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History of Souter Lighthouse and The Leas

Close up of the lantern crowning Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, Tyne & Wear
Close up of the lantern crowning Souter Lighthouse and The Leas | © National Trust Images/Dougie Holden

Souter Lighthouse has proudly stood on the coast midway between the Tyne and the Wear since 1871, leading the way in a new generation of electric lighthouses. The area around the lighthouse was a hive of industry, with a colliery and an entire workers’ village. Although these have been lost to time, there are plenty of stories to uncover on a visit to Souter Lighthouse and The Leas.

Souter Lighthouse: an early pioneer

Built in 1871 to warn ships of the dangerous rocks at Whitburn Steel, Souter was the first lighthouse in the UK, and one of the world's first, purpose built to use electricity. Souter was a technological marvel in its day, but the development of new technology such as GPS and satellite navigation led to its decommission in 1988 after 117 years of service.

Whitburn Colliery

The best coal in the North East was found in seams extending out under the North Sea. Whitburn Coal Company sunk two shafts south of the lighthouse between 1874 and 1877 and the first coal was brought out in 1881. By 1898 it was producing 2,600 tonnes of coal each 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 of Marsden

You wouldn't think it today but the grassed area north of Souter Lighthouse was once a thriving community. The village of Marsden was built in the 1870s to house workers from Whitburn Colliery and their families. At its peak, a church, Methodist chapel, shop, post office, school, Miners’ Institute, allotments and a welfare field served the 700 or so residents.

The pit closed in 1968 and the village was completely demolished soon afterwards, with its residents moved to new, modern council houses in nearby Whitburn.

The Lewis Carroll connection

Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, had family connections with the area. His sister was married to Reverend Collingwood, the vicar of Southwick 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 the lighthouse came into service for the first time.

A view of Souter Lighthouse and the coastline from the sea in Tyne and Wear

Souter Lighthouse's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Souter Lighthouse on the National Trust Collections website.

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A visitor sits cross legged on a bench on the edge of an area of short grass, looking towards the red and white striped tower and white painted buildings of Souter Lighthouse. Low sunlight casts long shadows. Pink tinged thin grey clouds cover most of the sky above a dark blue-grey strip of sea.

Things to see and do at Souter Lighthouse and The Leas 

Find out what to see and do on a visit to Souter Lighthouse and The Leas. Climb the lighthouse, explore the rock pools and discover this haven for wildlife.

Sand martins at Souter Lighthouse and the Leas, Tyne & Wear

Our work at Souter Lighthouse and The Leas 

Find out about nature conservation at Souter Lighthouse and The Leas and discover how our work has helped save three rare bird species from further decline.

A halved fruit scone on a plate topped with jam and clotted cream, and a plate of fruit scones

Eating and shopping at Souter Lighthouse and The Leas 

Discover where to eat, drink and browse for second-hand books during a visit to Souter Lighthouse and The Leas.

Visitors at Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, Tyne & Wear

Family-friendly things to do at Souter Lighthouse 

Find out what family activities you could get involved with on a visit to Souter Lighthouse and The Leas


Whitburn Coastal Conservation Centre project 

Learn about the creation of a new conservation centre close to Souter Lighthouse and The Leas, where visitors can explore wildlife and heritage.

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Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.