The Shimmering form of Gunfleet Lighthouse off the Essex Coast

Gunfleet Sands Lighthouse in the distance. (Image: Ashley Dace. Gunfleet Lighthouse seen in the distance)

Six miles off the coast of Frinton-on-Sea in Essex stands the Gunfleet Lighthouse, a Victorian screw-pile lighthouse dating back to 1850. You may have seen it shimmering on the distant horizon, but chances are you’ve never been up close. When Flickr user ‘The Beacon Bike’¬†snapped this ghostly image, it took two people to track it down. But find it they did, and photographed the 19th century navigational aid against the backdrop of a modern wind farm.

Built by James Walker of Trinity House and contractor George Henry Saunders, the 74-foot-tall hexagonal structure was mounted on a steel lattice made up of seven piles, which were originally painted red. Keeper comforts included a bedroom, living room, combined kitchen washroom and a storeroom.

(Image: British Library. Plan of the Maplin Sands screw-pile lighthouse)

The Gunfleet Lighthouse was deactivated in 1921 but remains in use as an automated weather station by the Port of London Authority. And like other abandoned sea forts, towers, anti-submarine platforms and the like standing out in the North Sea, the historic screw-pile structure has received its share of subversive attention over the years, including an unsuccessful attempt to turn it into a base for pirate station Radio Atlantis in 1974.

Illustration of the Maplin Sands screw-pile lighthouse at the mouth of the River Thames (Image: British Library)

Today, the Gunfleet Lighthouse makes for an interesting diversion for those passing close enough to glimpse it.

Construction began on the first screw-pile lighthouse was built in 1838. Built by blind Irish engineer Alexander Mitchell on Maplin Sands (illustration above) at the mouth of the River Thames, it was actually beaten into service by the Wyre Light at Fleetwood, Lancashire, which was the first to be lit. The design is known for its sturdy piles which are screwed into the seafloor.

Related: Navigation Markers: 7 Defunct Daymarks & Beacons



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