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General view of the works as at 1810.
After Stevenson's "Account of the Bell Rock Light-house"

© With permission of, and thanks to, the owner.


Button In Memoriam and Injury List

• To the men who built the lighthouse and to those who died during its construction; plus a list of those injured

Button Biographies

• A genealogical insight into some of the key men who built it. Read about John Reid's life in George III's navy; and the ancestral origins of the Logans; amonst others!

Button Correspondence

• A select choice of letters sent by Robert Stevenson to Capt. David Taylor giving a clear insight into Stevenson's character and work ethos . . . and his use of the phrase "Shiver Me Timbers"

Button A Tale of Two Serpents

• A link between Scotland and Newfoundland. When is a handgrip a sea monster!

Button Photographic Overview

• A selection of scans from Ian Cowe's photographics . . . and more of the Georgian kind! Plus Eddie Dishon's contribution to the Bicentennial.

Button Newspaper Cuttings

• An eclectic mix of newspaper cuttings mainly from "The Scotsman", "Arbroath Guide" and "Arbroath Herald".

Button Anniversaries

• An account of WHAT WAS DONE and WHAT WASN'T DONE over 200 years of the Bell Rock Lighthouse's anniversaries - 50, 100, 150 and 175 years of celebration.

Button Miscellany

• A ragbag of interesting facts collected on the way through these researches.

Button Website Statistics

• The world's interest in the Bell Rock Lighthouse (2003-2010).



Towers . . . Old and New!
Photo: © Ian Cowe


New books (now available)

Review by David Taylor, FSA. Scot.

“Rock Lighthouses of Britain & Ireland”

By Christopher Nicholson

For me, January had been a dreadful month; February not much better . . . until, that is, I received a copy of Christopher Nicholson’s new book on “Rock Lighthouses of Britain & Ireland”. Just what the doctor ordered I say; a badly-needed tonic to blow away the colds and ills of winter. A real breath of fresh air!

An addition to my earlier edition of 2000, Chris Nicholson’s latest update is altogether a different animal with the inclusion of several Irish lights. The same size as before (A4) it boasts over 300 (many quite magnificent) full colour illustrations of every kind. it is obvious that every page has been carefully crafted. As an ex-newspaper man I am aware how important it is to get the readability correct including the judicious use of fonts; as well as careful consideration to layout! All of which makes it easier on the eyes!!

The choice of dealing only with the rock stations is a good one – small in number; and not easily visited even for most lighthouse enthusiasts. In his latest book Chris also includes some Irish lights.

The book is “topped” with the usual beginnings – Acknowledgements, Introduction and Preface followed by an interesting starter - Chapter 1 Out of the Darkness; then the lighthouses -

2 Eddystone (The Beginning)
3 The Skerries (The Price of Generosity)
4, The Smalls (A Rock Lighthouse on Legs)
5, Longships (The Land’s End Light)
6, The Longstone (Grace Darling’s Light)
7. Bell Rock (The Start of the Stevensons)
*8, Tuskar Rock (The Lighthouse That Almost Killed a King)
*9, The Skelligs (The Lighthouse at the End of the Road)
10, Skerryvore (The Noblest Of All)
11, Bishop Rock (The Blue Riband Light)
*12, Fastnet (The Last of the Great Rock Towers)
13, Muckle Flugga (The Northern Light)
*14, The Bull and the Calf (If At First You Don’t Succeed)
15, Wolf Rock (The Curse of the Cornish Wreckers)
16, Dubh Artach (Guardian of the Hebrides)
17, Chicken Rock (A Manx Crag)
18, Flannan Isles (“A Dreadful Accident Has Happened at Flannans”)
+19, Rockall (“The Most Isolated Rock on the Surface on the Earth”);
*20, South Rock (A Remarkable Survivor)
21, Rock Lights (A New Era Begins)

The book is then “tailed” with a Bibliography; an Appendix; and finally finishes with a further listing of Trinity (English); NLB (Scottish) and CIL (Irish) lighthouses.

