The staff and volunteers spent late February and early March 2023 carefully cleaning the artefacts that had been in storage for over three years, and replacing them in their familiar positions. The static and moving parts of the optic were cleaned and retouched with matching paint, and its mechanism thoroughly cleaned and maintained. The speaking tubes were restored and the brass parts once again gleam.
On 31 March 2023, we welcomed our visitors into a lighthouse we are proud of, at the start of the 2023 season. The culmination of many years of determination, expertise and sheer hard work. The completion of a project that shows the true spirit and dedication of the National Trust – for every one for ever.
Conserving a structure in such an exposed position as South Foreland Lighthouse will always be challenging and ongoing. Our newly acquired knowledge of the building, combined with the recent conservation work, will mean that this historic icon can be properly maintained and will continue to grace the White Cliffs of Dover for many generations to come. We've replaced one of the cracked panes of glass in the lantern and our next challenge is to replace the remaining damaged glass panes.
South Foreland Lighthouse relit?
We're often asked if South Foreland Lighthouse will ever be re-lit? Although Trinity House intended that the lighthouse should never show a light again after it was decommissioned, permission was given to re-light the lighthouse, as a beacon, for the Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012. Permission was again granted in 2018 to mark the centenary of the Armistice, in 2020 to celebrate the life of Dame Vera Lynn and in 2022 for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
The relighting does not impact the historic parts of the lighthouse. The original lamp cannot be used as it has a non-standard voltage and is itself a historic artefact. The lamp is carefully removed, wrapped and stored, and a modern 2,200 watt metal halide lamp is temporarily clamped to the existing historic lamp turret. The lamp element is carefully aligned with the 'bullseye' lenses in the optic using the original alignment tool - an exacting process that can take well over an hour. A second, smaller 400 watt lamp and a modern generator are also installed to ensure that the light continues to shine if either the main lamp or the mains power fails as, once we have permission to show the light, it must not go out.
As dusk falls, the lamp is lit and the original hand-wound clockwork mechanism is used to rotate the lens. The effect is stunning. A brilliant, almost pure white light is emitted with the original precise flash signature and is clearly visible right across the Dover Strait. A small team ensures that the lamp stays lit and the mechanism wound every hour throughout the night, as it would have been before automation. The tower steps start to prove challenging at 4 am!
In the morning, at the specified time, the lamp is turned off and allowed to cool. All the modern equipment is removed and the historic lamp returned to the turret, ready for the first visitors at 11 am, as if nothing had happened. Some very tired volunteers and members of staff take a well-earned rest.