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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Southampton

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The Pepper Pot Lighthouse at St Catherine's Point
© Isle of Wight Tourism
Making light work of wine

You could be forgiven for thinking that the "Pepper Pot" lighthouse, perched some 750ft above the most southerly point of the Isle of Wight, is a rocket.

The origin of this primitive beacon of light for distressed sailors is as murky as the mists that often shroud St Catherine's Point, its precarious hilltop location.

The 10.67m (35ft) tall octagonal building has four massive support buttresses, the causes of its rocket resemblance. The ruins of an adjacent oratory or chapel remain on its north side. Predated by the Roman lighthouse at Dover, it is the second-oldest lighthouse in Britain.

Intriguingly, the lighthouse tower was octagonal, but with a square interior. The light beacon was simply a fire set in the roof of the tower which would glow through each of the eight beacon slits.

The Pepper Pot lighthouse plans.
© Detail taken from: "The Architectural Antiquities of the Isle of Wight", by Percy Stone. The copyright holder has not been traced - if you know who holds the copyright please contact the BBC Legacies Team.
The lighthouse had four interior stages and archways over two entrance doors. Within the pyramidal roof, wood fuel was always retained, ready for firing. The monks tended the beacon from the adjacent oratory and a priest would say mass for the hapless sailors braving the hazardous coastline.

A chequered history.

A number of sources suggest that, on a stormy night in the winter of 1314, a vessel chartered by merchants of the French King's Duchy of Aquitaine to take a large consignment of white wine to England crashed ashore on Atherfield Ledge - close to St Catherine's Hill.

In true "Whisky Galore" style, the surviving sailors sold 174 casks of wine to the islanders.

The merchants were so enraged that they pursued the receivers of the stolen wine, though they deemed the sailors to be unworthy of action. One island landowner, Walter de Godeton, was prosecuted, found guilty of receiving 53 casks and ordered to pay 227 and a half marks.

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