The listing above (which now includes FIVE Irish lights marked with an asterisk) is in chronological order . . . with Rockall as the only new addition. Now there’s a name from the past. I remember my Dad listening to “The Weather Forecast” regularly (*see below) on the radio! Although not strictly a lighthouse Rockall itself makes for fascinating reading; as well as the “Marie Celeste” of the lighthouse world, the Flannans (favoured by film makers and for those who like a mystery)! Also, of course, the Bell Rock (1807-1811) for me since my ancestor played a key role in its construction! But each to their own, and many can relate to their own experiences when visiting these rock lights, albeit mostly I imagine from the back of a boat!

However, they were not favourite postings with many lightkeepers as there were no facilities for wives and families; and many of them were so restricted that in certain weather conditions leaving the tower at all was quite impossible even in the lowest of tides.

So what are we looking at – a work that deals more in detail or one for coffee table use; possibly in this instance a bit of both! Each lighthouse is described in depth with sufficient narrative without over indulging in too much detail. For me it ticks all boxes. His chapter on the Bell Rock and his final summing of Who Did What is fair comment – but I will nevertheless add my tuppence worth. That Stevenson built the lighthouse was never in doubt, but the design (as seen today) belongs to Rennie. There are still plenty of people out there who think otherwise.

Whether or not you are able to organise a boat trip to visit these remote lighthouses will depend on many factors, but certainly landing on any of them (unless you go by helicopter) is most unlikely. But all else failing Chris Nicholson’s book will take you there (myself included) – and you’ll not even get your feet wet! Something to look forward to . . . as well as the burgeoning of spring and the milder days of summer which I yearn for!

It should be pointed out that the volume (soft cover) is a tad heavier than the original. Printed on finest art paper with 304 pages, it weighs in at 1204 grams (2 lbs 10 oz). Perhaps not something that you would want to take with you on a day outing, but a necessary acquisition to anyone who aspires to a book of real quality! You will not be disappointed, with emphasis on the photographs. I assure you at £24.95 ($32.95) it is a mere snip. Worth every penny!

May be ordered direct from

Dunbeath Mill, Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland. KW6 6EG UK
T: +44(0)1593 731 333
E: info@whittlespublishing.com

any good booksellers,
or the usual Internet sources.


* “The Shipping Forecast” has another interest for me, also perhaps for other lighthouse enthusiasts. Rockall is one of 31 sea areas covered by the forecast which encompassed the entire “British Isles” including Ireland, and many also touch the coast. Charlie Connelly wrote his book “Attention All Shipping” almost 20 years ago. It so happened that when covering Forth he chose the Bell Rock as its best-known subject! He wrote about each area in turn. He came north to see us in Arbroath, and writes about the hospitality of its inhabitants! His book is witty, hilarious in parts, and well worth a read, even though the Bell may be the only lighthouse mentioned. It was a best seller in its day!

The British LIghthouse Trail -
A Regional Guide

by Sarah Kerr

(or Round the Coast with 612 Lights)

There seems to be a never-ending stream of books on lighthouses “hitting” the shelves these days. In fact, over the past few years alone I would hate to even hazard a guess as to just how many . . . but I would certainly say more than just a few!

Of late, I have felt that the lighthouse theme could well be subject to over-exposure, almost to saturation levels. However, it does seem, ever since the publication of Bella Bathurst's book of 1999, followed by the BBC’s wonderful film on the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse “Seven Wonders of the Industrial World” (2003), the subject has gone from strength to strength.

Of course, guide books are always important, and for me this one does have special interest. First and foremost it is very well crafted, printed on art paper, and containing basic information on over 600 lighthouses generously illustrated in colour, most of which are included in a variety of sizes according to space limitations.

Each light is also given a few lines of description -

Button Type (5 categories, eg Muckle Flugga is classed an “i” (island)
Button Location (eg North of Unst, Shetlands)
ButtonHeight of tower (in metres)
ButtonDesigned by (if available)
ButtonAdmiralty Number (eg Eddystone, A0098); Skerryvore
ButtonLight characteristic (red, white and length of flash or even if the light is no longer in use)
ButtonGrid reference
ButtonWhether or not access to tower
ButtonAccess to site and
ButtonNotes where pertinent . . .

. . . all contained within 25 regions, including Orkney, Shetland, Hebrides, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and Isles of Scilly.

