Eilean Glas
Eilean Glas lighthouse
photo: © Wikipedia Commons

Outer Hebrides

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Place of the lighthouse

Eilean Glas is a peninsula and lies on the east coast of Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Eilean Glas means Grey/Green Island in Gaelic. The island is 300 metres long and rises no more than 30 metres above sea level.

The island juts out considerably from the mainland of the Harris on the Western Isles towards the shipping lane through The Minch, which is probably why the Eilean Glas lighthouse was located here. A road across the narrow isthmus connects the Eilean Glas Peninsula to Scalpay.

Building of the Lighthouse

It was one of the original four lights commissioned by the Commissioners of the Northern Lights (predeccesors of The Northern Lighthouse Board - NLB), and the first lighthouse in the Hebrides. (the other lighthouses were Kinnaird Head, Mull of Kintyre and North Ronaldsay. These four lighthouses were built by Thomas Smith engineer of the NLB. Eilean Glas Lighthouse was founded in 1789. This lighthouse was the first on this location. Later in 1824 a second, taller lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson.

Captain Alex McLeod van Harris, owner of Scalpay, was approached in 1787 by the Northern Lighthouse Trustees (NLB) to assist in the construction of the lighthouse. McLeod then enlisted the help of his local tacksman (leaseholder), Mr. Campbell, to provide the necessary building materials and hire the services of local workmen. He also recommended Campbell to the NLB as a suitable person to supervise the work.

The NLB indicated that they needed Mr. Campbell's services only for the purchase of building materials and made arrangements to send their own masons to build the lighthouse.

However the NLB masons were still building the Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse and to avoid another year's delay McLeod had taken it upon himself to start laying the foundations and wall on the Scalpay Lighthouse in the summer of 1787 to two meters.

Eilean Glas by Thomas Smith
Eilean Glas in the time of Thomas Smith

The NLB masons were from the Edinburgh area (George Shiells receiving 4/2d and John William Purdie receiving 3/- per working day) arrived at Scalpay in the summer of 1788 to continue the building work and completed the finally work in October of that year.

The NLB's engineer, Thomas Smith, had discovered during a preliminary inspection visit that McLeod's men had increased the perimeter of the tower 4 feet (1.2 m) from the drawings. To save time and costs, Thomas Smit authorized the builders to continue on this larger perimeter of the tower. Work on the interior of the building was entrusted to one Archie McVicar, joiner, of North Uist.

In April 1789 the "Kelly and Nelly", a ship from Wick, was chartered to take Thomas Smith and his workmen to North Ronaldsay and Eilean Glas to install the lighting equipment. These were installed that summer. The light in Eilean Glas lighthouse was first lit on
October 10, 1789. Alex Reid, a sailor from Fraserburgh was appointed
as the first keeper on Eilean Glas.

Eilean Glas Lighthouse
Eilean Glas build by Robert Stevenson

The (second) lighthouse at this location was built in 1824 by Robert Stevenson who was an engineer for the NLB at that time. The lightroom had to be 7.5 meters above the ground to bring the light to 23 meters above the sea. The tower is painted with two broad bands of red to distinguish it as a day mark. The developments of both lighthouses can be clearly seen on the different pictures. (Click to Enlarge).

When Alexander Reid, the first lightkeeper at Eilean Glas, retired in 1823 with an annuity of forty guineas, Robert Stevenson reported him as "weathered and stiff from prolonged exposure to the weather conditions around Eilean Glas lighthouse". A plaque on the original house commemorates the keeper Alexander Reid, the first keeper who came in 1789 and stayed for 35 years.

The second lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson around 1825 who replaced the 1789 tower. The original lighthouse built by Thomas Smith was reduced in height. The adjoining house of the old tower was then converted into a storage shed. A high enclosure wall was also built. Around 1845, under the supervision of Alan Stevenson, two detached blocks with single-storey guards' houses and a jetty were built. Most of the buildings are whitewashed.

The whole complex is a classic example of a Scottish mainland lighthouse complex comprising the lighthouse, accommodation for the keepers and their families, means of transport via the jetty and a private garden for fresh foodstuffs such as vegetables and live livestock in a walled garden. This site also shows the development of a lighthouse, with the earlier tower (Thomas Smith) being one of the first 4 lighthouses commissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board, established 3 years earlier.

The Egyptian style of the keepers' cottage is also of architectural interest and was later used at the Ardnamurchan lighthouse keepers' cottages. They retain their original brass door hinges which are marked with 'NLB'.

Warning systems (Light, Fog horn, Radar Beacon)

Originally, the lighthouse was lit with a fixed light by means of an oil lamp. In 1852 the light was changed to a revolving system lens and later in 1907 the character of the light was changed to a flasing light.

In 1978 the Lighthouse was converted to automatic operation at a cost of £83,565, which means that the electrical light installation works completely independently without the intervention of people. On the basis of a maintenance protocol, regular checks are carried out on site. However, the installation is checked daily from the NLVB headquarters in Edinburgh.

The old lens and clockwork machine were handed over to The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh for public exhibition.

Until 2019, the light source was catoptric closed-beam lamps, similar to automotive headlights where the lamp arrays were mounted on a gearless pedestal. In December 2019, the lighthouse was refurbished and upgraded. The upgrade included replacing the lighthouse's existing closed-beam lamp array with an LED optic and refurbishing and refurbishing the adjacent building that houses the control room and warehouse.

The fog signal was installed in 1907 in the south of the lighthouse at Rudh' an Eorna. Its character at that time was 1 blast of 7 seconds every 90 seconds. The foghorn is set on a pivoting rail, with nearby associated compressed air tanks. The fog signal was eventually discontinued in 1987. After the fog signal was discontinued, the horn remains in place as a decoration.

It should be noted that at some sites the Northern Lighthouse Board have sold some redundant buildings within the lighthouse complex and are not responsible for the maintenance of these building.

Eilean Glas Lighthouse
Eilean Glas Keepers houses entrances in Egyptian style and lighthouse tower on the back

Eilean Glas


A3990

Character: Fl(3) W 20s 43m 18M
(2x fl. 0.5s - ec. 2.0s, fl. 0,5 - ec. 14.5s)

Barra Head lighthouse
Lightcharacter of Eilean Glas (click to enlarge)
Engineer: Thomas Smit (1752-1815)
: Robert Strevenson (1772-1850)

Lat, Lon: 57°51.414' N, 006°38.522' W

Established: Old: 10-10-1789 - New: 1824
Character: Flashing White every 3 secs.
Range: 18 NM ~ 33.3 km
Elevation: 43 meters above sea level
Tower: 30 meters high with red bands
Init. Costs: £ ?.
Econ. Costs*: £ ?.
*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com

Automated: 1978
Last Keepers: A. MacKay - PLK
: C.W. Russell - ALK
: D.J. McLennan - ALK
Fog horn: Siren, 1907-1987, 1 blast 7s every 90s
AIS: MMSI No 992356014
RACON: T (-) 16M (3 & 10cm)

Status: Operational
Authority: Northern Lighthouse Board
Remarks: Candelpower 400.000 cd.
: Cat.A listed - LB13487 - 30/03/1994

Eilean Glas Lighthouse - Twitter footage of BBC Alba

Eilean Glas Lighthouse - Twitter footage of the NLB
Eilean Glas Lighthouse video
Eilean Glas Lighthouse video

Eilan Glas lighthouse
Lighthouse tower with the Foghorn

Eilan Glas lighthouse
Eilean Glas Lighthouse

Eilan Glas Air Tanks
Compressed Air Tanks for Fog horn,
with old tower (Thomas Smith) at the back

References:
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