History in Structure

Lady Isle lighthouse

A Category B Listed Building in Troon, South Ayrshire

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Latitude: 55.5272 / 55°31'37"N

Longitude: -4.734 / 4°44'2"W

OS Eastings: 227527

OS Northings: 629330

OS Grid: NS275293

Mapcode National: GBR 35.SYP0

Mapcode Global: WH2PG.7BZN

Plus Code: 9C7QG7G8+VC

Entry Name: Lady Isle lighthouse

Listing Name: Lady Isle lighthouse and navigational beacon, excluding solar panels, balcony railings and spiral staircase attached to the lighthouse tower, and adjacent former observatory and wooden shed, Lady Isle

Listing Date: 9 December 2020

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407399

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52564

Building Class: Cultural

ID on this website: 200407399

Location: Dundonald

County: South Ayrshire

Electoral Ward: Troon

Parish: Dundonald

Traditional County: Ayrshire

Tagged with: Lighthouse


Lady Isle Lighthouse was built in 1903 by the Northern Lighthouse Board to plans by David Alan Stevenson and Charles Stevenson. The lighthouse is a single tower, built on the site of an earlier beacon. The complete lighthouse has a maximum height of 19 metres.

Prominently sited on a low island in the Firth of Clyde, its purpose was to warn passing seafarers of the island itself and the rocky low-tide elevations of Half Tide Rock and Scart Rock to the northeast. The Lady Isle lighthouse also aided navigation along the firth, into the harbours at Troon and Irvine, and into an area of sheltered water for larger vessels to the east of Lady Isle itself.

The lighthouse tower is of an apparently unique design, comprising four adjoining concrete buttresses forming a cross shape on plan. On top of these is a roughly circular concrete platform gallery surrounded by a railing, on which the lantern itself is mounted. The current lantern is made of a combination of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) and Perspex, matching the design of the original example. Within the north western angle of the cross shaped plan is an external spiral staircase. Originally made of cast iron, the stair was replaced with a galvanised mild steel example, along with the balcony railing, during the solarisation of the lighthouse.

Around 75m east of the lighthouse is a navigational beacon. This was created as one of two around 1776 as a navigational aid for shipping. The beacon is a tapering, two stage stone structure, circular on plan. The second beacon of the pair was demolished and the lighthouse was built on the same location.

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: solar panels, balcony railings and spiral staircase attached to the tower, and a former observatory and wooden shed adjacent to the lighthouse.

The solar panels and mountings on the southwest side of the tower are not part of the original design. The balcony railings and existing spiral stair are later replacements.

The observatory and wooden shed are functional buildings of later 20th century date that are not of special interest.

Historical development

Construction of Lady Isle Lighthouse began in August 1902 and the light became operational on 27 January 1903 (Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette). Northern Lighthouse Board approved the construction of the light in response to a petition by Glasgow & South-Western Railway Company, owners of Troon harbour, and by the masters of foreign and coastal ships (Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald 2 January 1903). Calls from shipowners included the master of the steamer Harald Klitgaard who wrote to make the case for a lighthouse on Lady Isle (Lloyds List 27 December 1901) following a voyage from Santander to Ardrossan with a cargo of ore during which he claimed his astonishment that 'such an outlying danger to navigation should not be lighted'. The lighthouse replaced an earlier stone beacon, of which two were built by the town of Glasgow as navigational aids in 1776. The second beacon still stands around 75m east of the lighthouse, and the alignment between this beacon and the lighthouse provides the same navigational aid that the two beacons previously provided.

The original light at Lady Isle appears to have been gas powered and is understood to have been converted to run on acetylene around 1943. An external cylindrical tank for fuel storage was previously located next to the base of the tower. The light was converted to electricity provided by solar power in 2005/6. At the same time as the solarisation the cast iron stairs and balcony railing were replaced by galvanised mild steel examples, the lantern was replaced with the current GRP and Perspex example, and the former fuel storage tank was removed.

Lady Isle Lighthouse remains operational as an automated light (2020).

Statement of Interest

The Lady Isle 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: solar panels, balcony railings and spiral staircase attached to the tower, and a former observatory and wooden shed.

