26 October 2016
The Goodwin Sands – a massive sand bank in the English Channel between South Foreland and Ramsgate – have been a hazard to shipping for centuries and there are records of lights on the White Cliffs to warn mariners of the dangers since the 14th century. In 1635 two open-fire braziers were erected at South Foreland and there have been two lighthouses there ever since. In 1793 the Upper Light was converted to use oil lamps and in 1795 the Lower Light was similarly converted. Both lighthouses were purchased by Trinity House in 1832 with alterations being carried out to the Upper Light in 1842 and the Lower Light being totally rebuilt in 1846.
By 1875 South Foreland was equipped with carbon-arc lamps making it the first lighthouse to use electric light. The lighthouse was also later used by Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) as a base for his experiments in radio transmission and it became the first ever site to receive a ship-to-shore radio message and in 1899 it also received the first international radio transmission (from Wimereux, between Calais and Boulogne in France).
By 1904 the Goodwin Sands had shifted by such an extent that the visual alignment of the two lights no longer provided an accurate indication of the location of the sand bank and so the Lower Light was decommissioned. The Upper Light was fully automated in 1969 and it remained in service until 1988 when it too was decommissioned, modern navigational aids having rendered it redundant. The National Trust took over the site in 1989 and opened it to the public in 1990.