London's Best Lighthouses

M@
By M@ Last edited 21 months ago
London's Best Lighthouses

Have you ever been to Trinity Buoy Wharf? It's a remarkable corner of London, folded away on one of the petals of land within Bow Creek. The wharf is largely populated by artists, with a tiny museum (shed) dedicated to Michael Faraday, an authentic American diner and this magnificent structure: 'London's only lighthouse'. It's brilliant. You can even climb onto the roof:

But that 'London's only lighthouse' thing has long niggled. In reality, London has plenty of other lighthouses, so long as you're prepared to stretch a definition. For starters, Trinity Buoy Wharf itself also harbours a lightvessel, which is just a fancy name for a lighthouse on a boat. Here it is, scrimshanking from its duties as a beacon, and hiding behind Fatboy's Diner:

Called Lightship 95, it now serves as an unusual recording studio. Go and knock on a porthole and ask if the Lighthouse Family ever recorded there — they won't have heard that joke before.

Lightship 95 has a twin in the Royal Docks called Lightship 93. Like its younger sister, 95 has been put to creative use, and can be hired for photoshoots and general nautical capers:

And then there's this fully functional lighthouse (well, tower), which still wards vessels away from the shallow waters of Tripcock Ness a couple of miles downstream of Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Historians of London will know that this stretch of water, near modern day Thamesmead, was the scene of the worst shipping disaster on the river. It was here, on 3 September 1878, that the paddle steamer Princess Alice collided with a coal vessel. More than 650 lives were lost. Still worse, it happened in a patch of raw sewage, recently released into the Thames from Beckton.

Several similar beacons can be found along the Thames. Here's another, which guards the approach to London on the Swanscombe Peninsula. You can actually walk out along that gantry and inspect the cormorants.

Perhaps the most famous lighthouse — because of its prominent location — stands guard not over any water, but over the tides of people flowing in and out of King's Cross station.

This rooftop folly has mysterious origins. It probably dates from the 1870s when the rest of its building was constructed, but nobody can shed light on its original purpose. Some say it was used to draw attention to an oyster shop, which once occupied the ground floor. It would be a strange kind of advert, given that lighthouses are meant to warn people away.

And then there's Shurgard, the self-storage company whose name inevitably conjures images of missing racehorses. Many of the firm's 22 London branches include pastiche lighthouses, like the one pictured above in Edgware, or the radiant beauty below, in Hayes.

Someone's written a rather thoughtful essay about these roadside landmarks. Apparently, they're made of fibreglass — a cloned beacon that can be found across Europe.

No roundup of London's lighthouses could be complete without a mention of Trinity House. This charity, based on Tower Hill, is over 500 years old. It is responsible for keeping mariners safe, and lighthouses are obviously a large part of that. The building contains many nods to lighthouses, including this incandescent model:

And finally... the loftiest lighthouse of them all. At night, the upper floors of the Shard skyscraper are illuminated like a white-hot needle, or aureate tweezers. It makes for a dazzling and photogenic spectacle, but also serves as a warning to nearby aircraft — an aerial lighthouse for the 21st century.

All photos by the author, except the second Shurgard image, which is nicked from Google Street View, and the final image, which is by James Beard in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 06 March 2017