A brief history of Souter and The Leas

Souter Lighthouse with foghorns installed 1907

Souter and The Leas, Tyne and Wear, has many interesting tales to tell, help the National Trust ensure its future by discovering its past

The lighthouse

Built in 1871 to ward ships from the dangerous rocks at Whitburn Steel, Souter was the first lighthouse in the world purpose built to use electricity. Souter was a technological marvel in its day, but it was the development of new technology like GPS and satellite navigation which led to it’s decommission in 1988 after 117 years of service to shipping in the North East.

Whitburn Colliery

The best coal in the North East is found in seams extending out under the North Sea. Whitburn Coal Company sunk two shafts south of the lighthouse between 1874 - 1877 and the first coal was brought out in 1881. By 1898 it was producing 2,600 tons of coal per day. Mining at Souter was never easy though and the colliery finally closed in 1968. The reclaimed land is now Whitburn Coastal Park.

The lost village

You wouldn't think it today but the grassed area north of Souter was once a thriving community of 700 people. Built as a mining village in 1874 to house the workers at the new Whitburn Colliery, Marsden was completely demolished soon after the mine closed in 1968 and the people moved to new, modern council houses in nearby Whitburn.

A family legacy

North East heroine Grace Darling's nephew Robert was a lighthouse keeper at Souter for 24 years from 1873 to 1897.

Fog on the Tyne

When visibility fell below two miles in daytime or the lights from the Tyne and Wear piers couldn’t be made out at night the foghorn started its mournful song.

Treacherous seas

The coastline between the river Tyne and river Tees is the most dangerous around the British Isles with 43.8 shipwrecks per mile. Goodwin Sands is second with a mere 32 wrecks per mile.

The Lewis Carroll connection

Lewis Carroll had family connections with the area. His sister was married to Reverend Collingwood, the vicar of Southwick in Sunderland and his cousin was married to the Vicar of Whitburn. While he was staying at Whitburn he wrote the Walrus and the Carpenter which was published in Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1872 (the year after Souter was operational).
Was Souter's light shining in the night the inspiration for the second verse?
'The moon was shining sulkily, Because she thought the sun, Had got no business to be there, After the day was done - "It's very rude of him" she said, "To come and spoil the fun!"'
We don't know, but it would be nice to think so.