London’s Lighthouse

With its sinuous curves and gentle
shoreline an aid for stricken mariners is not what you would expect to find beside the Thames.

Alan Kean from the website Isle of Dogs Life has written a guest post of his visit to
Trinity Buoy Wharf, London’s only
lighthouse which is now bizarrely home
to an art installation set to last until the end
of this century.

London’s Lighthouse – The Mysterious World of Trinity Buoy Wharf

[T]here are few stranger places in London than Trinity Buoy Wharf, still a part of the Isle of Dogs it gives the impression of isolation but is only a couple of miles away from Canary Wharf or Canning Town. It’s location at the eastern tip of Orchard Place is reached by walking up a road flanked by Industrial units.

industrial units

The walk gives no indication of what you will find at your destination except for the odd buoy, although the information boards dotted along the road give an interesting history lesson.

history lesson

There are a few oddities along the way.

along the way

When you arrive at the Wharf, surprises come thick and fast where nothing is quite what it seems to be.

what is seems to be

The first surprise is there is a Lighthouse, and it turns out that both the Lighthouse and Wharf have quite an history.

quite a history

For nearly two centuries the Corporation of Trinity House occupied this site from 1803 to 1988, but even before then in 1760s Trinity House were storing buoys in nearby Blackwall.

The site was mainly used for storing buoys and other marine equipment but gradually workshops were added for testing, repairing and making equipment.

The Lighthouse was not built to aid the Thames river traffic but was an Experimental Lighthouse which was designed by James Douglass, the one still standing was not the first one however there was another experimental lantern nearby built in the 1850s in which the famous scientist Michael Faraday carried out tests in electric lighting for lighthouses.

The present lighthouse was constructed in 1864 and was used to experiment with electric light and different coloured lights the results being checked at Charlton across the river. After the second world war the lighthouse was used for the training of lighthouse keepers.

The workshops were greatly altered over time until they were finally closed in 1988.

There are no lighthouses keepers but there is plenty of noise because the lighthouse now houses a sound installation called Longplayer that will not stop until 2999.

not stop until 2999

Outside the warehouse in memory of the work of Michael Faraday is a small shed called the Faraday Effect.

Faraday Effect

Lined up against the jetty is an old Trinity lighthouse ship which has been turned into a Music Recording Studio.

The old workshops no longer have the clang of metal on metal but the dancing feet of various dance groups or the raised voices of a theatre or opera company.

Opera company

Old shipping containers have been painted and made into office blocks called Container City.

Container City

But perhaps the last thing you would expect to find in such a place is the Fatboy’s Diner, a genuine 1940s American Diner from New Jersey that was bought over from the States then had a few short stays in different parts of London before finding its present site. The Diner itself is a bit of a celebrity featuring in the film Sliding Doors, music videos and magazines.

The concentration of Arts and Culture facilities is part of the legacy handed to Urban Space management to develop an Arts Quarter. This has yet to fully developed but if you want a great view of the Thames and the O2 whilst drinking a milkshake at an original American Diner opposite a lighthouse this is the place for you.

The Lighthouse and Longplayer are open on the first weekend of every month from 11am to 5pm (until 4pm from December – March) and entrance is free. For more information visit the Trinity Buoy Wharf website or the Longplayer website.

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