Bell Rock Lighthouse is the world's oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse and was built on Bell Rock (also known as Inchcape) in the North Sea, 12 miles (19 km) off the coast of Angus, Scotland, east of the Firth of Tay. It was built by Robert Stevenson between 1807 and 1810, and standing at 35 m high, the light is visible from 35 statute miles (56 km) inland. The masonry work on which the lighthouse rests was constructed to such a high standard that it has not been replaced or adapted in 200 years. The lamps and reflectors were replaced in 1843, with the original equipment being used in the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland where they are currently on display. The working of the lighthouse has been automated since 1988. The lighthouse operated in tandem with a shore station, the Bell Rock Signal Tower, built in 1813 at the mouth of Arbroath harbour. Today this building houses the Signal Tower Museum, a visitor centre detailing the history of the lighthouse. The challenges faced in the building of the lighthouse have led to it being described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

According to legend, the rock is called Bell Rock because of a 14th century attempt by the abbot from Arbroath to install a warning bell on it. The bell lasted only one year before it was stolen by a Dutch pirate. This story is immortalized in The Inchcape Rock, a famous poem by 19th century poet Robert Southey. The rock was the scene of many shipwrecks as it lies just below the surface of the sea for all but a few hours at low tide. By the turn of the 18th century, it was estimated that the rocks were responsible for the wrecking of up to six ships every winter. In one storm alone, 70 ships were lost off the east coast of Scotland. The Scottish engineer Robert Stevenson had proposed the construction of a lighthouse on Bell Rock in 1799, but cost concerns and the relatively radical nature of his proposal caused it to be shelved. However, the loss of the warship HMS York and all on board in 1804 resulted in a furore in Parliament which eventually led to legislation being passed in 1806 enabling construction to begin. The lighthouse was built by Stevenson between 1807 and 1810 and the lamp was first lit on 1 February 1811. The design has some similarities to the earlier Eddystone Lighthouse designed by John Smeaton which was also built on an offshore reef using interlocking stones, but also contained newer features, such as rotating lights alternating between red and white. Later, the Chief Engineer on the project, John Rennie, disputed the amount of credit that Stevenson received for the design"Rennie claimed that Stevenson's curve on the base of the lighthouse was inappropriate, though Stevenson had created the earlier designs based on the Eddystone.

In 1807 Stevenson hired 60 men, including a blacksmith so that the pick axes used to cut the foundations could be re-sharpened on site. Stevenson did not want to use black powder as it might have damaged the rock on which the lighthouse was to stand. They initially set sail on 17 August 1807, to be away for two months. Much to their displeasure, Stevenson requested, in order for the lighthouse to be completed in time and on budget, that they work on the Sabbath. Despite Stevenson's insistence that they were doing the Lord's work, most of the men refused on the grounds that such an action would be ill received by God. In the end the project came in 50% above the original £42,000 ( 2009: £2,740,000) budget. For 20 hours of each day, while the rock was covered by up to 12 feet (3.7 m) of water, the men lived on a ship moored 1 mile (2 km) off the rock. The first task was to build a beacon house on tall wooden struts, so the men would have a place to stay on the island, instead of the time-consuming row to and from the ship each day and after an incident whereby one of the boats came adrift. The beacon house had places for 15 men. The foundations and beacon legs were raised during the first season. During the winter, stonemasons cut rocks for the lighthouse out of Aberdeen granite. During the spring of 1808, work resumed. The beacon house barracks was completed and the first three courses of stone were laid. In the whole of the second season, there were only 80 hours of building work completed on the rock. During this time, before the barracks were completed, a young worker was knocked unconscious by a buoy ring and drowned. The boy was the prime breadwinner for the family; so Stevenson offered the now-vacant position to Alexander Scott, the younger brother of the drowned worker, who accepted. In September 1808 John Bonnyman, a stonemason, had to have a finger amputated following an accident with the beam crane on the Rock; as recompense for this mishap he was later appointed one of the first lighthouse keepers. The beacon house withstood a heavy storm, and due to this, the men agreed to work on the Sabbath. Although they did not have faith in Stevenson initially, his design redeemed their faith. Stevenson was frustrated by a visit from Rennie, in 1809, whom he saw as interfering with his work. As a strategy to ward off further visits, he wrote Rennie a total of 82 letters, asking detailed questions about a large range of construction issues (including what type of window putty and locks to use). Rennie replied in detail to every letter, but Stevenson largely ignored the replies. In June 1809 one of the principal builders, Michael Wishart, was caught beneath a crane when it collapsed, and his feet were severely injured, preventing him from working further on the project. He asked Stevenson if he could be appointed lighthouse keeper and he ultimately took up a position as assistant keeper in 1811. Work stopped on 22 August 1809 with a large part of the tower completed. In January 1810, Stevenson's twins died of whooping cough, and two weeks later his youngest daughter Janet also died of this disease. Rennie wrote Stevenson a consoling letter. During this final period of construction the lighthouse became something of a tourist attraction. Many people were anxious to see the completion of the tallest off-shore lighthouse in the world. In this final season, while the men were staying in the beacon house, a 7 hour storm struck. Worker Charles Henderson was lost, and his body was never found. Work was finally completed, with a total of about 2500 granite stones used during the construction. All stones were carried by one horse, named Bassey.

1955 Helicopter accident
On 15 December 1955, a RAF Helicopter crashed into the lighthouse while making a delivery to the lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse was damaged, including the loss of its light, but its keepers remained uninjured. In spite of a rescue attempt, all occupants of the helicopter were killed. Due to bad weather, the lighthouse could not be repaired until after 20 December, when conditions permitted delivery of supplies.

In culture
Scottish musician Alastair McDonald re-worded a traditional song called The Mermaid's Tale, and set the scene on Bell Rock. The first verse goes: My father was the keeper of the Bell Rock Light And he married a mermaid one dark night And from this union there came three A codling and a kipper and the other was me On David Arkenstone's album Myths and Legends, one of the tracks is titled "The Legend of Bell Rock"

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