At the mouth of the Bristol Channel lies Lundy Island; it is a rugged mass of dark granite surrounded by reefs of sharp rocks that make an approach to the island difficult to the unknowing sailor. Measuring about 3½ miles in length by ¾ mile in width the island has some 20 miles of dangerous coastline; on the cliffs large colonies of guillemots, razor bills and herring gulls make their nests while on the rocks below Atlantic seals take refuge.
In 1819 Trinity House proposed the erection of a lighthouse on the rocky summit of Chapel Hill. The builder was Joseph Nelson, the engineer was Daniel Alexander and the Superintendent of Works was James Turnbull. The granite tower was 29 metres (96 feet) high with the keepers’ houses adjoining, the cost being £10,276 19s.11d. Two lights were shown from the tower, an innovation in lighthouse optics; the lower was a fixed white light, the upper was a white quick flashing light every 60 seconds.
However, the light revolved so quickly that no period of darkness was detectable between the flashes so in effect this also appeared as a fixed light. They were shown from elevations of 508' and 538' respectively and from five miles away the two lights merged into one. It was this appearance of being a fixed light that contributed to a disaster on the evening of November 1828. The ship La Jeune Emma travelling from Martinique to Cherbourg arrived in Carmarthen Bay in thick fog and mistook the Lundy lights for the fixed light of Ushant and went onto the rocks; of the 19 people on board 13 were lost including a niece of the Empress Josephine.
As a result, Trinity House built two new lighthouses on the North and South extremities of the island in 1897 and discontinued the old often-fog-obscured lighthouse. While Lundy South Lighthouse is a compact station with a white circular tower, Lundy North Lighthouse is set on a narrow plateau. The light was produced from a 75mm petroleum vapour burner until 1971 when electricity was installed. Lundy South Lighthouse was automated and converted to solar power in 1994.
The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.