Bell Rock Lighthouse: the ultimate ‘Grand Design’

Professor Roland Paxton and Lord Southesk exchanged gifts in Angus College on Thursday evening before the professors lecture. The new book by the professor was presented signed to Lord Southesk who in return presented the new bottle of whisky for the Year of the Light.
Professor Roland Paxton and Lord Southesk exchanged gifts in Angus College on Thursday evening before the professors lecture. The new book by the professor was presented signed to Lord Southesk who in return presented the new bottle of whisky for the Year of the Light.

A PACKED auditorium enjoyed a fascinating insight into the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse on Thursday.

Professor Roland Paxton MBE FRSE delivered the Year of the Light Lecture in Angus College, Arbroath.

“The Bell Rock Lighthouse rightly deserves its accolade as one of the seven wonders of the Industrial World,” said Professor Paxton, who is the author of ‘Dynasty of Engineers - The Stevensons and the Bell Rock’. “Even using the technology of the time with our present day knowledge, we could not improve on the design or construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.”

Professor Paxton opened his lecture with a film demonstrating the immense force of the waves the Bell Rock Lighthouse has withstood over the last 200 years. “The Bell Rock Lighthouse is an enduring testament to the skills and knowledge of chief engineer John Rennie and his assistant, resident engineer Robert Stevenson,” said Professor Paxton.

As well as describing in detail how Stevenson and his team had constructed the 115-foot lighthouse on the Bell Rock, 11 miles out to sea, Professor Paxton showed the audience several early illustrations of the interior of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, including one of the library or ‘Stranger’s Room’, the room immediately below the lightroom.

At the end of his lecture, Professor Paxton revealed how, while researching ‘Dynasty of Engineers’, he discovered papers that have finally laid to rest the feud that has rumbled on between the Rennies and the Stevensons for several generations about who should be credited for designing the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

“Stevenson’s definitive account of the construction of the lighthouse played down considerably the part played by Rennie,” said Professor Paxton. “However, I uncovered reports and letters from Rennie which confirm that he made major and very important contributions to the final design of the lighthouse and, despite the Stevensons later implying that Rennie never went to the Bell Rock after the first four courses had been laid, I came across a Rennie report of 1809 showing him on site and giving directions when the tower was nearly two-thirds complete.”

He went on: “The Bell Rock Lighthouse is a marvel of engineering and is essentially a masterpiece of achievement by Rennie and Stevenson and the local builders, tradesmen and mariners who gave their blood, sweat and tears to ensure Stevenson and Rennie’s ideas became a reality.”

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1811, the people of Arbroath are holding a series of special events throughout 2011, the Year of the Light. For more information about the Year of the Light, which is sponsored by JD Wetherspoon, or to download the programme of special events, visit www.angusahead.com/bellrocklighthouse.