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Lowestoft Lighthouse
Yarmouth Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK
Lowestoft Lighthouse
associated engineer
Not known
date  1872 - 1874
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Lighthouse  |  reference  TM549943
ICE reference number  HEW 750
photo  © Adrian S Pye and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Lowestoft Lighthouse is Britain’s oldest established coastal lighthouse station still in use, and the UK’s most easterly shore light. Navigation lights have been lit at this site for more than four centuries, except during wartime. The present building has one of the most powerful electric lights on the east coast, which is operated automatically from Trinity House’s control centre in Essex.
The sea around the East Anglian coast is dotted with shifting sandbanks. In 1607, Trinity House provided seamarks between Lowestoft and Winterton Ness, north of Great Yarmouth. In May 1609, the Privy Council reported that the Stanford (Stamford) Channel was "a dangerous passage" through the sands where many people had "lost their lives and goods owing to want of marks, buoys, beacons and lighthouses".
The Stanford Channel was used by vessels heading for Lowestoft. Its treacherous inshore passage no longer exists but a channel still runs southwards offshore of Lowestoft Ness, between the sandbanks and the channels of the North and South Roads.
Double lights were erected on the beach foreshore at Lowestoft Ness, which when aligned gave ships a bearing to navigate through the channel — an arrangement known as leading lights. Housed in two lattice frame timber towers, the 'high' and 'low' lights were illuminated using tallow candles. They were taken over by the Trinity Brethren in 1609, and rebuilt in 1628.
Naval administrator and diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), a Brother of Trinity House since 1662, served for two terms as the organisation’s Master, in 1676-7 and 1685-6. Soon after 1676, the first cliff lighthouse was constructed under his mastership. Situated 1.6km north of the town centre, it replaced the foreshore high light and provided better guidance to vessels further out to sea. The tower of brick and stone cost £300, and was lit using a coal fire.
In 1706, the low light was discontinued as it was in danger of being outflanked by the sea. In 1730, to facilitate night time navigation of the Stanford Channel, it was rebuilt further up the beach. The new structure was moveable, again timber framed, and for its light burned whale oil in an open flame lamp.
In 1777, the cliff lighthouse’s coal fire was replaced by a reflector light consisting of a mirror-covered cylinder surrounded by oil lamps inside a glass lantern 2.1m high and 1.8m in diameter. Apparently it had a range of 37km. It was abandoned by 1796, in favour of new technology, and Argand lamps with silvered parabolic reflectors installed at a cost of £1,000.
In December 1858, South Foreland Lighthouse at Dover in Kent became the world’s first lighthouse to show a light generated by electricity. In 1870, Trinity House decided to electrify Lowestoft’s high light. The existing tower was not thought robust enough to bear the weight of the electrical equipment required, so it was demolished and the present tower built on the site.
Constructed in 1872-4, at a cost of £2,350, the new three-storey cylindrical rendered brick tower is 18m high and painted white. A stone corbel around the base of lantern supports an outer gallery with handrail. The centre of the lattice framed glass lantern is 16.2m above ground, or 37.5m above sea level, and is topped by a weather vane.
The light itself had a revolving lens and flashed at 30 second intervals, unlike the previous lights, which had all been fixed (illuminated continually). But it was powered by paraffin oil, not electricity, on grounds of cost. The speed of revolution was governed by a clockwork mechanism of weights and a bevel gearing system in the base of the tower.
At the same time, in 1873, accommodation was constructed for the resident lighthouse keepers in three two-storey, white painted, slate roofed buildings on the north, west and south sides (inland) of the tower — forming a U-shaped layout.
In 1881, the low light was again moved out of reach of the sea, and both lights were converted to gas illumination. Around this time, the tower lantern was mounted on eight inclined tubular iron legs. By the early 1920s, the inshore section of the Stanford Channel had dwindled and the low light was not needed. It was extinguished in August 1923.
Lowestoft Lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1936. In December 1949, the tower and outbuildings were Grade II listed. The tower has a prize exhibit — a plaque saved from the wall of the 1670s lighthouse, showing Pepys' coat of arms.
In 1975, the lighthouse was automated. It was modernised in early 1997, and is now controlled and monitored from the Trinity House planning centre at Harwich in Essex. The tower's fourth order catadioptric light flashes every 15 seconds and has an intensity of 380,000 candelas, visible for up to 24.9km.
Contractor: Suddelay & Stanford, Beverley, Yorkshire
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH E&CDNB

Lowestoft Lighthouse