The end of an era
There are two keepers’ cottages on site at the foot of South Foreland Lighthouse. These were built in 1842 so keepers and their families could live onsite. They had one of the best views in the world, looking out to France across the English Channel.
Lighthouse keeping was a highly professional and disciplined service that made demands of both the keepers and their families. The keepers would be posted to different lighthouses spending a good deal of time on remote lights, far from their families. The relatively modern land-based accommodation at South Foreland, however, allowed the keepers to live with their families and was considered a fortunate posting.
The service took advantage of changes in technology which in turn affected the lives of the keepers and their families. A major change occurred in 1922 when mains electricity was brought to South Foreland for the first time and the 50-year old Holmes generator was finally shut down - it is said much to the relief of the keepers. At the same time some of the mechanical functions in the lighthouse were automated.
The last keepers
The lighthouse finally became fully automated in 1969, and the resident keepers were transferred to other lighthouses. From that time a single resident Lighthouse Attendant was available to undertake routine maintenance.
Trinity House finally relinquished responsibility for South Foreland when the light closed down in 1989, and we took over this historic landmark.
The keepers’ cottages are now open to the public as a traditional tearoom called Mrs Knott's, named in honour of the families that have lived at the lighthouse.
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.
In 1832 both the upper and lower lighthouse at South Foreland were purchased by Trinity house and they began a programme of improvements to the lights, which give the buildings that we would recognise today.
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.
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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