The first lighthouse at St Bees began its life in 1718 on land bought by Trinity House. It was constructed by Thomas Lutwidge, who paid a lease of £20 per year for the site. It stood 9 metres tall and was 5 metres in diameter topped with a large metal grate on which the lighthouse keeper would burn coal. To make money Lutwidge levied charges of 3½ pence per tonne of cargo carried by vessels to nearby ports. In 1822 it was the last coal-powered lighthouse in Britain, when it was destroyed by a fire.
The current 17 metre tower was built during 1865-66 and is topped by a lantern that was originally intended for Europa Point in Gibraltar.
In 1987 the light was fully electrified, with a beam that can be seen 33 km away and at this time it was also de-manned and automated. In 1999 the light was further modernised, after which it was monitored from the Trinity House Planning Centre in Harwich. It flashes twice every 20 seconds. The fog signal has been discontinued; it used to sound two blasts every 45 seconds.
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