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March 18, 2024

The earliest lighthouses in Britain used whatever materials were available locally; wood, brick and stone. The life of these structures was predictably short, especially if they were offshore.

The rebuilding of the Eddystone Rocks lighthouse off Plymouth Sound by the engineer John Smeaton set a milestone in the progression of lighthouse design. This, coupled with the developing technology of projecting light across vast distances, would revolutionise the lighthouse service around the country.

In England and Wales, Trinity House was empowered since 1836 to compulsorily buy out any remaining private lighthouses and they were soon fully engaged on an ambitious programme of expansion that included stations such as Beachy Head, Wolf Rock and the North Foreland in Kent.

In Scotland, meanwhile, Robert Stevenson was busy building a mini empire of lighthouse builders. Between them, the Stevenson dynasty was responsible for designing and building over 80 lighthouses in Scotland and the Isle of Man during the years 1811 to 1937.

As an island nation, the safety of Britain’s coastline is of immense importance to the shipping plying its waters. The proliferation of lights that dot the north Atlantic shores, the Irish sea, the English Channel or the eastern lights that welcome shipping returning across the North Sea, bear testimony to this dedication to the safe passage of vessels into and out of home waters and the wider oceans beyond.

Roger O’Reilly is a lighthouse expert, artist and founder of Lighthouse Editions. O’Reilly’s incredible book Legendary Lighthouses of Britain is available to pre-order now and is releasing April 9th 2024.

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