By Hans J. Marter
10th November 2003
A FORMER lighthouse keeper has expressed his sadness over a decision by the
Northern Lighthouse Board to demolish an historic lighthouse in Shetland and
replace it with a modern aluminium structure that will be powered by the sun.
The NLB said that the Balta light, at the south tip of Balta Isle, off the
eastcoast of Unst, was beyond repair and had to go as part of their
But Christopher Ritch, who farms organic salmon in Balta Sound, said he was
disappointed to see an example of Shetland’s heritage go, as it was still in
Designed by David A. Stevenson of the famous family of Scottish lighthouse
engineers, the lighthouse was built in 1895 by John M Aitken, of Lerwick. It is
one of the first structures made out of concrete in Shetland.
Members of Mr Ritch’s family have been the keepers of the light on Balta Isle
since the end of the 19th century.
He said he had been the last keeper of the light and was made redundant two
years ago when the light was automated.
Before him, his father Louis Ritch, his grand father Andy Hughson and his great
grand father James William Hughson had been looking after the light. Looking
after the Balta light had always been an important part of their family life.
Mr Ritch said that the light was first powered by paraffin, then from the mid
thirties onwards by carbide. Propane gas to power the light was introduced in
He added: “People here in Unst are disappointed to see the lighthouse go. It is
a pity. It is a nice building and has been there for so long. The new structure
is not that attractive.
“The lighthouse is in sound condition, and wind and water tight. It costs money
to keep it up and I suspect that replacing it is a cost cutting measure by the
The Balta light is classed as a secondary lighthouse and has a range of less
than 15 miles. It is not a listed building and Historic Scotland said they had
no role to play in NLB’s decision to demolish it.
The lighthouse is to disappear within the next few weeks as part of the NLB’s
programme of solarisation.
A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh based board said that this would “sometimes
require lighthouses to be removed”.
She said: “Each light is being assessed individually. Balta light is in a bad
state of repair and can’t be refurbished. It will be replaced with a low
maintenance aluminium structure.”
Work is expected to commence after the 17th November when a temporary light will
come into operation for the duration of the work.