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Little Cumbrae

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Little Cumbrae House, 2004
Little Cumbrae House
© Eddie Dowds

The Little Cumbrae lies in the Firth of Clyde, and is better known locally as the Wee Cumbrae. Located approximately half a mile (1 km) south of the Great Cumbrae, the two together form The Cumbraes. Approximately 1.8 miles (2.9 km) long and and 0.9 mile (1.5 km) wide, rising to 403 feet (123 m) at the centrally situated Lighthouse Hill, the island extends over some 773 acres (313 Ha), and is privately owned.

A few metres east of the Wee Cumbrae lies Castle Island, on which a ruined castle keep still stands, dating from 1527.

Technically populated in the sense that caretakers live there to look after the houses, of which the main one is Little Cumbrae House, rabbits are the main inhabitants, and the island is considered to be an area of nature reserve. Lighthouse Hill was home to an original lighthouse which dated to 1757, and comprised an open coal fire in a grate at the top of a 28 foot stone tower. Coal for the fire came from pits near Cambuslang, brought by horse and cart to Irvine, and then by boat to the island. The lighthouse was authorised by a 1756 Act of Parliament which gave the Cumray (sic) Lighthouse Trust the right to levy a charge of "one penny stirling per tonne" for every British ship on a foreign voyage (excluding His Majesty’s warships) and "two pence stirling per tonne" from any foreign vessels which passed the light. One halfpenny per ton was charged on 'home traders' over 30 tons, and up to tuppence per ton on 'home traders' of between 15 and 30 tons.

Little Cumbrae lighthouses

This was the second lighthouse to be built in Scotland, and the remains of the keeper's cottage can still be found to the north. In 1793, Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson (grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson) completed a new lighthouse installation on the west of the island, 36 feet high and of unpainted stone, which contained 32 oil lamps and silvered glass reflectors (mirrors, rather than lenses). In 1826, the illumination was upgraded to 15 argon lamps. The new lighthouse was equipped with a foghorn, slipway, jetty, and boathouse. In 1974, the lighting was modernised when a 107 watt solar powered light was fitted. In common with all Britain's lighthouses, the light was automated in 1977, at which point the keepers returned to their homes in Millport, on Great Cumbrae. This remained active until 1997, when it was replaced by a 36 foot hexagonal/cylindrical tower equipped with a light giving one white flash every 6 seconds, and a focal plane of 92 feet.

In the book A short history of the Clyde Lighthouses Trust, the 1956 Cumbrae foghorn was described as, "Diaphone foghorn operated by compressed air, furnished by engines of 60HP, giving a signal of three 1½ second blasts and two 1½ second blasts alternately every 35 secs".[1]

The history relates the story of the Trust's decision to use a system invented by an American, the Daboll trumpet. Having been paid £600 he came over from New York and installed his equipment at Cumbrae, where it was said to have worked very well.

The following quotation describes the Daboll trumpet:

The Daboll trumpet was invented by Mr. C.L. Daboll, of Connecticut, who was experimenting to meet the announced wants of the United States Lighthouse Board. The largest consists of a huge trumpet seventeen feet long, with a throat three and one-half inches in diameter, and a flaring mouth thirty-eight inches across. In the trumpet is a resounding cavity, and a tongue-like steel reed ten inches long, two and three-quarter inches wide, one inch thick at its fixed end, and half that at its free end. Air is condensed in a reservoir and driven through the trumpet by hot air or steam machinery at a pressure of from fifteen to twenty pounds, and is capable of making a shriek which can be heard at a great distance for a certain number of seconds each minute, by about one-quarter of the power expended in the case of the whistle. In all his experiments against and at right angles and at other angles to the wind, the trumpet stood first and the whistle came next in power. In the trial of the relative power of various instruments made by Gen. Duane in 1874, the twelve-inch whistle was reported as exceeding the first-class Daboll trumpet. Beaseley reports that the trumpet has done good work at various British stations, making itself heard from five to ten miles. The engineer in charge of the lighthouses of Canada says: "The expense for repairs, and the frequent stoppages to make these repairs during the four years they continued in use, made them [the trumpets] expensive and unreliable. The frequent stoppages during foggy weather made them sources of danger instead of aids to navigation. The sound of these trumpets has deteriorated during the last year or so." Gen. Duane, reporting as to his experiments in 1881, says: "The Daboll trumpet, operated by a caloric engine, should only be employed in exceptional cases, such as at stations where no water can be procured, and where from the proximity of other signals it may be necessary to vary the nature of the sound." Thus it would seem that the Daboll trumpet is an exceptionally fine instrument, producing a sound of great penetration and of sufficient power for ordinary practical use, but that to be kept going it requires skillful management and constant care.

- Scientific American Supplement[2]

Ownership and development

Peter Kaye, a local businessman and entrepreneur, who once operated hovercraft on the Clyde, owned the island as a private residence during the 1960s.

The island was acquired by a development company, and placed on the market in 2005, for £2,500,000.

It was bought by the Poddars, reportedly for £2.5 million ($3.9 million, about Rs 450 million, Rs 45 crores) who donated it to Baba Ramdev to set up a spiritual and pilgrimage centre, which could ultimately cost over $20 million (about Rs 1 billion, about Rs 100 crores). [3]

Photographs

1757 tower, Lighthouse Hill, 2004
1757 tower, Lighthouse Hill
© Eddie Dowds
Lighthouse of 1793, 2005
Lighthouse of 1793
© Tony Page


References

1 Clyde lighthouses: A short history of the Clyde Lighthouses Trust, 1756-1956, George Blake, 1956.

2 Scientific American Supplement, Vol. XIX, No. 470, Jan. 3, 1885.

3 Exclusive: She donated an island to Baba Ramdev: Rediff.com News Retrieved October 11, 2010.

External links


Aerial views


Map

Google mapping has the legend for Little Cumbrae incorrectly positioned on the Great Cumbrae.

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