The visitor centre at Portland Bill lighthouse has reopened after the first stage of modernisation work.

It marks the end of an era as Portland’s iconic lighthouse will no longer sweep the seas.

The lantern which gave the lighthouse’s beam its iconic sweeping motion has been switched off as it is replaced by a new LED light.

The proposed upgrades were submitted in a planning application to the former Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and were approved last year.

Trinity House, the owners of the lighthouse, are removing the lantern optic from the Lantern Room at the top of the lighthouse and relocate it in the base of the tower.

They will also be removing the directional fog signal emitters from the lower tower window and installing an omni-directional fog signal on a retractable mounting bracket on the Lantern Gallery Walkway.

A spokesperson for Trinity House said before the work started: “A crane will be used in mid-October to lower the optic from the lantern down to the ground, before it will be moved into the tower base as a display piece for the enjoyment of visitors.

“Otherwise the works will be a routine station modernisation to bring the aid to navigation up to date, including the latest LED light technology and a new hazard warning signal.

“The new LED main navigation light will have a range of 18 nautical miles and will be more energy efficient than the current set up.

“We upgrade all of our lighthouses on a rolling basis, and look at each station for whatever improvements can be made.”

The project is expected to be carried out across two years, and completed by April 2020.

Cllr Charlie Flack, chairman of Portland Town Council, said: “Whilst it is sad that we will no longer see the sweeping lantern which has served very well over many decades, times move on and the switch to a modern energy efficient LED flashing light will hopefully serve for many more decades to come.

“On a positive note it is most pleasing to learn that the old lens is being kept on view, to the benefit of the many hundreds of visitors and locals that visit this iconic lighthouse each and every year.

“Portland Town Council declared both a climate and ecological emergency back in June and welcomes Trinity House’s small but significant contribution to the Island.”

The visitor centre at Portland Bill Lighthouse re-opened to the public on October 19.

The visitor centre will then close on October 31 until Easter, as per its normal seasonal arrangements.


Courtesy of the Trinity House website

AS early as 1669 Sir John Clayton was granted a patent to erect a lighthouse, but his scheme fell through and it was not until early in the eighteenth century that Captain William Holman, supported by the shipowners and Corporation of Weymouth, put a petition to Trinity House for the building of a lighthouse at Portland Bill. Trinity House opposed it suggesting that lights at this point were needless and shipowners could not bear the burden of their upkeep. The people of Weymouth continued their petition and On 26 May 1716 Trinity House obtained a patent from George I.

They in turn issued a lease for 61 years to a private consortium who built two lighthouses with enclosed lanterns and coal fires. The lights were badly kept, sometimes not lit at all, and in 1752 an inspection was made by two members of the Board of Trinity House who approached by sea to find “it was nigh two hours after sunset before any light appeared in either of the lighthouses”. With the termination of the lease the lights reverted to Trinity House. In 1789 William Johns, a builder of Weymouth under contract to Trinity House, took down one of the towers and erected a new one.

It was sited so that it served as a mark by day or night to direct ships moving up and down Channel or into Portland Roads clear of the Race and Shambles. In 1788 Argand lamps were installed, Portland being the first lighthouse in England to be fitted with them. In the upper or old house there were two rows, seven in each row, lighted with oil and furnished with highly-polished reflectors. Low light tests were made by Thomas Rogers with his new lens light, and six Argand lamps were installed, their lights increased by lenses.

A seven metre tall white stone obelisk was built in 1844 at the Southern tip of Portland Bill as a warning of a low shelf of rock extending 30 metres south into the sea, which still stands near the current lighthouse.

New high and low lighthouses were built in 1869, but in 1906 Trinity House replaced them with a single tower: the present lighthouse. The old towers can still be seen from the outside - the low light, which is now a bird observatory and field centre, has retained its original appearance but the high light lantern has been removed.

The present optic at Portland Bill is very unusual as due to the arrangement of the panels the character gradually changes from one flash to four flashes between the bearings 221°and 244° and from four flashes to one flash between bearings 117° and 141°.

Portland Bill Lighthouse was automated in 1996.

The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.