5th October 1849

Ardnamurchan lighthouse lit for the first time

Although it didn’t go into regular use until 1 December that year, a light was first exhibited in the lantern of the Ardnamurchan lighthouse on 5 October 1849. Rising 35 metres from the rock, and with a range of 18 nautical miles, it is notable for being the most westerly lighthouse in mainland Britain. It was built under the direction of Alan Stevenson, son of civil engineer and lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson.

Although it’s now lit by electricity, with a bulb, the first light burned oil, and it was tended by two resident lighthouse keepers.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Start of operations

The Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouse Board published notices in a broad selection of newspapers announcing the start of operations at the new lighthouse. One, carried by the Greenock Advertiser on 9 November 1849, explained that the light…

“will be exhibited on the Night of Saturday the 1st December 1849, and every Night thereafter, from Sun-set til Sun-rise… the Ardnamurchan Light will be known to Mariners as a Fixed Light of the natural appearance. It will be visible in a north-westerly direction from NE by E round to SW by S. The lantern is elevated 180 feet above the level of the sea; and the light will be seen at the distance of about six leagues, and at lesser distances according to the atmosphere.”

It was paid for by the collection of dues, at a rate of one farthing per ton, from ships that passed by. If the vessel was on a pleasure trip, the charge was doubled, but the monarch’s own ships were exempt from paying.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Royal visit

Queen Elizabeth II visited Ardnamurchan Lighthouse in 1986 to mark the 200th anniversary of the Northern Lighthouse Board, and she climbed the 152 steps to the top of the granite tower. “When she reached the top of the 114-foot high tower she was not even out of breath,” said the Dundee Courier of 12 August 1986. “At the top of the tower the Queen walked around an outside balcony twice before waving to the Duke and Duchess of York [Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson], Prince Edward and grandchildren Peter and Zara Phillips, who were all waiting below.”

The lighthouse was automated in 1988. On 5 August that year, the Aberdeen Press and Journal revealed that the move would result in the loss of six lighthouse keepers’ jobs. More worryingly, Kilchoan piermaster Allan MacLachlan told the paper that “the Kilchoan community has been largely dependent on the lighthouse for VHF radio communication in winters when the village has otherwise been cut off.”

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse



Other events that occured in October

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