The Current lighthouse
The Upper and Lower Lighthouses that we see today were built in the middle of the nineteenth century. Trinity House bought the both lighthouses in 1832 from Greenwich Hospital for £8366. Apparently, there was a huge explosion around this time causing a lot of damage to one of the towers. This meant there were considerable building repair works at South Foreland.
Renewal and refurbishment
The Upper Lighthouse was heightened and refurbished in 1842, and then in 1846 the Lower Light was fully rebuilt at a total cost of £4409. The works were supervised by one of the greatest Victorian engineers, James Walker FRS (1781-1862).
The Upper and Lower Lighthouses can be seen from the land, but are even more obvious when viewed from the sea. They were designed to be used together. The seamen would line up the two lights, and when the Upper Light shone directly above the Lower Light they could steer safely past the southern tip of the Goodwin Sands.
Time for change
By 1904 the movement of Goodwin Sands meant that this arrangement was no longer safe, so the Lower Light was switched off. A much brighter flashing light was installed in the Upper Lighthouse. For most of the twentieth century South Foreland shone out nightly over the Straits of Dover until 30th September 1988, when modern navigational aids meant that the lighthouse could be decommissioned. Nowadays, the Goodwin Sands are marked by several illuminated buoys.
The Lighthouse remained dark until June 2012 when the South Foreland light shone out across the English Channel once again in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
The early history of the lighthouse is a result of the deaths caused by the infamous Goodwin Sands, which, for centuries had caused terrible loss of life to mariners navigating the channel.
The Knott family were lighthouse keepers at South Foreland for five generations and were probably the longest dynasty of keepers anywhere in the world. During their time here they would have seen many important changes to the lighthouse as electricity and wireless communication were introduced, changing their jobs forever.
South Foreland Lighthouse was fully automated in 1969 with both the keepers being transferred to other lighthouses. The National Trust took over the care of the lighthouse in 1989 and it opened to the public for the first time in 1990.
The coast around the lighthouse was changed beyond recognition during the Second World War, being fortified with coastal artillery and ground-breaking radar, preparing for an invasion that would thankfully never come.
Michael Faraday was one of the most influential scientists in the world. In his role as scientific adviser to Trinity House, he would transform their lighthouses into the most technologically advanced in the world.
Guglielmo Marconi did some of the world's first radio experiments at South Foreland Lighthouse including the first ship to shore wireless transmission and the first international wireless transmission in 1899.
James Walker was an eminent Victorian engineer who worked on many civil engineering projects across Britain, he also designed both lighthouses at South Foreland and was chief engineer for Trinity House for 38 years.
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