Place of the lighthouse
The LighthouseDescription Robert Stevenson, 1833. Circular tapered with corbelled gallery 3rd. floor and top; iron cupola. Main light altered 1847 and 1890. Approach flanked by flat roofed single storey lodges with archway between. FOG SIREN:circa 1880-1890(see notes):SE-facing; cast-iron siren horn travels in a semi-circle on cast iron concrete block podium. Powered by compressed air from engine house to N of road. Statement of Special Interest Girdleness considered the best lighthouse seen by the Royal Commission in their report of 1860. FOG SIGNAL: no fog warning devices existed in Scotland except fog bells at Skerryvore and Bellrock when the Royal Commission reported(1860). St Abb's received the first siren fog signal in 1876. The Girdleness siren presumably followed shortly thereafter (pp150, 153 Munro). Stevenson's son Alan was resident engineer for the Girdle Ness (Girdleness) Lighthouse in Aberdeen. This was the only Scottish lighthouse to have two fixed lights on one tower. The lower light was shown from a glazed cast iron gallery at about one-third of the way up, but was discontinued in 1890 when the upper light was upgraded. associated engineer Robert Stevenson date 1831 - 1833, opened 15th October 1833 era Georgian | category Lighthouse | reference NJ970053 ICE reference number HEW 1376 photo © Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence Girdle Ness Lighthouse is the only one in Scotland to have shown two fixed lights on a single structure. Hailed as one of Robert Stevenson’s finest works, the tower has a distinctive mid-height lantern and decorative cast iron detailing. It remains in use as a single light, though now operated automatically. The lighthouse is situated on Girdle Ness, a headland on the Dee Estuary protecting the south side of the entrance to Aberdeen Harbour. Calls for a lighthouse here were intensified after the whaling vessel Oscar foundered at the mouth of the harbour in April 1813, though work did not start until 1831. It was designed by ROBERT STEVENSON (1772-1850), with his son Alan Stevenson (1807-65) as resident engineer. From 1830, Alan was clerk of works to the Northern Lighthouse Board where his father was engineer (1808-43). Constructed originally to show two lights, and the only lighthouse in Scotland to do so, the conical tower had two lanterns, spaced vertically 21.3m apart. The lower light, at 35m above sea level, was enclosed in the encircling galleried lantern that gives the lighthouse its particular silhouette. The lower lantern gallery is 14.2m above the base plinth of the tower, cantilevered from a step in the tower’s wall thickness and supported on masonry corbels. The wall thickness below the gallery is 1.93m and above it 1m, resulting in a platform 1.65m wide. The lower lantern, a 28-sided iron frame structure, was glazed towards the sea but infilled with cast iron plates on the landward side. The upper light is housed in a glazed cupola lantern (now replaced) at the top of the tower, about 36.3m above ground level. The upper lantern is fixed to the top of a parapet wall 1.7m above the level of the upper gallery, where again the tower wall reduces in thickness. Corbelling, like that used lower down, supports a 910mm wide platform around the parapet. Inside the tower, a winding staircase with landings provides access to the lanterns and galleries. Its 182 steps are 910mm wide with 178mm rises, and supported by concentric brick walls 152mm thick. The external stair wall is separated from the tower wall by a 76mm gap. A hollow brick column some 910mm in diameter rises through the centre of the tower and acts as a ‘drop’ for the weight attached to the lamp mechanism. The tower’s unattributed cast iron work is notable for its unusual detailing — some of the external ladders feature processions of crocodiles, balustrades are fashioned as bamboo lattices, dolphin-shaped handholds surround the lanterns, and panels on the landward side of the lanterns are decorated with classical, religious and nautical motifs. The lighthouse’s illuminations consisted of Argand oil burners placed at the focus of 533mm diameter silvered-copper parabolic reflectors. The upper light had 18 reflector lamps and the lower light 13. The basement below the semicircular room around the base of the east side of the tower was used as an oil store. The station was completed in 1833, and cost £11,358 to construct. It included the tower, the two adjacent flat roofed lighthouse keepers’ dwellings to the west, an enclosed courtyard and the boundary walls. All are painted white. A rectangular flat roofed workshop building inside the south boundary wall was added later, possibly in the 1880s. In 1847, a dioptric top light was installed. The original lantern, too small for the new light, was transferred to Inchkeith Lighthouse in the Firth of Forth, where it remains. The new lantern at Girdle Ness is a 3m tall structure topped by an iron dome and glazed in triangulated astragals (mouldings that seal the gap between panes) decorated with cast iron lion masks at the intersections. The Astronomer Royal, George Biddell Airy (1801-92, knighted 1872), described it as "the best lighthouse that I have seen". Its top "lamp is framed by two large concave reflectors" and "fronted to seaward with weather-resisting glass a quarter of an inch thick and gun metal astragals". In the 1880s, a fog signal house (NJ972053) was constructed to the south east of the tower. The building, semicircular in plan, has twin vertical cast iron oil tanks at the rear, which fuelled a generator to power the siren with compressed air. The sound was emitted from a cast iron trumpet that rotated in a semicircle on top of the flat roof. It was operated when visibility fell below 9.3km (5 nautical miles). In 1890, the lower fixed light was removed, though lantern and gallery were retained. The upper light was replaced by a single revolving light of 196,200 candela, 56.39m above sea level, which flashes twice every 20 seconds and has a nominal range of 40.7km (22 nautical miles). It was lit by pressure-vaporised paraffin and burned 1.35 litres of paraffin per hour. A clockwork motor, set into a mercury bath to keep it level, moved the light and its reflectors in an arc facing the seafront. On 18th November 1944, a wartime mine drifted ashore near the lighthouse and exploded. Most of the damage consisted of broken windows and doors in the tower and keepers’ houses. In January 1967, the lighthouse was Category A listed. In 1987, its fog signal was discontinued. In 1991, the lighthouse was automated and the outbuildings passed into private ownervessel. The operation of the light — now electrified (date unknown) — is controlled from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s headquarters in Edinburgh. It operates on a gearless pedestal drive system powered by mains electricity, which rotates the lamp array only during darkness. In case of mains failure, the light has a direct current back-up, a 250mm emergency lantern with a range of 18.5km (10 nautical miles). Since 1998, Girdle Ness Lighthouse has been a transmitting station for the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) for satellite marine navigation. It is one of Scotland’s three reference stations. The other two are Butt of Lewis Lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides and Sumburgh Head Lighthouse on Shetland. It also carries a radar beacon (Radar Beacon), installed sometime after 1968. The Radar Beacon and DGPS receivers are mounted on the dome of the upper lantern. Resident engineer: Alan Stevenson Resident inspector: Alexander Slight Contractor: John Gibb, Aberdeen The lighthouse building is listed as a building of Architectural/Historic interest. The vesselmaster of Aberdeen requested that a light be established at Girdle Ness, Aberdeen following the wrecking of a whaling vessel called the Oscar in 1813. There were only 2 survivors from a crew of 45.
