Toward Point lighthouse
Pioneering lighthouse engineer Robert Stevenson designed Toward Point Lighthouse on the Cowal Peninsula, Firth of Clyde. Its light guides vessels sailing between the Isle of Bute and mainland Scotland. Now automated, the lighthouse is still in use, though its associated buildings are now private houses.
The lighthouse was constructed for the Cumbrae Lighthouse Trust (est.1755), which was Britain's first public organisation dedicated to erecting and maintaining lighthouses. Of the many lighthouses that Stevenson (1772-1850) designed after 1811, Toward Point is one of two not built for the Northern Lighthouse Board — the other is Douglas Head Lighthouse, built in 1832 for the Isle of Man Harbour Commissioners.
The 19.2m tapering circular stone tower was completed in 1812. It is topped by a glazed lantern with a copper roof and a corbelled walkway. The focal plane of Toward Point's light is 21.3m above high water, and was originally an oil lamp with reflectors.
An adjoining single-storey house with a hipped slate roof provided accommodation for the only lighthouse keeper. An assistant keeper was appointed in 1850, and two more keepers' cottages were built nearby in 1867. Later in 19th century, a small church-like building was constructed on the foreshore to house the compressed-air foghorn, originally a steam engine and then diesel engines. The foghorn was taken out of operation in the 1990s. This was operated by engines with a power of about 11kW and gave a three-second blast every 20 seconds.
In 1930, a more powerful light was installed at Toward Point Lighthouse. The company D. & C. Stevenson, run by Stevenson's grandsons David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938) and Charles Alexander Stevenson (1855-1950), recommended a lamp fuelled by vaporised paraffin and surrounded by mirrors. These are parabolic silver-backed glass mirrors with a focal length of 1m. They are easy to clean, can be adjusted and give a more brilliant light than a dioptric lens of the same size.
The lamp apparatus revolves in a bath of mercury. It emits single flash of white light every 10 seconds. The light has an effective intensity of some 177,000 candela, visible for up to 26km in clear weather.
Toward Point Lighthouse was automated in 1974, and the building was listed as Category B in July 1980. It is now owned and operated by the Clyde Port Authority, which is a direct descendent of the Cumbrae Lighthouse Trust. The keepers' accommodation is in private ownervessel.
The lighthouse was initially constructed with a circular building around the base and occupied a smaller plot of land with the western boundary near or contiguous with the current boundary between Middle House and Cottage No 3. The OS map of 1867 shows the existence of another building, contiguous with the old western boundary but nearer the shore. There are no visible remains of this building and nothing is known about it. It seems reasonable to assume that in the absence of any other buildings, this was the keeper's residence in the early days.
The keeper's cottage attached to the tower was added in 1856, when the circular building was removed. The modern addition at the base of the tower was the Radar room which was built on some time in the 1940s or 50s. A further addition, a sun room, was made in the 1970s after the cottage became privately owned. The building has been extensively reworked internally as there are for instance no shutters on the windows and there are defunct lightwells in the loft. The roof has been reslated.
Cottage No 3 and its grounds are first shown as part of the lighthouse complex on the OS map of 1899. Although it is not clear on the map, an old photograph shows that the two rear annexes were not initially attached to the cottage which is backed up by an examination of the structure of the building. This was the second keeper's accommodation. There was a small boathouse above the jetty and these appear on the earliest available map from 1857.
There was also some artefact in the western point of the garden of Cottage No 3. It may have been a small boathouse, or just a flight of steps leading onto the next bay where there used to be a stone jetty.
Published in 1956, A short history of the Clyde Lighthouses Trust described the accommodation at Toward:
"On the appointment of an assistant keeper at Toward for the first time, in 1850, the Trustees had to be at pains to divide the reconstructed dwelling house nicely, no doubt with care for the sensibilities of the womenfolk concerned, 'viz: the Principal Keeper to occupy the whole of the new House and the old Kitchen; and the Assistant Keeper to be allowed to occupy the old back Parlour on the Ground floor and the whole of the upper floor'".
The lighthouse tower contains a circular staircase leading to the two floor lamp room. There is an enclosed central well down which hung the weight which powered the clockwork mechanism that rotated the reflector. This machinery was on the lower level of the two storey lamp room. There is a small storage room in the base of the tower which, during the 1960s, was used to store spare batteries for the Radar.
Initially the lamp was lit by a simple wick, probably an Argand type lamp burning Colza oil, the latter burning brightly without creating much soot. In the 1930s this was replaced by an incandescent lamp, powered by vaporised paraffin (kerosene) using a rare Canadian type burner. It was made of steel rather than the more common brass and was described by a 1960s lighthouse keeper as being very rusty. The burner was pre-heated by a methylated spirit hand lamp. The paraffin was stored in a tank in the lower level of the lamp room, this tank was attached to another tank containing air which had to be kept pressurised by a hand pump to maintain the supply of paraffin to the burner.
Normally, deposits from this illumination system kept the keepers busy, as the more usual Fresnel lens has numerous individual glass segments to be cleaned. Toward differed from this norm in that it was originally equipped with a set of 3 reflectors. In 1930, a new parabolic, silver-backed glass set of 3 mirrors was installed, and found to be more efficient, easier to install (unlike factory set lenses, the mirror could be adjusted on site), easier to clean as the reflective coating was on the rear, and one third the cost of an equivalent lens. It rotated on a trough of mercury to reduce friction.
