West Usk Lighthouse

West Usk Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

West Usk Lighthouse is an usual design, the first to be built by James Walker (1781—1862).  Walker was a Scottish-born architect and Consultant Engineer to Trinity House.

By the end of the 19th century, Newport was one of the busiest cargo handling centres in Britain.  It became the largest port in the world handling coal shipments.  

The earliest recorded application for a lighthouse here was made in 1807.  This was renewed in 1820 when the application was finally successful.  Despite its current location, the lighthouse originally stood on an island.  However, by 1850 Trinity House had acquired the land from Lord Tredegar’s estate and reclaimed it, joining it to the mainland.

The lighthouse was completed in 1821 with a short tower, rising from the centre of a squat two-storey drum-shaped building.  The rooms in the circular dwelling were for the use of the two keepers and their families.

West Usk Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

The tower was 57ft high, and a fixed light was first exhibited on 1st December 1821, which had white and red sectors.  The red sector shone over the Welsh Grounds and Welsh Hook sandbanks. 

A second lighthouse at East Usk was established in 1893, on the opposite bank of the river.

In 1868 alterations were made, and it is likely that a helically framed lantern with diagonal framing was installed at this time.  In 1895 and 1902 the light was recorded as having a triple occulting light every 30 seconds, also showing red and green sectors, visible from 11 miles.

The lighthouse was discontinued in 1922 and sold privately for £670.  After 1930 it was abandoned and fell into disrepair for many years, and at some stage, the lantern was removed.  By 1967 the lighthouse had been refurbished by a local man, but by the 1980s it had fallen vacant again.

West Usk
West Usk Lighthouse in 1956
John Frost Collection

In 1987 Frank and Danielle Sheahan purchased the building for £80,000 after moving from Kent.  At this stage, the building was derelict and vandalised, and cattle had been allowed to roam freely inside.  It took four years to restore.

A new lantern was added in December 1997 after much research by the owners.  CADW, Newport Borough Council and the Welsh Tourist Board assisted with funding contributions.  On 1st December 2005 the owner installed and re-lit a new modern light, although this is not recognised as a navigation aid.

West Usk is located near Tredegar House.  In the 17th century, the pirate Captain Morgan was believed to have built a tunnel between the House and the site where the lighthouse is located.  He is said to have stored contraband within the tunnel.  In the lighthouse plans, the foundations were found to be as deep as the tower is high, but there was no evidence of tunnels.  

Lightkeepers Watch
Photo: Ruth Drinkwater

The lighthouse offers accommodation in the Lightkeeper’s Watch and is also a wedding venue.

Established: 1821
Discontinued: 1922
Engineer: James Walker
Tower Height: 17 metres