An English Channel Lighthouse Makes Its Debut

December 8, 1862

After a few delays, a new lighthouse began operations off the western coast of the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. (Guernsey and several other islands in that vicinity of the channel have long constituted the British Crown dependency known as the Bailiwick of Guernsey.)  That lighthouse is specifically situated on Les Hanois reef, a group of rocks marking the westernmost point of all of the Channel Islands.

Five days after this navigational aid was first lit, the London-based Standard announced in a notice to mariners that “a quick Revolving Red Light, showing a full beam every 45 second, is now exhibited seaward from the light-house erected on one of the Hanois Rocks, at the western extremity of the island Guernsey.” This announcement also noted, “The light burns at an elevation of 100 feet [30.5 meters] above high water . . . Under ordinary circumstances the light will be visible at a distance of about 12 miles [19.3 kilometers].”

There had been demands for a lighthouse at that location as far back as 1817 and in response to various shipwrecks in the area. The British government finally authorized the construction of Les Hanois Lighthouse during the 1850s. As bailiff and civic head of Guernsey, Peter Stafford Carey laid the foundation stone for the new structure in 1860.

Les Hanois Lighthouse was designed by the influential Scottish engineer James Walker. He had designed more than 20 lighthouses during his career, with the first of those having been the West Usk Lighthouse in Australia in 1821. Walker died two months before Les Hanois Lighthouse went into service.   

The engineer who was in charge of actually building Les Hanois Lighthouse was William Douglass. This was one of several notable construction projects that he carried out between 1852 and 1878 on behalf of Trinity House, the official authority for lighthouse in England, Wales, Gibraltar, and the Channel Islands. Following his service with Trinity House, Douglass worked as engineer-in-chief to the Commissioner of Irish Lights from 1878 to 1900.

The red light for Les Hanois Lighthouse was developed by the leading British glass manufacturer Chance Brothers and Company. This 16-sided light was composed of 672 pieces of glass and its red color was accomplished by fitting a ruby-glass chimney over the multi-wick lamp at the center of the lens. This red light remained in effect for Les Hanois Lighthouse until it was replaced by a white light that likewise flashed every 45 seconds but shone more brightly. Another significant change for Les Hanois Lighthouse involved the installation of a helicopter pad on top of that structure in 1979.

Les Hanois Lighthouse, which was fully automated in 1996, continues to help protect vessels from the often hazardous rocks and reefs west of Guernsey. This structure also serves as a position fix for mariners making their way through that section of the English Channel. The current light for Les Hanois Lighthouse emits two white flashes every 13 seconds and has a range of 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers).

For more information on Les Hanois Lighthouse, please check out https://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouses-and-lightvessels/les-hanois-lighthouse and http://www.cwgsy.net/private%2Fbaf/htm_files/hanois.htm

Additional information on lighthouses in the English Channel is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lighthouses_in_the_Channel_Islands

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