Shining light on the history of Souter Lighthouse

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With a history dating back over 100 years Souter Lighthouse has long stood as a proud beacon for the North-East.

Opened in 1871 as a way to combat the hazardous coastline, Souter Lighthouse was at the forefront of technology, being the first purpose built lighthouse in the world to be powered by electricity.

The 'heart' of Souter

At the centre of Souter is the ‘Engine Room’, a reliable and instant source of power which powered the site until 1952 when the National Grid begun providing electricity.


When visibility fell below two miles in the daytime or the lights from the Tyne and Wear piers couldn’t be made out at night the foghorn let out a four second blast of sound every 45 seconds to alert nearby ships. The original single horn was painted white and shaped like a pipe, it was angled to project sound straight out to sea. This design was replaced with two similar shaped horns, a design that can be seen at Souter today, that were instead angled to project the sound up and down the coast.


Souter Lighthouse was originally powered by Prof. Holmes state-of-the-art alternating current magento-electric generator which produced light by passing electric current over a 1/16 inch gap between two ‘pencils’ of carbon to create a spark. This method was so effective and reliable that in the first eight years of use the emergency oil lamp was only used twice.

Beginning January 1871 the white light flashed for five seconds at 30 second intervals over a 180 degree arc. In 1919 the light was changed to red and the lighthouse changed colour too – from black and white to international orange and white.

By 1914 advances in technology meant that changes could be made to the lighthouse to improve it substantially. A larger lantern was installed which increased the range to 20 miles and improved the general efficiency. This was also the year that Souter converted from electricity to oil, a change which was reversed in 1952 when 4,500 watt bulbs were installed - capable of producing a beam of 1.5 million candle power. Apart from changes to the rotating turntable these were the last major changes to the machinery.