South Foreland Lighthouse is located on the famous White Cliffs of Dover in southeastern England, overlooking the English Channel with a view to France on clear days. The cliff face, which reaches a height of 350 feet, is composed of white chalk accented by streaks of black flint. The dangers posed to shipping by the offshore obstacle known as Goodwin Sands led to the establishment of two lighthouses at South Foreland in 1635. The structures were rebuilt in the 1790s, and then Trinity House, England’s lighthouse authority, purchased the property. The lighthouse that stands at South Foreland today was built in 1842.
In the 1850s, Michael Faraday, acting as a scientific advisor to Trinity House, was exploring the feasibility of electric light being used in lighthouses. A trial was conducted at South Foreland in 1858, making it the first lighthouse to use electric light. In 1898 South Foreland Lighthouse was used by Guglielmo Marconi during his work on radio waves. He received the first ship-to-shore message from the East Goodwin lightship on Christmas Eve that year, and in 1899 the first international transmission was made between the lighthouse and France.
The light was automated in 1969, and it was discontinued in 1988. A short time later, ownership was transferred to the National Trust. The site is open to the public, and most people visit by walking a trail along the cliffs from Dover. There’s also a popular teahouse at the light station. Charles Franklyn lives in Deal, Kent, not far from South Foreland, and he’s been a volunteer tour guide at the lighthouse for 18 years.
Use this player to listen to the podcast:
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org