exterior walls, all subsequently repaired. The original signal tower is now used as part of a museum (NO64SW0054).
Last Update02/03/2020
Updated Bycherbert
Date of Compilation 

Easting: 376167.056, Northing: 726807.243

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National Grid Reference: NO 7616 2680

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1900 Building Recording

Excavations and Surveys

Artefact and Ecofact


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