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William Black Memorial Lighthouse

A Category B Listed Building in Oban South and the Isles, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.4474 / 56°26'50"N

Longitude: -5.6461 / 5°38'45"W

OS Eastings: 175386

OS Northings: 734323

OS Grid: NM753343

Mapcode National: GBR DCFP.4KY

Mapcode Global: WH0G9.76NN

Plus Code: 9C8PC9W3+XH

Entry Name: William Black Memorial Lighthouse

Listing Name: Black's Memorial Lighthouse excluding solar panels, Duart Point, Mull

Listing Date: 3 December 2020

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407367

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52560

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Torosay

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban South and the Isles

Parish: Torosay

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

Black's Memorial Lighthouse was built in 1900-1901 by the Northern Lighthouse Board to a design by the Glasgow architect, Sir William Leiper (1839-1916), in memory of the celebrated novelist William Black (1841-1898). This automatic, solar-powered light is located 1km to the south-south-east of Duart Point, a rocky promontory at the south-easternmost corner of the island of Mull. The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Sound of Mull, a sheltered seaway separating the island of Mull from the Morvern peninsula of the Scottish mainland.

The lighthouse stands around 14m above mean sea level. It is a small gothic tower measuring 9m in height. The tower is built of coursed and bull-faced grey granite stonework, with a rubble base course and ashlar parapet. The plan form of the lighthouse is generally circular but with a slightly taller square tower to the east. A round stair tower on the building's western side has two slit windows and a candle-snuffer roof. At the top of the main lighthouse tower, the parapet is castellated, with a dentilled cornice. The light and associated equipment are mounted on top of the flat tower roof.

A door at ground level on the south west side of the stair tower provides access inside the lighthouse building. The doorpiece comprises a moulded segmental-arched opening. Above the door is a metal plaque topped by a triangular pediment. The plaque has an inscription that reads:

'To the dear memory of William Black, Novelist. Erected by his friends and admirers, in many lands, on a spot which he knew and loved.'

Legal exclusions

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the solar panels on the lighthouse tower.

Historical development

Following the death of the Scottish novelist William Black in 1898, a fund was set up to honour his memory, with Lord Archibald Campbell as Treasurer. Subscribers to the fund came from Britain and the United States of America, and included Lord Rosebery, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, and three members of parliament (Dundee Evening Telegraph 3 April 1900).

In July 1899, having initially investigated the possibility of contributing to a lifeboat, the fund committee decided to support the building of a memorial lighthouse at Duart Point, Mull (Globe 26 July 1899), a location described as 'a most dangerous part of a dangerous coast' (Scotsman 2 February 1901).

This followed discussions with the commissioners of the Northern Lighthouse Board who considered that a lighthouse was required at the southern entrance to the Sound of Mull, where a large proportion of the steamer traffic on the west coast of Scotland passed around that time. Indeed, the board's commissioners observed that two wrecks which occurred during the winter of 1899 -1900 would not have occurred had the lighthouse existed at that time (Driffield Times, 24 March 1900).

Construction work by Messrs Macdougall and MacColl, Oban, cost an estimated total of £1563. The light first shone on 13 May 1901 and continues in operation [2020].

Statement of Interest

The William Black Memorial Lighthouse meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the solar panels on the lighthouse tower.

Architectural interest

Design

The William Black Memorial Lighthouse is of design interest as a late 19th century memorial lighthouse built in Scotland to a design by the successful and accomplished Glasgow architect Sir William Leiper (1839-1916).

Leiper became a leading architect in the Gothic revival style, designing churches, public buildings, domestic and commercial buildings. He is particularly noted for his residential architecture in Helensburgh and the surrounding area but also undertook commissions around Oban, Mull and Lochaber including Ganavan House, Oban (1888, LB49220) and Kinlochmoidart House (1884, LB317).

The William Black Memorial Lighthouse exemplifies at small scale the gothic revival style for which Leiper was well known. The lighthouse appears to have been designed to reflect the character of a coastal castle or watchtower. The design would have been intended for the building to be a lasting public legacy for William Black. It is distinguished by ornate features, castellated parapet and a high degree of overall build quality and use of materials including fine granite stone carving.

When first built, the light was powered by compressed gas stored in a tank presumably located inside the building. This was re-filled periodically by the Northern Lighthouse Board vessel Hesperus. The light is now [2020] powered by solar panels and all storage tanks appear to have been removed. Otherwise the building appears largely unaltered.

Setting

The location for lighthouses and beacons is critical to their function. The William Black Memorial Lighthouse occupies a rocky promontory close to Duart Point at the southern entrance to the important sheltered seaway of the Sound of Mull, where many vessels passed during the 18th and 19th centuries, and some were lost. It also marks the position of Lady Rock, a small tide-covered rock at the west end of the island of Lismore, close to the entrance to the Sound of Mull. This rock represented a significant navigation hazard for shipping. The lighthouse therefore worked in conjunction with the Lismore Light, to indicate the route for vessels to and from Oban, as well as vessels in transit between the Sound of Mull and the Firth of Lorne.