Architectural interest


The lighthouse at Lady Isle is of design interest as an early 20th century lighthouse of apparently unique form. It was designed by David Alan and Charles Stevenson.

Lady Isle has a simple, well-proportioned design that is typical for a Stevenson lighthouse, despite the unusual style of this particular example. The design of the tower at Lady Isle involves the use of four adjoining concrete buttresses, forming a cross shape on plan. These taper slightly as they rise, and on top is mounted a roughly circular reinforced concrete platform surrounded by a railing, originally made of cast iron but since replaced with galvanised mild steel, with a missing segment on the northwest where the stairs meet the platform. Mounted in the centre of the platform is the lantern, of a standard design involving a circular GRP structure with triangular pane Perspex windows and a conical GRP roof, within which is mounted the light itself. This is now a solar-powered electric light with a range of 11 miles, since the replacement of the gas-powered light in 2005/6.

The associated unlit navigational beacon is also of a simple design, reflecting its functional nature. Its scale and sturdy construction are important for both visibility for its function as a navigational aid and to ensure its long-term survival in an exposed coastal location.


The location for any lighthouse is critical to its function. Lady Isle Lighthouse occupies a location on a small island at only 6 metres above sea level, around 2.5 miles offshore to the west of Troon.

The location of a lighthouse at Lady Isle was chosen to warn shipping of Lady Isle itself, along with an area of low-tide elevations to the northeast, incorporating Half-Tide Rock and Scart Rock. It also served to provide a navigational aid for larger vessels into an area of sheltered deep water between Lady Isle and Troon, and for smaller vessels navigating to the harbours at Troon and Irvine.

The lighthouse was built on the site of an earlier stone beacon, one of a pair built in 1776 and used in alignment to guide shipping into a safe navigation channel. The reuse of the site of one of the beacons for the lighthouse allowed this to continue, through aligning the lighthouse and surviving beacon. The lighthouse and beacon form an important historic grouping which add to the special interest of the buildings and help our understanding of their operation.

To the immediate northeast of the tower is a small concrete building, built during the 20th century as a bird observatory, along with a ruinous stone wall, within which previously sat a wooden shed which housed stores for the lighthouse. None of the other buildings are of interest in listing terms.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

Lady Isle is of interest as it belongs to the early period of the transition between the last manned lighthouses and the earliest examples of automated lights. It is one of 75 un-manned minor lights built around Scotland by David A and Charles Stevenson after the first introduction of automated lights with temporary beacon lights in the Sound of Mull and at Stroma in the Pentland Firth in 1890 (Munro 1979: 200) and the conversion of the Oxcars Lighthouse from oil to gas-powered light in 1894 (Strachan 2016). Unlike Lady Isle Lighthouse, many of David A. Stevenson's minor automated lights were of a standardised cast-iron design.

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 at night.

The earlier navigational beacon is also of interest as a relatively early example of a navigational aid within the Firth of Clyde, one of Scotland's major shipping and trade routes for many centuries.

Social historical interest

Lady Isle Lighthouse and navigational beacon are of social historical interest in helping us to understand the contribution made by navigational aids like lighthouses and beacons, in safeguarding shipping around the coast of Scotland, and how the design and operation of navigational beacons lighthouses changed from the 18th until the early 20th century.

The significance of Scotland's lighthouse network 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 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. During the 1890s, Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) employed more than 600 lighthouse keepers around Scotland. These numbers reduced in response to advances in lighting technology and communications that allowed lighthouse operation to become increasingly automated.

Association with people or events of national importance

The buildings have a close historical association of national importance.

Lady Isle lighthouse is one of many Northern Lighthouse Board lighthouses to be designed by one of the Stevenson family, a connection stretching back three generations and spanning over 150 years. David Alan Stevenson was born in 1854, and his brother Charles Alexander was born in 1855. They were the sons of David Stevenson, grandsons of Robert Stevenson and nephews of Thomas Stevenson, all also distinguished lighthouse engineers for the Northern Lighthouse Board. Their cousin was the author Robert Louis Stevenson. The efforts of the Stevenson family in designing and constructing the network of lighthouses around Scotland's coasts, often against seemingly overwhelming odds, has led to their collectively being known as the "Lighthouse Stevensons", and as some of Scotland's greatest engineering minds.

External Links

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