A lighthouse was first established at Flamborough by Sir John Clayton in 1669, but was never kindled. The name Flamborough was first thought to be derived from it being the place of the flame, but in the Domesday Book the word is spelt ‘Flaneberg’, possibly from the Saxon ‘Flaen’ meaning a dart, which the shape of the headland resembles.
The present lighthouse was designed by Trinity House architect Samuel Wyatt and constructed by John Matson of Bridlington in 1806 at a cost of £8,000 and lit on 1 December. The original lighting apparatus was designed by George Robinson and consisted of a rotating vertical shaft to which was fixed 21 parabolic reflectors, seven on each of the three sides of the frame. Red glass covered reflectors on each side, giving for the first time in lighthouse characteristics two white flashes followed by one red flash. This was an innovation quickly adopted elsewhere. The lighthouse was oil-burning, with an equivalent candle power of 13,860.
The following description of Flamborough Head Lighthouse is taken from Joseph Cotton's Memoir on the Origin and Incorporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond written in 1818:
“The site of Flamborough Head was of all others the most calculated for a lighthouse, either for coasters or for vessels from the Baltic and North Sea, but it was not concurred in by the trade until lately, when its utility having been admitted, the present lighthouse was erected, and the light exhibited upon the principle of the Scilly light, but with coloured red glass in front of the burners, by which it is distinguished from Cromer.”
In 1940 the lighthouse was electrified and further modifications took place in 1974. An electric fog signal was installed in 1975 replacing diaphone apparatus. In former times a rocket was discharged every five minutes in foggy weather reaching an altitude of 600 feet.
Flamborough Head Lighthouse was automated in early 1996, the keepers leaving on 8 May. The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.