The Lighthouse
Vital Statistics
Description of the Rock
What's in a Name?
Marking the Spot
Scots Magazine "Account"
of 1807

1810 (1)
1810 (2)
1811 to 1823
Construction Techniques
The Lightroom
of 1811

Masonry Courses
The Railways of the
Bell Rock

The Bell Rock Lighthouse

Signal Tower/Shore Base
Machinery, Equipment
and Inventory

Keeping up with New Technology
Automation at the Bell Rock
Accidents, Attacks and Shipwrecks

The Railways of the Bell Rock

Cast-Iron Plate Railways

Stevenson started construction on the Railways on May 29, 1808. The first consignment of cast-iron rails arrived from Shotts Iron Works in the "Smeaton". Aboard were several mill-wrights and joiners who would be employed in fitting them up.

Railway Plan

During the building of the Lighthouse, the Railway completely encircled the site (measuring 55 feet in diameter). Additional spurs led off to landing sites (or wharfs) at suitable areas of the House Rock. The Eastern section (to Rae's Wharf, approx. 100 feet) was completed first.

By May 24, 1809, the Railways formed two-third of an entire circle round the building, and progress had been made towards the western landing place which, when completed, extended 290 feet. They were finished by July 1810.

A full plan of these tracks (temporary and permanent) may be seen in the Map.

Due to the heavy seas, and especially after storms, they had to be continually repaired, so Stevenson had them rebuilt and strengthened between the years of 1815-1819. They were made at the Shotts Irons Works in Central Scotland.

The trackway was supported on cast-iron props and frames which on average were raised between 6 inches (15 cms) and 5 ft (150 cms), according to the unevenness of the rock. The track width (or gauge), according to Stevenson's "Account" was 2 ft 6 in (or about 76 cms). The waggons or bogies (each weighting 2 tons) were run on four cast-iron wheels, each wheel with a diameter of 1 ft 2 in (36 cms).

The following text is taken direct from Stevenson's "Account"

From Plate X - Figs 13 to 16


Fig. 13 - "is a longitudinal view of one length of the cast-iron railways erected upon the Rock; a a a a represent the stools or upright supports, b b are the tracks of the roadway, c c one of the side stays or braces."


Fig. 14

Fig. 14 - "is a cross section on the line AB of Fig. 15, in which a a is the support with its cross-brace f, bolted at g g g g; b b are the railway tracks, c c c c, the stays, with their connecting bolts on each side, d d the sleeper or horizontal brace connecting the top of the stools, and forming a chair or seat for the rails and grated roadway; e e e e represent the batts and spear-bolts, with which the whole was connected to the Rock, by the process of wedging with timber and iron".

Fig. 15

Fig. 15 - "is a plan of the finished railway; a a a a are the feet of the stools, b b the side rails or wagon-tracks, c c the stays or side braces, d d the sleepers, and h h the grated footpath. The weight of a yard in length of the railways complete, of the height of four feet, as presented in these diagram, may be estimated about 5 cwt".

Fig. 16Fig. 16 - "represents a plan of one of the railway waggons; a is the iron handle made to hook upon either end of the waggon, so as to prevent the necessity of turning it; b b is the body of the wagon, consisting of two pieces of oak timber, bolted upon the upper part of the double frame intended for accommodating the wheels to the circular track of the railway round the building. The upper and under frames are connected with the bolt c c, so as to admit of the movement above alluded to. For trucks or wheels e e e e were of cast-iron, measuring 15 inches in diameter. These wagons were always left uon the Rock, being simply turned upside down, or off their wheels, in a particular part, and were seldom moved by the sea, as they weighed about 2 cwt each".

1815 - "Though the temporary railways originally fitted up for the building operations had been thoroughly repaired, they were often found such in disorder, and required a still stronger mode of construction. In the course of this summer, therefore, part of the western-reach of the new or permanent railway was fitted up".

1819 - "Permanent railways completed - In the course of the summer of 1819, Mr James Slight, and his brother Alexander (who had assisted throughout the works in making moulds for the stone-cutters, and in other operations requiring neat and ingenious workmanship), together with Messrs George Dove, Robert Selkirk, James Glen, James Scott, Alexander Brebner, and John Mitchell, completed the remaining parts of the western and southern-reaches of the railways, by the addition of a number of large cast-iron stays or braces, as shown in drawings above. The bats of these new railways were wedged with timber and iron in the usual manner, and the feet of the supports, with their bats and spear-bolts, were plastered over with Roman-cement, with a view to secure them against the effects of oxidation".

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