The lighthouse continues to perform the same function, remaining visible from the sea, and from the coast. Its visibility in the landscape would also have been important as a memorial building, to ensure that the legacy of William Black was widely appreciated. Its nearby coastal setting is largely un-changed and this contributes to our understanding of the building's function and historical context.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

The William Black Memorial Lighthouse is of interest as one of only a few lighthouses built as a public memorial to a famous figure. Another recorded memorial lighthouse is the lighthouse at Carraig Fhada, marking the entrance to Port Ellen (LB11973), built in memory of Lady Eleanor Campbell of Islay (Munro, 1979: 210).

There are over 200 operational Northern Lighthouse Board lighthouses within Scotland, with many other examples either decommissioned or operated by other organisations and groups. They range from elegant stone pinnacles on remote reefs far out to sea, to small navigational beacons and modern modular lights. Of these, around 150 lighthouses of various shapes, sizes and types are currently designated as either listed buildings or scheduled monuments, representing a wide range of specific navigational dangers that required marking. The William Black Memorial Lighthouse is classified as a minor light. In 1979, Munro (1979:245) recorded around 93 minor automatic lights around the coast of Scotland, many of which have been replaced or substantially altered. Although the light has been changed to solar power, the building itself survives in its original form and is therefore a rare unaltered example of an early 20th-century minor light.

Social historical interest

The William Black Memorial Lighthouse is of social historical interest in helping us to understand this system of seamarks and the contribution they made, alongside major and minor lights, in safeguarding shipping around the coast of Scotland.

The significance of Scotland network of lighthouses and beacons to the country's history is high. As an island nation with over 18,000 kilometres of coastline and over 900 islands, maritime industries such as fishing, coastal trade and transportation have long been significant social and economic factors. Scotland's coasts are also located on international sea-routes linking northern Europe with the rest of the world. The use of lighthouses and beacons was therefore vital to the safety of shipping in Scottish waters. Prior to the construction of Scotland's lighthouses, most navigation markers were landmarks visible only during daylight, and so nautical navigation at night or in poor conditions was a highly dangerous but sometimes unavoidable undertaking. This is reflected in the large numbers of records of ships and sailors lost in wrecking incidents around the coasts of Scotland during the 19th and 19th centuries.

The first lighthouse in Scotland was established on the Isle of May (SM887) in 1636. This light aided navigation into the many harbours around the Firth of Forth and took the form of a stone tower mounting a coal fired brazier. Although the Isle of May beacon was far from as bright as later examples, in good weather it good be seen from as far as the entrance to the Tay, and it would remain operational for 180 years. The Isle of May was followed by several other lighthouses and beacons being built from the late 17th century, improving navigation for the Tay, the Solway and the Clyde.

A common factor in all the lights established in the first 150 years was that they were conceived, built and operated by private interests and organisations, such as local magistrates, councils and individuals, supported by the king and parliament when necessary. By the early 1780s, however, there was a growing recognition that many shipping and navigational dangers existed far beyond the profitable harbours and estuaries that had driven the development of the early lights. To address this, in 1786 parliament passed "An Act for erecting certain Light-houses in the Northern Parts of Great Britain" and established a board of Commissioners (subsequently to become the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses and then the Northern Lighthouse Board), initially to undertake the work of building and maintaining lights at four locations, including Kinnaird Head (LB31888), Eilean Glas (LB13487), Mull of Kintyre (LB19874) and North Ronaldsay (SM6596). These lights were the work of the Board's first engineer, Thomas Smith, and his assistant Robert Stevenson, and used improved lighting technology in the form of whale oil burners and mirrored reflectors to enhance the brightness.

Following the 1786 Act, the number of lighthouses around the coasts of Scotland began to rapidly grow, along with the technology and engineering skills employed. By the early 19th century oil lamps were replacing the earlier coal burners, and Robert Stevenson had been able to design and build a lighthouse on the Bell Rock (LB45197). Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Robert Stevenson and his descendants continued to push the boundaries of technology and engineering to expand the network, including lights on Skerryvore (LB17489), Muckle Flugga (LB17479), Dhu Heartach (LB12320), and the Flannan Isles (LB48143).

In addition to the major lights, a system of network of minor lights was introduced from the 1890s. Munro (1979: 199-200) considered that the establishment of minor lights on the Scottish coast arose from a policy of encouraging fishing to develop in the Highlands and Islands, following the Napier Commission's inquiry of 1883-4. A report in 1890 stressed the need for additional lighthouses and beacons to help the fishing fleet and sea communications in areas that were largely unlit at that time. The William Black Memorial Lighthouse was one of several minor lights built to mark the important inshore navigation channel of the Sound of Mull during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see Munro 1979 for other examples at Ardtornish Point, Morvern, and the Grey Rocks).

Association with people or events of national importance

The William Black Memorial Lighthouse has a close historical association of national importance.

William Black was born in Glasgow in 1841. He worked as a journalist for the Morning Star, Examiner, and the Daily News. He was also a prolific novelist, with 39 published works during his life and immediately following his death in Brighton in December 1898.

Works such as Princess of Thule (published 1874) and In Far Lochaber (1888) were set in the west coast of Scotland, and Black became celebrated for the detailed and atmospheric descriptions of landscapes and seascapes in his novels. It is understood that his work Macleod of Dare (1879) was partly written at Fionnphort House on the Ross of Mull (Highland News 4 March 1899).

Black's popularity as a novelist during the late 19th century is evidenced by the fund set up to celebrate his life. However, recognition for Black does not seem to have endured into the 20th and 21st centuries and his novels are seldom read nowadays.

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