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St Catherine's Lighthouse (1838)
St Catherine's Down, Isle of Wight, UK
St Catherine's Lighthouse (1838)
associated engineer
James Walker
Michael Faraday
date  1836 - 38
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Lighthouse  |  reference  SZ497754
ICE reference number  HEW 736
photo  © Andrew McDonald and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Lighthouses built to guard headlands, rather than isolated rocks, were generaly sited on promontories but frequent obstruction by low cloud often compelled the later construction of a replacement closer to sea level. This happened at The Needles, Beachy Head and at St Catherine Point.
The orginal St Catherine's Lighthouse was constructed in 1328. It was part of a building complex that included a chapel. Only the octagonal stone tower remains on St Catherine's Hill, some 228m above sea level.
Low cloud often obscured the tower and a replacement was constructed in 1785. However, this too proved to be sited too far up the hill.
In 1836, work began on a replacement designed by James Walker. It is sited some 90m from the sea and 9m above high tide level. A shortened verion of this lighthouse is the one in use today on St Catherine Point. It was first lit in March 1840.
The scientific adviser to Trinity House (the organization in charge of lighthouses in England), Michael Faraday, visited St Catharine's in 1841 to inspect the way in which the glass of the lanthorn needed constant cleaning to keep it clear of the products of combustion of the oil lamp.
This visit led him to invent a siphon chimney which, when installed, completely solved the problem. ‘Your Plan has driven the enemy out’, as the keeper George Neale wrote to Faraday. This was the only invention of Faraday’s ever to be patented (by his elder brother Robert) and was installed in all Trinity House lighthouses. It was later used in many other public buildings including the new Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Athenaeum.
The tower of the lighthouse was reduced by 13m 1875. In 1868, a reed fog signal designed by C.L. Daboll was installed which was driven by a coke-fired caloric heat engine. In 1943, the lighthouse was bombed and three keepers were killed sheltering in an outbuilding.
The lighthouse was fully automated in 1997.
Research: FJ
"The Lighthouses of Trinity House" by Richard Woodman and Jane Wilson
Bradford on Avon, 2002, pp.141-2
" 'The civil-engineer's talent': Michael Faraday, science, engineering and the English lighthouse service, 1836-1865” by Frank A.J.L. James
Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1999: 70: 153-60
reference sources   CEH South

St Catherine's Lighthouse (1838)