1st February - The day the Bell Rock Lighthouse was first lit.
Arbroath Guide - 2nd February - "It is exactly half a century since this beacon was lighted, its first beams having been shed over a radius of some fifteen miles on 1st February 1811".
Arbroath Guide - 4th February - "The hundredth anniversary of the lighting of the Bell Rock, which occurred on Wednesday, was allowed to pass in Arbroath without commemoration, nothing being done to mark the fact that the Tower was first lit a hundred years ago on Wednesday night. There was a heavy fog off Arbroath during the day, and the principal lightkeeper, who was staying at the Signal Tower, was consequently unable to communicate by heliograph* with the keepers on the Rock."
* Note the reference to communications with the Rock at that time was by heliograph.
Perhaps not as foggy as the afternoon of the 1st February 1911. Note the shadowy shape of the Signal Tower in the background.
Arbroath Herald - February 1911 - "The Bell Rock Lighthouse has several centenaries. One was celebrated on Wednesday by a veil of mist - the centenary of the first lighting of the lighthouse lamp. How appropriate it was that the elements should demonstrate on that particular day the absolute need for the benenfit of seafarers of the guiding light and the warning foghorn upon the reef which before wrecked many a voyager. The story of Stevenson's engineering feat has often been told; suffice it now to say that his genius is, and will continue to be, held in grateful memory."
Arbroath Guide, 4th February -
150 Years Old - "The Bell Rock lighthouse, 12 miles off Arbroath, was 150 years old on Wednesday. It was decided to build the lighthouse in 1800, and until it was ready for service a lightship was moored at the Bell Rock, the first off the Scottish coast. After surveys had been made, work started on August 15, 1807. Building was completed in August 1810, but there was other work to do, and it was not until 1811 that the first light was shown. Today, the lighthouse men have a television set, bringing to them BBC and STV programmes. This was a gift of the Arbroath Fishermen's Association, who installed it in July 1957".
Arbroath Herald - 27th January -
Life on the Rock Today - "In many respects life on such a lighthouse remains much the same for the keepers. Their routine of watch and maintaining the guiding light is basically the same as it was 150 years ago. But there have been changes.
Ships have changed over the years and traffic in the area has increased. Radio brought the men in closer contact with the shore and the faster means of communication improved the service the lighthouse men can give to mariners.
The advance in canned foods has meant a greater variety during the long lonely vigil of six weeks on the Rock.
Nothing much could be done about the loneliest of a post 12 miles out in the North Sea until radio brought a change of human voice into the stone tower.
What do keepers most welcome? Visitors, of course, but naturally these are few and far between.
However, one epic occasion will always be a memorable date in the annals of the Bell Rock. On Saturday, July 27, 1957, the Rock was "invaded" and television penetrated to this lonely outpost.
It was quite a day for the three keepers and probably the lighthouse has never swarmed with people in such a way, since it was built*.
The television set was a gift from Arbroath Fishermen's Association and installed by the local firm of Reekie's. With the engineers, fishermen and sundry guests it was quite a party".
* Well, at least not until 28th April 1986 - see below.
by John F. Boath, last Principal Light-keeper at the
Bell Rock Lighthouse
"1986 was NLB Bicentenary. 200 years of providing a service of navigation aids round the coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man. Also the Bell Rock was 175 years old. As '84 was planning to celebrate the Bicentenary so I decided to have an Open Day to mark the 175th Anniversary. Something special was needed to make it a day to remember. I had seen a photograph of the Bell Rock bedecked out in flags to celebrate some form of modernisation in 1902, so we decided to recreate this and to invite 2 or 3 people out (this was to snowball to more than that).
My thanks to © John F. Boath for these photographs
"The first thing I noticed about the photograph pride of place was given to the "Bell Rock Flag". This was draped round the balcony rail so if I could discover where the flag was and bring it back to its original setting this would be the centrepiece for our decorative display. There were 2 flags and they were embroidered by a relative of Robert Stevenson, the creator of the Bell. One was for the ship and one was kept on the lighthouse. One was still on the Pharos but where the one belonging to the Bell was - that was a mystery.
"My first call was I Webster, administration, who was going to make some enquiries, and then down to the Workshop armed with some photographs of the flag. I enquired amongst the older members (no disrespect meant, gentlemen) if they could throw some "light" on the mystery, then a word with the Superintendent and Marine Superintendent, but still the mystery remained. What had happened to the Flag and was it lost for ever?
"Meanwhile, I was getting phone calls when our Open Day was to be, so it became obvious that what started off small was snowballing. I contacted Mr Welsh, Secretary, and explained what we were planning. A few ground rules were laid and permission was given to go ahead with our Open Day. I consulted the most important and well-read book in the Bell library, tide times and distance tables and 28 June 1986 was selected. The original idea had been to invite our friends from the "Summer Rose" and the RNLI Arbroath Branch and keep it small, but I was informed that a number of skippers were interested in coming out that day, so I attended a meeting at the Federation's Office in Arbroath and left a copy of the ground rules. I then started to see if I could get some flags for decoration. Captain Morrison, S. Storrie, and the Isle of May, helped me out with that little problem, also the Bell Rock flat had turned up, thanks to Mrs Bagg. A certain amound of restoration was carried out on it and, thanks to J. Clark I was able to use it as our centre piece.
"Everything was set now. E. England and G. McDermid were going to be out for their period at the Bell so without their co-operation it would have been impossible. As they 28th came closer all one thought about was the weather. As the evening of the 27th arrived we all went down and rigged up the decorative flags. Everything was now all set for the next day. I had picked a 5-mtr tide as this gave people a reasonable time on the rock. We were ready for our visitors.
"The first we saw of them was just after 9.00 a.m. The convoy of 12 fishing boats and RNLI lifeboat arrived. They were decorated for the occasion with their flags and bunting. The first to hand was a canoeist who had paddled out, then the Provost Andrew Welsh and John Ness, the secretary of the RNLI. The Provost handed a greetings message to me from the Angus District Council, then the wives of the keepers were landed. I also received a message from Major-General Ephrimms from the RNLI, then the job of ferrying in and out began.
"This was carried out by 2 inflatables. One from the RNLI and one from the "Summer Rose". Our wives and families had come out with Chae Milne, Skipper of the Summer Rose, whose wife, June, did an amount of baking which came ashore and was set up on the helipad for our visitors. Our wives then made their way up to the kitchens where they entertained our visitors with tea and conversation, while we conducted our visitors around the station and reef.
"People had brought picnic baskets and set them up and down the reef. Also landed was Mr Peter Fraser, QC,MP, and who is also a NLB Commissioner, but on this occasion was having a day trip with his son.
"We did not have much time to talk to everybody, but as the tide started to flood and people started to leave, it had turned out to be an excellent day. We managed about 10 minutes with our families before they all left and at 4.00 p.m. the last visitor left.
"The weather had been ideal, wind was South 2, sunny and warm. At the end of the day 126 people had signed the book, about 160 had landed on the reef, the convoy of fishing boats, RNLI sailed round the reef and headed back to Arbroath.
"I wonder what the 176th year of the Bell will bring."
Such an occasion this year is not remotely possible - at least for the normal sightseer!
1. The lighthouse is unmanned, and they were exceptionally lucky with the weather that day; and
2. "Liability" and "accountability" will be factors for any boat owner. They will not take the risk!!!