The Old Beacon
Built in 1788-1789, the building consisted of a 70ft tower of local, undressed stone and two lightkeeper’s dwellings. The main engineer was Thomas Smith, of Edinburgh, however, it is his assistant whose name carries more weight today: one Robert Stevenson, first of the famous family of engineers and grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Its lighting system was state of the art for the time; a catadioptric or reflecting system, which consisted of a cluster of oil-burning lamps whose light was dispersed by reflectors covered in facets of mirrored glass. Lighthouse keepers had to rub the reflectors with soft linen rags and finely powdered chalk until perfectly bright.
Unfortunately, despite its sophistication, the light proved ineffective and in 1809, with the construction of other nearby lighthouses, it was decided that the North Ronaldsay light was to be extinguished.
On 1st June 1809, when the light died, building materials and apparatus were dismantled and redistributed to the best advantage. In replacement of the light a stone ball capped the beacon as a stopper capping a flame.
Click on the images below for plans of how the lighthouse would have once looked and photos of how it is now.
Today, the beacon is the most complete purpose built lighthouse tower of its era in Scotland. A multi-phase plan for restoration initially includes the reinstatement of stairs, the removal of over a century’s accumulated bird droppings and the stabilization and repair of the most fragile elements of the structure.
Later phases will see the rebuilding of the lightkeeper’s dwellings (including working reconstructions of the original box beds) and the restoration of the Grade B listed lighthouse cottages.
It is hoped that the eventual redevelopment of these buildings as a combined learning resource, living heritage site and tourist attraction will benefit both visitors and the local economy.
Click on the images below for extracts from the Commissioner's meeting in the late 18th century, plans for the box beds and more.
In the summer of 2006 the Old Beacon was featured in the BBC programme Restoration Village where it won the Scottish round and went through to the grand final (see pictures of the celebrations below!).
In the end, we didn't win but did come a very respectable third and it's hoped that the awareness that the programme raises will go on to help the project.
Posted at 02:22 PM