East Usk lighthouse, Newport
This structure was a precursor of automated lighthouses around Britain when it came into operation, without ceremony, in June 1893.
The lighthouse and its West Usk companion helped mariners enter and leave the river Usk safely at night. Each lighthouse used a different sequence of flashes, for easy identification. The lights showed white, green or red when viewed from different angles.
Following trials with automation on the Thames estuary, lighthouse organisation Trinity House ordered a clockwork mechanism for the new East Usk light. This saved fuel by turning down the lantern at dawn (without extinguishing the flame) and turning it up again at sunset, always taking account of varying daylight through the year.
No lighthouse keeper was needed here. Trinity House paid a local farm labourer – who could see the light from his house c.1.5km away – to visit East Usk lighthouse once or twice a week to wind and oil the clockwork machinery and clean the glass.
The lantern burned compressed petroleum gas, delivered from London every four to six weeks and stored in two tanks on the ground.
The iron tower was supplied by Fraser of Bromley-by-Bow, London, and stood on iron piles. The upper ends of the piles were originally exposed above the ground.
In 1896 the body of a 14-year-old girl was found near the lighthouse. She was Maud Evans, also known as “child parachutist” Mademoiselle Albertina. She’d been blown to the coast during an exhibition descent above Cardiff. After landing in the Bristol Channel she detached her parachute but couldn’t swim to shore.
In 1899 the bodies of three sailors were secured temporarily to the lighthouse. Their steam barge ran aground while carrying 153 tons of coal from Newport docks to Bristol on a dark and stormy night. Police Constable Fripp and his helpers were up to their necks in water at times as they removed the bodies, which were moved from the lighthouse to Nash church the following day.
The lighthouse, now owned and managed by Newport Harbour Commissioners, continues to guide ships into the docks. Its site is part of Newport Wetlands reserve.