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‘FOLLOWING THE LIGHTS’, New Exhibition at the Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank)

The Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) celebrates the remarkable history of lighthouses, their keepers and the engineers who made them possible, with a fascinating new exhibition, ‘Following the Lights’.

The exhibition, which is now on show at the Museum on Castle Street, Dumbarton, charts Britain’s iconic lighthouse design through centuries of innovation from the first lighthouse in 1635 to the 1821 Fresnel lens – ‘the invention that saved a million ships’ – and the use of solar energy today.

‘Following the Lights’ also offers visitors a unique insight into the working life of lighthouse keepers.

Eva Bukowska, Exhibitions and Events Officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, explains:

Whilst lighthouses still protect seafarers from the dangers of stormy seas, treacherous reefs and wrecks, technological advances have made many of these striking, and, for many, much-loved, sights across our coastline, redundant. So, we’re delighted to open ‘Following the Lights’, a celebration of lighthouse engineering and the everyday life of lighthouse keepers.

“Exploring the exhibition and day to day artefacts such as playing cards, crockery, cutlery, first aid kits and other emergency supplies, letters and books, visitors can also learn about how lighthouse keepers coped with the isolation of their job.”

Exhibition Background

One of the original Seven Wonders of the World, lighthouses have been a beacon of safety for over 2,300 years.

Up until 280BC and the first lighthouse built in Alexandria in Ancient Egypt, sailors used hilltop pyres to navigate treacherous coastlines. An amazing feat of engineering and ingenuity, this new towering structure was topped by a bronze mirror to reflect sunlight during the day and firelight at night. It became one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.

Lighthouses first appeared In Great Britain and Ireland in the seventeenth century with the growth in transatlantic trade and need to mark hazardous coastline and safe entry to port.

The first ‘modern’ lighthouse, Eddystone, was built in 1697. Light vessels (ships with lighthouse-style lamps) were also moored offshore to warn of dangerous areas or wrecks.

Designer John Smeaton modelled early British lighthouses on the sturdy trunk of an oak tree, with curved walls to disperse energy from striking waves.

Later, Robert Stevenson incorporated rotating colour lights to create distinct signals and improve visibility with the famous Bell Rock Lighthouse, built in 1811.

Standing 35 metres high off the Angus Coast, Bell Rock is the oldest existing and oldest sea-washed lighthouse in the British Isles.

In 1821, working in the emerging field of optics, Augustin-Jean Fresnel developed the ‘the invention that saved a million ships’. His Fresnel Lens, one of which is featured in the exhibition, magnified the reflecting and refracting of light helping mariners better judge points of distance, especially on the English Channel.

Lighthouse boards were also quick to adopt electricity. South Foreland Lighthouse was the first to be electrified in 1875 and lamp automation began in the 1960s.

Keepers were gradually replaced until the last lighthouse was automated in 1998.

Today, 354 lighthouses, all unmanned, remain in operation across the British Isles. Many are being converted to solar power.

‘Following the Lights runs until 17 August.

Entry to the exhibition is included in Museum Admission. Up to three children go FREE with each Adult/Concession ticket.

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 Issued on of the Scottish Maritime Museum by
Joanna Harrison, Mobile: 07884 187404

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