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 Works (contd.)

Operations of 1810 (end-July to December)

General view of the Bell Rocks as seen from the Light-house Yacht in July 1810
General view of the Bell Rock as seen from the Light-house Yacht in July 1810

July - continued

At this time the Seventy-first course was laid and the balance crane raised from the kitchen to the bedroom, about 42 feet above the bridge. On the 8th, another winch was fitted up in the bedroom. Stevenson remarked on just how “complete” the machinery was at the Bell Rock.

Blocks of stone would be lifted from the praams by the landing cranes at both the eastern and western sides of the Rock onto the Railways. Then wheeled by the waggons to the bridge; then lifted by the series of winch cranes, and finally to the top of the Building by the balance crane.

On the 9th July, the last cargo of building materials was loaded from Arbroath, consisting of 65 pieces of stone, 4 dovetailed joggles, 18 casks of pozzolano, lime, sand and cement, with three cart-loads of timber. Due to inclement weather the "Patriot" could not discharge her cargo until the 12th; whereupon she took off for Leith where the Smeaton had already loaded up stones for the upper house. That day the floor of the library or strangers’ room (the Seventy-fourth course) was completed.

On the 16th, the Eighty-first course, after which commenced the dome of the library roof, was laid with stones from Craigleith Quarry, Edinburgh. Stevenson at this point compared the proposed method of construction with that of St Paul’s, London. He also noted that Smeaton used chains to secure his floor-courses at Eddystone Lighthouse. In the case of the Bell Rock, to ensure absolute stability at that part of the house, considering it had to bear the full weight of the cornice and the projecting stones of the dome, RS introduced a circular flat-bar of Swedish iron, 3 inches deep by 1 inch wide. This ring bar (weighing some 400 lb avoirdupois) was fitted into a groove, 3 inches wide by 4 inches deep, which was cut in the upper bed of the course. The bar was then heated to 150 deg Fahrenheit, and was sealed into position by lead.

The following day it took the masons from 4am to 8pm (16 hours) to lay only half of the Eighty-second course (8 stones in all). Due to their extraordinary size, great care had to be taken in manoeuvring these stones into position lest they be in any way damaged. At Leith the last stone was about to be loaded - the centre stone of the light-room floor. James Craw and his faithful horse Bassey were decorated with bows and ribbons of various colours, and the Master of Trinity House of Leith greeted the horse and cart as it passed by on its way to the harbour.

At this time the Bell Rock was receiving many visitors. The spectacle of the about-to-be-completed Lighthouse with beacon-house and connecting bridge, the various cranes and railways with the ships in attendance, was of great interest to many who often endured considerable hardship in an open boat on a passage of 12 to 20 miles from the shore. The landing of the stones for the Eighty-fifth course (the balcony floor) presented special difficulties. Each stone weighed more than a ton and measured 7½ feet in length. RS calculated that the time taken for each stone to get from the landing wharf on the Rock to the top of the house, via the railways and various winches, took almost 2 hours.

The following day the balcony floor was completed with great care and difficulty, with the exception of the centre stone which had to wait until the balance crane which rested on the floor below was removed. Nevertheless, the masons and seamen were much more relaxed now that the difficulties and worries of the last few days were over. The final courses of the parapet were quickly put in place.

With due ceremonial the last stone of the Ninetieth course was landed on the Rock by the Hedderwick praam-boat on the 30th. This brought the height of the masonry up to 102 feet 6 inches. The finishing stone, the lintel of the lightroom door, was laid by Stevenson with due formality: “May the Great Architect of the Universe, under whose blessing this perilous work has prospered, preserve it as a guide to the Mariner.”


With the completion of the building, the winch cranes from the storeroom and kitchen floors were taken down, and the balance crane was dismantled which now allowed the centre stone of the lightroom to be placed into position. The task of the day was to clear the lighthouse of implements, apparatus and lumber no longer required at the Rock. The "Patriot" was sent to the quarries at Mylnefield for more material for the Signal Tower, the building which would eventually house the Lightkeepers’ and the Master of the Tender's families.

