When picturing a lighthouse you could be forgiven for thinking only of the many miles of rugged and beautiful coastline that surround the British Isles. After all a lighthouse is not the kind of building that you would generally associate with a busy city. Yet there is a lighthouse in London, but unless you know where to look you will probably never find it. To find it you need to be in the heart of the Docklands, at the point where the River Lee and River Thames meet. This is the place where in 1864 construction began on London’s only lighthouse.
While it is in fact a lighthouse it was not used to guide ships into port or warn vessels of danger, it was used for testing out new designs and cutting edge lighthouse technology that if approved would be used right around the British Coast. So unique was this testing venue that it attracted scientists from around the world such as Michael Faraday who came here to carry out experiments of his own. In fact it was through research undertaken at this facility that Faraday came to patent his only invention which he designed in the lighthouse.
The lighthouse location is known locally as Trinity Buoy Wharf, as for the past two centuries the wharf has been home to the Trinity House Corporation which used the location for the mooring of light boats, as a depot for maintenance services and storage facility for the corporation, as well as a place for testing out the latest designs in lighthouse technology. At the peak of its operations there were around one hundred and fifty people employed on the wharf to maintain and service the light boats and buoys that were in use around the south coast; it was a hive of activity.
With the constant changes in light technology there was no way that business on the wharf was going to last, and in 1988 the wharf was closed, the lease not taken up again until 1996 with the hopes that the area could be transformed into a cultural centre. Though not all of the plans came to fruition the wharf now has to be one of the strangest places in London, containing as it does a bizarre set of wharfside neighbours. There is the container city – which consists of shipping containers that have been transformed into studios and offices, one of the old lightboats has been transformed into a photography studio, and of course there is the authentic, old style American Diner. You might think nothing of it being here but it has caught the attention of many people, including those in the film industry, as the diner was used in the 1998 film Sliding Doors.
The lighthouse itself has not been written off as it is now used as the home for the ‘Long Player’ millennium project which started playing music the moment when 1999 became 2000 and is set to play for a thousand years until the stroke of midnight on the last day of December 2999.