St Abbs Head Lighthouse was built in 1861 to assist navigation for vessels bound for or from the Firth of Forth and Tay ports.
Application for a lighthouse to be established at St Abb’s Head was made following the sinking of the Martello on Carr Rock in 1857.
The lighthouse, designed by David and Thomas Stevenson, was first exhibited on 24th February 1862. The light was originally lit by oil, and the lens turned by a clockwork mechanism. The light was converted in 1906 to incandescent vapour burners and was electrified in 1966.
St Abbs Lighthouse is located on a 300 feet high clifftop, so the tower is short due to its elevation. The light is shown from 255 feet. Because of the tower’s short height, a 20-foot shaft had to be excavated within the rock face directly below the optic to contain the clockwork system’s weights. A trap door below the lantern room led down into the shaft, which is still accessible.
Steps leading down to the lighthouse are illuminated at night by lights connected to wires within the hollow metal handrail. On the opposite side, the handrail originally piped paraffin down to the light.
St Abb’s Head Lighthouse became the first to have a siren fog signal in Scotland. The hot air engines, established in 1876, were replaced in 1911 by oil-driven engines and replaced again in 1955 by diesel. The fog signal was finally discontinued in 1987.
The engine room housed three Kelvin engines and air compressors with air then piped down to the foghorn.
A nearby freshwater lake, Mire Loch, used to provide water for the lighthouse.
Before the road was built, all supplies were landed by boat at Petieoc Wick, a nearby cove.
Before automation, St Abb’s was the communication control station for the lighthouses in the Firth of Forth. Until 1990 it maintained radio contact with Bell Rock, Bass Rock, Barns Ness and Fidra Lighthouses. It was also a weather station, and the keepers would send readings to the Met Office every three hours.
An experimental Racon (radar beacon) was established in 1961 and became permanent in 1968. The radar was replaced by a low power self-operating type on the front of the engine room.
The former lighthouse keepers cottages were two storeys high. These have been extended twice, and a wing added at one end of the building.
St Abb’s Reserve hosts up to 60,000 seabirds, and eight different species of birds breed here. The National Trust for Scotland protects the headland.