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Sanday, Start Point Lighthouse

Lighthouse (19th Century)

Site Name Sanday, Start Point Lighthouse

Classification Lighthouse (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Tobacco Rock

Canmore ID 3594

Site Number HY74SE 20

NGR HY 78676 43497

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Lady
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY74SE 20.00 78676 43497

L Ho [NAT]

OS 1:10,000 map, 1974.

HY74SE 20.01 HY 7866 4349 Keeper's House

HY74SE 20.02 HY 7863 4347 Farmsteading

(Location cited as HY 787 435). Start Point Lighthouse, built 1870 by engineers D and T Stevenson. Replacing a stone tower built in 1802, a tapering circular-section brick tower, with two-storey, flat-roofed keepers' houses. Now unmanned.

J R Hume 1977.

The Start Point light was first lit in 1806, being the first 'revolving' light in Scotland and replacing the old lighthouse (HY75NE 23) on North Ronaldsay. It was built by engineers T Smith and R Stevenson.

The present lighthouse is distinguished by its unusual decoration of vertical black and white banding; it was automated in 1962.

R W Munro 1979; K Allardyce and E M Hood 1986.

The present lighthouse apparently occupies the same site as its predecessor.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 6 October 2000.

This lighthouse stands above Tobacco Rock on the tidal island of Start Point at the E extremity of Sanday. It was built by Thomas Stevenson and Robert Stevenson in 1806, in succession to an unlit masonry tower dating from 1802. The first revolving light in the Scottish system was installed in a tower 75.5ft [23m] high; the nominal range of the light is 19nm. The tower is, unusually, painted with black and white vertical stripes.

This was one of the first lighthouses to be automated, in 1962.

S Krauskopf 2003.


Construction (1806)

Light established in 1806.

K Allardyce 1986

Modification (1962)

Automated in 1962.

K Allardyce 1986

Field Visit (August 1979)

Tower and residential buildings etc erected 1802-6 initially

as an unlit beacon surmounted by a masonry ball; in 1806 the

revolving-light apparatus, the first in Scotland, was installed

and Start Point took over from North Ronaldsay the role of the

main light in the north of Orkney. The masonry ball removed from

Start was installed 1809 on the extinguished North Ronaldsay

light tower. In 1821 Wm Daniell published a well-known coloured

print showing the tower and buildings. In 1870 this tower was

demolished and replaced by the present 75ft high brick one on the

same site, but the ancilliary buildings (now boarded up) remains

exactly as on Daniel's print. The light went automatic in 1962.

[R1], OR 237,

Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Aug 79.

Publication Account (1996)

The original tower was built in 1802 as an unlit beacon and converted into a revolving light in 1806, but it was rebuilt in brick in 1870. T he tower is just Start Point lighthouse, Sanday, by W Daniell, 1821 Dennis Head lighthouses, North Ronaldsay over 22 m high and the light was made automatic in 1962. The original keepers ' accommodation admired by Sir WaIter Scott has survived in good ondition alongside the towers; the proportions and overall design of the house and the original tower were particularly fine. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the modern lighthouse is the distinctive marking that the tower was given in the early 20th century, when it was painted with wide vertical stripes of black and white, making it impossible in the daytime to confuse the lighthouse with any other.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Orkney’, (1996).

Field Visit (1999)

An unlit beacon was built at Start Point in 1802 for the purpose of warning off ships which otherwise might be lured by the light on North Ronaldsay into straying too far to the east and the low-lying coast of Sanday. The beacon was topped by a large ashlar ball, later reused as a beacon at Dennis Head, North Ronaldsay. In 1806, it was fitted with the first revolving light in Scotland. Rebuilt in 1870, the 21m high brick tower was later painted in striking vertical stripes of black and white. It went to automatic in 1962 and is now a listed building. The original two-storied keepers cottages survive and are currently under renovation. To the south side of the lighthouse complex, a farmstead, of traditional design and construction, which incorporates a corn-drying kiln (surveyed) is now ruinous.

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, 1999

Publication Account (2007)

Start Point Lighthouse, Orkney

(Institute Civil Engineers Historic Engineering Works no. HEW 1986)

The earliest tower at Start Point, Sanday, built of masonry under the direction of Thomas Smith began its existence in 1802 as an unlit sea mark with a large ball of stone on top. In 1806 it was fitted with the Board’s first revolving light, consisting of an array of Argand oil lamps with silvered copper reflectors, by Robert Stevenson, who formally took over as from Smith as engineer on 12 July 1808.

On completion of Start Point Lighthouse, North Ronaldsay Lighthouse, 7 1/2 miles to the north, was no longer required to be lit. Its lantern was replaced in 1809 by the stone ball, about 5 ft in diameter of squared masonary, from Start Point tower, in which capacity it still serves as a sea mark about 12

mile south-east of the present 139 ft tall structure.

The present North Ronaldsay Lighthouse was built in 1852–53 under Alan Stevenson’s direction by Wm. Kinghorn, Leith, at a contract price of £6181. At 138 ft it is believed to be the tallest land-based lighthouse in the United Kingdom. Unusually at that time for a Scottish lighthouse, it was built in brick instead of stone, presumably for convenience of shipping and construction.

Other brick towers were built under D. & T. Stevenson’s direction at the Butt of Lewis and the Monach Islands and in 1870 Start Point Lighthouse was replaced by the present 75 ft tall brick structure. It was modernised in 1913 and became automatic in 1962.

R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.

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


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