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

Marking the spot

A maritime priority

As R.W. Munro states, in his excellent book “Scottish Lighthouses”: “To build a tower high enough to carry a warning light and stable enough to house three men to watch it, on a rock 11 miles from land, and buried under 16 feet of water twice every 24 hours in a sea much liable to storms, was not a task to be lightly undertaken.”

The task of putting some form of beacon on the Rock had long preoccupied the Northern Lighthouse Board and its young engineer, Robert Stevenson. In December 1799, their minds were once again focussed on the problem when a disastrous storm struck the East Coast of Scotland. Seventy vessels were known to have been lost or stranded, and certainly a percentage of them came to grief on the Rock, or on the nearby coast trying to avoid it!

The Bell or Inchcape Rock showing its relative
The Bell or Inchcape Rock showing its relative
proportions and extended reef

In 1800, Stevenson and his friend and architect, James Haldane, made their first visit to the Rock. While they were engaged in making initial sketches, the crew was busy searching the crevices and holes for evidence of shipwrecked vessels. By the time the tide overflowed, they had collected 2 cwt (101 kg) of old metal, consisting of various articles that could be found on a ship. Stevenson kept a few of these things, such as a hinge and lock of a door, a ship’s marking iron, a piece of a ship’s caboose, a soldier’s bayonet, a canon ball, several pieces of money, and a shoe buckle. The heavier items included an anchor, cabin stove, crowbars, etc, were consigned to the sea after it was decided the material was too bulky to transport back to port.

HMS York shipwrecked

The immediate result of this visit was a firm conviction of the practicability of constructing a lighthouse built of stone, the lower part of which would be solid. Previously various ideas of a building on pillars or stilts had been mooted, but these were now rejected as being quite unsuitable to the situation. Stevenson then put forward drawings and plans of a building using stones by dovetailing them laterally, course upon course, as Smeaton had done at the Eddystone Lighthouse in 1759.

Time dragged on and still there seemed to be little enthusiasm on the part of the authorities in London to give support to the project. However, in 1804 another disaster happened. The 64-gun man-of-war, HMS York, was lost with all hands on board. It had struck the Bell Rock.

In July 1806, after years of debating and persuasion, the Act of Parliament, by which the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses were empowered to undertake the construction of a lighthouse at the Bell Rock, finally received the Royal Assent.

The Great Work was about to begin.

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