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Interns and Last Keeper Shine a Light on History of Kinnaird Head Lighthouse

29 July 2009

Two museum interns are helping preserve the memories of the last lighthouse keeper  at Kinnaird Head for future generations.

Graduates Victoria Thompson and Jennifer Bainbridge are being funded by Historic Scotland to work with Jim Oliver, who was made redundant  in 1991, to identify hundreds of objects in the lighthouse and former keepers’ cottages at The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

The project was set up by Historic Scotland in partnership with the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, which shares the cliff-top site near Fraserburgh with Historic Scotland.

Virginia Mayes-Wright, museum director, who is administering the project, said: “The lighthouse and cottages are like a time capsule, preserved almost exactly as they were when the last of the keepers left.

“There are equipment, fixtures and fittings that date back for generations, and many of them have memories attached to them.
“So Victoria and Jennifer are working with Jim not just to record what the objects were, but the stories behind them.”

Collectively the objects tell the tale of a now-lost way of life – whether it’s through specialised engineering equipment needed to keep the light, or the pair of ice skates which once belonged to a keeper’s child.

Victoria said: “It’s is absolutely fascinating, it’s a chance to record and preserve the stories of people who played a vital role in our past – protecting the lives of mariners     in the dangerous waters off Fraserburgh.

“It’s great having Jim to ask about the items and to hear his recollections of the lighthouse when it was still operating. This let’s us do so much more than learn what something was used for, but also find out what it meant in people’s lives.”

Historic Scotland cares for the lighthouse and cottages, but museum staff including      Mr Oliver, run tours of the site.

Mr Oliver  said: “Lighthouses are very important for navigation at sea. There were 96 manned lighthouses across Scotland and the Isle of Man run by the Northern Lighthouse Board.

“Through its artefacts, Kinnaird Head preserves the history of all those lighthouses and the work carried out by the men that manned them. We want to do all we can to make sure this story is available for visitors of today and long into the future.”

The internships are a co-operative venture which benefits both organisations and help Victoria and Jennifer build up vital  experience to help them find permanent jobs.

Hugh Morrison, Historic Scotland collections registrar, said: “We are very pleased to fund this joint project which not only has mutual benefits for the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses and Historic Scotland, but also provides Jennifer and Victoria with practical museum experience.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to document this important collection and to record        Jim Oliver’s valuable knowledge of the lighthouse, the objects and their uses.”

The museum is based at Kinnaird Head, near Fraserburgh, and  runs the tours round the lighthouse and associated buildings, which are cared for by HS.

For further information:
Contact Rebecca Hamilton, media and marketing manager (details below)
For interviews contact Virginia Mayes-Wright 01346 511022

Notes for editors:
  • The lighthouse is built on top of a 16th-century castle which belonged to the Frasers. It is in Fraserburgh on the A92. Telephone 01346 511022 or for prices and details.
  • The lighthouse was a remarkable piece of innovation that helped transform the safety of mariners at sea.
  • The light was designed by Thomas Smith using a revolutionary system of 17 parabolic mirrors to magnify lamps fuelled by whale oil.
  • When the original light was lit in 1787 it was the most powerful in the world and was visible for up to 14 miles.
  • Smith had first used parabolic reflectors to boost the brightness of gas street lights in Edinburgh.   
  • The lighthouse was the first created in Scotland by the Northern Lighthouse Trust (today called the Northern Lighthouse Board).
  • In 1929 Kinnaird head was fitted with the first radio beacon in Scotland.
  • To find out more about the museum visit  
  • Historic Scotland has 345 historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit:  
  • Historic Scotland’s Mission is to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.
  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871