Sumburgh Lighthouse History

The lighthouse at Sumburgh Head was the first to be built in Shetland and is now a listed building. Designed by Robert Stevenson, grandfather to famous author Robert Louis, the building was constructed in 1821 by Peterhead building contractor John Reid.

Zoom Mr Stevenson, of the famous family of lighthouse engineers, assessed the area on his first visit and declared it as a suitable site for a lighthouse. He visited Shetland in 1814 with Sir Walter Scott, who later published his novel 'The Pirate', which was set around the nearby areas of Jarlshof and Fitful Head.

The walls at Sumburgh were built to a double thickness in order to keep the damp out as the building is heavily exposed to the elements. Elevated 91metres above sea level, the light is visible for up to 23 nautical miles and flashes every 30 seconds. The light is Stevenson's equiangular refractor, which has 26 reflectors instead of the normal 21.

In 1822 the annual cost to run the lighthouse was £650.00, which would equate to £27,248.00 in modern money.

The light was fully automated in 1991 and the care of the Lighthouse Keeper's cottage passed to Shetland Amenity Trust in 2002 to operate as part of Shetland Lighthouse Holidays. The light still remains under the maintenance and control of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

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