St Bees Lighthouse

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St Bees Lighthouse
North Head
St Bees Lighthouse
St Bees Lighthouse is located in Cumbria
St Bees Lighthouse
LocationSt Bees Head
Coordinates54°30′49″N 3°38′12″W / 54.513644°N 3.636739°W / 54.513644; -3.636739Coordinates: 54°30′49″N 3°38′12″W / 54.513644°N 3.636739°W / 54.513644; -3.636739
Year first constructed1718
Year first lit1867
Constructionstone tower
Tower shapecylindrical tower with balcony and lantern
Markings / patternwhite tower and lantern
Tower height17 m (56 ft)
Focal height102 m (335 ft)
Current lens1st order 920 mm catadioptric
Light sourcemains power
Intensity60,000 candela
Range18 nmi (33 km; 21 mi)
CharacteristicFl (2) W 20s.
Admiralty numberA4710
NGA number4892
ARLHS numberENG-142
Managing agentTrinity House[1] [2]

St Bees Lighthouse is a lighthouse located on St Bees Head near the village of St Bees in Cumbria, England.

Earlier lighthouses[edit]

St Bees head and lighthouse, engraving 1842 by WH Bartlett

The first lighthouse on the site began its life in 1718 on land bought by Trinity House, one of the UK's General Lighthouse Authorities. It was constructed by Thomas Lutwige, who paid a lease of £20 per year for the site. It stood 9 metres tall and was 5 metres in diameter topped with a large metal grate on which the lighthouse keeper would burn coal. To make money Lutwige levied charges of 3½ pence per tonne of cargo carried by vessels to nearby ports.[3] In 1822 it was the last coal-powered lighthouse in Britain,[4] when it was destroyed by a fire in which the keeper's wife and five children perished by suffocation.[5]

In its place a circular tower, 27 feet (8.2 m) high, with 15 oil-powered Argand lamps set within parabolic reflectors, was built by engineer Joseph Nelson at a cost of £1,447; it was operational from 1823.[6]

In 1866 this was in turn replaced by a new, higher round tower, built (along with two new dwelling houses for the keepers)[7] further inland.[8]

The current lighthouse[edit]

The foundation stone of the current tower was laid in a ceremony on 10 May 1865,[9] with construction by builder John Glaister[10] of Whitehaven. Civil engineer Henry Norris[11] supervised the construction as resident engineer on behalf of Trinity House. Beneath the foundation stone a zinc box was laid containing a dated scroll signed by Henry Norris & John Glaister as well as by the others present at ceremony together with newspapers and coins of the realm.[12]

The tower is 17 metres (56 ft) high and stands an average of 102 metres (335 ft) above sea level.[8] It was built of local sandstone[13] topped by a lantern that was originally destined for Gibraltar [14] It was provided with a large (first-order) catadioptric optic, supplied by Chance Brothers & Co., with a single lamp, supplied by Messrs. W. Wilkins & Co. of Long Acre.[15] The optic included a 'dioptric mirror' (i.e. a set of double-reflecting prisms) which redirected light from the landward side of the lamp back out to sea.[16]

The new lighthouse was still under construction in late November 1866 when Henry Norris was sued by a painter in court in Whitehaven who had not been paid for lettering a notice board at the lighthouse;[17] but it was operational by the end of the year.[8] By the 1890s it was displaying a group-occulting light,[8] on the following pattern: visible for 24 seconds, eclipsed for 2 seconds, visible for 2 seconds, eclipsed for 2 seconds; the light could be seen up to 24 nautical miles (44 km; 28 mi) out to sea.[18]

St Bees Fog Signal House on the cliff edge

From 1913 an explosive fog signal was sounded from the lighthouse;[19] it remained operational into the second half of the century.[20] In the interwar period the lighthouse was used as a turning marker in the London to Isle of Man air races.[21] During World War II the local Home Guard used it to practise defence/attack strategies although there is no record of ammunition being fired at it.[22] In the early 1960s a triple-frequency Tannoy electric fog signal was provided,[23] in a detached building very close to the edge of the cliff.[24]

