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Kinnaird Head Lighthouse
Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK
Kinnaird Head Lighthouse
associated engineer
Thomas Smith
Robert Stevenson
Alan Stevenson
David Alan Stevenson
date  1787
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Lighthouse  |  reference  NJ997675
ICE reference number  HEW 1681
photo  © and licensed for reuse under this
The Old Kinnaird Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built for the Northern Lighthouse Board, and is now the main part of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. It was built by Thomas Smith and improved by three of the Stevenson lighthouse engineers.
In 1786, the Parliamentary Act for erecting certain lighthouses in the "Northern Parts of Great Britain" was passed, and the Commissioners for Northern Lighthouses were established. They were authorised to build four lighthouses in Scotland, of which Kinnaird Head was the first. Its light came from whale oil lamps instead of coal braziers — as used on the 1636 Isle of May Lighthouse (NT665994) and the 1757 Little Cumbrae Lighthouse (NS142514).
The lighthouse tower was built within the keep of a castle (right hand lighthouse in the picture), built in 1570-74 by Sir Alexander Fraser (c.1536-1623), eighth Laird of Philorth. It overloks the town and harbour of Fraserburgh. In 1786, its then owner, also called Sir Alexander Fraser (1758-93), sixteenth Lord Saltoun, sold the castle to the Northern Lighthouse Board. The whitewashed keep is 12.2m by 9.1m in plan and has a corbelled parapet. It originally had five vaulted-masonry floors and walls 1.83m thick.
The lighthouse has its own foundations, separate from those of the castle. Its granite ashlar tower is of 4.9m external diameter with walls 760mm thick, and rises up through the floors of the keep. The lantern is about 17.7m above ground level and 36.6m above high water level.
It was designed by Edinburgh lamp manufacturer, Thomas Smith (1752-1815), the Northern Lighthouse Board’s newly appointed part-time unpaid engineer, and was the first to use an array of his newly developed oil lamps with parabolic facetted mirror glass reflectors. There were 17 reflectors arranged in three horizontal rows.
The light first shone on 1st December 1787 and had an intensity of around 980 candela, visible for some 20km. Though feeble by modern standards, it represented a considerable improvement on the coal-fire alternative.
Originally, the tower house provided storage accommodation and facilities for the keepers. Additions were made in 1821-30 by Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) to provide further accommodation and single-storey outbuildings suitable for a 'national establishment'. He modified the tower in 1824 and constructed a new lantern, using Argand lamps with silvered copper reflectors, which necessitated removing the top floor of the keep.
Alan Stevenson (1807-65) installed a dioptric (lens) light in 1851. He also built the first lighthouse keepers' cottages on the site. The light used paraffin as a fuel from the late 1890s onwards. In 1906 the light was converted to incandescent operation. The following year David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938) fitted a new lens assembly, rotated by a clockwork mechanism, and built more cottages.
A pneumatic foghorn was constructed in 1903 for use during poor visibility. Its use was discontinued in 1987. The first radio beacon in Scotland was attached to Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in 1929.
On 19th February 1941, during World War II (1939-45), two bombs from enemy aircraft exploded 45m away from the lighthouse causing some damage to the lantern, radio beacon and keepers’ houses. Nobody was hurt.
The lighthouse has been listed as Category A since April 1971. Its light was decommissioned in 1991. However, in 2004 the Northern Lighthouse Board indicated that the original lighthouse could be returned to operation — though this has yet to happen.
A new automatic light, built 1990-91, was established in a 10m tall tower not far from the former structure. Its light is 25m above sea level and shines with an intensity of 676,890 candela, visible for almost 41km.
Research: ECPK
"Lighthouses: their architecture, history and archaeology” by Douglas B. Hague and Rosemary Christie, Gomer Press, Llandysul, 1975
"Bright Lights: The Stevenson Engineers 1752-1971" by Jean Leslie and Roland Paxton, published by the authors, Edinburgh, 1999
"Dynasty of Engineers: The Stevensons and the Bell Rock" by Roland Paxton, The Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust, Edinburgh, 2011
reference sources   CEH SHILightStev

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse