St Catherine’s Lighthouse

St Catherines Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

St Catherine’s Lighthouse is located at the southern tip of the Isle of Wight near the village of Niton. 

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The first light established at St Catherine’s dates back to 1328 when Walter de Godyton erected St Catherine’s Oratory on Chale Hill. 

St Catherine’s Lighthouse was constructed in 1838 after the loss of the sailing ship Clarendon. However, the elevation of the light proved to be too high, as the lantern was frequently shrouded in mist. In 1875 the light was lowered by 43 feet, taking about 20 feet out of the uppermost section of the tower. The remainder came out of the middle tier.

St Catherines Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

At that time, the fog signal house was near the edge of the cliff. But due to erosion and cliff settlement, the building developed serious cracks, so in 1932 a new location for the fog signal had to be found. Eventually, it was mounted on a lower tower annexed to the front of the lighthouse and built in a similar style. The effect has been to give a well-proportioned step down between the two towers known as “The Cow and the Calf”. The fog signal was discontinued in 1987.

The white octagonal tower has 94 steps leading up to the lantern. The main light, visible for up to 25 miles in clear weather, gives a guide to shipping in the Channel and vessels approaching the Solent.

A fixed red subsidiary light from a window 23ft below the main light shows over the Atherfield Ledge. It is visible for 17 miles in clear weather and was first exhibited in 1904. Both lights are electric, and standby battery lights are provided in case of a power failure.

During the Second World War, a tragic incident took place at the station. On 1st June 1943, a bombing raid destroyed the engine house killing the three keepers on duty who had taken shelter in the building.

Memorial plaque
Memorial plaque in the lighthouse

Richard T Grenfell, Charles Tomkins and William E Jones were buried at St John’s Church, Church Street, Niton. A memorial plaque is displayed on the ground floor of the main lighthouse tower.

The gravestone reads: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.

St Catherines memorial Niton
Memorial grave at St John’s Church, Niton

St Catherine’s Lighthouse was automated on 30th July 1997. Prior to automation, the lighthouse had been a weather reporting station for the Meteorological Office for many years. The keepers made hourly weather observations. These recordings included temperature, humidity, cloud, wind direction and force. This data was then relayed to the Met Office at regular intervals. Following the de-manning of the lighthouse, an automatic weather reporting station was installed. This sends weather conditions details to the Met Office via a telemetry link.

In 2021 the optic was removed as part of a modernisation programme and is now on display at the Classic Boat Museum in Cowes.

Some of the lighthouse cottages are dog friendly.

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Established: 1838
Engineer: James Walker
Tower Height: 27 metres
Light Character: Fl W 5 s
Light Range: 25 miles
Elevation: 41 metres
Automated: 1997