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Architecture in detail: lighthouses


This lighthouse gallery is the 8th in a series showcasing architectural details from the collections of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to celebrate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

With over 6,200 miles of coastline, early mariners visiting Scotland encountered some of the most treacherous marine conditions in Europe and many lives were lost. It was in the 17th century that a movement to build and maintain lighthouses began, the first one was built in 1636 on the Isle of May. In 1786 the Parliament passed ‘An act for erecting certain Lighthouses in the Northern Parts of Great Britain’ and the first four lighthouses were constructed at Kinnaird Head, North Ronaldsay, Mull of Kintyre and Eilean Glas, and many other followed on some of the most remote and challenging locations in Scotland. Today, lighthouses continue to endure as symbols of great engineering achievements and Scotland’s maritime past.

The National Record at HES includes a wealth of material illustrating lighthouses, lightkeepers’ cottages and beacons in Scotland. This include historic photographs, architectural plans, engravings and sketches, modern survey photographs and drawings, and modern and historical aerial photographs, as well as the 1824 publication 'An Account of the Bell Rock Light-house’ by Robert Stevenson. Some examples from these collections are shown below. HES also holds the collection of The Northern Lighthouse Board which contains almost 1,000 original drawings, including many designs by the Stevenson family.

The collections can be consulted in our Search Room and through our online resources. This includes Canmore where new images and information are added every day through ongoing surveys of Scotland's built heritage, as well as through an active digitisation programme of negatives, prints and drawings.