Truly, a monumental work in its own right. Certainly, my wife and I could well have done with this book when struggling to access Rose Ness light on the Orkney mainland! It also has the facility of “ticking off” each light when visited – a real challenge when one has 612 to complete the course, with many of the Scottish lights on very remote and almost inaccessible islands! Scotland does have the lion’s share with 294; England has 205, Wales 41, and Northern Ireland 23.

A real treat then for the serious lighthouse “bagger” . . . No 1.1 in the book, that of Muckle Flugga, and No. 7.4 Dubh Artach; more likely best seen from a back of a boat! I guarantee that very few people, other than the Northern Lighthouse Board’s ex-keepers and maintenance staff, have ever managed to land there – unless of course you fly in by helicopter!!

I have not yet read every page in detail, but Sarah’s book has obviously been thoroughly researched. However, I would point out that the design for the Bell Rock Lighthouse should not be given exclusively to Robert Stevenson. John Rennie, as Chief Engineer, did make important alterations to Stevenson’s original design! See “bellrock.org.uk” and Prof. Paxton’s “Dynasty of Engineers” (2011) for more information.

Perhaps, somewhat on the weighty side (roughly A5 in size, and at 590 grams [1 lb 4.8 oz]) to carry in one’s hip pocket, but just fine for the back-pack, if indeed you have to carry it at all on your outings!

So go forth and enjoy the voyage of a lifetime. You will probably never manage all 612, but what fun in “bagging” as many as you can!

I have no doubt that Sarah Kerr’s book will be a Best Seller, and I wish her every success in this important addition to the world of pharology!

David Taylor, FSA.Scot
October 2019.

Available from www.whittlespublishing.com or any good bookseller; soft cover; 302 pp (with index); colour illustrations throughout; 8½ x 5½ in (22 x 14 cms).


Archie MacEachern
Anne MacEachern

The Life and Times of a Scottish Lightkeeper

An Appreciation by David Taylor, FSA.Scot

The name McEachern has long been associated with the Northern Lighthouse Board for generations, not only as light keepers, but also on the vessels of the service; and in Archie’s case had the honour of doing service in both. I have to say that this is undoubtedly one of the best books I have read in years! It is a real treat for me, as my great-great-grandfather, Robert Stevenson Taylor (son of the old Bell Rock sea captain), was also an Assistant Keeper.

Born in 1910 when his father was Assistant at St Abb’s Head, Coldingham, Archie’s life was certainly one of adventure – and was without doubt full of life-threatening dangers of every kind. Of course, he would not be unique in that respect as all light keepers (whether an Assistant or Principal) would have been subjected to similar dangers, but here for posterity we have the man’s life with all its humour and events and at that documented in great detail. In itself no mean feat! I say at this point, they are light keepers, and not lighthouse keepers, as seems to be the way of it these days.

There is so much material to enjoy both anecdotal and factual, it is difficult to condense into a few words. He started life as a young seaman in 1926 on the Pharos (the flagship of the Northern Lighthouse Board); moved on to become a supernumerary (in earlier times he would have been known as an “expectant” keeper!), starting duties on the Isle of May in 1932, eventually receiving his first appointment as an Assistant at Fair Isle North in 1934; and ultimately as Principal at the Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1954. He “retired” from Chanonry Point in 1975, thereafter continuing for many years doing locum and Occasional lighthouse work – in all a lifetime’s service with the Northern Lighthouse Board.

He served on at least 16 major lights, amongst which are Fair Isle North, Dhuheartach (the NLB lists it as Dubh Artach), Buchan Ness (which he called “The Floor of Heaven”), no doubt in comparison to his previous lighthouse posting; also Skerryvore, Flannan Isles, and south to the Isle of Man (Chicken Rock) and many more.

The one he disliked most was without doubt Dubh Artach. It was never a favourite with any of the keepers. During the war-time one was never quite certain what was going to come drifting by on the ebb tide, or for that matter who might come knocking at the door in the middle of the night!! In many instances the wreckage, debris and even the odd body of some poor soul from shipping torpedoed by German submarines: and the most unlikely surprise of all . . . I ask you, where else would you expect to see a dead elephant come floating by . . . !!