On the 4th, the artificers, consisting of 18 masons, 2 joiners, 1 millwright, 1 smith and 1 mortar-maker, as well as Messrs Peter Logan and Francis Watt, in all 25 men, prepared to leave the Rock for Arbroath. The "Sir Joseph Banks" Tender and its crew had by this time been six months on station without a break, and were now much in need of necessities of all description (particularly clothes).

Once all the personal belongings of the men had been loaded and the vessel about to sail for Arbroath, RS “took occasion to compliment the great zeal, attention and abilities of Mr Peter Logan and Mr Francis Watt, foremen, Captain James Wilson, landing-master, and Captain David Taylor, commander of the Tender, who, in their various departments, had so faithfully discharged the duties assigned to them, often under circumstances most difficult and trying. The health of these gentlemen was drunk with much warmth of feeling by the artificers and seamen, who severally expressed the satisfaction they had experienced in acting under them.”

That evening Stevenson invited his foremen and captains of the Service, the clerk of works, Mr David Logan, and Mr Lachlan Kennedy, engineer’s clerk, and several of their friends, to one of the local inns, where they spent a congenial evening together, at the end of which a toast was given: “To the Stability to the Bell Rock Light-house”

The arrangements were now put in hand for the construction of the Signal Tower, which would eventually house the lightkeepers and their families; also the seamen of the Tender whose duty it would be to supply the lighthouse with supplies and provisions in the future. The workyard was run-down and the stones from the great circular platform, on which the courses were laid and marked, would eventually be used for building the shore station.

On the 14th the Smeaton took off for Leith to collect the cast-iron sash-frames for the light-room. On her return she loaded up 23 stone steps for the staircase in the lower part of the lighthouse, and that day she set sail for the Rock with 16 artificers. By 7pm they had once again taken possession of their old quarters in the Beacon-house. The following day they were hit by another violent storm and the Smeaton was forced to make for the Forth to await better weather. The artificers once more were cooped up in the Beacon-house with no chance of rescue should an emergency occur. The lighthouse was still without its roof, nor were the windows as yet shuttered in. The building may have provided more security, but certain no more comfort.

The following day the gales continued unabated and huge waves lashed the Rock. This time, not only was the smith’s gallery wrecked and washed away, but the waves also threatened the floor above, the cookhouse. The men on the Floating Light, on seeing that the smith’s gallery had gone, were fearful for the safety of the artificers. Down on the Rock itself the railways, sheer and moveable beam cranes had all been seriously damaged.

Friday, the 24th, saw a return to better weather and work continued on fitting the staircase, as well as repairing the Beacon-house. The sash-frames (8 in number) had been landed and were now raised successful to the top of the building. Now that the heavier articles were in place, the balance crane could be dismantled. The following week a party of important dignitaries from Edinburgh visited the progress of the Works, and expressed great satisfaction now that they were approaching completion of the Lighthouse.


Stevenson was now looking to bringing the work to its conclusion. The wooden bridge connecting the Beacon-house to the Lighthouse was taken down. It was noted that, when heavy waves struck, it had a “powerful” effect on the Beacon, and it was felt that it would not survive the coming winter. The rope ladder was re-installed for the remainder of the Works. The last stone of the Building was laid - the upper stone of the staircase. Most of the artificers now returned to Arbroath, but a few stayed on to fit temporary windows in the house. The "Sir Joseph Banks" had also finished her task and was now on her way to Leith to be dismantled and sold. Stevenson watched the vessel leave with regret. He described it as “this beautifully moulded ship”.

