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Inchkeith Lighthouse

Located at the highest point of the steep little island of Inchkeith, in the middle of the Firth of Forth, Inchkeith Lighthouse comprises a stumpy circular ashlar tower rising from a two-storey castellated building, the entire structure is now B-listed and painted yellow-ochre. It was built 1803-04 on top of a fort that was constructed by the French after they captured the island from the English in 1549. The lighthouse replaced an earlier one, the circular base of which can still be seen to the southeast of the current structure, next to the remains of a wartime signal station. It was on this older lighthouse in 1786 that Thomas Smith (1752 - 1815), the first Engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, tested a new reflector oil lamp, which he had designed.

The present tower is 19m (62 feet) in height and the light has a brightness of 269,280 candlepower, with a range of 22 nautical miles (41 km). The rocks around the island had proved a notorious hazard to shipping, but it was after the smack Aberdeen was wrecked nearby in 1801 that the Northern Lighthouse Board resolved to build a new lighthouse here. A plaque records that "For the Direction of Mariners and for the Benefit of Commerce, this lighthouse was erected by Order of the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses. It was founded on the 18th day of May in the year 1803, and lighted on the 14th of September 1804. Thomas Smith, Engineer." However, much of the work fell to Smith's assistant Robert Stevenson (1772 - 1850). The lighthouse and associated keeper's accommodation cost a total of 5000.

The light was originally stationary but, in 1815, was altered to become one of the first revolving lights, to distinguish it from the fixed light on the Isle of May. Because of its proximity to the Northern Lighthouse Board's headquarters in Edinburgh, Inchkeith was where the Stevensons tested new technology. Britain's first dioptric light was installed in 1835 by Alan Stevenson (1807-65), based on the Fresnel system. This involved a complex system with a three-wick lamp, which burned vegetable oil, seven annular lenses and five rows of curved fixed mirrors, which served to prolong the duration of the flashes from the lenses. The old reflecting apparatus was re-installed at Cape Spear in Newfoundland (Canada) where it remained in use into the 20th century. In 1889, new equipment based on an eight-lens system using an incandescent paraffin lamp was installed at Inchkeith by David A. Stevenson (1854 - 1938), increasing the brightness to 167,000 candlepower. A new lighting system was installed in 1985, in preparation for automation, based on an array of halogen lamps, powered by banks of nickel cadmium batteries which were automatically charged three times per week by one of two Markon alternators turned by Lister diesel engines. The light now comprises a battery-operated LED array charged by solar panels. Both the 1835 and 1889 systems were presented to the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

A foghorn was established on Inchkeith in 1899, operated by compressed air, but soon lost popularity with local residents when it sounded continuously for more than five days. An experimental diaphone fog signal was established on nearby Inchcolm in 1958, which was controlled by radio telephone from Inchkeith Lighthouse. In 1986, this was replaced by an electrically-operated system, controlled by an automatic fog detector. The foghorn was decommissioned c. 2004.

The light was automated in 1986 and its operation was transferred to Forth Ports Plc in 2013.


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