2011 - The Year of the Light
On February 1, 2011, it will be exactly 200 years since the first beacon of light shone out from the Bell Rock Lighthouse, warning passing vessels of the treacherous reef lurking below the waves, 11 miles off the east coast of Scotland.
The people of Arbroath, the town on the east coast of Scotland that is closely associated with the Bell Rock Lighthouse, will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of ‘their’ lighthouse with a year of special events. “We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors from across the world to the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Bell Rock Lighthouse,” said Harry Simpson, chair of Arbroath and Area Partnership’s Year of the Light Steering Committee, which is supported by the Local Community Planning Team. “Our 12-month programme of celebrations includes a spectacular firework displays, parades, a yacht regatta and boat trips to the Bell Rock.”
The Bell Rock Lighthouse is widely considered one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering and has protected the lives of innumerable seafarers. “Before the lighthouse was built, the Inchcape or Bell Rock had claimed countless vessels,” explained David Taylor, editor of the highly-informative website www.bellrock.org.uk and whose great-great-great-grandfather, Captain David Taylor, was closely involved in the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.
“Following the great storm of 1799 on the east coast of Scotland, at least 70 vessels came to grief, if not on the Bell Rock itself, certainly on the neighbouring shores trying to avoid it! However, it wasn’t until 1806, and not before the loss of the 64-gun man-of-war HMS York with all hands on board in 1804, that permission to build the lighthouse was finally granted.”
David added that, although the Northern Lighthouse Board's young engineer Robert Stevenson had already put forward plans for a lighthouse on the Bell Rock, it was decided that the construction techniques used by John Smeaton some 50 years earlier at the Eddystone would be the blueprint for the new lighthouse, with certain modifications.
“John Rennie was appointed chief engineer to the project, with Stevenson his resident engineer and assistant,” continued David. “Rennie adopted a narrower structure than those shown in Stevenson and Smeaton’s designs, with the all-important curve at the base of the lighthouse which dissipates and deflects the force of the sea as it comes into contact with the tower."
Constructing the Bell Rock Lighthouse was a massive undertaking. The reef on which the lighthouse was to be built was only visible for a few hours a day and work was also severely restricted by the weather and the seasons – the winter months were so stormy, working on the Bell Rock was only possible between April and October. However, after only four years, the Bell Rock Lighthouse was completed and it became operational on February 1, 1811.
There are many links between the town of Arbroath and the Bell Rock and its lighthouse. Legend has it that, in medieval times, the Abbot of Aberbrothock – as Arbroath was originally known - warned sailors of the deadly rock by placing a bell on the Inchcape Rock, only for it to be removed by the dastardly pirate, Ralph The Rover, who later came to a well-deserved watery end on the Bell Rock!
Many of the blacksmiths, builders and masons who were involved in the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse - both off-shore and at Arbroath Harbour, where the great stones were cut to size before being transported to the Bell Rock - were from the town. Arbroath’s Signal Tower Museum was formerly the shore station for the lighthouse and housed the lighthouse keepers and their families although, in the final years before the Bell Rock light was automated in 1988, it was serviced and its keepers relieved by ships from Leith.
“2011 is going to be a memorable year for everyone with a connection to Arbroath and to the Bell Rock,” added Harry Simpson, “whether they live in the town, their ancestors were from Arbroath or worked on the Bell Rock, they are fascinated by lighthouses – or if they have ever wondered about the light that’s been flashing across Arbroath’s horizon every night for 200 years.”
For more information, visit www.angusahead.com/bellrocklighthouse.
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