Portland Bill Lighthouse

Portland Bill Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Portland Bill Lighthouse is located at the southern tip of the Isle of Portland, which is connected to the mainland by Chesil Beach. This 18-mile-long shingle spit forms an isthmus that connects the Isle of Portland to the mainland at its eastern end. The tides are constantly shaping Portland Bill.

To the southeast is the Shambles sandbank, where up to 7 knots of tidal streams have been recorded as the Portland Race rounds the Bill.

The current lighthouse replaced the Old Higher and Old Lower Lighthouses located nearby. The two lighthouses were established in 1716 working as leading lights marking the Shambles sandbank.  They were later rebuilt.

Portland Bill Lighthouse

In 1901 a severe storm raged along the coastline with the resulting loss of fifteen ships.  Trinity House decided that the Old High and Low Lights were no longer suitable and recommended building a new tower.  There would also be a saving in having to maintain only one lighthouse rather than two.

So in 1906, a new lighthouse was built, designed by Trinty House Engineer-in-Chief Thomas Matthews.  When finished, the new Portland Bill Lighthouse was 139 feet tall and was painted white with a red band.  A first-order dioptric optic manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham was installed.  The keepers’ dwellings were built alongside.

Portland Bill Lighthouse was first lit on 11th January 1906.  A red sector light shone further down the tower marking the Shambles Reef.

Postcard image of lighthouse
Postcard of Portland Bill Lighthouse
Photo: John Frost Collection

The Old High and Low Lighthouses were then discontinued and later sold privately.

The Shambles sandbank is about 3 miles east and was originally marked by two buoys in 1824.  These were replaced by Shambles Lightvessel in 1859.   An obelisk in front of the tower on the cliff edge was built in 1844 and also marks the sandbank.  

Following the establishment of the current tower, the shoal was marked with buoys at the east and west ends of the sandbank.

Lighthouse and marker stone

Portland Bill Lighthouse was automated on 18th March 1996.   In 2021 the lighthouse was modernised, and the optic was removed and is now on display at the base of the tower.  Following modernisation, the character and range of the light altered from 25 to 18 miles.

There is an excellent visitor centre and guided tours are available.

Portland Bill optic
The former optic at the base of the tower
Photo: Patrick Tubby
Established: 1906
Engineer: Thomas Matthews
Tower Height: 41 metres
Light Character: Fl (4) W 20 s
Light Range: 25 miles
Elevation: 43 metres
Automated: 1996