Heritage Locations

St. Bees Lighthouse

Site of the last coal powered lighthouse in the UK.

Thomas Bouch

Period of construction:
1800 - 1849

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:


Off Main Street, Sandwith CA22 2DR

CA22 2DR

Nearest Town:
St Bees

Heritage Centre:

South of the harbours of Maryport, Workington and Whitehaven, the high promontory around St. Bees Head was a danger to small coastal vessels trading between the ports of Wales and the Solway Firth.

In 1718, Trinity House obtained a patent for the building of a lighthouse on the Head. They leased the site to Thomas Lutwige for ninety-nine years at an annual rent of £20. In turn, Lutwige undertook to erect the tower and maintain a light - to defray his costs, dues were levied at a rate of three-half pence a ton on cargo carried by vessels calling at the nearby ports of Whitehaven, Maryport and Workington.

Lutwige built a strong round tower 9 m (29.5 ft) in height and 5 m (16.4 ft) in diameter of local sandstone. At the top lay a large metal grate into which the keepers tipped coal. Work was strenuous, particularly on windy nights. The small grate led to continual complaints from shipowners because on windy nights the light was variable in intensity and often shrouded in thick smoke.

In 1822, the tower was destroyed by fire and Trinity House decided to substitute the coal light for oil. St. Bees was the last coal-fired lighthouse in Britain. The old tower was replaced by a circular lighthouse built to the design of Joseph Nelson - costing £2,322, it is still in use today.

In the interwar period the lighthouse was used as a turning marker in the London to Isle of Man air races. During World War II, the local Home Guard used it to practice defence and attack strategies, although there is no record of ammunition being fired at it. St Bees Lighthouse was automated and demanned in 1987 and is now monitored from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich. The lighthouse lies at the beginning of the Coast to Coast Walk.


Bowen, J.P., British Lighthouses, British Council, ASIN: B001A8HS24 (1947)

Denton, A. & Leach, Nicholas, Lighthouses of England and Wales: A Complete Guide, Landmark Publishing, ISBN-10: 1843063190 (2007)

Hague, Douglas and Christie, Rosemary, Lighthouses, Their Architecture, History and Archaeology, Gomer Press, ISBN-0850883245(1975)

Naish, John, Seamarks, Their History and Development Adlard Coles Nautical, ISBN-10: 0540073091 (1985)

Nicholson, Christopher, Rock lighthouses of Britain; The end of an era?, Whittles Publishing, ISBN 1870325419. (1995)

Payton, Charles, Lighthouses: Towers of the Sea, National Trust Books, ISBN-10: 1905400128 (2006)

Woodman, Richard & Wilson, Jane, The Lighthouses of Trinity House, ISBN 1 904050 00 X (2002) 

Opening Times:
Viewable at all times but not open to the public.

How To Find:

By road: Off A595, via B5345, St Bees Road, from the village of Sandwith.

By rail: St. Bees Station, approximately 0.75 mile (1.25 km) away.


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