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

1807
1808
1809
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
Railway

Signal Tower/Shore Base
Machinery, Equipment
and Inventory

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



The Bell Rock Signal Tower

The shore station for the Lighthouse

David Taylor at the Signal Tower
David Taylor at the Signal Tower, Arbroath,
where his ancestor lived between 1813 and 1821

The Signal Tower stands on the shore at the mouth of the harbour. It was completed in 1813 and consisted of the lightkeepers' houses, signal tower and sea wall. Besides these there were storehouses and accommodation for the master and crew of the attending vessel.

The top of the building was formed into a small observatory and contained a 5-foot achromatic telescope, a flagstaff and a copper signal-ball measuring 18 inches in diameter. By means of this, and a corresponding ball at the Lighthouse, specific signals were kept up daily between Arbroath and the Rock.

At the Lighthouse the ball was raised daily between 9 and 10 every morning, signifying all is well. Should the weather be foggy, the watch was set again at 1pm. This signal would be observed by the off-duty lightkeeper who immediately answered it by hoisting the ball at Arbroath. Should the ball remain down at the Rock, in the event of something required urgently, or in the case of sickness, then the Tender would put to sea immediately.

Plans for the Signal Tower
Plans for the Signal Tower

Today, when one enquires at the Signal Tower as to the original purpose of the building, you may be told it was built to accommodate only the lightkeepers and their families. However, as can be seen on the above plan, it was also the living quarters for probably the most important man on the Establishment, ie the Master of the Tender. It was he who had the responsibility for the safety of the keepers when transporting them to and from the lighthouse, and supplying them with all necessary stores. He was on call 24 hours a day, and indeed was always ready to set sail at a moment's notice should an emergency arise. He was their lifeline!

The completed Signal Tower in 1813 housing the Lightkeepers’ and Master of the Tender’s families
The completed Signal Tower in 1813 housing the Lightkeepers’ and Master of the Tender’s families

On completion of the lighthouse in 1811, Mr John Reid was the first Principal Lightkeeper, and Messrs John Bonnyman and Henry Leask, his Assistants. They took up their quarters in the Signal Tower when it completed two years later. Capt. David Taylor became first Master of the Tender. He remained there until 1821 when gout forced him ashore, and in recognition of his services Stevenson promoted him to the position of Lighthouse Storekeeper at Leith for the Northern Lighthouse Board.


In the 1950s, the keepers vacated the Signal Tower to take up new residences near Granton, Edinburgh; and continued the relieve the Lighthouse from there until automation in 1988.

When the keepers left, the Tower became Council houses and remained so until the 1970s when it became Arbroath's museum. Amongst its many exbibits is a room dedicated to the building of the Lighthouse, and downstairs in a specially converted outhouse one can see the massive lens of the last manual lamp, and hear the keeper describe a typical shift.

Dusk at Arbroath
Dusk at Arbroath harbour with the Signal Tower just visible in the distance

Sir Walter Scott's visit in 1814

In the summer of 1814, Walter Scott (then aged 43) embarked on a six-week voyage round Scotland - from Edinburgh to Glasgow (via the Northern Isles and the Hebrides) in the company of the Commissioners of the Northern Lights and their "Surveyor-Viceroy" Robert Stevenson.

On Saturday, 30th July, Scott visited the Bell Rock Lighthouse, and, impressed with what he saw, signed the visitors' book and penned his famous "Pharos Locquitor".

After his visit, the party continued on to Arbroath. "We visited the appointments of the lighthouse establishment - a handsome tower, with two wings. These contain the lodgings of the keepers of the light - very handsome indeed. and very clean. They might be thought too handsome, were it not of consequence to give those men, intrusted with a duty so laborious and slavish, a consequence in the eyes of the public and in their own. The central part of the building forms a single tower, corresponding with the lighthouse. As the keepers' families live here, they are apprized each morning by a signal that all is well. If this signal be not made, a tender sails for the rock directly."

Whilst in Arbroath, he also took the opportunity of visiting the Abbey Church for the third time. Scott must have thought highly of Arbroath for he used it as a setting for one of his favourite Waverley novels - see "Arbroath" and "Sir Walter Scott and The Antiquary".

 

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