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LIGHTHOUSE FUNFACTS


  • The oldest lighthouse in the world is not known. The first definite and documented lighthouse in the world was the Pharos of Alexandria, built in about 200 BC, although beacons were certainly used before that time. The oldest working lighthouse in the world is at La Coruña in NW Spain, near the town of Ferol. A lighthouse has been on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Trajan.

  • The oldest lighthouse in the UK still stands in the grounds of Dover Castle. The Roman Emperor Caligula ordered the tower to be built there in AD 90.

  • The world’s first stone lighthouse tower at sea was the Smeaton Eddystone lighthouse, built in 1756-9. Smeaton is today known as "The Father of Civil Engineering". He invented many new engineering designs for his lighthouse, including the dovetailing of rocks, marine cements and special cranes to lift rocks out of a boat and onto the reef. When his lighthouse was finished, it was lit with a mere twenty-four candles. Today, the power of lighthouse lights could be equivalent to as many as several million candles.

  • On one occasion, lighthouse keepers were forced to eat candles to survive when they were marooned on a lighthouse in bad weather. The candles were not wax candles, like we use today, but made from oil-based material that was digestible.

  • Many early lighthouses were simply lamps held in high windows by monks and hermits. Later, coal fires were used on the top of open towers, but they made so much smoke that they were frequently invisible from the sea.

  • Soon after electricity was invented, the first practical application of electricity was to power the lights in lighthouses. Michael Faraday himself was frequently to be found visiting lighthouse such as South Foreland where the first experiments with electricity took place. The first electric lights were giant sparks made by passing great voltages across two carbon rods. Until recently, lights were created by lightbulbs similar to those we use at home, but as large as a football. Today, technology has enabled them to be made smaller, but just as bright.

  • The magnification of light from the lamps in lighthouse takes place through giant arrangements of curved prisms and lenses which weigh several tons and which float in baths of liquid mercury. Despite their great weight, they will begin to rotate with a gentle push from one finger.

  • Mercury vapour is a very poisonous substance, the symptoms of mercury poisoning being madness. It has long been thought that breathing in mercury vapour over a period of years was the reason why some lighthouse keepers went mad. The theory is unproven, however. The vast majority of lighthouse keepers who spent the whole of their working lives in close proximity to these very large masses of mercury remained as normal as you and me.

  • When Marconi was experimenting with his first radio transmissions, he also chose to transmit radio messages from South Foreland lighthouse to the South Goodwin lightship.

  • The rocks of the Eddystone are always above high water. However, at the Bell Rock lighthouse in Scotland, Robert Stevenson built a lighthouse on a rock that was sometimes beneath the level of high tide.

  • Lighthouse keepers used to catch fish by flying a kite from the balcony of their lighthouses. The kite held the line far enough away from the land so that the line dropped straight into the water. It's thought that this sport was invented at the old Eddystone light.

  • Probably the oldest lighthouse keeper was Henry Hall, a keeper on the famous Eddystone lighthouse who was 94. He met a remarkable death on duty. The lighthouse caught fire and, while he tried to put out the fire, he swallowed nearly half a pound of molten lead. He died from lead poisoning about two weeks later.

  • There have been many strange disappearances of lighthouse keepers. Perhaps the strangest was at the Flannan Isle lighthouse in 1900 where the three lighthouse keepers disappeared without trace.

  • Off the West Coast of England, there are several lighthouses which are more than 45 metres (150 feet) tall. In violent storms, the sea sometimes washes right over the tower, breaking panes of glass in the lantern which were 12.5 mm (half an inch) thick. So much seawater was entering the lantern that the keepers had to tie themselves onto the stair rails to prevent themselves from being washed down the stairs.

  • The most unlucky lighthouse builder was Henry Winstanley, who thought he had built the world’s strongest lighthouse. He was so confident that the said that he wanted to be inside his lighthouse during the biggest storm ever. His wish came true but his lighthouse did not survive the storm and he was washed away to his death.

