Douglas Head Lighthouse

Douglas Head Lighthouse

Ferries arriving in 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.

First Douglas Head Lighthouse

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. They could not 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 they requested that they take over the operation of the lighthouse. 

Lighthouse cottages
Photo: Patrick Tubby

In July of the same year, the NLB commissioners visited the lighthouse and finally agreed. The Board of Trade gave consent, and Douglas Head Lighthouse became the Northern Lighthouse Board’s responsibility in August 1857.

Joint engineers David A and Charles Stevenson recommended that the lighthouse needed replacement. They suggested removing the old buildings and tower and rebuilding them with an improved design. Much of the stone from the original buildings was reused.

The Board of Trade, however, disagreed. They felt that the lightship at Bahama Bank and the new Langness Lighthouse provided adequate cover.

The dispute between the two organisations ran on for a further two years. 

Douglas Head Lighthouse

Second Douglas Head Lighthouse

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. 

Landing stage steps
Landing stage steps
Photo: Patrick Tubby

By the late 1800s, Douglas had become a fashionable holiday resort. The lighthouse became such a popular tourist attraction that the keepers had to restrict their visiting times. They restricted their tours between 11 am and 1 pm to allow them to carry out their regular duties.

Fog signal

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. 

Steps to lighthouse
Former fog signal turret to the left
Photo: Patrick Tubby

An additional keeper’s dwelling, engine room and fog signal turret were built. Because this was of benefit to local marine traffic, the Harbour Commissioners met the fog signal’s running costs and the third keeper’s salary. 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.

Fog base at Douglas
Site of the former fog signal

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.

Automation and modernisation

The lighthouse was automated in 1986. In 2004 a Retained Lighthouse Keeper took over responsibility from the previous Attendant. 

The cottages were later sold off and are now privately owned.

Lighthouse at night

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. 

The lighthouse can be reached via a flight of steps near the Great Union Camera Obscura, though the lighthouse cottages are privately owned, and access into the grounds is not permitted.

At the top of the embankment is the former Douglas Signal Daymark, which now forms part of an apartment complex.

Established: 1832, Current tower: 1892
Engineer: Robert Stevenson (1), David and Charles Stevenson (current tower)
Tower Height: 20 metres
Light Character: Fl W 10 s
Light Range: 12 miles
Elevation: 32 metres
Automated: 1986