England's Lighthouse History: The old Royal Sovereign Lightship Was Replaced by the New Royal Sovereign Light Tower.

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Ever heard of the old Royal Sovereign lightship lighthouse? It was essentially a lighthouse boat, and was replaced by the current Royal Sovereign light tower.

Just to be clear, the Royal Sovereign "light tower" is the modern structure which can be seen today five miles off the Eastbourne coast (not to be confused with the red and white striped lighthouse at the foot of Beachy Head, nor the Belle Tout lighthouse which sits on top of Beachy Head!).

The Royal Sovereign lightship was established on the Royal Sovereign shoals in 1875. The light vessel was situated 7 miles from Bexhill and 11 miles from Eastbourne.

Royal Sovereign Light Ship acted as a lighthouse

Photo above: The Royal Sovereign lightship in the English Channel. As far as we are aware, this vessel was the first to have a flashing light(!) giving three successive flashes at one-minute intervals (later changed to three quick flashes every 45 seconds in 1877). With thanks (and a hearty pirate handshake) to Hilary Batchelor for the photo.

Crusaders trip to light ship on Good Friday 1949

The photo above, taken on/from the lightship, depicts the Crusaders boat trip from Eastbourne to the lightship on Good Friday 1949 (photo printed by Fox Photos Limited).

The lightship was eventually replaced by the 'new' Royal Sovereign Light Tower in June 1971.

How many people does it take to change a light bulb? None actually, in the case of the new light tower. Should the main lamp on the light tower fail during service then an automatic lamp-changer will bring a second lamp into operation!

The lighthouse tower is of concrete construction and was built in two sections on the beach at Newhaven. The base and vertical pillar section were carefully floated out to sea and into position and then sunk on to a levelled area of the sea bed.

The upper cabin section and superstructure were then floated over the pillar section. The pillar has an inner telescopic section which, when attached to the cabin, was jacked up 13 metres and locked into position. The underside of the cabin is safely well above the maximum wave height and the navigation light itself stands 28 metres above sea level.

The cabin section of the lighthouse has accommodation for the keepers who manned the lighthouse before its automation in 1994. The flat upper deck of the cabin section acts as a landing platform for helicopters. The lighthouse tower with the control room, fog signal room and lantern is located at one corner of the main deck with direct access to the cabin section below.

Automation of the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse was completed in August 1994 meaning jobs were lost but costs were reduced. The lighthouse is also solar powered! Banks of solar modules are mounted on a steel frame at an angle of 65° facing due south, placed adjacent to the lantern tower. The optic was replaced by a biform synchronised set of lanterns made by Tideland Signals Ltd each containing a lampchanger with 6 lamps.

The main light was reduced in range from 28 nautical miles to 12 nautical miles and the former air horn fog signal was replaced by a SA850 electric fog signal with a fog detector. The Royal Sovereign is monitored from the Operations and Planning Centre at Trinity House in Harwich.

The lighthouse acts as a coastal defence and has a surface to air missile launcher (actually, that last bit is not true). If you fancy seeing the light tower up close, have a look in our things to do section as pleasure and power boat trips can take you there.