Lighthouse Keeping

Lightkeepers were divided into two grades, namely, Principal Lightkeepers and Assistant Lightkeepers. Generally their primary duties were to keep the light and fog signal in perfect working order. At night each Keeper was required to keep a watch in the lightroom to ensure the proper working of the light, the hours of such duty differing in accordance with the type of station at which the keeper was serving. During daytime all keepers were engaged in cleaning, painting, if necessary, and generally keeping the premises clean and tidy. Normally there were six Lightkeepers at Rock Stations (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 at Fair Isle South Lighthouse – Scotland’s last manned lighthouse.

The life of a Lightkeeper was perhaps inclined to 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 and were required to do duty at the lighthouse for a period of four weeks after which they are allowed four weeks ashore with their families in the dwelling houses “Shore Station” provided for them. Except at Rock and Relieving Stations, wives and families of career Lightkeepers lived with them at the light stations.

Not every man 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 that his 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.