The lighthouse evolves

Thursday 27th January comments: The year 1816 was a significant year for the Isle of May as the new lighthouse designed and constructed by Robert Stevenson became fully operational. As with all lighthouses, many stories followed and the isle of May Stevenson lighthouse was no different…

Looking through the history certain dates stick out and as in 1843 the original fixed beam light was replaced by a revolving flash operated from oil but in 1885 that all changed. Work began to alter the light to operate on electricity and on the 1st December 1886, the Isle of May lighthouse became the first lighthouse in Scotland to be powered by this form of energy.

Converting to electricity was not cheap, to a fine tune of £16,000 but the new light had some impressive power as it beamed at 25,000 candle-power and gave four quick flashes in quick succession followed by an interval of 30 seconds. The highest recorded distance at which the light was visible was an impressive 61 nautical miles.

As a result of this change, more staff were needed and additional accommodation complete with boiler house, engine rooms and workshop were constructed in a small valley nearby. This also included a small dam to produce a fresh-water loch for cooling of engines. The engine room was then fitted with two 4.5 ton steam-powered engines which powered the light. These buildings later became known as Fluke Street and still stand today as they are home to the reserve staff who live on the island.

A total of seven families were required to live on the May as a result of these extra engines and during this time two fog horns were constructed at the north and south end of the island. These fog stations were powered by compressed air, generated from the island’s power plant in the centre of the island, and delivered by cast-iron pipes laid on the ground. The North horn provided a single blast of 7 seconds duration every 2¼ minutes and the South horn provided four 2½ second blasts of the same pitch every 2¼ minutes. The North and South horns did not blast together, being approximately one minute apart.

Despite all of this technology, not everything went according to plan as ships still ran into difficulty but more on that soon….

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