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50 Years of the Signal Tower Museum

For half a century, Arbroath’s Museum has been based in the Signal Tower of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. Nestled on the coast of Arbroath, this iconic museum first opened its doors in 1974, transforming the historic Signal Tower of the Bell Rock Lighthouse – described as one of the 7 wonders of the industrial world  – into a place where locals and tourists could learn all about its iconic past.

As we commemorate its 50th anniversary, we’ll be sharing more about its rich legacy of maritime navigation and fascinating stories about people who have been connected with it over the years.

On 1 August, you’ll be able to join us for some celebrations too.

History of a Museum in Arbroath

View the timeline of events that led to the Signal Tower becoming a Museum, and significant events that have happened there over the last 50 years

An Arbroath fishwife donated her collection of seashells to the Mechanic’s Institute; this formed the basis of the first Arbroath Museum.
Lieutenant Medley RN, stationed at Westhaven, was so impressed by the town’s hospitality that he donated his collection of curios. This created a great deal of interest in setting up a museum in the burgh.
A Museum Society was formed, with Mr. W.F. Lindsay-Carnegie as its first President. The museum opened in a building in Hill Street.
The Museum moved to the upper hall in the public buildings, now the Webster Memorial Theatre. The society appointed Daniel Goldsmith as their first curator at an annual salary of 20 pounds plus a free house.
The society were encountering financial difficulties, so they gifted the museum to the town council. The council did not appoint a full-time curator, and as time passed, the collections decayed.
The museum in Webster Memorial Hall closed.

Discussions took place about re-opening the museum, which was still housed in the Webster premises. Plans were given a major setback when the floor was declared unsafe in 1950, and the council had to start looking elsewhere for museum premises.

The Signal Tower was put forward as a possibility and was accepted. Other considerations for its location included Newgate House and the Water Tower. The Signal Tower was a museum-piece in its own right and was ideally situated near the harbour in one of the most popular areas in the town.

After various reports had been considered, two students from Leicester University were engaged upon a study of the museum project, and by the end of the year, one of those students, Kathryn Moore became the first curator of the new museum. Work had to begin, first of all, in acquiring objects since most were either beyond repair or were not suited for the new museum, which was to display purely local material, both historical and natural.

1 August 1974

Official Opening of Signal Tower Museum.

Signal Tower Museum wins Scottish Museum of the Year in 1975
Major revamp of the Museum with new displays.

Signal Tower Museum reopens after £450 000 refurbishment to celebrate 200 years of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

Lens Room displaying the Bell Rock lens opened 6 April 2017 thanks to the support of the Northern Lighthouse Board Heritage Trust.

Cottages opened 14 September 2019, kindly supported by NESFLAG, Museums Galleries Scotland, Arbroath Common Good, the Foyle Foundation and Leader funding, the Spotlight development transformed the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages into exhibition spaces telling the story of Arbroath’s fishing and maritime trade history.

Tower Tours to climb the spiral staircase to the Tower Room opened to the public thanks to an award of £34,000 from the Arbroath Town Centre Fund. Until this date, this was only possible during infrequent events.

Red Wheel at Signal Tower Arbroath

September 2022

National Transport Trust unveil Red Wheel at Signal Tower Museum to mark points of real transport innovation. This Red Wheel celebrates the Bell Rock lighthouse and its Signal Station which is now the Signal Tower Museum.

Celebrations

Come join us on Thursday 1 August at Signal Tower Museum to celebrate this iconic landmark and mark 50 years of it becoming Arbroath’s Museum.

  • 11:00 – 15:00 Archives on the Move: Memories of Arbroath
    11:00 – 15:00 50 Years of the Museum: Exhibit
    11:00 – 15:00 Olympic themed games in the Signal Tower Garden
    11:00 – 13:00 Auchmithie Haar Living History Group in the Courtyard
    11:00 – 14:00 Take a Tour of the Tower (booking required)
    14:00 – 14:30 Childrens Storytelling in the Courtyard

Top 5 Things to do at the Signal tower Museum

  1. Run around the 40 metre circumference paved representation of the Bell Rock Lighthouse foundation in the courtyard.
  2. Discover how Bassey the horse helped to build the Bell Rock Lighthouse.
  3. Learn the difference between a pirate and a privateer. Arbroath has encountered both – Ralph the Rover and Captain William Fall.
  4. Conquer the Tower at the Signal Tower Museum! Climb the dramatic spiral staircase and visit the tower room with guided tours available. How many steps did you count?
  5. See a revolving lighthouse lens.

Your Stories

We’d love to hear your memories of the Signal Tower Museum over the last 50 years!

Send your stories, and a photograph too if you one, to susan.curran@angusalive.scot

“Fond memories of my Grandfather taking us here at holiday times. I was mesmerised by the old school classroom and other set ups with their sound effects at that time.”

Elaine

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