Erraid (now there’s a name to conjure with), is the shore station for the lighthouse and the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous Treasure Island. Anyone who takes an interest in lighthouses will know that RLS’s father, Thomas, was in charge of Dubh Artach’s construction, and Erraid is the inspiration for his book. This tiny romantic island is my favourite . . . over the last 40 years my wife and I have visited it often, crossing over at the sandy strand which separates the island from Mull, and climbing the hill to the little observatory, where one can see the lighthouse on a clear day. For the wives of the keepers, Erraid was a favourite place to bring up their children.

Towards the end of the war, he was eventually posted to Buchan Ness, which was joined on to the village of Boddam by a bridge. Even there the war was never far away. One incident of particular interest was the two German submariners who were rescued from the cliffs at Boddam . . . Archie relates: “One of us ran for the doctor, who tried hard to revive the young man but could find nothing wrong except hypothermia.We covered him with a jacket, but he died soon after. I was glad the doctor spoke gently and stroked his brow; we must have looked terrifying with our rifles and bayonets. How we wished he had known that any one of us would have taken him home and given him tea and food. He was too young to die and I have never forgotten him”. There is a sad and interesting (but fitting) epitaph to that story, and the book tells more . . . ! What is of great interest to me, is that the good doctor who attended the German lad that day was my distant cousin! Dr James F. Milne (1896-1985) was general practitioner at Boddam between the years 1933-1963. It’s a wee world, as they say!! I also had a laugh about Boddam and the tale of the “monkey hangers” or to the question “Fa hingit the monkey”? Not something you would really want to ask a Boddamer! There is another port in the north-east coast of England which also has a claim to that title. I once had a work colleague who hailed from that town. No-one dared call him a “monkey hanger” without fear for their life!

And then there’s the scariest one of all – Flannan Islands – the date 1900 in the log book. All three keepers disappeared without trace. They’ve already made a film about it. Yes, in all probably washed off the pier by a gigantic wave, but I wouldn’t be taking any chances if I ever had the chance of visiting. I certainly wouldn’t want to stay there overnight on my own. Never!

Another important aspect, which he talks about on more than one occasion, is the ability to get on with your fellow keepers. Good relationships, especially on rock stations, where the simplest thing could set off an argument causing tempers to flare up, were an important (if not essential) part of successful lighthouse life!

Archie MacEachern was not just a light keeper. He was a jack-of-all-trades; also a seaman with six years experience on the Pharos, which served him well throughout his working life. He would turn his hand to virtually anything, if necessary; an expert on coastal fishing, as well as a competent ornithologist, a subject to which he returns many times in his narrative. He led a full and wonderful life and with a sense of humour to boot – and this book is crammed full of details and excitement. Surely a worthy addition to the swelling bibliography of today’s lighthouse world.

It is well written and devoid of any plagiarism, as is the case of many modern books - at least as far as I can see! Well, except for one small fact which he quotes (and acknowledges) from R. W. Munro’s “Scottish Lighthouses,” which has long been out of print – also one of the most respected books around on the subject.

No real criticisms to make, although I might have wished he had done a spell on the Bell Rock for personal reasons, but Dhu Artach (from a rock station point of view) is just as important! An index also might have been handy, and maybe even a drop-line chart showing the generations of McEacherns involved in NLB service in both lighthouses and supply vessels. But this is a mere detail and does not detract in any way from the importance of this publication. I assure you, you will not be disappointed! This book stands in top place for me, and I give it full marks!

Soft cover, art paper; 9½ x 6¾ in. (24 x 17 cms.); 188 pages; illustrated - black/white and colour.

Published by- https://whittlespublishing.com/and available from good booksellers. Also from Amazon.


