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Article published 02/09/2022

Bell Rock Lighthouse recognised by the National Transport Trust

Scotland's latest National Transport Trust Red Wheel was unveiled last week (1 September) at Signal Tower Museum, Arbroath. 

The National Transport Trust has singled out the Bell Rock for a Red Wheel to mark its world leading significance as the first sea-washed lighthouse. But you don't need to get your feet wet to see it – while the light is 11 miles offshore, the Red Wheel's location is on dry land, located at the museum which was originally used as the shore station and accommodation for the lighthouse.  

Completed in 1810, the Bell Rock is the oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse in the world, and it launched the legendary Stevenson dynasty who through four generations built lighthouses around our northern coasts – apart from Robert’s grandson Robert Louis, obtaining immortality instead as the author of Treasure Island.

This is a Red Wheel that’s been in the making for quite a while. Red Wheels exist to mark points of real transport innovation.

Scotland has some marvellous civil engineers and this particular lighthouse design is an example of two of these engineers work.

National Transport Trust exist in part to try and encourage younger people into science and technology, to make it exciting and help them to understand that what we do today will have a bearing in 150 to 200 years time.

Jerry Swift, Vice Chairman of National Transport Trust

We are delighted that the Bell Rock Lighthouse has been recognised by the National Transport Trust for its contribution to our maritime heritage and pleased the Red Wheel has been located at Signal Tower Museum which served as the shore station and now tells visitors about the history of the lighthouse.

Rachel Jackson, Museums Galleries Archives Operations Lead at ANGUSalive

Bell Rock background

The Eddystone Light off Plymouth was a marvel of its age, but the reef stood above water at high tide – whereas the Bell Rock (so called because legend has it that the Abbot of Arbroath placed a bell there to warn seafarers) lay treacherously submerged, awaiting its victims.  

By the turn of the 19th Century, it was estimated that, in a typical winter, as many as six ships were wrecked on the rock.

In 1799, the Masters of Trinity House in Leith were determined to build a light and commissioned Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson to devise a design. The proposal was shelved due to concerns about cost, the relatively radical nature of the proposed design and Stevenson's perceived youth.  

However, after the warship HMS York was wrecked on the rock in 1804 (and all aboard perished) – causing a furore in Parliament – Stevenson sent his design to the renowned engineer John Rennie who approved both the plan and the cost estimate.

Legislation was passed in 1806 approving the proposal and enabling construction to begin, with 60 workmen housed in a temporary beacon alongside.  

Robert Stevenson became resident engineer reporting in an often-stormy relationship to Rennie, who was prone to seasickness so happy to delegate on-site responsibilities to the younger man.  

Arbroath’s Signal Tower Museum served the Bell Rock Lighthouse until it was decommissioned in 1955 and became a museum in 1974.

This is where visitors can learn more about the history of the magnificent Bell Rock Lighthouse and how the coastal town’s connection with the sea has influenced Arbroath’s social, industrial and ecclesiastical history.  

Find out about the Bell Rock at the AngusAlive website.

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