Aerial view of Needles Lighthouse
Isle of Wight
|Year first constructed||1786 (first)|
|Year first lit||1859 (current)|
|Tower shape||cylindrical tower with lantern and helipad above lantern|
|Markings / pattern||tower with red and white bands|
|Tower height||31 m (102 ft)|
|Focal height||24 m (79 ft)|
|Current lens||2nd order 700mm fixed lens|
|Intensity||white: 12,300 candela|
red (intensified): 3,950 candela
red: 1,800 candela
green 2,860 candela
|Range||white and red (intensified): 17 nmi (31 km; 20 mi)|
red and green: 14 nmi (26 km; 16 mi)
|Characteristic||Oc (2) WRG 20s.|
|Fog signal||two blasts every 30s.|
|ARLHS number||ENG 083|
|Managing agent||Trinity House |
|Heritage||Grade II listed building|
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
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. 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. Prior to its decommissioning, illumination was provided by 13 Argand lamps with parabolic reflectors; the light shone red to seaward but white from St Alban's Head to Hurst Point.
The current lighthouse
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. 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. Later a narrow white sector marked the approach from the north-east past Warden Ledge; By 1884 a further (green) sector had been added and the light made occulting. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Fog signalling apparatus
Initially the lighthouse had been provided with a 3 cwt bell, sounded by a clockwork mechanism, to serve as a fog signal. 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. 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 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.
Today the main lamp is a 1500W bulb; the original optic with its coloured sectors remains in use as of 2019. 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. 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.
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- 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.
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