High and Low Lights of North Shields

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The North Shields Lights viewed from the river

The High and Low Lights of North Shields which are also known as the Fish Quay High and Low Lights are a series of historic leading lights that were constructed near Fish Quay in North Shields, Tyne and Wear in the United Kingdom. The first pair of lighthouses were erected here in the 16th century by the Guild of the Blessed Trinity of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. By following a course which kept the two lights aligned, pilots were able to navigate along the Tyne, avoiding the dangerous Shields Bar and the Black Middens.[1]

Earliest lights[edit]

Site of the Black Friars' church: its stones were used to build the first pair of navigation lights at North Shields.

In 1536, a charter of Henry VIII gave permission to the Guild of the Blessed Trinity (which is known today as Trinity House of Newcastle) to build and embattle a pair of towers on the north bank of the River Tyne to serve as leading lights for safe navigation at the mouth of the river.[2] The granting of the charter coincided with Henry's policy of dissolving England's monasteries and in 1539 he gave the monastic church of the town's Blackfriars monastery to the Guild, which used its stonework to build the two towers.[3]

Work began on the towers the following year: they were built on high and low ground either side of Pow burn, which flows into the Tyne at 'the Narrows' (the narrowest point of the river mouth). A keeper was paid 20 shillings a year to keep a tallow candle alight in each tower every night for a certain number of hours either side of high tide.[3] To fund the provision and maintenance of these lights the Guild was empowered to levy dues on every ship entering the port (initially 2d per English vessel and 4d per foreign vessel).

In 1608 a further ordinance was issued by James I requiring Newcastle's Trinity House to maintain a pair of lighthouses at North Shields. The towers were increased in height at around this time; they are depicted on Ralph Gardner's map of 1655, still with their battlements (they were built with a defensive as well as a navigational purpose in mind).[3]

The changing position of sandbanks in the mouth of the river meant that the lights had likewise to change position from time to time. To try to address this, the lighthouses were replaced in 1658 by moveable wooden structures; these proved unreliable, however, and in the 1680s Newcastle's Trinity House was seeking funds to repair the stone towers.[4]

In 1672 the Low Light found itself enclosed by Clifford's Fort, constructed that year to help defend the Tyne from coastal attack. A postern in the fort wall provided access to the lighthouse; however, in the years that followed a number of disputes arose between Trinity House and the Governor of the Fort. These came to a head in 1726 when a new Governor's House was built on the site, which obscured the light. It seems likely that this is what prompted the rebuilding of both lights in 1727.[5]

Old High and Low Lights[edit]

The Old Low Light viewed from the south
Fish Quay Old Low Light
Range Front
Old Low Light, North Shields.jpg
The 18th century Old Low Light
LocationNorth Shields Fish Quay
Tyne and Wear
England
United Kingdom
Coordinates55°00′35″N 1°26′00″W / 55.00972°N 1.43333°W / 55.00972; -1.43333
Year first constructed1727
Deactivated1810
Constructionbrick tower
Tower shapesquare tower
Managing agentTyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust
Fish Quay Old High Light
Range Rear
Old High Light - geograph.org.uk - 5575.jpg
The 18th century Old High Light
LocationNorth Shields Fish Quay
Tyne and Wear
England
United Kingdom
Coordinates55°00′34″N 1°26′13″W / 55.009341°N 1.436871°W / 55.009341; -1.436871
Year first constructed1727
Deactivated1810
Constructionbrick tower
Tower shapesquare tower with lantern on the roof attached to a dwelling
Markings / patternwhite tower
ARLHS numberENG-299
Managing agentprivate residence[6]

Initially, the 1727 High and Low Lights were each lit by three tallow candles.[7] Copper reflectors were added in 1736, and in 1773 the candles were replaced by oil lamps.[8] The Low Light was repaired and remodelled in 1733 and again in 1775 when the second floor was added.[4] By 1805 the lights were no longer aligned with river channel and Newcastle Trinity House began building a new pair of lights in 1808

Decommissioning and aftermath[edit]

When the New High and Low Lights were commissioned in 1810 the old lights were taken out of service and the white façade of the low light was painted black (to prevent it being confused with the new light when viewed from the water). In due course both Old Lights were converted by Trinity House into almshouses;[9] the Old Low Light, with the addition of a pitched roof, reopened as Trinity Alms House in 1830.[5]

At some later date the Old High Light became a private dwelling, and it remains so today; it is a grade II listed building.[10] The Old Low Light is also grade II listed[11] and, as part of Clifford's Fort, stands within a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[12] It served as a fish warehouse during the 20th century; saved from dereliction in 1988, it became a training centre for the Deep Sea Fisheries Association and latterly was occupied by the Maritime Volunteer Service. By the early 21st century the building was in a poor state of repair, but it was comprehensively refurbished after the MVS departed in 2011 and a modern annexe with viewing platform was added. The Old Low Light subsequently opened to the public in 2014 as a museum and community resource; it contains a ground-floor café, a permanent exhibition on the first floor (telling the history of the lighthouses, Clifford's Fort and Fish Quay) and an event space above it.[13]

New High and Low Lights[edit]

Looking out to sea past the Low Light (left) and High Light (right).

