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Duration: 1 hour

The story of the remarkable family who tamed the wild Scottish coastline, told 200 years after the building of their first iconic lighthouse, the Bell Rock.

Last on

Thu 22 Aug 2013 00:30 BBC Four

  • The Lighthouse Stevensons

    As the author of Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was known and celebrated across the world, but his family – who pioneered the building of lighthouses across Scotland – were the people he admired. He once wrote with pride: “Whenever I smell saltwater, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors.”

    This new documentary charts the work of the Lighthouse Stevensons over the course of generations from the late 1700s to the early 1900s, creating lighthouses on some of the most storm-lashed and inaccessible outcrops of Scotland imaginable. Stunning aerial photography of many of the locations demonstrates that creating these buildings would be a difficult job now, never mind then.

    The family tradition was started with Edinburgh man Thomas Smith, who installed his first light on Kinnaird Castle, near Fraserburgh, in 1787. He passed the baton on to his son-in-law (and stepson) Robert Stevenson, who founded a dynasty of lighthouse engineers including sons, Allan, David and Thomas (father of RLS), and in turn David’s sons David Alan and Charles and finally Charles’s son, David Alan.

    Lighthouse aficionados prepare to celebrate the 200 years since the first light was lit on the famous Bell Rock Lighthouse, near Arbroath, on February 1, 1811.
    Built before the age of steam, on a rock that was submerged much of the day, the Bell Rock light was an engineering masterpiece and the wonder of the age. Regarded as the first major project for Robert Stevenson (in tandem with John Rennie), it is a fitting backdrop in the documentary for an interview with author of The Lighthouse Stevensons, Bella Bathurst.

    Also featured is Fair Isle South lighthouse, which was the last in Scotland to be automated in 1998, with interviews from the keepers serving at that time – fourth generation keeper Angus Hutchison, who now lives in Stromness, Orkney, and Bill Gault, who lives in Strichen, near Fraserburgh. Another interviewee is Jean Barbour, now of Bridge of Don– whose mother was killed in one of the WW2 attacks on Fair Isle South lighthouse, where her father was a keeper. She was a baby at the time but she survived the attack.

    Other keepers featured - Ian Duff, of Oban, who has amassed a collection of lighthouse books, pictures and paraphernalia and Hector Lamont and his wife Esther, of Campbeltown, William Frazer, of Ballantrae, and Jimmy Oliver, who is now Senior Guide at The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh.
    Says Bill Gault: “We’ll never know the countless lives that sailed past … because that light was there and because guys like me were prepared to take on the task of being there.” And Angus Hutchison says: “I feel extremely proud to have been a member of such an elite band of brothers and that’s what they were to me throughout my time in the lighthouse service and I just regard it as a life well spent.”

  • Skerryvore Lighthouse

    Skerryvore Lighthouse

    It was built by Alan, the oldest of Robert Stevenson’s three lighthouse engineer sons.

  • June Barbour, as an infant, pictured with her mother.

    June Barbour, as an infant,  pictured with her mother.

    June’s mother was killed in a Nazi air attack on Fair Isle South lighthouse. Her mother was just 22.

  • Fair Isle South Lighthouses

    Fair Isle South Lighthouses

  • Hector Lamont

    Hector Lamont

    Third generation keeper Hector Lamont, picture at the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse, where he served. Hector’s grandfather also served there, in 1904. In all, Hector’s family clocked up 171 years as keepers for the Northern Lighthouse Board.

  • Dubh Artach

    Dubh Artach

    Dubh Artach – built by Thomas Stevenson, west of Mull.

  • Ian Duff

    Ian Duff

    Ian Duff, a former keeper who is still a major lighthouse enthusiast. He’s pictured with a model of Skerryvore lighthouse, which he built whilst serving there.

Credits

Narrator
Denis Lawson
Narrator
Denis Lawson
Director
Les Wilson
Director
Les Wilson
Producer
Faye MacLean
Producer
Faye MacLean
Writer
Les Wilson
Writer
Les Wilson

Broadcasts

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