Ancient"Ancient Lighthouses . . . and other lighted aids to navigation" – by Ken Trethewey

Writing Worth Reading

I was speaking to a friend recently and remarking on just how many books relating to lighthouses had appeared on the shelves in recent years. I said at the time that I felt the subject in general had become somewhat oversubscribed! Guess what . . . out of the blue I received a request to review another book recently published, this time Ken Trethewey’s “Ancient Lighthouses”! I was aware the subject had been touched on earlier in 1959 by D. Alan Stevenson in “The World’s Lighthouses Before 1320.” I have a copy! However, whereas D. Alan mentions it more in passing, Dr Trethewey gives over his entire book to the subject – all 322 pages of it! And his definition of Ancient stops at 400 AD – the time the Romans were about to depart Great Britain never to return. Considering this is one of a series on Pharology, this is certainly a man with a mission!

This book is impressive at all levels; Epic in its proportions; Monumental in its aspirations and Academic in its ideals. Anything that blinks with little more than a few candelas is liable for a mention. Be prepared then for a dazzling history into the Classical World and its Civilisations, and be satisfied that you recognise at least one name – that of the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But of course he also takes into account ports, forts, coastlines, tower-like structures and anything else that might have remotely served as a lighthouse.

Dr Trethewey organises his book into Eight Chapters - 1. The Literature of Ancient Lighthouses; 2. The Mariners; 3. Early Greek Aids to Navigation; 4. Phoenicians; 5. The Pharos of Alexandria; 6 Lighthouses Built After The Pharos to 400 CE; 7. Catalogue of Ancient Lighthouses; and 8. Overview

Each chapter is “top and tailed” with a Descriptive paragraph, followed by the Objective of that particular section. The narrative contains sub-sections; as well as many quotes from various sources, all of which are carefully referenced, and accompanied with colour plates, engravings, maps and charts. Finally, the section ends with Conclusions and Reference Notes. In my view a good way of managing the information. In Chapter 7, he lists the location of possible/probable sites - all 144 of them.

Dr Tretheway’s expertise on telling the story of these early lighthouses is certainly clear and concise – as one would expect from a man with a technical background. The material is well organised, and in my view as good as it gets without getting mired down in excessive detail. He certainly leaves no stone unturned in his search for information. There is a good chance, however, that there may be those who will consider certain areas a tad over the top! Yes, perhaps, but there are equally as many students at the highest academic level, and worldwide, who will make good use of every aspect of the text! As for myself, I don’t think it is overdone. My motto is: If you are going to do something, do it well!

The entire book is literally crammed full of material and illustrations, but there are places where I would “lighten” it up, given it were my publication . . . I say this with long-term experience in a morning newspaper as a time-served compositor and linotype operator, eventually re-mustering into computerised typesetting in the post-Wapping era.

Two novel items which are worth mentioning. Firstly, he adopts a new dating system instead of the old BC and AD. I’ll go no further on that one but it seems the modern way of dating antiquity. Secondly, he uses several what he calls Topic Taxonomy Charts or Mind Maps. You can see many examples of this on Internet images. I’m sure Charles Darwin might have made good use of one to explain his theories on evolution!

Is it expensive at £50? Well, it’s certainly not cheap but you do get a vast amount of information for your money. That’s about the cost of a night out for two with a glass of wine – if you’re lucky! I think I would certainly rather have the book . . . !

Of course, this publication is not meant just solely for the lighthouse fraternity. It aims further afield, much further . . . for libraries, universities and other places of academic learning the world over. As he adds to the Pharology series, it will become in its own right a reference work of encyclopedic status and importance. Whatever else, for Ken Trethewey this must viewed as his lifetime’s magnum opus or Great Work. . . I wish him All the Best.

The book is printed by Jazz-Fusion Books; A4 size; 322 pp; hard-backed, dust cover; £45 (Amazon)

(reprinted from the Lamp, Journal of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers)


Review:“Scottish and Manx Lighthouses: A Photographic Journey in the Footsteps of the Stevensons” (published for the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust by Whittles Publishing;182 pages; soft cover; £20).

continued From Home page

Ian Cowe's bookTHIS BOOK is almost certainly as good as it gets, and it is doubtful if it will ever be bettered . . . . . . unless, that is, you have the money to charter your own helicopter!

It is timely, if not perhaps overdue, that such a book should now be available! As automation is now the order of the day (the last lighthouse to be converted being Fair Isle South in 1998), and resident lighthouse keepers all but a memory, many will welcome it (if not for sentimental reasons) but as an important overview of the Stevensons' achievements in lighthouse construction in Scotland and the Isle of Man.

The first thing which will surprise you is the size - a generous A4 (30 x 21 cms (11¾ x 8¼ in.), with 182 pages crammed full of wonderful photographs, many of which are superb aerial shots taken of the rock towers . . . and not only of lighthouses, but other fascinating related subjects. Everything from a “needle to an anchor”. Well perhaps not quite, but you know what I mean!! It also includes a sprinkling of wildlife for good measure. Beautifully produced, the cover price is £20 (soft covers), which is, as far as I am concerned, an absolute bargain and worth every penny!

Oh, I hear you say – just another coffee-table offering! Well not really. I suppose it all depends on how you view it. Of course, it is primarily about lighthouses, but it can also be viewed as a travel guide for exploring the magnificent coastal scenery of Scotland and the Isle of Man; or even for the architect who can study the construction styles which the Stevenson engineers adopted over the the late neo-classical, Victorian and early 20th century – there are never really two exactly the same; or maybe for the enthusiastic lighthouse bagger out to tick them off as he enjoys the fresh air and countryside on the way through - just three of many good reasons why this book will appeal to many!

A real bonus is the author's trials and tribulations as he tramps his way through “dub and mire” to reach his goal, all of which is described in his personal diary notes - in itself a real treasure.

It should be noted that description for each lighthouse does not necessarily give full technical details. It varies from light to light. For more information on each particular lighthouse (if required), you should visit the website of the Northern Lighthouse Board - www.nlb.org.uk/LighthouseLibrary/Main/

What more can I say! My advice is to go and get your copy now before stocks run out! As for me, I already have mine . . . however, I am just beginning to realise that it will also make an ideal Christmas present for family and friends . . . must get myself another half-dozen copies!

David Taylor, FSA.Scot
November 2015


"Dynasty of Engineers - The Stevensons and the Bell Rock"

Published by the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust (2011).
Now available (or can be ordered from) from Whittles Publishing or any good bookseller. Also from Amazon.



In Professor Paxton's new book we see at long last closure (echoing James Will's quote below) on what many consider to have been an injustice to John Rennie who, for reasons explained in "Dynasty of Engineers”, has been largely ignored for the part he played in the construction of the lighthouse.

Prof. Paxton, the world leading expert on the Bell Rock build, details carefully his researches and includes Robert Stevenson’s fascinating report on the lighthouse last published in 1813 and the important previously unpublished Report of 1809 which shows that Rennie was clearly playing his part as Chief Engineer. He goes on to show other aspects of Rennie's input to the ultimate design - the slightly narrower tower than that proposed by Stevenson; the pronounced curve at the base of the tower which effectively deflects the force of the waves away from the main building; and the interlocking jigsaw pattern of the courses of the solid part of the house.

This book is not necessarily aimed for academic and architectural consumption, or for that matter lighthouse enthusiasts, but for the general reader who may have noted the lighthouse's recent Bicentennial and whose interest in the subject may have been kindled in passing! Ultimately the book once and for all draws a line under the controversy between the two families which has rumbled on now for the best part of two centuries.

It is divided into three main parts:

Part I: Updated biographical information on the engineers, including Robert Louis Stevenson (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography);

Part II: A new look at the creation of the Bell Rock Lighthouse from little-known records;

Part III: An illustrated timeline of Smith and Stevenson lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man.

The book is handsomely illustrated by engravings (mainly from Stevenson's "Account" of 1824) and many fine lighthouse photographs by Ian Cowe - www.flickr.com/iancowe - and from the archives of the National Library of Scotland and Northern Lighthouse Board.

Published by Whittles at £20 [ISBN 978-0-9567209-0-0] it is not unreasonably priced taking into account it is hard-backed with an attractive dust cover! Moreover it includes much original research which will make it compelling reading for many! It should also be noted that Prof. Paxton has waived any fee for his work, and any profits from sales will go directly to The Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust. - D.T.