The Lightroom and Balcony with reflectors, winding mechanism, and fog bells
The Lightroom and Balcony with
reflectors, winding mechanism,
and fog bells

Work now continued apace with fitting up the Light-room. First on the agenda was to put up a temporary rail round the balcony for the safety of the men, and two sheer cranes were installed for lifting the sash-frames from the balcony to the top of the parapet wall. On 14th October, having returned from his voyage to the Northern Lights, RS was pleased to see the excellent progress that had been made on fitting up the Lightroom. From the 14th to the 22nd Sept. they were occupied in fitting the sole-plate and the trimming-path which formed the base of the window-sash-frames. Between the 28th Sept. and the 2nd Oct. the sash-frames were raised to their places and screwed together. And from the 2nd to the 15th Oct. the copper-smiths were employed in erecting the cupola or roof of the Light-room. The 48 glass plates for the windows, each one measuring 32½ by 26¾ inches, had also been landed. This was a great relief to RS as a replacement, at this time, would not have been easily come by.

Friday, the 16th, was marred by the loss of Charles Henderson, one of the young smiths. It appears he must have slipped on the rope ladder on his way from the Lighthouse to the Beacon, and was subsequently drowned. The occasion cast a deep gloom on the men, and it was no easy task to induce them to remain at their work. “As the weather now become more boisterous, and the nights long, they found their habitation extremely cheerless, while the winds were howling about their ears, and the waves lashing with fury again the beams of their insulated habitation.”

RS was now having difficulties in procuring the red glass plates which would “shade” the reflectors on the minor quadrants of the revolving light mechanism, thereby producing the alternate white and red beam required for the Bell Rock’s unique flash. These were to be manufactured by a Mr Okey, of London. Each plate measured 25 inches in diameter, about 5 inches more than anything that had been made before. It was so important that RS despatched his superintendent of lightkeepers’ duties, Mr John Forrest, to London, to virtually stand over the glazier until the job was finished, and had the glass in his possession.

By the 27th the glazing of the sash-windows was complete, which effectively finished the Building externally. Towards the end of the month Stevenson was anxious to pay another visit to the Lighthouse before the end of the season. It was with the greatest of difficulty they managed to land. Stevenson found the Railways again much damaged by the seas, but having served their purpose, all was well for the moment.

The Beacon-house was in good repair, but the lower sections of the great beams now showed the ravages of a tiny marine crustaceous insect called Limnoria terebrans. He passed next to the House which, surprisingly, he found to be in a reasonably habitable condition, and, although the lower windows were still temporary, they were nevertheless fitted with proper storm shutters. The artificers had already commandeered the upper part of the House for new sleeping quarters, away from the relative insecurity of the Beacon-house. He was particularly pleased with the light-room which, even without the light apparatus, looked clean and complete.

Mr John Reid, formerly of the Floating Light, was now put in charge of the lighthouse as Principal Keeper; Mr James Slight had charge of the artificers; and Mr James Dove and the smiths, having finished the frame of the light-room, left the Rock for the present. With these arrangements, RS bade adieu to the works for the season.

During November and December much of the narrative is taken up with the effects of the storms and seas on the Rock. During one early November storm it was calculated that the spray from particularly heavy seas reached up to the second tier of glass panes of the light-room, a height of 104 feet from the Rock! Work, during this time, continued on the interior finishings of the Lighthouse under the able direction of Mr James Slight.

In December the red-coloured glass arrived at Leith from London, much to the relief of everyone. The reflecting apparatus was also ready for shipment, so the "Smeaton" made off for Leith to collect the last articles necessary for exhibiting the Light. On the 14th Dec. the materials were landed safely at the Rock. Everything would be in readiness in about four weeks, and a specification of the appearance of the Light was prepared for public advertisement:

The “advertisement” announcing the specifications of the Bell Rock Lighthouse
The “advertisement” announcing the specifications of the Bell Rock Lighthouse

On the 27th Dec. the "Smeaton", having managed a landing at the Rock, found everything in a very prosperous state. Mr Dove and Mr Clark had finished their work; Mr Slight had completed all that was proposed to be done to the interior finishing of the apartments this winter; so that Mr Forrest, with Messrs Reid, Bonnyman, Leask and Fortune, the keepers, were now left in possession of the Light-house.

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