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Gunfleet Lighthouse

Location

Six miles off the coast of Frinton-on-Sea, Essex at the northern end of Gunfleet Sands.

51.46.1478 North

1.20.2839 East

Its position was within British territorial waters.

Construction

A screw-pile lighthouse constructed in 1850 by James Walker of Trinity House. It is 74’ (23 m)  high and hexagonal in plan.

The lighthouse is mounted on seven screw piles driven into the sea bed forming a steel lattice and the whole structure was originally painted red.

The hexagonal tower mounted on the piles housed living accommodation comprising a living room, bedroom, kitchen/washroom and storeroom. The light enclosure was mounted on the roof.

The first of these type of lighthouse structures was built on Maplin Sands in 1836, and several others followed, including Chapman Sands off Canvey, and on the Yantlet. All have long since been demolished, and only Gunfleet remains.

George Henry Saunders was contractor for the construction of  Gunfleet Lighthouse and he used Mitchell's Screw Piles.

Messrs Walker and Burges were the Engineers.

Usage

Operational as a lighthouse until being abandoned in 1921. It is still in use as an automated weather station by the Port of London Authority, and marks the northern eastern limit of their jurisdiction.

Stations Housed

Planned to house Radio Dolphin (a resurrection of the successful Radio Atlantis, which had closed when the Dutch Marine Offences Act came into force in September 1974).

Offshore radio use

Gunfleet lighthouse had not been considered for use by any broadcaster during the 1960’s British offshore radio era.

However in 1974, with the introduction of the Dutch Marine Offences Act,  a group of people started work to refurbish the lighthouse for use as a base to re-launch Radio Atlantis as a new English language station, Radio Dolphin.

Refurbishment work started in September 1974, just after the new Dutch law came into effect, while on land a 5kw transmitter was being built by former Radio Atlantis engineer, Andy Anderson.

Studio accommodation, living quarters and a steel framework for guying the planned 120’ aerial mast were all installed during October and November 1974, with a planned opening date for the station of Christmas 1974.

Unbeknown to those involved with the new station the British authorities had been keeping a close watch on all the activity at Gunfleet and on 19th December 1974, they decided it was time to act.

Three boats carrying Police, Home Office and Trinity House officials arrived at the lighthouse and requested permission to board, which was initially refused by those in occupation. However, after being informed (correctly or not) that those involved with the station on land had already been arrested they relented and allowed the officials on board.

Home Office officials spent several days dismantling all the radio equipment which had been installed on the lighthouse. Four people involved with the planned station were later summonsed to appear at Southend Magistrates Court on 11th December 1975 on a charge of ‘conspiring to install apparatus contrary to Section 4 (3) (d) of the Marine etc Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967. They were committed for trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

The trial took place on 5th  April 1976 when three defendants appeared (the fourth was by then working on the Voice of Peace off Israel). Two of the defendants were given a two year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £50 costs. The case against the third defendant  who appeared in court was dismissed.

Sea Structures

Thanks to Martin van der Ven for allowing us to use some additional information from the Broadcasting Fleet section of the Offshore Radio Guide  in this Gallery


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Left: Equipment seized from Gunfleet Lighthouse in 1974

Photo: Offshore Echos Magazine/Public Records Office

Above: Sepia postcard picture of Gunfleet Lighthouse when it was operational

Photo: Mike Millichamp/J.Swinn