Bell Rock Lighthouse

The Bell Rock lighthouse is situated in the North Sea on a partially-submerged reef some 11 miles (17.5 km) southeast of Arbroath on the East Coast of Scotland. Several ships had met their end on the reef, but it was the sinking of the warship HMS York in 1804, with the loss of her entire crew of 491, that brought an Act of Parliament which ensured that a lighthouse was built here. One of the major engineering feats of the early 19th Century, the lighthouse was designed and built by Robert Stevenson (1772 - 1850), with John Rennie (1761 - 1821) serving as chief engineer, and came into service in 1811. The lighthouse tower was built from four types of stone; granite from Cairngall Quarry near Peterhead was used for the foundation, while the skin of the tower, which had to resist the brunt of the sea, comprises granite from Rubislaw Quarry in Aberdeen, with a core of Old Red Sandstone from Mylnefield Quarry, Kingoodie. Finer sandstone from Craigleith Quarry (Edinburgh) was used in finishing the structure and building the parapet around the light. Stevenson commissioned J.M.W. Turner (1775 - 1851) to paint his new lighthouse in 1819, although the artist never visited.

During the First World War the light was switched off to prevent it being used as a landmark by the enemy. It was only illuminated when British ships were passing, but without a radio, this involved visual signals or sending a boat out to alert the light-keepers. However on the night of 28th October 1915 heavy seas prevented the message being passed on and the heavy cruiser HMS Argyll hit the rock. Although the entire crew were rescued, the ship was lost. A radio was installed soon after. During the Second World War, the lighthouse was attacked by German aircraft on four occasions.

A helicopter from RAF Leuchars crashed into the lighthouse on the 15th December 1955, while delivering supplies in a storm. The crew were all killed and the light was out of action for several days before repairs could be undertaken, posing a real danger to shipping.

The last keepers left in 1988 and the light is now automatic, remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board Headquarters in Edinburgh.

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