Lighthouse - Butt of Lewis
The lighthouse is situated on the most Northern tip of The Isle of Lewis. It is about 19 miles from the main town on The Isle of Lewis, Stornoway and just a mile from Europie. The situation of it is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as being the windiest location in the United Kingdom. The tower is designated as a listed building. Nearby is a foghorn which ceased operation in 1995.
Monitored the Automatic Lights and is also a Radio Control Station
The Lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis offered a highly sophisticated data gathering centre. It acted as the monitoring station for the automatic light on the Flannans, North Rona and Sula Sgeir and continued to function like this until 1971 when the Flannans were demanned and the light was then made automatic. It was also the radio control station for the North Minch Area
The Original Butt of Lewis Lighthouse Plans
In June 1859 the quotation for the lighthouse was submitted by John Barr & Co of Ardrossan and was for £4900. The plans said "that a dwelling house in brick and with lead roofs" was accepted. THe lead roofs were thought to be a must in view of the windy position
It did however take a few years before the lighthouse was constructed as one of the ships containing the bulk of the contractors property was wrecked actually while it was endeavouring to land with its cargo.
It was eventually built in 1862 by David and Thomas Stevenson, the much gifted brothers who were engineers to the Northern Lighthouse Board.
David Stevenson (1815-1886)
The Stevensons were infact a hugely talented family.
David Stevenson constructed 30 lighthouses during his time as Engineer with the Northern Lighthouse Board. He also designed lighthouses in Japan and a method of protecting them from earthquakes.
Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)
Father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson joined the family firm in 1838. Thomas invented a new and much improved illumination system for lighthouses and also the "Stevenson Screen", which is still used as a stable container for meteorological instruments.
Thomas's Son - Famous Author
Thomas had a son who he was hoping would take an interest in the lighthouse but although Robert Louis Stevenson became the author famous for "Treasure Island", "Kidnapped" and many more great classics - he had no interest in engineering at all In fact he wrote the following
"There is scarce a deep sea light from the Isle of Man to North Berwick, but one of my blood designed it. The Bell rock stands monument for my grandfather; the Skerry Vhor for my uncle Alan; and when the lights come out along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father." Robert Louis Stevenson
|168 Steps - A penny a day Wage Increase - and Red Bricks instead of Common Bricks
The tower is 37 metres high - unlike many Scottish lighthouses was built of red brick. The Stevensons said that to use "common brick" here at The Butt of Lewis would not be feasible as it would not withstand the exposure to the sea.
There are 168 steps to the top of the tower. The person who was contracted to build the concrete spiral steps went on strike for "a penny a day increase" in his wages and amazingly he got it - because the work required a real specialist and there weren't many available at that time.
Light to be Fixed or Flashing?
It is said that there were many discussions / arguments as to whether the light should be a flashing one or a fixed one. The discussions which took place between the Lighthouse Board and staff at The Board of Trade and the Stevensons. The Stevensons and the Commissioners wanted this to be a flashing light - infact they said that a fixed light in such an outlying location should for optical reasons be avoided - they added that they wanted the light to be a white flashing light so that it would be distinguished from Cape Wrath which alternated between red and white and also from Stour Head which was going to be a fixed light also. However The Department of Trade ruled that it was to be a fixed light.
Light Equipment Changed 1903
A temporary light was installed and later the original fixed light was altered and reinstalled such that a flashing white light showing a flash every 20 seconds. Until recent years the light source was fixed and was housed inside a large lens, like a giant magnifying glass. The lens revolved round the light, which gave the flashing effect. The lens was driven by a clockwork motor which the light keeper had to wind by hand every 1/2 hour during the evenings.
The light had a range of 25 miles and was fuelled originally by fish oil in the years 1862 - 1869, paraffin during the years 1869-1876 and latterly electricity 1976 - 1998
The Lighthouse supplies were all acquired using the sea as a transportation method - as up until the 1960's the road structure in the Isle of Lewis was pretty poor which meant that fuel and supplies had to be transported by sea from the mainland.
Port Stoth (pronounced as "Stow")
Port Stoth is a small bay some few hundred yards away from the lighthouse and it was of great importance as it played its part in keeping the lighthouse functioning. The small cargo vessels would berth here - this could only be when the weather permitted. They would unload the supplies and fuel. What remains there today is simply some timber and metal steps. The concrete base is still there also - this was where the crane was mounted. Also a red brick building - this used to be a storage place.
Automation in 1998
.On 31st March 1998 the Northern Lighthouse Board switched the last of its manned lighthouses to a remotely monitored, fully automated, system. This was carried out by Princess Anne on the Fair Isle light which is between the Orkney and Shetland.
At the very same time the other two remaining manned lighthouses in Scotland were also automated – North Ronaldsay (Orkney) and the Butt of Lewis. The lighthouse being automated like this, sadly meant that three lighthouse keepers and their families lost both their jobs and their homes.