In 1987 the light was fully electrified, giving a beam of 134,000 candela which can be seen 18 nmi (33 km) away. It was also de-manned and automated at this time: the light was then one of five to be remotely monitored from the Trinity House depot at Holyhead.[23] In 1999 the light was further modernised, after which it was monitored from the Trinity House Planning Centre in Harwich.[8] It flashes twice every 20 seconds. The fog signal has been discontinued; it used to sound two blasts every 45 seconds.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ St. Bee's Head The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 6 May 2016
  2. ^ St. Bees Lighthouse Trinity House. Retrieved 6 May 2016
  3. ^ In depth look at the lighthouse on the Trinity House website Archived 6 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Mechanical Section. The President's Address,- Lighthouses and Marine Buoys", Birmingham Daily Post, p. 6, 3 September 1886, so recently as 1822, the last beacon coal fire in this country was replaced by catoptric oil light apparatus at Saint Bees Lighthouse on the coast of Cumberland.
  5. ^ "Melancholy Event", Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser, p. 2, 21 January 1822, On Saturday last, Inquests were held before PETER HODGSON, Esq. coroner, at Tarnflat, in Sandwich, on the bodies of Mary Clark and her five children, who were found dead the previous evening in the Light House, St. Bees Head, and the Jury returned verdicts - "Died by Suffocation."
  6. ^ "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". p. 105.
  7. ^ "St. Bees New Lighthouse", Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser, p. 5, 16 May 1865, Besides the tower, two new and very substantial dwelling houses are being created for the keepers.
  8. ^ a b c d e Woodman, Richard; Wilson, Jane (2002). The Lighthouses of Trinity House. Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts.: Thomas Reed. pp. 243–244.
  9. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of a new light-house at St. Bees Head was performed on Wednesday last...10th May 1865
  10. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, Mr John Glaiston, of Whitehaven, is the builder
  11. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, Mr Norris,the resident engineer, who has the superintendence of the work for Trinity House
  12. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, Beneath the stone was deposited a zinc box containing the following inscription:-"...With this scroll is deposited newspapers of the day and current coins of the realm" This document was signed by Mr. Glaister, the builder, Mr Norris, the engineer, as well as most of party present
  13. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, The new tower will be built of the red sandstone of the neighbourhood
  14. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, The new lantern was originally destined for Gibraltar
  15. ^ St. Bees New Lighthouse, It will be lighted by one lamp, instead of the fifteen, as the present one is. The lamp will be supplied by Messrs. W. Wilkins & Co., of Longacre
  16. ^ Chance, James Francis (1902). The Lighthouse Work of Sir James Chance, Bt (PDF). London: Smith, Elder & co. p. 81. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  17. ^ "County Courts - Whitehaven Tuesday Nov. 27", The Whitehaven News, p. 5, 29 November 1866, PEARSON v. NORRIS - In this case Charles Pearson, painter,Whitehaven, sued Mr. Norris, Government inspector at the St. Bees lighthouse, now in course of erection, for 10s 3d for work executed by plaintiff.- Plaintiff said the sum claimed was for lettering a notice-board at the St. Bees lighthouse.
  18. ^ Davenport Adams, W. H. (1891). The Story of our Lighthouses and Lightships: Descriptive and Historical (PDF). London, Edinburgh & New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons. pp. 236–237. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  19. ^ "St Bees Head Fog Signal Station". Colourful Coast (Whitehaven to St Bees). Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  20. ^ Admiralty Chart, 1925, 1955
  21. ^ Details from a St Bees website Archived 1 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Details from the BBC's "People's War" website
  23. ^ a b Renton, Alan (2001). Lost Sounds: The Story of Coast Fog Signals. Caithness, Scotland: Whittles.
  24. ^ "Maritime Lights" (PDF). Cumbria County Council. Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  25. ^ Jackson, Derrick (1975). Lighthouses of England and Wales.

External links[edit]