The abandoned Lancashire lighthouse at risk of being lost to the sea

Fleetwood’s historic 182 year-old steel structure was one of three keeping watch over the seaside town – but there are concerns that its days are numbered

The picturesque town of Fleetwood sits guarding the mouth of the river Wyre. Once a bustling port, visited by the likes of John Lennon and his family, the now quiet seaside town generally greets tourists and day visitors, keen to soak up a bit of the town’s history.

Among Fleetwood’s unique attractions are it’s three lighthouses. Two of these, the Upper (Pharos) Lighthouse and Lower Lighthouse, are still keeping watch over the town, but for one, it may be close to disappearing from the history books forever.

The Wyre Light sits two miles off the coast of Fleetwood, and marks the entrance to the River Wyre channel. Or at least it did. 

Built in 1839, the Wyre Light sits on 7 legs screwed into the sand. This structure, called a screw pile system, was designed by an Irish engineer called Alexander Mitchell, and the Wyre Light was the first working lighthouse in the world to accommodate this structure.

When it was first built, it was a huge tourist attraction for the town, with regular boat trips running too and from the light house for people to see it up close. As the town’s trade grew, the three lighthouses were used to guide fishermen into the river mouth from the Irish sea.

The Lighthouse served the port for over a hundred years, protecting ships from the treacherous sandbanks and rough seas. In 1948, the Wyre Light was destroyed by fire, and was replaced by an automated beacon light. This was deactivated in 1979 and the structure fell into disrepair.

Fleetwood Museum manager, Ben Whittaker is one of those keen to keep the history of this world first structure alive. Whilst it is known that the Wyre Light is the world’s first working screw-pile lighthouse, it often overlooked in the history books.

“He was blind from the age of 22 yet this did not stop him developing pioneering technology to help seafarers safely navigate dangerous waters. He personally supervised his works, and there are stories of him being taken out the light house during construction so he could feel the structure by hand.

“The original lighthouse was destroyed by fire in 1848, and a new one constructed close to the original location. This also caught fire in 1948. Eventually the light was converted to be unmanned, and then replaced by a light buoy. At the (Fleetwood) museum we have the last operational light from Wyre light displayed in our boat hall. Sadly it is slowly collapsing as no-one will take responsibility for repairing it.”

No authority accepts ownership for the lighthouse, and as a result, there are claims that part of the town’s history is being erased. Ben likened the structure to Liverpool’s Liver Birds, in the sense that the Lighthouse is just as significant to Fleetwood as the liver birds are to Liverpool.

He said: “It was the first example of that technology to be operational in the world. Every town has key buildings that are symbols of the town and for Fleetwood, this light house is one of them, along with the Mount and the other light houses. Earlier versions of the town crest actually have had that structure on it. It used to be on the souvenirs you could buy.

“It’s really important we do continue to remember what it is and why it’s significant. It is one of our claims to fame in terms of being a world first.”

Over the years, there has been a huge campaign by the Fleetwood Civic society to try and repair the structure, but as no-one can work out who owns and is responsible for it, it has fallen in to disrepair. Up until 2017, the lighthouse still stood upright, but a storm in July 2017 cased the structure to begin to fall.

In August 2020, the Association of British Ports (ABP) issued an official warning for mariners to be wary of the structure. after it had collapsed even further in August 2018. The structure is now being fully covered by the sea during the higher tides.

ABPs official statement said: “Mariners are advised that Wyre light at the entrance of Fleetwood Channel now fully covers on high water of nine-and-a-half metres and above, due to further collapse of the structure. All mariners are advised to navigate with caution when entering Fleetwood Channel.”

Whilst at low tide it is possible to walk out to the light, VisitFleetwood advise people not to attempt the walk, as the sands are very dangerous and there is a real risk of serious injury or worse.

  • 12:20, 18 SEP 2022