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The other day I came across two postcards of King Edward's Bay, Tynemouth. Although they were dated and posted 50 years apart the headland had not changed one bit, except that the earlier postcard had a lighthouse whereas the 1950's view did not. This fact set me researching.
Thanks to John M (an ex Trinity House Lighthouse Keeper with a tremendous knowledge of these matters and a vast collection of photos and lighthouses for this very detailed photo.)
Today this headland contains the Castle and old Priory ruins under the care of English Heritage and guards the entrance to the Rive Tyne in Northumberland.
The earliest records show that a light shone here from a coal brazier upon a turret on the east end of the Priory church. In 1581 it was referred to as having been established 'in former times'. It was maintained by Henry, eighth Earl of Northumberland who was the Captain of the Castle from 1561 to 1585. He received the sum of 4 old pence and 12 old pence respectively for every English and foreign ship entering the Tyne.
By 1681 the lighthouse and castle were in the hands of Sir Edward Villiers, Governor of the Castle. As the old lighthouse by then was beyond repair Sir Edward, in December 1681, borrowed £ 4,000 to build a new lighthouse on land at the north eastern corner of the Castle together with a house for his own habitation, which was to adjoin the lighthouse.
Sir Edward held the lighthouse in perpetuity under Letters of Patent granted to him by King Charles II and inflation had increased the lighthouse dues to one old shilling an English ship and three old shillings a foreign one.
By 1832 the lighthouse had passed to William Fowke who made a net surplus of £ 2,693 in that year from tolls after expenses. The 1836 Act finally allowed Trinity House to compulsory purchase the lighthouse from Fowke at a cost of £ 124,678 in 1841.
The tower was built of stones from the Priory ruins and was square at the base for the first 26 feet and then octagonal up to its height of 79 feet. It was painted white for easy recognition in daylight from the sea. In 1802 a lantern room was added when the light was converted from a coal fire to a revolving light with silvered parabolic reflectors and argand lamps. The lights were further upgraded in 1871 and showed a revolving red light at a height of 154 feet above sea level visible for 18 miles.
The 1851 Census shows that Joseph Clouston (1800 to 1856) was the lighthouse keeper and he lived in the tower with his family. Ten years later the keepers were Samuel Wesencroft with a family of seven and Richard Eddy, a Cornishman, with his family of five. Both these two families lived in the four accommodation rooms contained in the tower.
The light was finally extinguished on 31st August 1898 having been replaced by a much needed new light constructed earlier at St. Mary's Island. Demolition of the old tower started in November 1898 and was completed in January 1899. It was found to be constructed in parts with several stones carved with dog teeth mouldings which were taken from the old ruins of the Priory church; a case of early recycling.
The Governor's house was demolished in November 1902.
Good pictures or illustrations of this magnificent old lighthouse are hard to find. Robert Salmon, (1775 to 1844), the British artist, painted a romantic moonlight scene of it in 1836 but as a night time view the picture is too dark to appreciate the lighthouse itself. The poetess Jane Harvey wove a nice little verse about the lighthouse in 1830 and a model of the lighthouse exists in the Tynemouth Museum.