On This Day in Trinity House History – 26 November

1998

North Foreland Lighthouse is automated and the last lighthouse keepers leave

The completion of the ambitious lighthouse automation programme came with the North Foreland Lighthouse. Ending four centuries of service, the last six keepers in the Trinity House Lighthouse Service were given a warm farewell by the Master HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and the profession passed into folklore and history.

A light was first exhibited at North Foreland in 1499, but the first real lighthouse was built by Sir John Meldrum in 1636. The lighthouse consisted of a two storey octagonal tower made of timber, lath and plaster with an iron coal burning grate on top. This tower was destroyed by fire in 1683.

A temporary measure of a single candle in a lantern hoisted on a pole proved, not surprisingly, ineffective and the present structure was built in 1691; originally the tower was 12 metres tall constructed of brick, stone and flint. In 1698 the lighthouse is recorded as using 100 tons of coal a year.

North Foreland Lighthouse came into the hands of the Trustees of Greenwich Hospital in 1719, they used the surplus from the light dues for the upkeep of the hospital for the benefit of seamen. They enclosed the fire in a glazed lantern in 1719 but this was removed in 1730 after complaints from shipping. In 1793 a further two storeys were added to the tower and the coal fire was replaced by 18 oil lamps.

Trinity House purchased the lighthouse in 1832. In 1890 a separate room known as the lantern house, was built on to the top of the tower to accommodate the light. An improved light source was installed in 1894, a pair of eight wick Trinity House-pattern burners for heavy mineral oil, replaced in 1904 by a triple mantle burner, and again replaced in 1923 with a ‘Hood’ 100mm petroleum vapour burner.

North Foreland was the last Trinity Lighthouse to be automated when it was converted to automatic operation at a ceremony attended by his Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh in 1998.

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

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