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Flat Holm Lighthouse

Flat Holm Island, Glamorgan

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Aerial photo by Marinas.com (more images available)

Flat Holm is in the Bristol Channel off Cardiff Bay, about 4 miles off Lavernock Point. Its the most southerly place in Wales.

Today Flat Holm is mostly a wildlife reserve but in the past it has been occupied from very early times, been the base for a number of religious orders, a smuggling base, a military fort in the Victorian period, and canons still lay in places on the ground. Although in the Second World War 350 people were stationed here manning anti-aircraft lights and guns, it has had no military use since, it has a helipad in the centre of the island. It was the location of an isolation hospital.

On 13 May 1897, a 22-year-old Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi, assisted by a Cardiff Post Office engineer named George Kemp, transmitted the first wireless signals over open sea from Flat Holm to Lavernock Point near Penarth, Wales. Having failed to interest the Italian Government in his project, Marconi brought his telegraphy system to Britain. Here he met Welshman William Preece, who was at that time Chief Engineer of the General Post Office and a major figure in the field. Marconi and Preece erected a 34 metre (112ft) high transmitting mast on Flat Holm as well as a 30 metre (98ft) receiving mast at Lavernock Point. The first trials on 11 May and 12 failed. On 13 May, the mast at Lavernock was raised to 50 metres (160ft) and the signals were received clearly. The message sent by Morse Code was "Are you ready", the original paper Morse slip, signed by both Marconi and Kemp, is now in the National Museum of Wales.

The island made communication history again on 8 October 2002, by becoming one of the first areas of South Wales to link to the Internet through a wireless connection deployed by Cardiff Council as part of the Flat Holm Project. The connection is used for Internet, access to Cardiff Council's data network and VOIP telephony. There are two handsets in the main farmhouse that are part of the councils own PBX, thus having Cardiff dialling codes. 105 years after Marconi, Spencer Pearson an IT Consultant with Cardiff Council made the first telephone call from the island to his office at County Hall, Atlantic Wharf, Cardiff.

On Flat Holm old canons lay around.

The area is strewn with defence relics from the Napoleonic era, as well as both world wars.

Attempts have been made to reclaim them for scrap but the problem of cutting up and transporting has been uneconomic so they are still strewn over the southern part of the island.




Photo Hywel Williams

One of a number of pits for disappearing gun pits, some with gun remains more complete, this example
has the barrel missing. The guns were brought up fired and their recoil took them back down to safety.

Photo by Hywel Wiliams


The treacherous conditions for ships around the island led to several shipwrecks. The British passenger vessel Tapley lost seven passengers when it became stranded on Flat Holm in January 1773 on its passage from Cork, Ireland to Bristol.

On 23 October 1817, a British ship, William and Mary, foundered after hitting the rock islands near Flat Holm known as The Wolves. The ship was en route from Bristol to Waterford in Ireland and sank within fifteen minutes. The Mate, John Outridge, and two sailors made off in the only lifeboat. Fifteen survivors were later rescued, having clung to the ship's rigging, but 54 other passengers were lost.  Fifty of the bodies were recovered from the ship and were buried on Flat Holm.

In 1938, the steamship Norman Queen ran ashore on Flat Holm but was refloated, and in 1941 the steamship Middlesex was lost.

The Lighthouse

The first light on the island was a simple brazier mounted on a wooden frame, which stood on the high eastern part of the island.

In 1733 the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol found the brazier to be unreliable and petitioned the General Lighthouse Authority, Trinity House, for an actual lighthouse, but the petition failed. In 1735 Mr. William Crispe of Bristol submitted a proposal to build a lighthouse at his own expense.

This initial proposal also failed but negotiations resumed in 1736 when 60 soldiers drowned after their vessel crashed on The Wolves, rocks near Flat Holm. Following this disaster, the Society of Merchant Venturers finally supported William Crispe's proposal.

In the petition Crispe stated that the society of Merchant Venturers required the following tolls:- For all Bristol ships to or from foreign parts 1d per ton both inward and outward, according to their reports of tonnage at the custom house, and double these dues on foreign ships. For all coasting vessels to or from Ireland 1d per ton, vessels from St. David's Head or Lands End up the Bristol Channel (market boats and fishing boats excepted) one shilling for every voyage inward and one shilling outward.

Photo by Morag Sinton

Crispe agreed to pay 900 for the construction of the tower as well as the fees permits. In return he would expect to be granted a lease at a yearly rental of 5. The Corporation agreed, at their next meeting on 9th April, 1737, to apply for a patent and grant him a lease from the kindling of the light to Lady Day 1834, when the lease had expired, at a yearly rental of 5 for the first thirty years and thereafter at 10 for the remainder of the term. The lease was finally signed and a light was first shown on 1st December, 1737.

The lighthouse was struck by lightning in a severe storm on 22 December 1790. The keeper narrowly escaped but the top of the tower was severely damaged. A 10ft (3m) tall crack on the side had to be repaired, as did the oak beams supporting the top platform.

Until repairs were effected a fire was maintained on the headland in front of the lighthouse. Bristol traders, however, continually complained of the inadequacy of the light. It appears that the owners of the lighthouse enjoyed a large income from it yet refused an additional 100 a year to make it a reasonable aid to shipping.

