Needles Lighthouse

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Needles Lighthouse
The Needles, Isle of Wight, England-2Oct2011.jpg
Aerial view of Needles Lighthouse
Needles Lighthouse is located in Isle of Wight
Needles Lighthouse
Isle of Wight
LocationAlum Bay
Isle of Wight
Coordinates50°39′44.2″N 1°35′30.5″W / 50.662278°N 1.591806°W / 50.662278; -1.591806Coordinates: 50°39′44.2″N 1°35′30.5″W / 50.662278°N 1.591806°W / 50.662278; -1.591806
Year first constructed1786 (first)
Year first lit1859 (current)
Constructiongranite tower
Tower shapecylindrical tower with lantern and helipad above lantern
Markings / patterntower with red and white bands
Tower height31 m (102 ft)
Focal height24 m (79 ft)
Current lens2nd order 700mm fixed lens
Intensitywhite: 12,300 candela
red (intensified): 3,950 candela
red: 1,800 candela
green 2,860 candela
Rangewhite and red (intensified): 17 nmi (31 km; 20 mi)
red and green: 14 nmi (26 km; 16 mi)
CharacteristicOc (2) WRG 20s.
Fog signaltwo blasts every 30s.
Admiralty numberA0528
NGA number0584
ARLHS numberENG 083
Managing agentTrinity House[1] [2]
HeritageGrade II listed building Edit this on Wikidata

The Needles Lighthouse is an active 19th century lighthouse on the outermost of the chalk rocks at The Needles on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, near sea level. Designed by James Walker, for Trinity House at a cost of £20,000. It was completed in 1859 from granite blocks, stands 33.25 metres (109.1 ft) high and is a circular tower with straight sides. It replaced an earlier light tower on top of a cliff overhanging Scratchell's Bay, which was first lit on 29 September 1786.

The first lighthouse[edit]

In 1781 a group of merchants and ship owners petitioned Trinity House for navigation lights to be provided around the western approaches to the Solent. The response was positive, but it was not until 1785 that construction began, on three new lighthouses: one on St Catherine's Down, one on Hurst Point and one on the clifftop above the Needles; all three were designed by Richard Jupp.[3] From September the following year the Needles light was operational; however, its height of 144m above sea level meant it was often obscured by fog and sea mists, a problem that eventually led to its replacement some 70 years later.[3] Prior to its decommissioning, illumination was provided by 13 Argand lamps with parabolic reflectors;[4] the light shone red to seaward but white from St Alban's Head to Hurst Point.[5]

The current lighthouse[edit]


The Needles c.1890

Before work could begin on the new tower a sizeable section of rock was cut away to provide a level base. Tunnels were also excavated within the rock behind the tower to provide rooms for storage. A new oil burner, with four concentric wicks, provided the light source atop the new tower, placed within a large fixed catadioptric optic provided by Henry-Lepaute of Paris.[4] The tower displayed a fixed red light with a white sector indicating a clear approach running south of Durlestone Head and past a pair of sandbanks: South-west Shingles and Dolphin Bank.[5] Later a narrow white sector marked the approach from the north-east past Warden Ledge;[6] By 1884 a further (green) sector had been added and the light made occulting.[7] Later, a more powerful incandescent paraffin vapour burner was installed. In 1946 the light was electrified, with diesel generators providing 100 volt direct current for the new lamp, which was mounted within the old optic.

The lighthouse with helipad.

Before automation, the lighthouse was staffed by a three-man crew operating a 24-hour watch, serving one month on / one month off, living in rudimentary conditions in three levels below the light.[8] In 1987 a helipad was added to the top of the lighthouse. By the early 1990s the Needles was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be powered by 100V DC electricity from its own generators.[3] Before it could become fully automated, a submarine power cable had to be laid, bringing 240V mains electricity to the lighthouse from the island. By the time the last keepers left on 8 December 1994 the Needles was one of the last three remaining manned rock lighthouses in England and Wales.[3]

Fog signalling apparatus[edit]

One of the sets of supertyfon horns formerly installed on the lighthouse.

Initially the lighthouse had been provided with a 3 cwt bell, sounded by a clockwork mechanism, to serve as a fog signal.[4] Then, in 1906, a reed fog signal was installed, together with a pair of oil engines in the basement of the tower to provide compressed air, which sounded from three acoustic horns which protruded through the roof of the lantern.[9] In 1946, as part of the electrification of the light, Gardner diesel-driven generators replaced the oil engines; these also powered compressors for the fog horn. By 1970[10] the reeds had been replaced with a set of 'supertyfon' air horns, mounted on the parapet surrounding the lantern. In 1994 these were in turn replaced by electric emitters as part of the automation process.[9]

Present day[edit]

Today the main lamp is a 1500W bulb; the original optic with its coloured sectors remains in use as of 2019.[11] Due to the condition of the chalk strata on which the lighthouse was built, in April 2010 a £500,000 underpinning project was announced, designed to stop the lighthouse falling into the sea.[12] Over a 12-week period from early June, civil marine contractors Nuttall John Martin excavated a trench around the base of the lighthouse, to install a ring of stabilising posts, reinforced with concrete.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Needles The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 3 May 2016
  2. ^ Needles Lighthouse Trinity House. Retrieved 3 May 2016
  3. ^ a b c d "Needles Lighthouse". Trinity House. n.d. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". p. 82.
  5. ^ a b Hobbs, J. S. (1859). The Bristol Channel Pilot: from The Downs to Bristol. London: Charles Wilson. p. 36.
  6. ^ The English Channel Pilot. London: Charles Wilson. 1878. p. 54.
  7. ^ Edwards, E. Price (1884). Our Seamarks: a plain account of the Lighthouses, Lightships, Beacons, Buoys, and Fog-signals maintained on our Coasts. London: Longmans, Green & co. p. 184. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  8. ^ Nowicka, Helen (15 August 1993). "Last one out, leave the light on: The Needles lighthouse is to lose its keepers as manning is phased out around Britain". London: The Independent. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  9. ^ a b Renton, Alan (2001). Lost Sounds: The Story of Coast Fog Signals. Caithness, Scotland: Whittles.
  10. ^ "Needles Lighthouse, Isle of Wight [photo]". Royal Institute of British Architects. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  11. ^ Needles Lighthouse Trinity House. Retrieved 1 May 2019
  12. ^ "Rescue to save Needles lighthouse landmark". The Mirror. 30 April 2010. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  13. ^ "Work to start on crumbling lighthouse". Isle of Wight County Press. 28 April 2010. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010.

External links[edit]