Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Highlands and Islands

Date 2007

Event ID 963180

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

Muckle Flugga, off the north coast of Unst, Shetland, is very nearly the most northerly rock in the British Isles. As can be seen from Robert Louis Stevenson’s sketch of his uncle David and father’s project, it is a pyramid of stone rising some 200 ft above the sea. In 1853 war with Russia seemed imminent and, to safeguard a much increased naval presence near this unlit coast in this eventuality, the Admiralty commissioned the Northern Lighthouse Board to erect two lighthouses as a matter of urgency. Work had already begun at one site, Out Skerries (completed 1854), and the other site selected was Muckle Flugga. The Board’s engineers were D. & T. Stevenson.

The task of building a lighthouse at Muckle Flugga was daunting because of its remote and exposed location. In August 1854, with men using lifelines, a level platform was cut on top and a flight of rough steps hewn. Under the direction of resident engineer Alan Brebner, materials were hauled up the steps on men’s backs including the temporary iron keepers’ huts. Cement mortar was used for the first time at a rock station. Amazingly, the temporary light was lit on 11 October. It was decided to make the light permanent and the present 64 ft high lighthouse was built in brick, an untried experiment in such an exposed situation, but bricks were easier to man-handle than stone blocks. The work was carried out from 1855–57 by direct labour under D. & T. Stevenson’s direction with Brebner as resident engineer. The cost was £36 000. The workmen were housed in an iron hut and the materials needed were raised from sea level on a steep railway by means of a 10 hp steam engine. To shelter the station from storm damage, a masonry wall 5 ft high and 2 ft thick was built part way round it.

An idea of the exposure of this site can be gained from the fact that half ton stones were thrown up 80–85 ft above high water and on one occasion the protective wall round the station was thrown down and a heavy door broken at a height of 195 ft above the sea. To combat storm conditions, which they have successfully done for one and a half centuries, the tower walls were made 3 1/2 ft thick and the foundations sunk 10 ft into the rock.

Our concluding work with its tall, sea-bed anchored, framed tower, is the Murchison Oil Platform about midway between the Shetland Islands and Norway, for information on which the reader is referred to the entry at the Maritime Museum, Aberdeen.

R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Highlands and Islands' with kind permission from Thomas Telford Publishers.

People and Organisations