Place of the lighthouseLittle Ross is a small island with a lighthouse in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It is next to Meikle Ross on the mainland, which is a headland, and there are two small rocks off it, Sugarloaf and Fox Craig. The lighthouse was constructed in 1843 by Alan Stevenson, it is approximately 22 m tall and has been automated since 1961.
Lighthouses are familiar features of the landscape. However the public perception that Lighthouses are there to warn of treacherous conditions or dangerous rocks is misleading. The main purpose of most Lighthouses is to assist mariners in knowing exactly where they are, by night or day. They do this by the strength of the light they emit and its unique characteristics. Lighthouses are sited round the coast in such a way as to enable mariners to take bearings on more than one light and thereby pinpoint their exact position.
The Lighthouse was built on Little Ross between 1813 when the “Topographical Dictionary of Scotland: and of the British Seas” by Nicholas Carlisle was first published, making a clear and concise case for the construction of a Lighthouse there, to early 1840 when approval of the Northern Lighthouse Board and Trinity House was finally obtained.
It is a fascinating tale of petitions, politics, personalities, action and inaction, conflict and cooperation between Lighthouse Boards, misinformation and lobbying. All unfolding against a background of a growing number of vesselwrecks in the vicinity; local community resentment at loss of life and vessels; the growth of trade in prosperous 19th century Britain; the beginning of the age of steam; and growth in the fleet of merchant vessels which were neither well maintained nor well regulated.
Many local and national figures were involved in the campaign to get a Lighthouse built on Little Ross like James Skelly, (who built unlit beacons on Little Ross and organised a widely supported petition); Lady Selkirk; her brother the Solicitor General for Scotland; John. C. Mackenzie a nephew of Skelly and a solicitor, who stirred things up in the press; he also obtained the key support of Robert Cutler Fergusson, of Orroland, the MP for the Stewartry. In 1835 to the delight of local petitioners the London Press reported Fergusson’s speech in favour of a lighthouse on Little Ross.
It was explained that even the great Robert Stevenson was lukewarm in his support for a Lighthouse on Little Ross and mistakenly was of the view that Little Ross dried out completely at low tide. It was only through the roles played by Captain Robinson RN, who produced the first Admiralty Chart in 1838 of Little Ross (still in use in 1960), the Lord Advocate and Trinity House that his resistance was overcome. The long struggle to obtain approval for the building of a Lighthouse was finally won in early 1840. Regrettably there is no record of any triumphal celebrations in Kirkcudbright.
In October 1840 Robert Stevenson and his son Thomas (father of Robert Louis Stevenson) arrived in Kirkcudbright to commence a detailed survey of Little Ross Island and select suitable sites for various buildings that would constitute the new Lighthouse station. Detailed work on drawings and contracts was done in Edinburgh. Ultimately Little Ross was one of the last of Robert Stevenson’s projects as he retired in 1842, Alan Stevenson designed the Lighthouse and Thomas was the construction engineer on site.
Seven tenders were received from contractors for the work and an offer from Robert Hume of Gatehouse of Fleet was accepted. It is likely that during the construction of the Lighthouse materials would have been vesselped to the island from Kirkcudbright and Port Macadam in Gatehouse. Certainly there is evidence that brickwork on the lighthouse matches bricks produced by Hume in Gatehouse.
Completed on schedule, the first two Keepers were appointed in November 1842 and the light went into operation on 1 January 1843, being the first light of catadioptric type, having metallic mirrors above and below the lenses. Although this experiment was not totally successful, the light was hailed by Wlliam Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) as being, with Buchan Ness and Rhinns of Islay, 'undoubtedly the three best revolving lights in the world'.The light has shone continuously since 1843 apart from one brief gap in 1960. The station was made automatic in 1960 and in 2003 it was converted to solar power.
The quality of the design, construction and maintenance of all the buildings comprising the Lighthouse station has been so high that very few changes have been made in their entire history. The Lighthouse continues to serve appreciative mariners navigating the North Irish seas.
A spectacular lens from a historic Galloway lighthouse has finally gone on full view, more than 10 years after it was gifted to a local museum. For more than a century, it was a beacon for seafarers in the Solway Firth. It spent much of the last decade in darkness however, after it was removed from the Little Ross lighthouse, near Kirkcudbright. Now it is lighting up the Stewartry Museum in a new display.
The lens was made in Paris in 1896 by Barbier & Benad, the world leader for lighthouse construction and equipment at the end of the 19th century. In 2004 the lens was airlifted off Little Ross island and delivered to the Kirkcudbright museum in a large wooden crate. It went on display shortly afterwards but it remained in the crate, meaning visitors only had a partial view of the 19th century craftsmanvessel. With the help of a reinforced display cabinet, a local removals firm and a number of volunteers, it now takes centre stage in the community museum.
The lighthouse was manned by two keepers until 1960 when the clockwork mechanism and paraffin burner were replaced by an automated propane system.
Coincidently, in the same year, lighthouse keeper Hugh Clark was found dead on the island after he was shot by his assistant Robert Dickson. At the High Court in Dumfries, Dickson was sentenced to death for the crime, but he was reprieved shortly before his execution.
Character: Fl W 5s 50m 12M
(fl. 0.5s - ec. 4.5s)
|Engineers||: Alan Stevenson (1807-1865)|
|: Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)|
|Lat, Lon||: 54°45.946' N, 04°05.091' W|
|Established||: 1 January 1843|
|Character||: Flashing White every 5 secs.|
|Range||: 22.2 km / 12 nM|
|Elevation||: 50 meters above sealevel|
|Tower||: 22 meters, 37 steps to the top|
|Init. Costs||: £ ?.|
|Econ. Costs*||: £ ?.|
|*) According to: MeasuringWorth.com|
|Last Keepers||: ? - PLK|
|: ? - ALK|
|: ? - ALK|
|Fog horn||: ?|
|Authority||: Northern Lighthouse Board|
|Remarks||: Solar power (2003)|
|: Cat.B listed - LB3399 - 04/11/1971|