The ALK Museum Rooms
Hurst Castle has become the primary site for artifacts belonging to the Association of Lighthouse Keepers (ALK), many of which have been in storage there since the closure of the Trinity House Museum in Penzance in 2005.
The Castle management has made available to the ALK the use of two rooms in the West Wing, and after many years of work by an enthusiastic and skilled team of volunteers, the second ALK lighthouse museum room was eventually opened in April 2013. It has been a huge success with visitors and was given a conservation award and a grant by the Solent Protection Society.
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20 Years since the Keepers left for the last time!
On the 8th December 2014 it was 20 years since the Keepers at the Needles Lighthouse left for the very last time as, by then, the automation of the Needles lighthouse was complete. To mark this occasion, an event was arranged at Hurst Castle on Saturday 6th 2014 when both Gerry Douglas-Sherwood and Gordon Medlicott were in attendance to remember and to help everyone enjoy the special day.
Saturday 6th December dawned, nice and bright with calm conditions but, any thought of boat trip had to be shelved as the tides were against us that day. A small group of hardy ALK members took the ferry to Hurst Castle and after a brief tour to view what the local ALK team had been working on recently, in particular the Nab Tower Lantern, the group then assembled in one of the ALK Museum Rooms. To fully represent the occasion, Gerry and Gordon, sat in the replica of the Needles Kitchen. They were invited to tell the assembled gathering something about life on the Needles Lighthouse and, what stories they told, mostly by bouncing comments and distant memories off each other which was all very entertaining. Members of the audience asked various questions which prompted even more humorous tales. A glass of wine was handed out to all attending to really mark the occasion. All too soon it was lunch time and, so it was off to the Castle Café for a very welcome bowl of hot soup and a roll – very welcome on this cold day
Then it was up on to the Castle wall to view the Needles Lighthouse in the distance and to ponder on those days of yesteryear and what life would have been like then. The tide was then getting low so it was time to hurry to catch the ferry before all the water had drained away but, not before, a group picture to record all who attended this special event. Once back on the mainland, everyone reassembled in a local café in Milford on Sea to further reminisce the events of the day. The day was finally rounded off with members of the local ALK team inviting Gerry, Gordon and Louise, Gordon’s wife, to a celebratory meal in a local hostelry.
Lighthouses at Hurst
HURST POINT Position 50 42′. 44 N 01 32′.94 W
Hurst Point Lighthouse guides vessels through the hazardous western approaches to the Solent, indicating the line of approach through the Needles Channel.
Although it is said that a light was shown on Hurst Point as early as 1733, the first Trinity House record relates to a meeting of shipmasters and merchants in 1781 to approve the terms of a formal petition to Trinity House for lights in the neighbourhood of the Isle of Wight. As a result a patent was obtained in January 1782 which stated that “ships and vessels have been lost… and the lives, ships and goods of His Majesty’s subjects as well as the King’s Royal Navy continue to be exposed to the like calamities more especially in the night time and in hard southerly gales”. The patent directed that the lights should be “kept burning in the night season whereby seafaring men and mariners might take notice of and avoid dangers … and ships and other vessels of war might safely cruise during the night season in the British Channel”.
In 1785, negotiations with Tatnell fell through and Trinity House erected to the designs of R. Jupp three lighthouses at the Needles, St. Catherine’s Point and Hurst. The Hurst Tower, sited to the south west of the old Hurst Castle, was lit for the first time on 29th September 1786.
In due course, however, shipping found that this light was obscured from certain directions and the Corporation constructed in 1812 an additional and higher light, both to remedy this defect and to give a guiding line to vessels. Extensive additions were made to the castle between 1865 and 1873 necessitating the repositioning of the lights.
In 1866, a new lighthouse which was called the Low Light, was built to replace the old Hurst Tower. The new lighthouse consisted of a white circular granite tower with a red lantern. This light was replaced in 1911 with a new Low Lighthouse, a red square metal structure standing on a framework of steel joists attached to the wall of Hurst Castle. The 1812 High Lighthouse was also replaced in 1867 by the 26 metre tower which is still working today.
A major modernisation of Hurst Point High Lighthouse was completed in July 1997. Prompted by the growth in volume and diversity of traffic using the Needles Channel and following extensive consultation with the marine community, high intensity projectors were installed on Hurst High Lighthouse. These are exhibited day and night to mark the channel between the Needles and the Shingles Bank. The projectors, sited in the service room below the lantern of the High Lighthouse, provide an accurate system of red, green and white directional lights giving precise cut offs over narrow arcs of visibility which can be realigned in the event of movement of the Shingles Bank.
The main light at Hurst still uses the unusual first order lens which is separated into sectors of different focal lengths with a red sector provided by shades inside the lantern. The acetylene light source has been replaced by standard Trinity House electrically powered equipment. The Low Lighthouse, which was built on the wall of Hurst Castle, was decommissioned and painted grey to match the surrounding background colours in order to eliminate navigational confusion.
Trinity House Lighthouse Exhibition:
In 2006, the first room of the Trinity House Lighthouse Exhibition was opened in the West Wing of the Castle, and this was expanded further in 2007 with the opening of a second room alongside. The exhibition has a display of artefacts including optics, fog horns and light buoys. The finishing touch to the exhibition is the Egypt Point optic (originally at West Cowes, Isle of Wight) which has been restored and is now located outside the display rooms.