Dungeness Lighthouses

Dungeness Lighthouses

 A Story of Five Lighthouses

There have been five lighthouses at Dungeness. Over the years there have been many changes in architecture, ownership,  lamps, lens and much else. (Feature photo courtesy lighthouseinn-ct.com)

By the 1600’s Dungeness was a huge foreland of shingle, extensive enough to cause numerous shipwrecks, with much loss of life and cargo.

Lighthouse 1 (1615)

It is thought that a Rye jeweller , John Allen, first suggested a warning light be set up on the point, but he lacked the necessary funds.

The idea eventually took effect in 1615, under the direction of Sir Edward Howard, who held senior office in the Admiralty. The first lighthouse was a wooden tower 35 feet high and had a coal brazier at the top, the fuel being hauled up by a basket and pulley. It was licenced by King James I (VI of Scotland).

Lighthouse 2 (c1635)

The shingle of the ness (headland or promontory)  continued to build up  so in about 1635 a second lighthouse was built, this time of brick and nearer to the sea.  This one lasted for 100 years. It too had a coal beacon, and the two keepers, who were provided with living quarters at the base of the lighthouse, had to haul the 400 tons of coa1 annually up the tower to keep the light burning. This proved to be a problem during strong gales.

Ships passing the point were expected to pay a halfpenny for every ton, but this was difficult to collect, so Sir Edward made over his rights officially to William Lamplough, and dues were collected by Customs when ships docked.

Lighthouse 3 (1792)

n 1792, Trinity House demanded a new lighthouse, and a 116 foot tower, designed by Samuel Wyatt, was constructed.  (Trinity House is the  official  General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales and other British territorial waters — though not Scotland, The Isle of Man or Northern Ireland — and is also responsible for pilotage.) Similar in design to Smeatons’ Eddystone light, this new one was seven stories high, tapering toward the top and with the lantern fuelled by oil burners.

The lighthouse was eventually inherited by the wife of Thomas Coke of Holkham, Norfolk, and the ownership remained in the Coke family but run by  men from Lydd until Trinity House  bought out all the leases of the lighthouses in 1836.

Wyatt’s lighthouse for Trinity House had used 900 gallons of oil annually, coming from sperm oil, then vegetable oil and finally petroleum, but to prevent the oil from congealing in winter a coal stove was necessary. This third lighthouse had 17 Argon lamps each with silvered concave reflectors 20 inches in diameter.

However by 1818 the foundations were threatened by decomposition, as the mortar had been mixed with seawater. Strong buttresses had to be erected round the base, and after a violent storm in 1821 other repairs had to be made to strengthen the tower.

The lighthouse was painted in red and white stripes so that it was visible by day, and by 1890, living quarters and cottages were added.

A first for Dungeness

The first permanent use of electricity in lighthouses was at Dungeness in 1862, introduced by Trinity House which now owned all lighthouse leases. It operated for 13 years before being considered inefficient and too expensive. Oil light was restored, and a new lamp with 850 candlepower and surrounded by glass prisms could be seen for 16 miles.

Since 1635, fog whistles and bells were used to warn ships, but in 1860 a fog trumpet was installed next to the 1792 lighthous (the third), and this was operated by a steam engine. Shingle continued to build up so that by the late 1880’s the light was a long way from the sea. A smaller Low Light was placed nearer the shore. This bright, revolving light flashed every 5 seconds and could be seen for 10 miles. A siren foghorn was housed here too.

Lighthouse 4 (1904)

Still the shingle collected.

A new lighthouse (the 4th) was built and opened by His Majesty The Prince of Wales (later King George V) in 1904. It was 150 feet high with 169 steps. Using paraffin oil, this light, flashing every 10 seconds, could be seen for 18 miles.

670 glass prisms gave a magnification of 164,000 candle power, but the mechanism for turning the light was still hand wound.

Below the main light a red light showed that could only be seen in East Bay; red and green lights were visible in West Bay. To the left of it in the photo is the base of the 1792 lighthouse, now turned into accommodation.

In 1932 the Low Light and fog signal were replaced by a white cylindrical tower, producing a flashing light using acetylene gas and the foghorn sounded 3 blasts every 2 minutes. This was pulled down in 1959 when the new Dungeness lighthouse was planned. In 1959 electricity was again in use, successfully this time, but in 1961 it was decided to build a fully automated lighthouse

Lighthouse 5 (1962)

Work on the Dungeness Power Station had begun during the late 1950s and it was realised that the new building would obscure the light for those at sea.  That is why the new lighthouse, built in 1962,  is closer to the water’s edge from where it operates today.

Four banks of 4 x 200 watt Aga sealed beam lamps – (1920,000 candle power) — give a range of 24 miles. The inbuilt foghorn with automatic fog detector sounds three times every 30 seconds and there are sti1l red and green lights.

Today the new, slim lighthouse stands close by the Old (4th)  ‘Black  Lighthouse’ which is open to visitors who can climb to the top of the stairs to see the inner workings, an historical exhibit and admire the excellent view of Dungeness. It has also been used as a film set.

Both lighthouses were ‘saved’ by volunteers in 1994 when the Coast Guard was ready to board up the lighthouse.  A group rallied to rescue it and today it is maintained year-round by the New Dungeness Light Station Association. The 1904 lightkeeper’s house is now a weekly rental for Association members.

For more information visit http://www.dungenesslighthouse.com/

First posted in Romney Marsh on 12th October 2009
Last updated: 9th December 2012
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