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Newlyn is the most important fishing port in Cornwall; famous for pilchards, mackerel and herrings; the Newlyn School of Artists; the Ordnance Tidal Observatory for measuring the mean height above sea level, and for its lighthouse depicted in many paintings and photographs and postcards.
Although there has been an artificial harbour since 1435, it was in 1865 that it was decided to increase the size of it by building two new piers. There were two contenders for the contract but the design by Newlyn Pier & Harbour Co was accepted over Mount's Bay Harbour Company plans. The required Act of Parliament was passed in 1866 and from then on progress was so slow until it almost stopped and just as the grant of approval was due to expire further time was bought with the passing of an interim Act in 1871 and then an additional Act in 1873. Nothing came of this scheme for which the engineer Nicholas Douglass, father of the two great lighthouse engineers, James and William, was appointed.
A much larger scheme came into force when the North and South piers were built to a design by James Inglis, Chief Engineer to the Great Western Railway. Work eventually started on the first pier; the South pier in 1885 with the foundation stone being laid on St. Peter's Day, 29th June. It was completed in January 1887 at a cost of £ 30.12 per foot run and is 707 feet long and 25 feet wide.
At the same time a large round cast iron white painted lighthouse with a cupola roof, with lantern, lens and reflector was erected at the end of the pier by Messrs Jukes, Coulston, Stokes & Co of London at a cost of £ 641. It was 27 feet high and fitted with Lindberg's patent occulting apparatus which showed a white light which alternately hid and exposed the light 15 times per minute. The light when first lit on the 20th March 1887 was visible for 15 miles.
Initially the lighthouse lamps were oil. In January 1896 the oil filled lamps spilled over and set the harbour light on fire. William Maddern, the keeper, tried to turn off the oil supply but the pipes had melted and the leaking oil just fuelled the blaze. In turn Maddern was badly burned trying to put out a fire which if left unabated would have burned out in due course leaving no real damage to the iron structure. After repair the characteristic was changed to an occulting bright light for 7 seconds and eclipsed for 3 seconds and was visible for 7 miles at 32 feet above sea level. The fog signal was sounded in foggy weather when the fishing fleet was at sea.
The south pier was extended by a further 90 feet in 1914 and at a cost of £ 335 a new lighthouse was made by Butler Brothers of Smethwick, London and erected at the end of the new extension in 1915. For a time between 1914 and 1915 there were two lighthouses on the south pier, the old one in the course of dismantling and the new one. I have looked at photographs of both the old and the new and I can see very little difference between them, if any.
The lantern was fuelled by acetylene gas made at the lighthouse in a small generator using water dripping onto Calcium Carbide and the characteristic was then altered to a one second flash every five seconds with a range of 9 miles.
The light was electrified in 1935 and this remains the current source of power today.
It has been renovated many times to combat the effects of the sea and the last time it was shot blasted, sprayed with hot zinc to protect it from corrosion and then given several coats of paint to refresh its distinctive white body with red base and red cupola. The panes of glass were replaced and a new roof fitted. The original fog signal is now a fully transistorised solid state emitter with an automatic for detector.
The site of the first lighthouse installation can still be seen today.
Today the harbour still encompasses the earlier 15th century one which still has the old red cast iron lamp on the end, albeit probably a replacement many times over, and the lighthouse still serves the purpose originally intended.