Point 3 - Souter Lighthouse
A life saving beacon since 1871, Souter Lighthouse was a technological marvel of its time.
As you look out to sea today, you may spot sea-birds bobbing on the waves, and clouds scudding over the water, but back in the mid 19th Century, if you had looked out from this point, the view would have been quite different.
A pair of boats
With heavy industry, notably coal mining, growing around Sunderland and Newcastle, many ships sailed from nearby ports, laden with goods for export all over the world. And at the same time, the local fishing fleet was also increasing to feed a growing population. Coastal traffic would have been busy.
But it was a particularly dangerous spot, and the stretch of rocks between Whitburn and Marsden claimed a great number of ships. In 1869 alone, there were 20 shipwrecks between South Shields and Sunderland. Many lives were lost and expensive cargos ripped apart on the submerged rocks and sand spits.
A marvel of its time
Souter Lighthouse was built in 1871, to provide a light which would guide ships away from danger. It was designed by James Douglass, who also designed the famous Eddystone Lighthouse in the English Channel.
Souter is now run by the National Trust
Unlike most lighthouses of the time, which used gas and oil lamps, Souter was the first in the world to be powered by alternating electrical current. The intensity of the light, reflecting through specially designed lenses, gave it a power equivalent to 700,000 candles.
However, it wasn’t always planned to build the lighthouse here. The original site selected by James Douglass lay a mile further south, at Souter Point. But he soon realised that the higher cliffs at Lizard Point meant he could build a shorter and cheaper tower. As there was already a Lizard Point lighthouse in Cornwall, the name of the original location was adopted.
As well as the main beam, a series of prisms and reflectors allowed light to be reflected out from a lower window over Sunderland Bay, warning of the dangers of Hendon Rock and Whitburn Steel.
There she blows! Foghorn at Souter
Mind your ears
On the cliff side behind the lighthouse, you will see a separate building which houses the foghorns which were used when visibility at sea was particularly bad.
Originally there was just one single horn which faced out to sea. It was later replaced by a pair of horns which projected the noise up and down the coast. They would, and still can, let out an ear shattering sound.
Originally the lighthouse keepers were paid an extra 2d (two old pennies) an hour as compensation for the noise, but local residents weren’t so lucky!
Today, the lighthouse is no longer in use; instead it is run by the National Trust and is open to visitors. You can explore the engine room, see how the lighthouse keepers lived, and if you don’t fancy climbing the 76 steps to the top of the tower, you can still enjoy the views via a CCTV system.
There's a good opportunity to spot lots of wildlife, particularly sea birds along this coastal path. So have your binoculars at the ready and find out what species you can spot.
last updated: 19/02/2008 at 12:16