Aerial photo by Marinas.com more images are available
Photo by Hywel Williams
Photo Alan Swain
Looking towards the Windmill Photo by Pam Frey
View of lighthouse from Coastal Path Photo by Phillip Halling
Whilst the White Cliffs of Dover offer an attractive and inspiring sight from the land, by sea they are a perilous affair. Britain's oldest known shipwreck, a Bronze Age ship from around 31 centuries ago carrying axe-heads, is located near the eastern arm of Dover Harbour and many more wrecks were to follow its fate.
At first beacons were lit along the cliff top to warn mariners away from the cliffs and the treacherous Goodwin Sands, the Romans replaced these with lighthouses to guide sailors into port. The remains of one now forms part of the church in Dover Castle.
The National Trust say that records show that a light was first displayed from the cliffs in 1367.
The first more modern lighthouses on this site were here in 1793, but the two that still survive today are the low from 1793 and high 1843.
The low lighthouse went out of service in 1910, while the high continued in use until 1988.
It is the high lighthouse that we are looking at in detail here, and the low is covered in summary at the bottom of this page. The tower of the low, but not its houses, survive, and low is not open to the public.
The South Foreland High, or Langdon Cliffs Lighthouse helped mariners navigate into port for more than 300 years until it was closed. It is now owned by the National Trust and open to visitors.
Records state that the lighthouse was the first lighthouse, in December 1858, to show an electrically powered light. Another National Trust owned lighthouse, Souter Point Lighthouse, was the first to be built to use electricity in 1871.
The South Foreland was not just the first lighthouse to be powered by electricity but also the site of the first international radio transmission.
The South Foreland Lighthouse was the recipient of the world's first ship-to-shore transmission on Christmas Eve, 1898, when Guglielmo Marconi succeeded in contacting the lightship 'Goodwin Sands', nine miles off shore, using his newly invented radio equipment, which later proved its use when it alerted the lifeboats at Ramsgate to a ship in distress, the first time a lifeboat was alerted by telegraph. Again in 1899 the lighthouse set another first when it exchanged wireless messages across the Channel to Wimereux near Boulogne in France.
More recently it was the landing place for the rocket man who came across the English Channel with a wing on his back.
This distinctive, historic landmark has unrivalled views well worth the walk along the White Cliffs.
The light is now fully functional, although no longer in use, it has an operational 1° Fresnel lens mounted in the lantern. In 2004 the rotating mechanism of the lens was restored and returned to the tower, the task of getting the large, 200kg mechanism up hundreds of spiral stairs to the lamp room, with little room to spare was handed by 1st Parachute Regiment, from Dover's Connaught Barracks. Then engineers reconnected cables and weights for the optic to rotate again using the original clockwork system - similar to that of a grandfather clock but larger. The weights, weighing a quarter of a tonne, need to be wound up by hand each hour.
Looking from above we can use Google satellite view to locate it.
Old Images - What they looked like soon after 1900
An old postcard showing the upper light
This shows the lower light was a similar design, just much shorter
The Low lighthouse was also always very near the top of the cliff,
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