Ferries arriving into Douglas Bay catch their first glimpse of Douglas Head Lighthouse on the southern headland. The Isle of Man’s capital town of Douglas developed during Victorian times, becoming a popular holiday destination.
Scottish Lighthouse Engineer Robert Stevenson designed the first lighthouse built on Douglas Head for the Harbour Commissioners in 1832. However, over the ensuing years, the company struggled to maintain the lighthouse. Eventually, the Commissioners were unable to keep the lighthouse operational and stopped collecting their harbour dues.
The Harbour Commissioners approached the Northern Lighthouse Board to take over its operation. The NLB argued that the Harbour Commissioners should be responsible for its upkeep as it was a harbour light. So the debate continued over the next few years.
By 1855 deep concern grew regarding the extinguished Douglas Light. In May 1857 the Harbour Commissioners wrote formally to the Northern Lighthouse Board again requesting that they take over operation of the lighthouse.
In July of the same year, the NLB commissioners visited the lighthouse and finally agreed. The Board of Trade gave its consent, and Douglas Head Lighthouse became the NLB’s responsibility in August 1857.
The lighthouse Commissioners and their joint engineers, David A and Charles Stevenson recommended that the lighthouse needed replacement. They suggested removing the old buildings and tower and rebuilding them to an improved design, re-using as much stone from the original buildings as possible.
The Board of Trade, however, disagreed. They felt that the lightship at Bahama Bank and the newly established lighthouse at Langness nine miles to the south-west were providing adequate cover.
The dispute between continued for a further two years.
Finally, construction started on the new complex in February 1892. Within eight months, the new lighthouse was operational, displaying six white flashes every 15 seconds. As there was no road to the site, building materials were delivered by sea to a small landing on the north side of the headland.
By the late 1800s, Douglas had become a fashionable holiday resort. The lighthouse had become such a popular tourist attraction that the keepers had to restrict their visiting times between 11 am and 1 pm to allow them to carry out their regular duties.
In 1886 the shipowners of Greenock and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company requested a more powerful fog signal to be established at Douglas Head. It was not possible to hear the fog gun from a distance against the wind.
The NLB turned down the request; although they agreed that a signal was required. They deemed that it was the responsibility of the Harbour Commissioners to establish.
It was to be another 20 years before a new fog signal was established.
An additional keeper’s dwelling, engine room and fog signal turret were built. Because this was deemed of most benefit to local marine traffic, the fog signal’s running costs and the third keeper’s salary were met by the Isle of Man Harbour Commissioners. The fog signal became operational in July 1908.
Another fog signal was established at the end of Victoria Pier in 1926.
The diaphone fog signal, which became known locally as Moaning Minnie, was unpopular with the local people as it was so loud. It was equally undesirable with the keepers and their families.
In 1938 the original fog turret was moved away from the main lighthouse quarters and relocated around 100 metres to the south. The fog signal was discontinued in 1975, and the lighthouse complement reverted to two keepers.
The lighthouse was automated in 1986, and in 2004 a Retained Lighthouse Keeper took over responsibility from the previous Attendant.
The cottages were later sold off and are now privately owned.
A new LED Sealite Marine Lantern came into operation on 18th January 2018 replacing the previous sealed beam array. It retained its original character of one white flash every 10 seconds.