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Lindisfarne Lighthouses.


Lindisfarne Island, or Holy Island as it is also known, is situated off the North East coast of England, in the county of Northumberland and is separated from the mainland by a causeway that floods at high water thus making the island.

Trinity House of Newcastle upon Tyne had responsibility for the building and maintenance of lighthouses, beacons and buoys on the North East coast, and during its early years the busiest building schemes were carried out from 1801 to 1810.

One of the most dreaded stretches of the Northumbria coast during that period was the North Sea off Holy Island where the shipwreck of vessels, particularly fishing yawls and trawlers, totalled a loss of 700 lives in one year alone.

One of the causes was a small headland jutting out from the island which had the same geological features as the adjacent Emmanuel Head; thus earning itself the name of the 'false Emmanuel Head'. The false Emmanuel Head was often mistaken by navigators as the entrance to the deep channel and safety of the island, only to be thrown onto the rock studded coast.

Therefore somewhen between 1801 and 1810 the Master and Brethren of the local Trinity House arranged for the building of a white brick pyramid, standing 35 feet high, on a small cliff barely 10 feet high, on Emmanuel Head at the north eastern point of Holy Island. It is suggested that perhaps this was the first daymark ever built on the shores of Britain and remains today as a testimony to its builders.

During the same period and as a further safety measure for vessels entering the small harbour, the Master and Brethren also arranged for the building of two beacons in alignment at Old Law on Guile Point to enable seamen to get a true bearing on their approach to the island.

The construction of the two beacons was one of the most difficult tasks that they had ever tackled. Bricks, cement and iron stanchions had to be shipped in small brigs from Shields, but the biggest problem was the transportation of the workmen from the island in cobles to where the brigs were anchored. The bad weather conditions that prevailed delayed their progress but the work was eventually completed.

Known as East Old Law and West Old Law they are 70 feet high and 83 feet high and set 122 yards apart on the sand dunes at Guile Point. These brick obelisks are built in the shape of elongated pyramids and originally had a wrought iron triangle on a metal staff on the top of each.

I have seen reference to a comment that the beacons were built in the 1860s by a Dundee shipping company that was transporting coal and lime in and out of Holy Island, but it may well refer to a period when perhaps the control of the beacons passed out of the local Trinity House authority, and if they fell into disrepair then perhaps the Dundee company rebuilt them.

However this seems unlikely as on June 7th 1937 the minutes of Trinity House, Newcastle upon Tyne record that Mr Ralph Nesbit had written a letter stating that in his opinion the recent damage by lightning to the West beacon would cost approximately &ppounds 50 pounds to repair, which included the cost of erecting scaffolding. Furthermore he did not recommend the installation of a lightning conductor, for in his opinion unless they were constantly overhauled then they became worthless and besides, lightning very rarely struck the same place twice; thus the chances of the beacon being struck again were very remote. The estimate was accepted and the repairs carried out.

Today the two beacons still stand but without their iron triangles on the top and were taken under the control of Trinity House in London on 1st November 1995. With the changing currents which alter the channels in the approach to the island harbour, the bearing of the beacons is no longer accurate and therefore whilst West Old Law beacon which now bears a fixed light about a third way up the structure, is currently called Guile Point Lighthouse; East Old Law looks idly on ,without any sense of purpose. A polycarbonate navigational light is now exhibited from a new mild steel lattice structure surmounted by a red triangular daymark close by and is named Heugh Hill Lighthouse. It undertakes the duties previously performed by East Old Law.

However, although loosely called lighthouses, they warrant mention as such.