To the Lighthouse

Ann Hills on Trinity House and new uses for lighthouses.

1990 marks the start of the last decade of manned lighthouses, closing a chapter in the history of these constructions, whose building and personnel conjure images of heroism and Grace Darling romanticism. By the end of this decade almost all these lights – still saving sailors from perilous rocks – will he automatically controlled. Lighthouse keepers, whose numbers have dwindled to about 250, will have forsaken their cliff-tops, isolated rocks and island homes. More than 200 years since the massive constructions formed a network around Britain, new technology is taking over.

This year has seen lighthouses put to new use – and the official opening a few weeks ago of the Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre by the harbour in Penzance. Among the exhibits is a full-sized replica room of a rock tower, complete with curved furniture. The building itself is a museum piece, having been acquired in 1859 as a work yard when the Wolf Rock Lighthouse was constructed eight miles off Land's End.

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