Bell Rock Lighthouse display

National Library of Scotland celebrates the bicentenary of the Bell Rock Lighthouse

The National Library of Scotland is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Scotland's most famous lighthouse, by showcasing a variety of treasures which chart its past.

Today (Wednesday) the Library unveiled its 'Building the Bell Rock Lighthouse' display - a collection of artefacts which give a fascinating insight into the construction of the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse.

The display marks 200 years since the first lighting of the Bell Rock Lighthouse which took place on 1 February 1811. Constructed by Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson, it stands guard over some of the fiercest waters of the North Sea and is still saving lives today, flashing once every five seconds to warn ships away from the rocks.

Highlights of the display include:

  • The drawing of the Beacon House, the first building on the rock, which was created to house the workmen and the blacksmith's forge
  • Stevenson's ideas for the creation of the lighthouse, and original designs
  • Documentation outlining the dangers that the Bell Rock posed
  • Sir Walter Scott's experience of his visit to the lighthouse during an inspection tour
  • A film of an inspection of the lighthouse.

It took Stevenson almost five years to complete the building on the Bell Rock, also known as Inchcape, which is located 12 miles off the coast of Angus. During construction, he and his team faced huge waves, atrocious storms and attacks by navy gangs. While the lighting apparatus of the lighthouse has been replaced several times and the living quarters and light room have been modernised, the high-quality masonry work on which the lighthouse rests has not been replaced or adapted since it was built.

Sheila Mackenzie, Senior Manuscripts Curator at the National Library of Scotland, said: 'We are delighted to join in the Bell Rock Lighthouse bicentenary celebrations by producing the 'Building the Bell Rock Lighthouse' display. This incredible feat of engineering is reflected by the diverse range of items on show, from letters and drawings to videos.

'Anyone interested in Scottish history should pay us a visit to experience an illuminating glimpse into the lifespan of Scotland's most famous lighthouse.'

The display will be on show at the National Library of Scotland's public exhibition space on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, until 28 February.

For more information on the celebrations taking place throughout the country to mark the anniversary, visit

12 January 2010

12 January 2011

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