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Portland Bill (TH)
Photo by Martin Boyle  

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POSITION 50° 30'.82 N 02° 27'.30 W
Location:   Peninsula Island near Weymouth, Dorset
No. On Admiralty List of Lights:  0294
Present Tower Built:  1906
Tower Composition:  Purbeck Stone
Height of tower: 129 ft 10 ins (39.58 m) to top of drum ventilator
Focal height of light: 140 ft (42.67 m) above mean tide level
Builders:  Wakeham Brothers Ltd., Plymouth
Designer: 
Sir Thomas Matthews
First Lit:  11th January 1906
Automated: 1995-96
Traditional Keepers left station: 18th March 1996


Portland Bill and Chesil Beach are the graveyards of many vessels that failed to reach Weymouth or Portland Roads. The Portland Race is caused by the meeting of the tides between the Bill and the Shambles sandbank about 3 miles SE. Strong currents break the sea so fiercely that from the shore a continuous disturbance can be seen. Portland Bill Lighthouse guides vessels heading for Portland and Weymouth through these hazardous waters as well as acting as a waymark for ships navigating the English Channel. The Shambles sandbank is marked by a red sector light.

As early as 1669
Sir John Clayton was granted a patent to erect a lighthouse, but his scheme fell through and it was not until early in the eighteenth century that Captain William Holman, supported by the shipowners and Corporation of Weymouth, put a petition to Trinity House for the building of a lighthouse at Portland Bill. Trinity House opposed it suggesting that lights at this point were needless and shipowners could not bear the burden of their upkeep. The people of Weymouth continued their petition and on 26th May, 1716 Trinity House obtained a patent from George I. They in turn issued a lease for 61 years to a private consortium who built two lighthouses with enclosed lanterns and coal fires.

The lights were badly kept, sometimes not lit at all, and in 1752 an inspection was made by two members of the Board of Trinity House who approached by sea to find "it was nigh two hours after sunset before any light appeared in either of the lighthouses". With the termination of the lease the lights reverted to Trinity House. In 1789 William Johns, a builder of Weymouth under contract to Trinity House, took down one of the towers and erected a new one at a cost of £2,000. It was sited so that it served as a mark by day or night to direct ships moving up and down Channel or into Portland Roads clear of the Race and Shambles. Over the doorway on a marble tablet was the following inscription:-

'For the Direction and Comfort of NAVIGATORS; For the Benefit and Security of COMMERCE and for a lasting Memorial of BRITISH HOSPITALITY to ALL Nations This Lighthouse was erected by the Worshipful Brethren of Trinity House of Deptford Strond
Anno 1789.
'

In August 1788
Argand lamps were installed, Portland being the first lighthouse in England to be fitted with them. In the upper or old house there were two rows, seven in each row, lighted with oil and furnished with highly-polished reflectors. Low light tests were made by Thomas Rogers with his new lens light, and six Argand lamps were installed, their lights increased by lenses.

In 1798, when Napoleon threatened invasion, two 18lb cannons were installed at the lighthouse
.

In 1844 a 23 ft (7 m) high white stone obelisk was built on the tip of Portland Bill as a warning to shipping about a low shelf of rock to the South, that extends 98 ft (30 m) into the sea. This obelisk is still in place to the front of the current lighthouse.

New high and low lighthouses were built in 1869, but during the early part of 1903 Trinity House announced its intention of replacing them with a single tower. The old towers can still be seen from the outside the existing lighthouse.

The low light has retained its original appearance, and is now a bird observatory and field centre. The high light had its lantern removed shortly after the present Portland Bill light came into service. However it is now in private ownership and been converted into a splendid motel. Also one of the first things the owners did was to have a duplicate lantern constructed, which provides visitors with a spectacular sun lounge.

The present optic at Portland Bill is very unusual as due to the arrangement of the panels the character gradually changes from one flash to four flashes between the bearings 221°and 224° and from four flashes to one flash between bearings 117° and 141°.

Portland Bill Lighthouse was demanned on 18th March 1996 when monitoring and control of the station was transferred to the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich. The automation of the lighthouse included replacement of the optic drive by a dual stepper motor system and the air fog signal by a directional electric emitter, controlled by an automatic visibility meter. A three position motor driven lampchanger ensures that failure of the main navigation lights automatically brings into operation an emergency lamp.



1901043010 Portland Bill by Martin Boyle & Ken Trethewey
Photo Being Updated