Lighthouses on the Farne Islands

Longstone lighthouse on the Farne Islands, Northumberland

The Farne Islands extend for nearly five miles out into the North Sea, and have always been a danger to shipping. It is not therefore surprising that lighthouses have played a major part in the Islands history. Many have been built over the years but only two are still working lighthouses.

In 1669 Sir John Clayton and George Blake were given permission to erect four lighthouses along the East coast, including the Farne Islands. While a beacon may have been placed on the top of Prior Castell’s tower there is no evidence for any separate building. Nothing further was done for over a hundred years, until in July 1776 Trinity House gave a Captain John Blackett, the lessee of the Farnes permission to build two lighthouses at his own expense. Blackett put a couple of fire baskets on the top of the tower on Inner Farne, but built a new lighthouse on Staple. Unfortunately this lighthouse was destroyed in the Great Storm of 1784.

The beacon tower on Brownsman dates from the late eighteenth century
Brownsman cottage and old lighthouse, Farne Islands

By 1795 a new beacon tower had been built on Brownsman. Both this and the fire baskets on Inner Farne remained in use until 1810 and 1809 respectively, when Trinity House erected two new lighthouses, on Inner Farne (the High light) in 1809 and one on Brownsman in 1810. Both were designed by Daniel Alexander and built by Joseph Nelson to the same plan, with a cottage keyed into the lighthouse tower. The lighthouses each had a revolving reflector that burned paraffin oil. The next year a further lighthouse called the ‘Low Light’ (to distinguish it from the original light ‘the High Light’) was built on Inner Farne to warn of the presence of the island of Megstone, another hazard to shipping.

The Inner Farne lighthouse or 'high light' was first built in 1809
Inner Farne lighthouse on the Farne Islands, Northumberland

The High Light is still in use and this white lighthouse is a familiar landmark to all visitors today. The Low Light was pulled down in 1911 after the High Light was automated.

The Brownsman light did not stop the numerous wrecks on the islands to the north of this island, so in 1825 Trinity House decided to scrap that one and build a new one on Longstone. This with the addition of the seawall and extra accommodation continues to flash every twenty seconds today, though it is now automated and controlled from Harwich. In 2015 a light vessel replaced the Longstone while it was being converted to solar power. 

Longstone has been warding ships from the rocks for nearly two centuries
Longstone lighthouse in the mist on the Farne Islands, Northumberland