St. Catherine's Oratory
The "Pepperpot" on St. Catherine's Hill.
|Location||St. Catherine's Down, Isle of Wight|
|Year first lit||1328|
|Tower shape||Octagonal exterior, four-sided interior.|
St. Catherine's Oratory is a medieval lighthouse on St. Catherine's Down near the southern coast of the Isle of Wight, the Back of the Wight. It was built by Lord of Chale Walter de Godeton (sometimes spelled "Goditon") as an act of penance for plundering wine from the wreck of St. Marie of Bayonne in Chale Bay on April 20, 1313 AD. The lighthouse tower is known locally as the "Pepperpot".
The lighthouse is a stone structure 4 stories high. It is octagonal on the outside and four-sided on the inside. It originally was on the west side of an adjacent building. The remnants of three other walls are visible at the site.
de Godeton was put on trial in Southampton before an Island jury for the theft of the wine, and fined 287.5 marks on February 27, 1314. However, de Godeton was also tried for the theft in Church courts as well, since the wine was headed for the monastery of Livers in Picardy. The Church threatened to excommunicate de Godeton unless he built a lighthouse near Chale Bay.
There was already an oratory on the top of the hill, dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. This was augmented by the construction of the lighthouse, so there would be a chantry to accommodate a priest tending the light. The priest would also say Mass for those lost at sea.
Although de Godeton died in 1327, the lighthouse was completed in 1328. The facility was in active use until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ca. 1538-1541. In the 18th century Sir Richard Worsley of Appuldurcombe House bolstered the structure by adding 4 large buttresses to prevent its collapse.
Nearby there are the footings of a replacement lighthouse that was begun in 1785 but never completed. The remnants of this "new lighthouse" are known locally as the "salt cellar". A nearby Bronze Age barrow was excavated in 1925.
The site is too frequently shrouded in fog to be useful for a lighthouse. The current lighthouse, constructed after the 1837 wreck of the Clarendon, was built much closer to sea level.
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