Portland Breakwater Lighthouse is at the southern end of the northeast breakwater in Portland Harbour. Portland Harbour is one of the largest man-made harbours in the world, enclosed by four breakwaters. Two are only accessible by boat.
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Construction of the harbour began in 1849 when the two southern breakwaters were built. They were designed by James Rendell and completed in 1868 under the supervision of John Coode.
In 1891 a torpedo factory was built, and the two northern breakwaters were built between 1893 and 1905.
The first lighthouse in the harbour was built in 1851 following the construction of the new breakwaters. The 26 feet high metal tower was located on the northern end of the mile-long outer breakwater displaying an occulting red light.
Following the construction of the two northern breakwaters in 1905, a 71 feet high cast iron tower was completed. The new lighthouse consisted of a narrow metal tube surrounded by cast-iron supports forming a hexagon. Chance Brothers manufactured the prefabricated structure. A fog bell was also fitted to the tower, sounding once every ten seconds in poor visibility.
The lighthouse on Portland Breakwater was originally powered by oil and later gas. Today the lighthouse is powered with electricity using an LED lamp.
During the First World War, the battleship HMS Hood was sunk across the southern entrance making access impossible. The Breakwater lighthouse marked the more southerly of the two remaining entry points.
The lighthouse was originally owned by the Admiralty and managed by Trinity House.
The one-mile length of the breakwater was strewn with derelict wartime buildings. The closest block to the lighthouse was converted into accommodation for the three lighthouse keepers. They lived here until automation took place in the 1960s.
Arthur Lane was a keeper at Portland Breakwater and documented his time there in his book It was Fun While It Lasted. He recalled: “I swam the quarter-mile gap to the next breakwater using a snorkel and flippers and pushing in front of me a plank to which I had nailed a pole from which hung a waterproof bag in which I packed my clothing and shoes for the walk into Weymouth”. He returned later for duty in a pleasure boat.
In 1995 Portland Naval Base was closed, and the lighthouse was restored and repainted around the same time. Ownership of the lighthouse and harbour was then transferred to Portland Port Ltd. Responsibility for the management was transferred to Portland Harbour Authority. The harbour is also home to the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
In 2016 the lighthouse was further restored. Its optic was removed and is now at Weymouth Museum.
The lighthouse looks across towards the Breakwater Fort. One of the best ways to see the lighthouse is by boat, and boat trips operate out to the harbour. The breakwater can also be seen from a distance from Nothe Fort.