Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see ‘About Listed Buildings’ below for more information.


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
Orkney Islands
Planning Authority
Orkney Islands
HX 62191 24420
262191, 1024420


D A Stevenson, completed 1893, lighted 1895. 5-stage on plinth, circular-plan lighthouse tower, with outsize lantern (see Notes). Painted brick. Stone flight to canted plinth with window to each flank; door at 1st stage; small-pane window to 2nd, 3rd and 4th stages; cantilevered walkway with cast-iron railings between 4th stage and lantern; evenly disposed portholes around tower below lantern; large, glazed lantern with domed roof and short weather vane.

INTERIOR: not seen, 1997.

Statement of Special Interest

Britain's most remote lighthouse, lying 40 miles west of Orkney and 37 miles NE of Cape Wrath. Its isolated position made it unsuitable for the accommodation of keepers' families; hence provision was made in Stromness (see separate list description). Designed and constructed by David Alan Stevenson, a member of Britain's foremost lighthouse engineering family, the Sule Skerry light answered a need for increased protection of the 'north-about' route around Britain, owing to additional congestion and resultant collisions in the English Channel. Although Sumburgh and North Ronaldsay were already lit, and the eastern side of Orkney being fairly well protected, the 160 miles of seaboard between the Pentland Firth and Muckle Flugga were dangerously unlit. Consequently, a series of important lights was built around the northern fringes of Britain - 2 on Fair Isle in 1892, Sule Skerry and Ratray Head in 1895 and the Flannan Islands in 1899. Sule Skerry island is fairly low lying, rising to 45 feet above high water, and is almost out of sight of land, the combination of these two factors necessitated the need for an extra-powerful light source on top of the 88 foot tower. To this end, lighting was delayed for a year after completion of the structure, while the Board of Trade and Trinity House argued with the Commissioners about the cost and character of the apparatus. As larger burners were used to increase the intensity of the light, they produced too much heat for the compact optical apparatus. As a result, the Stevensons increased the focal distance between the centre of the light source and the 'cage' of glass to 52 inches in what they called a 'hyper-radiant' apparatus. They also employed an arrangement of equi-angular prisms which caused less light loss and divergence than other types of lens. The lantern therefore required was larger than any previously designed for lighthouse service, being 16 feet in diameter instead of the normal 12. Stevenson's plans show how the lighthouse was divided internally; beneath the plinth was the water and provision store; the coal store was sited at the 1st stage, providing the all-important fuel to keep the lamps lit; a dry store was located above that, with the bedroom situated high, below the lamp room. With no accommodation structures outside the lighthouse, Stevenson provided a multi-bed chamber for the keepers within convenient reach of the lamp room. Plans show that three layers of paired bunks were stacked above two layers of paired drawers; a compact solution to manning a lighthouse with no accommodation block. Stevenson's plans also show the existence of fluted columns supporting H-girders in the lamp room. Now automated and unmanned.



Groome, ORDNANCE GAZETTEER OF SCOTLAND (1892) p 413; D B Hague, R Christie, LIGHTHOUSES, THEIR ARCHITECTURE, ARCHAEOLOGY AND HISTORY (1975) pp 157-159, 227; B Wilson, THE LIGHTHOUSES OF ORKNEY (1975) p8 (ill); R W Munro, SCOTTISH LIGHTHOUSES (1979) pp164-167; K Allardyce and E M Hood, AT SCOTLAND'S EDGE (1986) pp140-141; NMRS Plans and Drawings Collection, DC 9114-9134 (inclusive).

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

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Printed: 17/07/2019 05:58