The site had a long history of need for a light. In the late 17th century Sir John Clayton, and later, in 1755, Captain J. Blackhead, requested a light for the island. Both were turned down because the authorities, the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, were unable to persuade affected parties to contribute to the maintenance of the light.
In the mid-1820s the welfare of shipping won over and it was agreed that a lighthouse be constructed. The lighthouse originally used Argand lamps, but in 1952 was finally electrified, and in 1990 became fully automated.
The lighthouse is known for the 1838 wreck of the Forfarshire and the role of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper's daughter, in rescuing survivors.