The Origins of Portland Bill Lighthouse
Trinity House Board Minute:
“Mr. Borrett attended the Board with a petition and new subscriptions for a lighthouse at Portland, and was told it should be taken into consideration at the next Court which would be in about a month whereof timely notice should be given him.”
As early as 1669 Sir John Clayton was granted a patent to erect a lighthouse, but his scheme fell through and it was not until early in the eighteenth century that Captain William Holman, supported by the shipowners and Corporation of Weymouth, put a petition to Trinity House for the building of a lighthouse at Portland Bill. Trinity House opposed it suggesting that lights at this point were needless and shipowners could not bear the burden of their upkeep.
The people of Weymouth continued their petition and on 26 May, 1716 Trinity House obtained a patent from George I. They in turn issued a lease for 61 years to a private consortium who built two lighthouses with enclosed lanterns and coal fires. The lights were badly kept, sometimes not lit at all, and in 1752 an inspection was made by two members of the Board of Trinity House who approached by sea to find “it was nigh two hours after sunset before any light appeared in either of the lighthouses”.
With the termination of the lease the lights reverted to Trinity House. In 1789 William Johns, a builder of Weymouth under contract to Trinity House, took down one of the towers and erected a new one at a cost of £2,000. It was sited so that it served as a mark by day or night to direct ships moving up and down Channel or into Portland Roads clear of the Race and Shambles.
In August 1788 Argand lamps were installed, Portland being the first lighthouse in England to be fitted with them. In the upper or old house there were two rows, seven in each row, lighted with oil and furnished with highly-polished reflectors. Low light tests were made by Thomas Rogers with his new lens light, and six Argand lamps were installed, their lights increased by lenses.
The present tower was built in 1906. More information about Portland Bill Lighthouse can be found on the Trinity House website.