Grace Darling’s lighthouse gets an upgrade

Longstone Lighthouse on the Farnes, famous for Grace Darling's rescue of members of the Forfarshire crew
Longstone Lighthouse on the Farnes, famous for Grace Darling's rescue of members of the Forfarshire crew

Works to modernise the iconic Farne Islands lighthouse that was the home of 19th century heroine Grace Darling have begun.

Ships will be helped to navigate their way past the rocky outcrop thanks to a new hybrid energy system using solar power and diesel backup that is being installed at the Longstone lighthouse.

Neil Jones of Trinity House said: “As part of its mission as a general lighthouse authority to deliver reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation, Trinity House has begun re-engineering Longstone Lighthouse to replace obsolete electrical equipment and ensure the long term reliability of this aid to navigation, with improved environmental performance and reduced running costs.

“Work began on March 24 and will continue throughout the summer, concluding with the new light going live on October 20 and the final demobilisation and viewing trial around November 11, 2015.

“The works will reduce the maintenance commitment of the aid to navigation and power systems.

“The reliance on 24/7 diesel generation will be reduced by fitting a hybrid energy system using solar power and diesel backup as well as fitting new navigational equipment.

“This will provide the reduced light requirement from a 24 hour light with a 24 nautical mile range to a night-time only light with an 18 nautical mile range.”

Mr Jones added: “The lighthouse visitor centre will be closed to the public during the works throughout 2015 but will reopen with additional facilities and new displays to enhance what we currently offer to visitors wishing to know more about the lighthouse, the story of lighthouse keeper’s daughter Grace Darling and Trinity House, who built the lighthouse in 1826 and operate it today.”

The works have also been timed to ensure there is minimal impact on wildlife.

Trinity House received listed building consent from Northumberland County Council to place 27 solar panels on the nearby accommodation block last May.

The original plan was to have a vertical axis wind turbine and solar panels mounted on the walls of the Grade II listed lighthouse but these were shelved on the advice of council planners.

The new plan will see the solar panels installed at 10 degrees to the horizontal so that they do not protrude above the parapet wall.

The use of solar panels will reduce the lighthouse’s carbon footprint from current annual emissions of 14.25 tonnes of carbon dioxide to 0.69 tonnes per year.

Longstone lighthouse is most famous as the scene of the Forfarshire wreck of September 1838 when Grace Darling, a daughter of the keeper in charge, braved stormy seas to help rescue four men and one woman in their frail open boat and later a further four survivors.

Grace was celebrated as a heroine by the Victorians but tragically died of tuberculosis just four years later, aged 26.

There were calls for the lighthouse as early as 1755 but it was not built until 1826.

The Longstone light was originally fitted with 12 burners, parabolic reflectors and a catadioptric optical apparatus. Major alterations were made to the lighthouse in 1952 and the light was converted to electricity. It was converted to automatic operation in 1990.