Lighthouse Keeping

Lightkeepers were divided into two grades – Principal Lightkeeper and Assistant Lightkeeper. Their primary duties were to keep the light and fog signal in perfect working order. At night Keepers took turns to keep watch in the lightroom to make sure the light was working properly. The hours for this varied depending on the type of station. During the daytime all Keepers were engaged in cleaning, painting and generally keeping the premises clean and tidy. At Rock Stations such as the Bell Rock or Skerryvore, there were six Lightkeepers (three on the Rock and three having a spell ashore) and four at Mainland Fog Signal Stations.

On 31 March 1998, over 211 years of Lightkeeping tradition came to an end in Scotland, when Fair Isle South became Scotland’s last manned lighthouse.

The life of a Lightkeeper could be lonely except in those cases where the lighthouse station was situated near a town or village.

At Rock and Relieving Stations, the Keepers were especially isolated. At these stations they were on duty for a period of four weeks followed by four weeks ashore. The families lived in houses at the “Shore Station” which were provided for them. At land based stations, the wives and families of career Lightkeepers lived with them at the light stations.

Not every person was suitable to be a Lightkeeper. The good Lightkeeper had or acquired the temperament so necessary for this job which involved residence close to the sea and which had much loneliness and isolation in its composition.

While primary duties were to keep watch at night, to ensure the light flashed correctly to character, and to keep a fog watch throughout each 24 hours, so as to be ready to operate the fog signal in the event of poor visibility, a Lightkeeper must be a man of parts. He would acquire a good working knowledge of engines. At stations with Radio Beacons and Radar Beacons he would initially be responsible for their accurate operation. He would know about Radio Telephones; from his study of the sea he would respect its immense power; he would be a handyman of varying proficiency but mostly of a high standard; he would be a useful cook and a good companion.

A Lightkeeper would not make a fortune but the odds are he would be at peace with himself and with the world.