  • It is said that a keeper of the Longships lighthouse was once kidnapped by Cornish wreckers, but they forgot that his little daughter was still in the lighthouse. Standing on a pile of books, including the family Bible, she was still able to light the oil lamps and keep the lighthouse going until her father was released.

  • During World War I, men were employed as temporary keepers who were not fit enough to be soldiers. However, one keeper had to be replaced. The reason was because his wooden leg kept falling off as he tried to climb the stairs.

  • Early fog signals involved the keepers detonating explosive charges every few minutes from the gallery. The sound of the explosion was the warning for ships to avoid the rocks.

  • A light known as the Lanterna was built at Genoa in 1543, replacing a medieval tower. It still dominates the harbour as one of the tallest brick or masonry lighthouses in the world at 75 m height. The Ile de Vierge off the coast of Brittany, France, is 83 m tall and is the current contender for the world's tallest traditionally built lighthouse. However, a steel light tower at Yamashita Park, Yokohama, Japan is 106 m tall.

  • The tallest lighthouse in Britain is the Skerryvore lighthouse off the west coast of Scotland. It was built in 1844 by Robert Stevenson and is 49 m high and built of 4,300 tons of granite. In France, the light at Cordouan is 57 m above sea level, whilst the tower at Les Heaux de Brehat is about the same height at Skerryvore, as also is the present Fastnet tower off the south-west coast of Ireland. The tallest lighthouse built of cast iron was one by Alexander Gordon at Gibb's Hill, Bermuda which stands at 40.8 m high.

  • Antonio Columbo, uncle of Christopher Columbus, was a lighthouse keeper of the famous Lanterna of Genoa in 1449. Perhaps his uncle's connection with seafaring, a breakaway from the family's traditional occupation of weaving, led to Christopher's interest in going to sea.

  • The lighthouse with the most doors was an old Roman lighthouse known as the Tour d'Ordre and built at Boulogne in France - it had 96!

  • It is said that in the 14th century, an Abbott placed a bell on a dangerous rock known as the Inchcape rock off Arbroath in Scotland. Attached to wooden buoy, it was continuously rung by the sea, warning ships of the danger. A local pirate removed the bell, but himself was drowned when his own ship struck the rocks. This reef is now well known as the Bell Rock and the story was turned into a popular poem in 1815 by Robert Southey.

  • The Sambro lighthouse at the entrance to Halifax Harbour in Canada is thought to be the oldest still in use in north America. Soon after it was first lit, it became the focal point of a scandal. After a Royal Navy warship was wrecked nearby, naval captains reported that they had to fire cannons at the lighthouse to persuade the keeper to show his light.

  • The lighthouse station called Arctowski is probably the most southerly lighthouse in the world. Built at the Polish research station in Antarctica named after Henryk Arctowski, the famous 19th century Polish geographer and Antarctic explorer. Situated on King George Island in the South Shetlands group, its geographical position is 62o10'S, 58o28'W.

  • The following is the transcript of the actual radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland:


      Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees the South to avoid a collision.
      Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees the North to avoid a collision.
     

    Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

     

    Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

     

    Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.

     

    Americans: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES' ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, I SAY AGAIN, THAT'S ONE FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.

      Canadians: This is a lighthouse, over...

  • In 1895 a new species of wren was discovered unique to Stephen's Island, New Zealand. The Stephen's Island wren was identified only from dead specimens: the last had been killed by the lighthouse keeper's cat.

  • Over the years, some remarkable ideas have been proposed for application in lighthouses, besides the sensible ones that were adopted. To distinguish the Scilly lighthouse from others and thus to reduce the frequency of wrecks in the vicinity, William Whiston proposed 'that a Ball of Light or Fire be thrown up from St. Mary's, the principal of the English Isles of Scilly every Mid-night and three Times more every Night'

Source: Various places around the internet

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