Section Index
The Builders
Seamen and Vessels
Lighthouse Keepers
Other People in Stevenson’s “Account”
The Map “deciphered”
An Historic Engineering

IN 2011 the Bell Rock Lighthouse celebrated its Bicentennial. This year is the turn of the Signal Tower, the shore station for the lightkeepers.



A new plaque for the
Bell Rock Lighthouse
Signal Tower

presented to the Provost of Angus, Mrs Helen Oswald, of Carnoustie, on 16th September 2012, at the Signal Tower, Arbroath, Angus, Scotland.

Prepared by Prof. Roland Paxton, MBE PhD DEng CEng FICE FRSE, of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, on behalf of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

A readable version is seen at
bottom of page



Arbroath plaqueThe 202-year old Bell Rock Lighthouse, in service 11 miles out to sea from its former Signal Tower Shore Station, now an Angus Council Museum, is regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World because of the extraordinary feat of its erection, on a submerged rock against the action of the sea, using the limited technology of its time. Late in 2012, in order to promote public knowledge of the construction of this engineering masterpiece which proved so beneficial to maritime safety and isolated rock lighthouse evolution, the Institution of Civil Engineers presented an informative plaque to Mrs Helen Oswald, Provost of Angus for the museum. Recently installed, this plaque designates the Lighthouse and its Shore Station AN HISTORIC CIVIL ENGINEERING LANDMARK.

Below: Professor Roland Paxton, of Heriot-Watt
University (right), and David Taylor (whose ancestor
is also commemorated) view the plaque
at the Arbroath Signal Tower

The plaque wording is based on original research by Prof Roland Paxton of the Institution’s Panel for Historical Engineering Works, set out in his recent book Dynasty of Engineers: The Stevensons and the Bell Rock (published by the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust). Whilst the plaque acknowledges Stevenson’s key role in the lighthouse’s creation, it also recognises for the first time in this way the roles of others including Rennie, Logan, Watt and Capt. Taylor and indicates the innovative expedients employed and other detail.

Shore station polan

The plan of the 2-storey Signal Tower -
the home of the Lightkeepers and the Master of the Tender.

The attractive refurbished Museum is open daily (except Sundays and Mondays). Admission Free.


This plaque (gifted by the Institution of Civil Engineers) marks the Lighthouse and Signal Tower as an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The lighthouse, in particular, is considered by many to be one of the most hazardous engineering feats of the early 19th century.

It also remembers the artificers and seamen who laboured in some of the most appalling and treacherous conditions known in the annals of marine engineering!

John Rennie heads the list as chief engineer in overall charge of the project, although he never did receive proper credit for the part he played in that great work.

Robert Stevenson, his capable resident engineer, who shared the hardships and dangers alongside his men on the Rock. More information on their relationship can be found in Prof. Paxton's new book “Dynasty of Engineers – The Stevensons and the Bell Rock” published last year in conjunction with the Bicentennial of the lighthouse.

David Logan, draughtsman and clerk of works, who was responsible (amongst other duties) for the complex jigsaw patterns of the 90 courses of granite and sandstone masonry.

Francis Watt, the millwright, whose ingenuity is mentioned by Robert Stevenson in passing, but who in truth was responsible for much more. His balance crane is now considered to be the forerunner of the ubiquitous high-rise crane which can be seen today in every engineering site the world over!

Capt. David Taylor was probably one of the most important men on the "site" . . . if one takes into account the hazardous conditions under which the lighthouse was built. To quote the Northern Lighthouse's Board own motto “In Salutem Omnium” - “For the Safety of All” . . . and in that respect Capt. Taylor fulfilled all his obligations.

Signal TowerHis remit during that great work was to ensure that all stores, supplies, provisions and construction materials were in place to ensure the smooth progress of construction. At various times he commanded the “Sir Joseph Banks” (which housed the artificers until the beacon house was built) and the “Smeaton”, the latter being the Tender (based at the Signal Tower), which was the vessel used for the supply of stores and relief of the lightkeepers during the first 10 years of the lighthouse's existence.

The Signal Tower - a rather grand Georgian
building - completed in 1813

Capt. Taylor, a native of Arbroath (although actually born at Broomhill, Arbirlot (2 miles west of the town), went on to become Lighthouse Storekeeper at Leith in 1821 when gout forced him ashore. He retired in 1841 and shortly thereafter moved back to Arbroath. On 26th February 1843 his body was taken from the harbour early one Sunday morning – according to the local paper of the time, he had been out drinking with friends the previous evening!!

More artificers are remembered in the In Memoriam section of this website - see here.


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