How Roker's lighthouse was moved 145 metres - then back again - in 1841

Imagine being asked to move a working, 300-tonne, 24-metre high stone lighthouse over a distance of 145 metres – uphill.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 8th July 2019, 3:02 pm
Moving Sunderland's Lighthouse - 1841 tells a remarkable tale.
Moving Sunderland's Lighthouse - 1841 tells a remarkable tale.

The lighthouse can’t be dismantled and rebuilt. Nor can it be simply demolished and replaced. To make the task even more difficult, the year is 1841 and the technology is limited.

It sounds like a Monty Python sketch, but it actually happened in Roker and the incredible tale is the subject of a new book called Moving Sunderland’s Lighthouse – 1841.

The author is engineering enthusiast Ian Hills. The book centres on John Murray, the civil engineering genius who made the improbable sounding story come true, although the budget for the operation leapt from £600 to a whopping £827.

Lighthouses have been moved since, but the 178-year-old feat in Sunderland is the oldest documented instance.

Ian first unearthed the details at a second hand book fair when he stumbled across a 1905 book written in French that went into considerable detail about the operation. He also found a paper written in 1844 by Murray himself.

Ian, who lives in Northumberland, said: “The book aims to expand on that brief paper and try to provide a rationale and explanation for what Murray did. Moreover a rationale and explanation that is aimed at the layman.

“Another important consideration was how to convey to the reader why it was so important to move the lighthouse.

“Today there are many who regard lighthouses as something of an anachronism; their role superseded by wireless, radar and satellite navigation systems. To the mariner of 150 years ago, lighthouses were often the difference between life and death.

“It is only by recognising this that the importance of the Sunderland lighthouse can be fully appreciated.”

The “mobile” lighthouse and the old north pier were eventually replaced by the current pier and lighthouse 1903.

But why was the old lighthouse moved at all? How was it done using only wood, cast iron and muscle? The answers are all in the book.

Moving Sunderland’s Lighthouse – 1841 is available to buy on Amazon.