Northern Light House Board, Edinburgh (03:52)
In the summer of 1800, civil engineer Robert Stevenson surveys the dangerous Bell Rock reef. No one has ever built a lighthouse on a rock that is submerged beneath the sea; the Board believes Stevenson's proposal is unfeasible.
Stevenson's Lighthouse Design (03:09)
Stevenson prepares drawings and presents his designs to the Northern Light House Board, which rejects his proposal due to its cost requirements.
Lighthouse Design (03:58)
In 1804, a warship hits the reef, killing the crew of 500. The Northern Light House Board moves to action and asks engineer John Rennie to review Stevenson's designs; they appoint him as an assistant. Stevenson and Rennie argue about the curve of the base.
Lighthouse Workmen (01:42)
Stevenson hires a crew of 60, including masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, and sailors. He seeks men of experience and strong faith.
1807: The First Season (03:53)
Stevenson and his crew can only work during the calm summer months. Excavation two feet down is done with pickaxes, which become blunt and must be reforged. Bell Rock is only above water for four hours each day.
Temporary Beacon House (02:59)
To save the time rowing to the ship nightly, Stevenson designs interim barracks. The men object to Stevenson's request to work on the Sabbath, fearing retribution from God.
Religious Conflict (03:48)
Several of the men refuse to work on the Sabbath. Soon after, a row boat goes adrift, stranding the lighthouse crew. The men feel it is retribution from God.
Winter Work (03:33)
Workmen erect the legs of the temporary beacon house before leaving for the winter. Stonecutters work during the winter months, cutting blocks of granite for the tower foundation. The press comes to see the new technology of the oil beacon light and Stevenson's revolutionary design.
1808: The Second Season (03:52)
In spring, the men return to find the beacon house survived the winter. The hand-carved stones for the tower are transported and the barracks finished. Rennie comes to inspect the foundation stone and doubts the safety of Stevenson's design.
Response to Slow Progress (03:48)
A workman drowns after being struck by a buoy. Only three levels of stone have been laid by the end of the summer. Behind schedule, they return home and receive criticism from the Northern Light House Board.
1809: The Third Season (06:00)
The workmen respect Stevenson after the barracks withstands severe weather. They are now willing to work on the Sabbath and progress is achieved. Over the winter, Stevenson loses three of his children to whooping cough.
1810: The Final Season (04:10)
The lighthouse has caught the public's favor and many travel to view the over 100-ft. lighthouse. After the beacon installation is finished, a storm hits and one of the crew is lost. On February 1, 1811, the 24 lanterns of Stevenson's beacon light are lit for the first time, and the lighthouse is finished.
Who Was the True Designer? (01:39)
There is controversy over who designed the lighthouse, but the public gives credit to Stevenson as its builder. He later went on to found a family dynasty of lighthouse builders. Today, the Bell Rock Lighthouse is the oldest offshore lighthouse in the world.
Credits: The Bell Rock Lighthouse (00:55)
Credits: Robert Stevenson
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