An iconic North East lighthouse’s historic Lantern Room is set for a £120,000 facelift – just in time for its 100th birthday.
Souter Lighthouse at Whitburn has stood tall and proud on the coast between South Shields and Sunderland for the past 144 years.
Famed as the world’s first purpose-built electrically powered lighthouse when it opened in 1871, it was the wonder of its age.
But the metal and glass domed Lantern Room, added in 1915 when Souter was converted from electricity to high pressure oil which saw the light’s range increased from 17 to over 20 miles, is in need of urgent repair.
Now, thanks to funding from the National Trust’s people-powered Neptune Coastline Campaign, work can start on reversing a century of damage caused by gale force winds, rain, sun and sea spray.
It will ensure the Lantern Room continues to amaze visitors with its radiance.
The original diamond-shaped bespoke glass panes will be restored and conserved or replaced with historically-accurate replicas where necessary, corroded metalwork renovated and the whole room painted inside and out.
Work is expected to take around 10 weeks, with scaffolding being built up the exterior length of the red and white painted round tower before the dome itself is covered in a protective layer of plastic.
It will mean that visitors will, for a time at least, be denied the spectacular 45-mile view north and south along the coast currently afforded to them on a good day.
Simon Colvine, Souter’s visitor experience manager, said: “This vital conservation project began this week, starting with the erection of the scaffold up the full length of the tower – a job which will take a little over two weeks to complete.
“We’re open throughout the 10-week project, and visitors will have full access to the tower, except for a couple of weeks at the start of October when the work of stripping back decades of paint is due to take place.
“We’re also taking the opportunity to install a new camera on the external walkway, so those who can’t (or won’t) climb the 76 steps to the Lantern Room will still be able to take in the view on an HD screen in the Compass Room at ground level.”
It is the first time any major work has been carried out on the Lantern Room since 1915, though the rest of the lighthouse has undergone some quite dramatic changes in its near century-and-a-half’s existence.
The most shocking, given its location, is the revelation that up until 1919 the tower boasted black and white painted hoops!
“It’s all to do with the colour of the light,” explained Mr Colvine.
“Originally the light was white, so the lighthouse had black and white hoops. But in 1919 the light was switched to red and the hoops were repainted ‘international orange’, which looks red.”
And in 1952 the Lantern Room was converted back to electricity and 4,500-watt bulbs installed, capable of producing a beam of 1.5 million candle power.
The current renovation work is being funded by the National Trust’s Neptune campaign, the charity’s most successful fundraising campaign ever.
For the past 50 years it has helped to save some of our most beautiful, dramatic and diverse shorelines.
Souter was bought with Neptune fund money 25 years ago after being decommissioned by Trinity House in 1988.
While the lighthouse, perched high on cliffs above the North Sea, is no longer operational, all the machinery still works, and is on show to visitors, along with the tower and a reconstructed Victorian keeper’s cottage.
There’s also an open air play area, complete with a small beach with deckchairs, fun activity trails and regular hands-on events.
Last year was Souter Lighthouse’s most successful, with more than 28,000 visitors attracted by a diverse programme of family-friendly events.