A light was requested for these islands by Sir John Clayton in the late 17th century and by Captain J Blackett in 1755. Unfortunately both were rejected as the Elder Brethren of Trinity House were unable to obtain the consent of the affected parties to pay a toll for the maintenance of the light. However, in 1826 it was found essential to construct a lighthouse in the Farne Group on the Longstone Rock.
The lighthouse—designed and built by Joseph Nelson—is a red and white circular tower built of rough stone with iron railings around the lantern gallery. The light originally came from the Argand lamps with 12 burners, parabolic reflectors 21 inches in diameter and nine inches deep and a catadioptric optical apparatus.
The island was a bleak situation to endure and the isolation must have been terrible, often storms were so bad as to drive the family into the upper rooms of the tower to seek refuge, the waves being so enormous that they covered the living quarters.
Longstone Lighthouse is most famous as the scene of the Forfarshire wreck and the exploits of Grace Darling, a daughter of the keeper in charge. In September 1838 the steamer Forfarshire, bound from Hull to Dundee, went aground on Hawkers Rocks, about a mile from the Lighthouse, when 43 people were drowned; the stern portion of the vessel being split off and carried away in the storm. The forepart, to which clung the survivors, remained fast on the rocks. At daybreak William Darling, the keeper, and the fishermen ashore saw the wreck, but the waves were beating against the rocks so much that the fishermen thought it impossible to attempt a rescue and even Darling hesitated. He was finally persuaded to make the attempt by his daughter, with her as the second hand in the small lighthouse boat. On reaching the wreck after a terrific struggle they brought back four men and one woman in their frail open boat and later a further four survivors; all 9 had to be accommodated and fed at the lighthouse for two days until the storm abated and they could be taken to the mainland. This gallant action made Grace Darling and her father famous. The Royal Humane Society voted them its gold medal, the Government made them a grant and a public subscription was organised.
Longtone Lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in September 1990 and is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.