Skip to main content

The Smalls Lighthouse

The Smalls Lighthouse stands on a small rock approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of Ramsey Island.

The first Smalls lighthouse was built in 1776 and was made of wood. Privately owned, it was an extremely profitable piece of property.

The original Smalls Lighthouse was erected over 1775 and 1776, on the plans of Liverpool musical instrument maker Henry Whiteside. It stood on nine oak pillars, allowing the sea to pass through beneath. Although it suffered from some rocking, it stood for 80 years. During its life a significant number of extra struts were added beyond the original nine. The pillar-based design has since been used successfully in many sea structures.

The old lighthouse was the home of an unusual level of intrigue. The first message in a bottle was successfully sent from the small island, reaching its addressee over the miles of sea, and allowing a rescue of stranded repair workers, including Whiteside himself. More disturbingly, the old lighthouse brought about a change in lighthouse policy in 1801 after a gruesome episode. The two man team, Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith, were known to quarrel, and so when Griffith died in a freak accident, Howell feared that he might be suspected of murder if he discarded the body into the sea. As the body began to decompose, Howell built a makeshift coffin for the corpse and lashed it to an outside shelf. Stiff winds blew the box apart though, and the body’s arm fell within view of the hut’s window and caused the wind to catch it in such a way that it seemed as though it was beckoning. Working alone and with the decaying corpse of his former colleague outside Howell managed to keep the lamp lit. When Howell was finally relieved from the lighthouse the effect the situation had had on him was said to be so extreme that some of his friends did not recognise him.

Until the automation of British lighthouses in the 1980’s lighthouse teams were changed to rosters of three men. In 1859 Trinity House, having brought out the previous leaseholders in 1836, began the construction of a new tower. The tower was completed in 1861.

The current tower, which dates to 1861, was the first British lighthouse to be fitted with a toilet!

In 1978 a helideck was erected above the lantern and the lighthouse was automated in 1987. This is the first wind and solar powered lighthouse in the UK. It has only a 35 watt bulb but with the aid of lenses, this can be seen up to 21 miles (34 km) away.

Cookie Notice

Find out more about how this website uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience.

Back to top