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Blackwall Lighthouse.

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On the banks of the River Lea, just where it joins the River Thames, is Trinity House Wharf, also known as Blackwall Wharf. The small disused lighthouse readily identifies it.

In the early 1800s the Blackwall depot here was created simply as a place to conduct the relief of lightships in the Thames estuary. The site was leased by Trinity House in 1803 and purchased by them in 1815. As work increased and with Trinity House taking over private lighthouses in 1836, the site saw not only the repair of buoys but also lighthouse associated equipment. When James Douglass was made Engineer in Chief at Trinity House he suggested further development of Blackwall with the building of their own workshops. This was completed in 1869 with the establishment of blacksmiths, chain makers, copper smiths, carpenters, painters, fitters, turners, pattern makers, electricians, radio engineers and others.

There was a plant that could make gas from oil, lanterns were cast in bronze, and eventually the site contained a training centre and victualling stores including a proper butcher's shop.

The lighthouse was built in 1863 and is hexagonal in shape and is joined as an integral part on one side to the ex buoy repair and maintenance building. It is three stories high and is entered through an external access door on the ground floor. Apart from two windows on the ground floor, there is a stone staircase that clings to the wall and leads up to the first floor. This floor is rather a surprise as one wall is not there, in so much that it leads to the first floor of the buoy store. Three windows are placed in each alternate wall of the hexagonal shape. Similar stairs lead you up to the lantern room, which is traditional in every shape, but devoid of equipment when I visited it in 2000. There is the usual outside gallery and ladder to the domed roof of the lantern room.

This miniature lighthouse in the early years of its existence was used for experimental work in the development of new lighting equipment and for the testing of certain signals. For several years Michael Faraday, the famous physicist and scientific advisor to Trinity House, used it for optical research and for many of his experiments. Professor Tyndall who was another scientific advisor to Trinity House also made good use of the tower and would observe from a distance of two miles at Charton the experimental lights shown from the lighthouse at Trinity House Wharf, Blackwall. Later the lighthouse became a training place for new recruits to the lighthouse service to learn the operation of these structures when the Training School was set up in 1913.

Blackwall suffered bomb damage during the 1939 to 1945 war with the result that much of the work was transferred to regional depots. With the eventual automation of lighthouses and buoys, the Training Centre was closed down and the site sold in 1988.

Today the wharf still retains the names of Trinity House Wharf and Blackwall Wharf, but artist studios and performance areas now occupy the buildings. In addition there is usually a number of craft in various stages of repair and conservation by preservation groups. The disused lighthouse is now a listed building and remains an interesting landmark attracting both correct and incorrect statements about its former use. It is correct to say that it was never a fully working lighthouse in the traditional manner, but incorrect to say that it is the only inland lighthouse in the country. There are others.


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