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Lighthouses of Scotland


'Held high above the dusky sea.

Far off the surf doth break and roar

Along bleak miles of moonlit shore...'

from ‘The Light-Keeper’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.

With over 6,200 miles of rugged coastline and frigid waters, early mariners visiting Scotland’s coast would have encountered some of the most treacherous marine conditions in Europe. It was in the 17th century, in an age of increasing commerce, that an organised movement to build and maintain lighthouses began. Scotland’s first ‘Lighthouse’ was built in 1636 on the Isle of May and consisted of a rudimentary brazier for burning coal on top of a forty foot tower. However, it wasn’t until 1786 that Parliament would pass “An act for erecting certain Lighthouses in the Northern Parts of Great Britain.’’ Under newly appointed Commissioners, the first four lighthouses to be built were constructed at Kinnaird Head, North Ronaldsay, Mull of Kintyre and Eilean Glas.

Today, lighthouses continue to endure as symbols of success and ingenuity. These majestic maritime monuments are testament to Scotland’s proud seafaring past and have inspired generations in science, art and literature.

RCAHMS holds over 15 million items relating to the history of the built environment in Scotland, and the collections contain a wide variety of items on lighthouses, lightkeepers’ cottages and beacons. These 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 which contains 23 stunning engravings. Some examples from these collections are shown below. RCAHMS also maintains the archive of The Northern Lighthouse Board which contains almost 1,000 original drawings, including many designs by the Stevenson family.