Whiteford Lighthouse can be found off the coast at Whiteford Point (pronounced Whit-ford). This iconic building is the only remaining cast-iron lighthouse in Britain that is wave-washed: meaning it is surrounded by the sea at high tide. It was built in 1865 to warn ships of the shallow waters around Whiteford Point, helping them to avoid running aground and becoming stranded.
The lighthouse was designed by architect John Bowen of Llanelli and built to replace an earlier, simpler wooden structure that had been here since 1854 (of which nothing remains today).
The construction of the lighthouse was a major achievement at the time. Its foundations were made by driving 88 wooden posts into the gravelly seabed beneath the lighthouse, which were then held together by walled sections forming a box, filled with concrete. Once the foundations were in place the structure of the lighthouse was built from cast-iron panels, eight levels in total, which taper towards the top of the building. A pitched stone ‘apron’ was built around the base of the lighthouse to help protect it from the sea. All of the materials were delivered by boat and work undertaken during low tide – making its construction a slow and difficult process.
The lighthouse tower is 13 metres (44 feet) high and stands on a base 7.3 metres (24 feet) in diameter. It was originally designed to accommodate two lighthouse keepers, but records show that it was only ever occupied by one. Imagine what it must have been like for those lone keepers on stormy nights, surrounded by crashing waves, when the lighthouse tower was reported to have swayed back and forth in the wind!
It was the lighthouse keeper’s job to maintain the building and importantly, light the oil lamps that were used to warn ships of the dangerous waters around Whiteford Point. Light from the lamps was amplified using mirrored reflectors, which meant that the lighthouse could be seen from miles away. The lighthouse had four sets of lamps and reflectors: one pointed towards Lynch Pool, one towards Burry Port, one towards Llanelli and later (in 1876) one pointing along the north channel.
Whiteford lighthouse was shut down in 1926 when a more modern beacon was set up at Burry Holms. The lighthouse was relit for a brief time during the 1980s after an appeal from sailing enthusiasts, who found it a useful aid when navigating local waters. The new light was fully automatic and switched on during nighttime. It eventually broke down and was removed but not replaced.
During World War II the lighthouse was used as a target for bomb practice by the Royal Air Force. It is believed that there may still be a number of unexploded bombs buried in the seabed around it!
More recently, in 2000, the lighthouse was put up for sale for just £1 (on the agreement that the successful buyer would then invest in its restoration). The sale attracted worldwide interest, including an American millionaire who wanted to dismantle the building and have it shipped to the USA. Instead, it was sold to a partnership of organisations that plans to restore the lighthouse for the benefit of the public. It remains as one of Gower’s most recognisable landmarks and as a reminder of people’s relationship with the sea. It is Grade II listed building and also a Scheduled Ancient Monument in recognition of its international importance.
The lighthouse is accessible at low tide but seek advice before attempting the walk as it can be dangerous.