There are three lighthouses on Lundy Island. The Old Lighthouse stands near the centre of the island and Lundy North and South Lighthouses at opposite extremities of the island.
Lundy (Norse for “Puffin”) Island is situated in the mouth of the Bristol Channel, 11 miles out from the north Devon coast. It is 3 miles long and ¾ mile wide. The highest point of the island affords good views of England, Wales and the Atlantic. It was the haunt of Vikings, Normans, pirates and outlaws. With the increase in shipping, piracy flourished, and Lundy became an ideal base for stashing illicit goods.
The island, formed of granite, is surrounded by 20 miles of dangerous, rugged coastline. This makes approaches from either side of the channel difficult. Several bad tidal streams lurk around the island, including the White Horses to the northeast and the Hen and Chickens to the northwest. It is not surprising therefore that, being in the centre of these dangerous currents, many lives were lost at sea. A Royal Commission Report of 1859 detailed that between 1856 and 1857, 97 vessels were damaged or lost on the island’s eastern side, and 44 lives lost. On the western side, 76 ships were lost and 58 lives claimed.
In 1786, a group of Bristol merchants offered to build and maintain a light on the island at their own expense. The foundations for the first light were laid in 1787 on Chappel Hill, which later became known as Beacon Hill. However, the project was abandoned shortly afterwards.
In 1819 Trinity House obtained a lease for the light for 999 years and work began again on the same site. The lighthouse was built by Joseph Nelson. Daniel Asher Alexander, Consultant Engineer to Trinity House was responsible for its design. Alexander was one of the best-known architects and civil engineers of his time. He designed the lighthouse at South Stack on Anglesey in 1809. He was also responsible for the construction of Dartmoor Prison in 1820.
The lighting mechanism was operated by clockwork. This had to be rewound at regular intervals throughout the night. Two lights were shown; one in the main lantern room and one 30 feet below. In 1829 an innovative revolving light was installed as the main light. The lower light displayed a fixed white light out to the west, designed to be seen at a short range of about four nautical miles. If this light disappeared, the vessel was too close. From five miles away, however, the upper and lower lights appeared to merge into one.
Due to its high elevation, the light was often obscured in mist and fog, so two Georgian 18 pounder cannons were placed at the base of the tower.
In another attempt to combat the fog, a lantern room was built at the base of the tower and used if the main light was shrouded in fog. This, too, was often obscured.
A fog signal battery was established on the western side of the island in 1862. The two cannons previously used at the lighthouse were fired every 10 minutes during poor visibility.
The cannons were located in a specially designed gun house with one extending out of the front. Its roof was designed to allow a blast escape should an explosion occur.
Steps lead down from the rock and evidence of two former cottages can be found. These housed the gunners and their families, at one time housing up to 13 people.
In 1878 the cannons were replaced by rockets.
The site was discontinued when the two new North and South Lighthouses were built in 1897.
The Old Lighthouse was finally abandoned in 1897, becoming a daymark when replaced by two new lighthouses at the north and south ends of Lundy Island. The new lighthouses were designed by Trinity House Chief Engineer Thomas Matthews.
Lundy North Lighthouse is located down a flight of steps on a narrow promontory. The single-storey split level accommodation flanked the short tower.
The North lighthouse was powered using a petroleum vapour burner until it was electrified in 1971. It was automated in 1985 and then monitored from Lundy South Lighthouse. The North Lighthouse was converted to solar power in 1991 and the optic was removed. A light was then mounted on the former fog signal building, and it was fully automated in 1994.
Lundy South Lighthouse is visible from the landing stage when arriving by boat. Located on the southeastern corner of the island it stands on a levelled plateau. The 53 feet high tower had a foghorn mounted on top of the lantern.
Much of the equipment from the Old Lighthouse was transferred to Lundy South Lighthouse. Like Lundy North, it was originally powered by a petroleum vapour burner. The lighthouse was electrified in 1971 and automated and converted to solar power in 1994.
In 1969 the National Trust took over the island, and many of the buildings were restored. Lundy is administered by the Landmark Trust, an independent conservation charity. The Trust specialises in the rescue and restoration of historic or interesting buildings.
Facilities on the island are limited, with one shop and the hospitable Marisco Tavern. The walks, scenery and relaxed atmosphere are incredible.