The lighthouse was built by an Aberdeen contractor, James Gibb. The light had a new form of double light, showing 2 distinct lights from the same tower, one above the other, both fixed. The lower light consisted of 13 lamps and reflectors arranged like a garland in a glazed gallery built round the outside of the tower about one third of the way up. In 1890 the lower light was discontinued.
The main light was altered in 1847 and the old lantern which was too small, was transferred to Inchkeith. In 1860 Girdle Ness was visited by the Astronomer Royal, Professor George Airy, (later Sir George) who described it as "the best lighthouse that I have seen".
"fronted to seaward with weather-resisting glass a quarter of an inch thick and gun metal astragals. The dome of the lighthouse looks immense from inside where as from the ground some 136 feet below it looks minute. The lamp is framed by 2 large concave reflectors which sent its 200,000 candlepower beams 25 miles out to sea on a good night."
Before electrification, the incandescent brightness was attained by pressure-vaporised paraffin, which burned at a rate of 9½ gills an hour. The lamp and reflectors were activated through an arc covering the entire seafront by a clockwork motor and imbedded in a mercury bath to pressure an even bearing. The fog horn was put into operation when visibility fell below 5 miles. The fog signal was discontinued in 1987. The Light was automated in 1991.
During the 2nd World War a mine drifted ashore on 18 November 1944 and exploded, but damage was mainly confined to the doors and windows in the dwelling house and the tower.
The Optic System is controlled using a standard NLB Gearless Pedestal/Lamp Array Controller to link the various elements into an ordered sequence. When one lamp fails, there is a consistent reduction in range of all flashes in the group. The Gearless Pedestal Drive System is equipped with two drive fluxmeters which operate together and share the drive. Should one fail, one is capable of assuming the drive itself.
Lamp Arrays rotated by Gearless Pedestal Drive Systems are normally installed at sites supplied with mains electricity. These systems rotate only during night time. The Lamp Arrays also have DC supplied reserve lamps for use when the mains fails. In event of a Main Optic failure, a single Emergancy Lantern is automatically selected. This is a 250mm lantern, with a range of 10 miles.
Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) Girdle Ness is one of a network of twelve (three in Scotland) ground-based reference stations providing DGPS transmissions around the coasts of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The other Scottish Stations are Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and Sumburgh Head in Shetland. The DGPS transmissions were introduced, on a trial basis, on 31 July 1998.
DGPS is transmitted from the MF Radar Beacon and a Standby Generator has been installed to ensure the intergity of this service. The generator is also used to power the other Aids to Navigation in the event of a mains failure.
The public marine DGPS is a satellite based navigation system. It is the newest element of the mix of visual, audible and electronic aids to navigation provided by the three General Lighthouse Authorities of the UK and the Republic of Ireland under their Marine Navigation Plan.
It is an open system - available to all mariners - and is financed from light dues charged on commercial vesselping and other income paid into the General Lighthouse Fund.
The light and DGPS is monitored using the NLB telemetry system over the PSTN telephone network to the Northern Lighthouse Boards headquarters in Edinburgh. This is manned 24 hours and checks the operation of over 70 lighthouses around Scotland and the Isle of Man.
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.
Ther is also a Radar Beacon installed at this site.
Character: Fl(2) W 20s 56m 22M
(fl. 0.5s - ec. 2.0s)
|Engineer||: Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)|
|Lat, Lon||: 57°08.339' N, 02°02.916' W|
|Established||: 15th October 1833|
|Character||: Flashing(2) White every 20 secs.|
|Range||: 40.7km / 22nM|
|Elevation||: 56 meters above sealevel|
|Tower||: 37 meters, 182 steps to the top|
|Init. Costs||: £ 12,940, 5s. 1d.|
|Econ. Costs*||: £ 65,990,000|
|*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com|
|Automated||: 31 March 1991|
|Last Keepers||: A. Rosie - PLK|
|: C. Reid - ALK|
|: E. Bruce - ALK|
|Fog horn||: Type Siren, 1 blast every 60s)|
|: Discontinued in 1987|
|DGPS||: 686 - Freq.: 297.0 kHz.,|
|: Msg: 3,7,9,16|
|RACON||: G(--0) 25nM|
|Authority||: Northern Lighthouse Board|
|Remarks||: Candle power 200.000 cd|
|: Cat.A listed - LB20078 - 12/01/1967|