St Catherine’s Oratory stands at the top of Chale Hill, around three miles from St Catherine’s Lighthouse.
Walter de Godyton, Lord of Chale, was caught stealing wine from the wreck of St Marie of Bayonne, which came to grief in Chale Bay in April 1313. As his punishment, he was ordered to build a lighthouse and oratory so that priests could pray there for the lost sailors’ souls.
The tower was built in 1328, a year after Godyton died, and consisted of a 35 ft high octagonal stone tower. It had four storeys, topped with a pyramidical roof, and is often referred to as the Pepper Pot.
The lighthouse was built to the west of an oratory that already existed on the hill dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria. Not much of this structure remains today other than evidence of the walls.
The lighthouse tower had openings on each of the eight sides through which the central coal fire was displayed. It continued to operate until 1547 when Henry VIII closed all Catholic institutions.
In the 1700s, Sir Richard Worsley of Appuldurcombe House added four large buttresses to the lighthouse to strengthen it. This gave it a distinctive rocket design. St Catherine’s Oratory is the second oldest lighthouse in the British Isles, the oldest being the Roman Pharos of Dover.
In 1785 Trinity House resurrected the old light and began work on a new lighthouse close by. However, the site was often shrouded in fog, and the tower was abandoned before it was completed. The base is still in evidence underneath the radio mast.
English Heritage owns St Catherine’s Oratory, and it is possible to walk up to the tower. The path to the lighthouse is clearly marked from the Blackgang Viewpoint Car Park.