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London’s Only Lighthouse

On the north bank of River Thames, just across the iconic O2 arena (formerly known as the Millennium Dome), stands London’s only lighthouse. It was built in 1866 for the purpose of testing new types of lamps and lighthouse technology, as well as training prospective lighthouse keepers. The hexagonal brick tower with a traditional light at the top was part of the training school and workshop facilities that operated on this wharf.

Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse

Photo: Matt Brown/Flickr

The lighthouse is located on the estuary of River Lea, in an area called the Trinity Buoy Wharf. For two centuries, the Corporation of Trinity House—the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, who is also responsible for the provision and maintenance of navigational aids and maritime communication systems—used this land for docking and repair of lightships, storage facility for the many buoys that aided navigation on the Thames, and as maintenance depot, as well as for testing new lighthouse technologies.

There were actually two lighthouses here. The other one was built in 1852, but was demolished in the late 1920s. This earlier lighthouse was used by Michael Faraday, who is best known for discovering electromagnetic induction, to conduct many experiments on lighthouse optics. Faraday was appointed scientific advisor to Trinity House in 1836 and for nearly thirty years he worked closely with lighthouses. It was Faraday who had the first lighthouse built at the Trinity Buoy Wharf to test his equipment. Faraday’s work improved optical lenses, electrical generators and ventilation chimneys within lighthouses. Today, a small museum stands on the wharf dedicated to the work of Faraday. It’s a small hut that recreates how he would have worked during the 19th century.

Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse

Photo: Magnus D/Flickr

The Trinity House workshops closed in 1988, and the area was acquired by the London Docklands Development Corporation, from whom a private company took the site on lease to develop it as a center for arts and cultural activities. The former wharf now contains “Container City”, a unique studio and exhibition space built out of used shipping containers, office space, cafes, and a restaurant in a traditional 1940’s American diner.

The lighthouse now houses a sound installation called Longplayer, 1,000-year-long piece of music that has been playing continuously since 31st December 1999 and will continue for exactly one thousand years.

Trinity Buoy Wharf container city

Container City. Photo: Matt Brown/Flickr

Trinity Buoy Wharf

Faraday’s museum. Photo: Matt Brown/Flickr

Trinity Buoy Wharf

Inside the Faraday’s museum. Photo: Gilda/Flickr

fatboy diner london

Fatboy Diner. Photo: Chris Guy/Flickr

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