Later Trinity House took over the lease for this light. In 1819, the circular stone tower was updated to house a more powerful lantern, the tower was raised from 21m (69ft) to 27m (89ft), in order to make a suitable base for the lantern which held an Argand lamp. The new light, petitioned for, for so many years, was first exhibited on 7th September 1820 as a fixed white light.

In July 1822 an Act was passed by George IV which empowered Trinity House to purchase outright the leases of any coast lights and Flat Holm was one of the several which Trinity House decided to acquire. The value of the remaining twelve years of the lease was computed at 15,838.10 and Trinity House took possession of the light as from 21st March, 1823.

In 1825 further improvements resulted in the installation of a fountain oil lamp and the raising of the lantern by another 1.5 metres. Another improvement in the light was made in 1867 when a new lantern 4 metres in diameter was installed, which remained in use until 1969. The light was converted to occulting in 1881 by the installation of a clockwork operated mechanism. Subsequent improvements were the installation of a Douglass incandescent burner in 1904 and its replacement by a Hood petroleum vapour burner in 1923. In 1908 a powerful compressed air fog signal, having two horns, was installed in a separate building erected for the purpose.

In February 1902 Flat Holm was the scene of an unusual event. During the night a shower of mud fell on the island and the glazing of the lighthouse was covered with a dirty white coating which stuck to the glass like glue and was only removed with great difficulty. A quantity of fine dust, believed by meteorologists to have been carried in the atmosphere from the Sahara Desert, fell on an area of about 2,000 square miles of South West England. The mud that covered the lighthouse lantern was some of the dust converted into slime by rain clouds.

In 1929, Flat Holm Lighthouse was converted to a rock station. Before then the keepers and their families lived on the island in two cottages near to the tower. An additional keeper was also appointed to the establishment in 1929 increasing the number to four,  enabling the men to serve three months on duty followed by one month free from duty. In more recent years, the lighthouse was manned by two sets of three Keepers each working one month on the lighthouse followed by one month ashore.

This continued until 1988, when the lighthouse became fully automated and the keepers were withdrawn. In 1997, the light was modernised and converted to solar power. It is now monitored and controlled by the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich, in Essex.

If you are interested in the people, politics and figures then the account on the Trinity House website for this lighthouse provides more detail, but this differs from some of the details published on Wikipedia. Our account above is a combination of sources including these two, basically it will be correct but some minor figures may be slightly out and dates may be a few months different.

Fog Horn Station Photo by Hywel Williams

Fog Horn Station

Built by Trinity House in 1906, the Foghorn building is a Grade II listed building. The siren was originally powered by a 15 hp (11 kW) engine, which gave two blasts in quick succession at two-minute intervals that could be clearly heard by people living on both coasts. Volunteers from the Flat Holm Society, with help from the Prince's Trust, restored the horn and engines in the 1960's. The Foghorn Station was officially reopened by the Welsh Secretary and the Welsh Assembly First Secretary in May 2000 when the foghorn was sounded for the first time since 1988. Other accounts say it cannot currently be used as the roof is no longer strong enough to stand the vibration. Trinity House do not give any details of the output from a fog horn, so it would appear not to be in use.

Photo from Wikipedia 


Trips to the island with around 3 hours to explore are organised March to October see the Flat Holm Society Website - trip to the island for details.The sailing times vary, probably to line up with the tides.

All trips depart from Channel View Leisure Centre in Cardiff Bay aboard the Lewis Alexander and the crossing takes about 50 minutes. Passengers MUST arrive 30 minutes before departure time to allow for embarkation.

CHARGES: Adults 15.25, Children (4-17 years) 7.50, No concessions, Family Ticket (2 +2) 39.25

To make a reservation - telephone 029 2035 3917.

Lighthouse information Grid


Flat Holm Lighthouse, Glamorgan

Current status:

Currently in use

Geographic Position:

51 22'.50 N 03 07'.00 W

Grid Reference:


Ceremonial County:



Round stone tower with lantern and gallery, attached to 1 storey keeper's house.

Map Link:


Aerial photo:

Marinas.com    Google satellite view

Other photos:

Geograph plus 3 adjoining squares closeup   foghorn

Originally built:


Current lighthouse built:

Substantially altered in 1820.

Trinity House rebuilt the privately built lighthouse after leasing it in 1819, essentially a new tower was wrapped around the old one. The tower was altered further in 1867 to support a first-order lantern.

Height of Tower:

30m   99ft

Height of light above mean sea level:

50m  164ft

Character of light:

White and Red Group Flashing Every 10 Seconds (colour depending on direction)

Character of fog signal:

added 1908, ceased operation 1988

Range of light:

White 15 nautical miles; red 12 nautical miles

Owned / run by:

Trinity House

Getting there:

boat trip organised by the Flat Holm Society May-October




TH     Flat Holm Society - trip to the island

Other Useful Websites:

Wiki    LD

Other Relevant pages:

For more articles, lists and other information see the Lighthouses Section

Lighthouse Map of England and Wales

Featured List of Lighthouses - England and Wales  

List of Minor Lighthouses and Lights - England and Wales

Sully Island, Glamorgan



Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Grid or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

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By: Keith Park   Section: Lighthouses Section Key:
Page Ref: Flat Holm_Lighthouse Topic: Lighthouses Last Updated: 06/2010


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