Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Where did Boyd’s Tide Marker Tower model go?

(We’ve been informed, see Comment below also, that the model referred to in this appeal has actually turned up in the museum. Sadly, it’s reported to be a little bit the worse for wear after its years in storage, and has suffered from the damp, but it seems to be recoverable, and the builder has indicated its restoration will be a forthcoming project.

We wish both well.)

It’s been some years since we were first made aware of the significance of a white tower which stand on the southern approach to Irvine harbour, and how it was once vital to the town’s seaborne trade.

The tower is the last standing part of Boyd’s Automatic Tide Signalling Apparatus (not counting the associated float chamber in the nearby water), and is also referred to as the Pilot’s House. There is a more detailed description on the page given, but here’s a summary:


At the turn of the 20th century, Irvine was losing trade to the other Ayrshire ports. Unlike the competition, it had no railway pier, and the approach to its harbour was complicated by the presence of numerous sandbanks, necessitating careful navigation, use of tide tables, and careful timing to avoid grounding a heavily laden cargo vessel on the approach. The harbour master at the time, Martin Boyd, believed there was a better way navigate the approach and, in 1903, he was granted a patent for his design for an Automatic Tide Marker Station.

It took Boyd a further three years to finance and build his apparatus, which was officially commissioned on May 23, 1906, with the issue of a Notice to Mariners which informed them of its presence. At the same time, announcements were made in the local newspapers, and charts were issued to explain how the signals presented from the tower were to be read in order to determine the level of the tide at any given time.

In recognition of the value of his work, the sum of £60 was refunded to Boyd by the Harbour Commissioners.

Boyd's Signal Tower

Boyd’s Signal Tower Irvine Harbour © Brian Goodwin


During the day, the signal was displayed using a series of balls raised on a mast mounted atop a tower. At night, the same information was conveyed using a series of lights visible in apertures located in the seaward face of the tower. The lights were hidden, or eclipsed, in different patterns (and colours) to indicate the level of the tide.

The mast signal and the light signal were interconnected by cables, ensuring that both would always match, and were changed automatically by the level of the tide itself.

Their position was controlled by the movement of a float mounted in a chamber, located in the water and near the tower. Underground cables connected the float to the signals in the tower, thereby transmitting the level of the float to the signals directly, and setting them without requiring an operator to manually read the tide and set the signals by hand.

Only the tower building remains on the site, as the mast and signal mounted on the roof were removed after becoming unsafe after the signal fell into disuse in the 1970s.

Pilot’s House model

Purely by chance, we came across a picture of the tower, or Pilot’s House, online (while reviewing some other pics added to out Flickr pool), only it was not the original item, but a rather well executed model of the structure, complete with the mast, rigging, and signals which would have sat atop the original, as shown below:

Pilot's House Model

Pilot’s House Model © Brian Goodwin

We’re grateful to the model maker (Brian Goodwin) who provided the pics, and additional information regarding the history of the appratus, which we were able to add to our page (as mentioned above.)

However, when we enquired after the model itself, the news was not so good.

Having been donated to the Scottish Maritime Museum some years earlier, it seems a later request regarding its location brought only news that the model appeared to have been lost while in the museum’s care.


So, the bottom line is that this posting is really an appeal to anyone that may have information regarding the fate of the Pilot’s House model.

If you know anything about it, or can shed any light on its fate, you can leave a note in the Comments section below (which I might add is effectively anonymous.)

It would be shame if it really had been lost, or worse, destroyed.

And better still if it turned up under a dust sheet in some a dark and seldom visited corner.

Here’s a last look at the tower, as it would have appeared just after completion, as probably indicated by the presence of the crane to its right:

Boyd Tower

Boyd Tower courtesy of Brian Goodwin from a period photograph


June 29, 2013 - Posted by | Appeal, Maritime, Transport | , , , , ,


  1. I can’t help you regarding the lost model, but I can tell you that there are plans for Coastwatch Scotland Irvine Unit to obtain a lease for the building, and a project is being developed to refurbish the building. Unfortunately,it won’t be back to the Tide Signalling Apparatus but rather a watchtower to oversee safety along the coast – maritime and shore. The North Ayrshire coast is a busy place. The structure will be developed without harmful changes (Heritage Scotland are involved), but the building will be preserved and put to use.


    Comment by Carolyn Douglas | July 15, 2013

  2. Hi there, The model has been found in the museum. It is in a very rough condition but I can rebuild it using the existing sidewalls as templates and restoring most of the detail parts.


    Comment by Brian Goodwin | September 21, 2013

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