The Knott Family
The Knott family were keepers at South Foreland for five successive generations. With eight family members being involved in lighthouse keeping, their family’s history is intertwined with South Foreland’s. According to historian David Stevenson, it is thought that during the period 1730-1910, the Knotts had probably been the longest serving family of keepers in lighthouse history.
A journey through history
Members of the family observed many historic events. In 1759, William Knott would have seen Admiral Hawke’s fleet as it sailed down the Channel to engage with the French navy at the Battle of Quiberon Bay. Henry Knott is known to have lowered the flag in respect to HMS Victory when she sailed past South Foreland in 1778. The Knott family were also close at hand to assist Faraday and Holmes when they conducted their ground-breaking experiments in the use of electric lights in the 1850s.
A love of lighthouses
George Knott (1828-1904) was finally posted to North Foreland before his retirement in Dover. He became known as an expert woodcarver of models of the lighthouses where he served, but sadly we do not know of a model of South Foreland. His famous model of Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse can be seen at the Historic Ships Museum in Chatham.
Evidence of the Knott family and their links with the local community can still be found today. John Knott who died in the service of Trinity House in 1851 is buried in the churchyard in St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, where a nearby lane is also named after the family.
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.
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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