Dungeness Point is well known for its two lighthouses. Although one is termed the “old” lighthouse and one the “new”, there have in fact been five lighthouses in Dungeness’ history.
With its shifting banks of shingle, Dungeness had always been considered dangerous to shipping. It used to be lit by beacons to ward off ships. During the 16th Century both the number and size of ships using the English Channel was on the increase, as were deaths at sea. As a result, the first lighthouse was built here in 1615. Its owner, Sir Edward Howard, was empowered to levy tolls of one penny per ton for all ships passing it. It is perhaps not all that surprising that Sir Edward had “great difficulty in collecting the dues“. He made over his rights to William Lamplough.
William Lamplough, who was Clerk to the Royal Kitchen, did not have the same problem. He appointed customs officials to assist him and collect the toll at ports. Angry ship owners joined forces with Trinity House (who were granted a Royal Charter in 1514 to look after the safety of shipping) in promoting a Bill to suppress the lighthouse as a “nuisance to navigation” due to its poor light. This failed, though Lamplough was warned that better light must be shown.
Better light was shown, but over time the sea receded and complaints about poor light continued. In 1635 the lighthouse was pulled down and a more substantial one built closer to Dungeness Point. This was known as Lamplough’s Tower. It lit the shoreline for over 100 years, but once again, the receding sea reduced its luminescence and increased its obsolescence.
In 1792 a new lighthouse was built by Samuel Wyatt, known as Samuel Wyatt’s Tower. This too lasted for over 100 years, and became one of the first lighthouses to be powered by electricity. Living quarters for the lighthouse keepers were built at the base of the lighthouse, in a circular building. This still exists today, although the lighthouse itself has again been replaced.
But of course the sea receded yet again. A replacement lighthouse, known as the High Light Tower, was completed in 1904 – this is the “old” lighthouse. At 41 metres high it stands taller than Samuel Wyatt’s Tower by 6 metres. It was painted in black and white bands so that it stood out in daylight, although today it is painted entirely in black. This is presumably so that ships can distinguish it from the new lighthouse which is now painted in bands.
The “old” lighthouse was replaced with the “new” primarily because of the nuclear power station, built in the 1960’s. The lights from the power station, which lies a quarter of a mile away, interfered with the light from the lighthouse.
The “new” lighthouse is called simply Dungeness Lighthouse, and was opened in 1961. In May 1962 it was upgraded and floodlit from its seaward side, to assist with identification, but also to reduce bird mortality. I had not known that lighthouses were so dangerous to birds, but apparently they are! The problem is not one of birds flying into the lighthouse, but rather dying from exhaustion by chasing the light beam round and round. Whilst many birds are able to reach land, for some the light is a real distraction and hinders their navigation. They fly around the lighthouse like moths around a naked bulb, until they fall from the sky, or until dawn breaks and a new, stronger, light takes over and guides them on their proper way.
Between the two lighthouses is a boardwalk, opened in 2005. It is there to attract a greater number of visitors to the area, and also encourage vegetation to grow back by keeping the increase in visitors off the shingle. The boardwalk leads nowhere, offering only a dead end and a view of the shoreline.
Standing on the shingle at the foot of the boardwalk is a dilapidated wooden shack, surrounded by chicken wire fencing. You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but this was built in the late 1890’s and was used by Guglielmo Marconi as he researched transmitting radio signals. In 1899 he became the first person to transmit a radio signal across the English Channel.
Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Dungeness Old Lighthouse: N 50° 54.828 E 000° 58.184
- Living Quarters of Samuel Wyatt’s Tower: N 50° 54.812 E 000° 58.204
- Dungeness New Lighthouse: N 50° 54.809 E 000° 58.556
- The Boardwalk: N 50° 54.759 E 000° 58.511
- Marconi Shack: N 50° 54.765 E 000° 58.453
Walk #41 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):
- Date of Walk: 3 January 2013
- Walk #41 total distance covered: 7.06 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 327.17 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!