Bell Rock - Encyclopedia

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BELL or INCHCAPE Rock, a sandstone reef in the North Sea, II m. S.E. of Arbroath, belonging to Forfarshire, Scotland. It measures 2000 ft. in length, is under water at high tide, but at low tide is exposed for a few feet, the sea for a distance of Ioo yds. around being then only three fathoms deep. Lying in the fairway of vessels making or leaving the Tay and Forth, besides ports farther north, it was a constant menace to navigation. In the great gale of 1799 seventy sail, including the "York," 74 guns, were wrecked off the reef, and this disaster compelled the authorities to take steps to protect shipping. Next year Robert Stevenson modelled a tower and reported that its erection was feasible, but it was only in 1806 that parliamentary powers were obtained, and operations began in August 1807. Though John Rennie had meanwhile been associated with Stevenson as consulting engineer, the structure in design and details is wholly Stevenson's work. The tower is ioo ft. high; its diameter at the base is 42 ft., decreasing to 15 ft. at the top. It is solid for 30 ft. at which height the doorway is placed. The interior is divided into six storeys. After five years the building was finished at a cost of £61,300. Since the lighting no wrecks have occurred on the reef. A bust of Stevenson by Samuel Joseph (d. 1850) was placed in the tower.

According to tradition an abbot of Aberbrothock (Arbroath) had ordered a bell - whence the name of the rock - to be fastened to the reef in such a way that it should respond to the movements of the waves, and thus always ring out a warning to mariners. This signal was wantonly destroyed by a pirate, whose ship was afterwards wrecked at this very spot, the rover and his men being drowned. Southey made the incident the subject of his ballad of "The Inchcape Rock."

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