Work on the new lights was begun in 1807; both were designed for Trinity House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by local architect John Stokoe (1756–1836). Both towers are of white-painted ashlar, the High Light of four storeys, the Low Light of six, with curved windows; in each case the east face of the tower, facing the sea, is left plain and windowless (except on the lantern stage at the top where the lights shone out to sea). Above the lantern stage is a curved roof topped by a chimney.[9] The lights were first lit in 1810. Each has a house attached for its keepers: that on the Low Light is dated 1816, while that on the High Light has a plaque with the Trinity House arms recording its rebuilding in 1860.[9] In 1883 responsibility for the two lights was transferred from Newcastle Trinity House to the Tyne Improvement Commission.[14]

Decommissioning[edit]

In the late 1990s the lighthouse at Herd Groyne on the opposite bank of the Tyne had a sector light installed for navigation into Tynemouth and along the river, whereupon the High and Low Lights were decommissioned and the buildings sold for housing.[8] The towers, however, continue to serve as daymarks for vessels entering the Tyne and both are listed buildings.[15][16]

Each New Light stands close to its predecessor: the Low Lights are on Fish Quay and the High Lights on Tyne Street, on the ridge above the quay.[9]

Fish Quay New Low Light
Range Front
North Shields fish quay - geograph.org.uk - 300744.jpg
Fish Quay Low Light looking down at the mouth of the Tyne
High and Low Lights of North Shields is located in Tyne and Wear
High and Low Lights of North Shields
Tyne and Wear
LocationNorth Shields Fish Quay
Tyne and Wear
England
United Kingdom
Coordinates55°00′33″N 1°26′04″W / 55.009124°N 1.434512°W / 55.009124; -1.434512
Year first constructed1807
Deactivated1990s
Constructionstone tower
Tower shapemassive square tower with small lantern on the roof
Markings / patternwhite tower
Tower height85 feet (26 m)
Focal height82 feet (25 m)
Range13 nautical miles (24 km)
Admiralty numberA2703
ARLHS numberENG-300
Managing agentPort of Tyne[17]
Fish Quay New High Light
Range Rear
Fish quay high light. - geograph.org.uk - 496894.jpg
Fish Quay High Light attached to adjacent building
LocationNorth Shields Fish Quay
Tyne and Wear
England
United Kingdom
Coordinates55°00′31″N 1°26′16″W / 55.008725°N 1.437907°W / 55.008725; -1.437907
Year first constructed1807
Deactivated1990s
Constructionstone tower
Tower shapesquare tower with small lantern on the roof attached to a building
Markings / patternwhite tower
Tower height57 feet (17 m)
Focal height138 feet (42 m)
Range16 nautical miles (30 km)
CharacteristicF W
Admiralty numberA2703.1
ARLHS numberENG-301
Managing agentPort of Tyne[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ North Sea Pilot, Part III, Hydrographic Dept, 1897, p. 84
  2. ^ Stevenson, David (2013) [1959], The World's Lighthouses Before 1820, Dover, p. 22, ISBN 1306367425
  3. ^ a b c "North Shields, Old Low Light (medieval)". Tyne & Wear SiteLines (Historic Environment Record). Newcastle City Council. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b "North Shields: an archaeological assessment and strategy" (PDF). Tyne & Wear Historic Towns Survey. Newcastle City Council. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Our history". Old Low Light. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  6. ^ "Fish Quay Old". Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  7. ^ "North Shields, Old Low Light". Tyne & Wear SiteLines. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  8. ^ a b Jones, Robin (2014). Lighthouses of the North East Coast. Halsgrove.
  9. ^ a b c d Pevsner, Nikolaus; Richmond, Ian; Grundy, John; McCombie, Grace; Welfare, Humphrey; Ryder, Peter (1992). The Buildings of England: Northumberland. Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of England Series. Yale University Press. pp. 528–9. ISBN 0300096380.
  10. ^ "Beacon House Trinity Buildings Number 1". Listed building description. Historic England. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  11. ^ "Clifford's Fort Trinity House Almshouses and Boundary Stone attached". Listed building description. Historic England. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Clifford's Fort". Scheduled Ancient Monument listing. Historic England. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  13. ^ "How we started". Old Low Light. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  14. ^ "History". Trinity House of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  15. ^ "New High Light". Listed building description. Historic England. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  16. ^ "New Low Light". Listed building description. Historic England. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  17. ^ Fish Quay Low (Range Front) The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 5 June 2016
  18. ^ Fish Quay Old The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 5 June 2016

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°00′22″N 1°26′34″W / 55.006148°N 1.442692°W / 55.006148; -1.442692