FORGOTTEN LIGHTHOUSE HERO HAILED AT LAST, by Mark Macaskill - from the 'Sunday Times' - 6th February 2011 . . . "In the 19th century the Rennie and Stevenson families did have some fierce public disputes, but that was all a long time ago. What matters now is that both played their part in the creation of one of the great wonders of the modern world. and that both were great men." - James Will, a descendant of Robert Stevenson.

See full article below - With thanks to the "Sunday Times" and Mark Macaskill.




Paul A. Lynn
"The Lighthouse on Skerryvore"

Review - “The Lighthouse on Skerryvore” by Paul A Lynn (Whittles Publishing; 2015; paperback; 130pp; soft cover; £16.99).

Skerrryvore-bookTHERE is always great interest amongst lighthouse lovers when a new book appears on the shelves . . . especially when the subject matter deals with the tower at Skerryvore, said by many to be the “Jewel in the Crown” of Scottish lighthouse architecture!

Ever since Alan Stevenson's magnum opus of 1848 “Account of Skerryvore Lighthouse”, little has appeared in print about its construction – apart from the odd paper written by an aspiring academic, or an article or two appearing from time to time in some journal or local newspaper.

In that respect, therefore, this publication is important. However, on opening the book it soon becomes clear that the title actually belies its content! This is, in truth, a book of comparisons – between what one might call a “trinity” of lighthouses (Eddystone, 1759; Bell Rock, 1811; and Skerryvore, 1844), all built on semi-submerged reefs. All three tend to go hand-in-hand when considering the construction techniques in such dangerous locations.

But make no mistake about it, this is more than just a coffee-table offering. There is much to satisfy the expert, but not too much to make it over-bearingly technical! I congratulate Paul Lynn on his articulate and skilful narration, and in particular his careful attention to the characters of both father and son – Robert Stevenson (Bell Rock), strict father, ambitious; and Alan Stevenson (Skerryvore), classically-educated, and almost certainly brow-beaten by his father into the family engineering business! To many, Alan's spectacular achievement did outshine that of the Bell Rock, but, unlike his father, he was not mired in the Rennie/Stevenson controversy, as was the case at the Bell Rock. In every respect he was his own man!

Another unlikely bonus for me (apart from being nicely illustrated with fine photographs and engravings) is his description of the Western Highlands and the conditions of the inhabitants who lived on Tiree at the time of building – in itself a veritable history of the area!

One small comment I would make! The writer does say that he did not consult original sources, and from that point of view I think he might well have benefited from a visit to the Stevenson archives in the National Library of Scotland (Acct. No. 10706); also the records of the Northern Lighthouse Board, now held in the National Records of Scotland (Ref. NLC). Both sources provide a plethora of information by way of Letter Books and Minutes! He may even find enough material there to warrant a second edition. In that case, I might even be persuaded to buy another copy!! I am reminded of the old Scottish Presbyterian minister in Aberdeenshire, whose library of some 17,000 volumes, eventually became central to the Aberdeen University Library, and who, when found sneaking another of the same title into the manse, said: “ You are never safe with only one copy of a good book."!

All in all, I found it a great read and have no hesitation in recommending it to the lighthouse aficionado as well as the casual reader! You will not be disappointed.

David Taylor, FSA.Scot
July 2015


lighthouse book

"Northern Lights - The Age of Scottish Lighthouses"

Published by NMS Enterprises Limited - and available the National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, and all good booksellers.



lighthouse poems

"Scottish Lighthouse Poems"

Published by Bluesalt Publishing - 2010

Copies of the above Poems may be bought from the Shop at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh




With special thanks to the

Northern Lighthouse Board
National Libraries of Scotland
National Archives of Scotland
Edinburgh Central Library
Dundee City Archives
East Lothian Local History Centre
Arbroath Public Library
Signal Tower, Arbroath
The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
Arbroath Herald and Guide
Motigo webstats

Prof. Roland Paxton (Heriot-Watt University)
Don Johnson (Cape Bonavista Lighthouse)
Lorna Hunter (NLB)
Astrid Slight (Chile)
Carmen Slight (Chile)



John F. Boath
Peter C. Clarke
Ian Cowe
Eddie Dishon
Derek Robertson
David G. Taylor

Alan Taylor (webmaster)
Nessie Taylor (proof reading)


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