The Dunoon Observer c. 2007 carried an article about the lighthouse, suggesting that the mirror based system was favoured because it ensured that the character of the light was sufficiently different from that of the nearby Cloch Lighthouse to avoid confusion of the two. Said to have described the character as being a combination of the exposed steady light of the lamp, plus the periodic flash of the light reflected in the mirror. This seems to be an odd suggestion, since the Cloch flashes every 3 seconds, and Toward every 10 seconds, and the two characters were deliberately chosen to be diverse to avoid confusion. There is also no reason why the same character could not be equally created using mirrors or lenses. Unfortunately, we have not seen the actual article, so do not know what the actual suggestion was, or the logic behind it.
Today, all lighthouses are automated, with electrically powered illumination and rotation, and Toward was automated sometime in the late 1970s, which was when an electric lamp was first installed. The original electric lamp was a large diameter incandescent lamp mounted on a swivel arm as was a spare bulb beside it. When the bulb failed it was easy for the keepers to rotate the apparatus and set the new bulb. Sometime in the 1990s the large incandescent bulb was removed and replaced with board with nine spotlights on either side.
Sometime in the 2000s this was again replaced with a box mounted with six spotlights on one side and seven on the other, one side operating on mains AC supply and the other used for the battery (DC) backup. The electric motor that now rotates the lamps runs on both AC and DC. The modern lights are set at an angle so that the beams hit the sea less than half a mile away and did not shine on any of the properties in the Firth whereas the original light was designed to send out beams parallel to the surface of the sea.
The Keepers duties in the 1960s included ensuring that the lamp was pressurised and lit during the hours between sunset and sunrise rewinding the weight that powered the rotating mechanism every 40 minutes, Radaring Cumbrae Lighthouse every 2 hours (on the even hours) and ensuring the glass was always clean. In blizzard conditions it was often necessary to clean the snow off of the windows which involved walking round a 12-inch wide ledge keeping one hand on the lower roof handholds and one on the sweeping brush. A log of all this activity had to be maintained and a small desk and chair also occupied the lower level of the lamp room. There was also a panel with flags which indicated the source of any calls made using the inter building bell system.
Since the heat from the light was trapped by a steel funnel and conducted out of the wind vane vent in the centre of the roof this could be a very cold duty even in the upper lamproom.
At dawn, when the lamp was extinguished the lamp room blinds were drawn to prevent the sun's rays being focussed on anything by the reflector - this applied to all lighthouses whether reflectors or Fresnel lenses – in some other lighthouses this was done with curtains or shutters.
The keepers met in the Radar room between 9 am and 10 am every day to be allocated the daily duties by the principal keeper. These duties included cleaning and polishing the reflector and both sides of the lamp room windows with a mixture of methylated spirit and water, polishing the brasswork such as the lamp room ventilators, sweeping the stairs and the chore of carrying paraffin by hand in cans from the paraffin store situated in the Cottage No3 to the tank in the lower level of the lamp room. Other maintenance duties such as painting, white washing the perimeter wall or climbing to the top of the outside of the dome atop the tower to maintain the windvane vent which carried away the lamp fumes, were included as required. On occasion there were no additional duties to be performed but a keeper recalls that they were kept in the Radar room until 10 am anyway.
An early description of the installation noted Toward to contain a reed foghorn operated by compressed air, furnished by engines of 15 HP. The signal was one 3 second blast every 20 seconds. The horn was mounted on the seaward side of a separate shoreside building lying a few meters southeast of the lighthouse.
The compressed air reservoirs of Toward's original foghorn were kept topped up by a Stirling external combustion engine fuelled by coke driving a compressor. Early photographs show that there was a flue on the landward side of the tower. (The porch and the glass observation deck with the horn atop are all 1990s additions although the horn is original but used to be mounted on the wall facing the water). Two Kelvin diesels, later replaced the Stirling engine. A 1960s lighthouse keeper recalls that the 40HP Kelvins were run on paraffin and started with a petrol/oil mixture. Both engines had to be started with a hand crank.
When the lighthouse was automated the foghorn was replaced by an electrically powered horn attached to the lighthouse tower, Toward's foghorn was withdrawn from service in the 1990s, as were all the others.
Unusually in lighthouse circles, the Clyde Lighthouse Trust had a policy of not only running the foghorn as required but of lighting the lamp as well. In these conditions the Keepers were rostered for 3 hours on the light, 3 hours on the foghorn followed by 3 hours off. This would be maintained as long as the fog continued which in those days with houses using open coal fires could be for two or even three days in certain meteorological conditions. This was an exhausting duty.
Character: Fl W 10s 21m 22M
(fl. 0.2s - ec. 9.8s)
|Engineer||Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)|
|Lat, Lon||55°51.724' N, 04°58.783' W|
|Character||Flashing White every 10 secs.|
|Range||41 km / 22 nM|
|Elevation||21 meters above sealevel|
|Fog horn||1899 - Discontinued in 1990's.|
|Authority||Clyde Port Authority|
|Remarks||Cat.B listed - nr: 5070 - 20/07/1980|