Portland Bill


Portland Bill

Portland Bill Lighthouse is a functioning lighthouse located at the very south of the island, warning coastal traffic off of Portland Bill. The lighthouse and its boundary walls are Grade II Listed and have been since May 1993.


As Portland’s largest and most recent lighthouse, the Trinity House operated Portland Bill Lighthouse is distinctively white and red striped, standing at a height of 41 metres (135 ft). The tower is approximately 114 feet, and the lantern section at 21 feet. The foundations are 7 feet deep and 6 feet thick. The lighthouse took two years and three months to build, and was completed by 1906 and first shone out on 11 January 1906.

Both Portland Bill and Chesil Beach are the locations of many wrecks of vessels that failed to reach Weymouth or Portland Roads. Portland Bill Lighthouse guides vessels heading for Portland and Weymouth through these hazardous waters as well as acting as a waymark for ships navigating the English Channel.

The surrounding coast of Portland, namely Portland Bill and Chesil Beach, have been notorious for the many vessels that became shipwrecked in the area over the centuries. The dangerous coastline, which features shallow reefs and the Shambles sandbank, was proven more hazardous due to the strong tidal race known as the Portland Race. The importance of Portland Bill as a way-point for coastal traffic within the English Channel has seen various measures taken to reduce the number of shipwrecks. From Roman times, and before any lighthouses were erected, beacon fires would be lit on Branscombe Hill above Portland Bill as an attempt to warn passing ships of the danger. Portland’s two windmills further north of the Bill also provided a form of daytime navigation.


The two original lighthouses, now known as the Old Higher Lighthouse and Old Lower Lighthouse, operated as a pair. They were first constructed in 1716, and both rebuilt in 1869. They continued to warn ships off Portland’s coast until 1906, when both were decommissioned following the completion of the present lighthouse. The Old Lower Lighthouse later became a bird observatory in 1961, while the Old Higher Lighthouse became the home of Marie Stopes in 1923, and today has become a holiday let.

At the turn of the 20th-century, Trinity House put forward plans for the building of a new lighthouse at the southern extremity of Bill Point, to replace both of the current lighthouses. On 17 June 1903, a committee was formed to work alongside Trinity House for the acquisition of one acre, 66 poles of land at the Bill. Of the committee were Messrs J. Lano, H. Sansom, R. Pearce, F. J. Barnes, and Robert White. Trinity House paid £300 for the land.

The design of the lighthouse was created by Sir Thomas Matthews. In October 1903 the builders Wakeham Bros. of Plymouth began work on the foundations, with the completion of the lighthouse being planned for September 1905. The structure was designed so that the residence of the keepers had direct access to the lighthouse. Chance & Co of Birmingham supplied and fitted the lantern. The lighthouse was completed in 1905, at a cost of £13,000, and the lamp was first lit on 11 January 1906.

Between 1983 and 1986, the British stop motion animated children’s television series The Adventures of Portland Bill was aired. It was set in a fictional lighthouse on the Guillemot Rock, just off the coast from the fictional village of McGuillycuddy. Though there was no direct link regarding the setting of Portland Bill, the series was commonly believed to be based on the real Portland Bill Lighthouse. However the only true similarity was of the main character having the name Portland Bill.

In 1990 the lighthouse underwent a major restoration programme, and was covered in scaffolding. On 18 March 1996 the lighthouse was demanned, and all monitoring and control of the station was transferred to the Trinity House Operations & Planning Centre in Harwich.

Tourist Attraction
As Portland’s prime attraction, the Portland Bill Lighthouse is open to the public, where tours are operated by Trinity House, and a visitor centre, housed in the former lighthouse keeper’s quarters, holds exhibits. The original visitor centre was a joint project between The Crown Estate, The Corporation of Trinity House and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council. It was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh KG KT on 14 July 1999, although it had been operational since 1997. The original visitor centre was owned and operated independently from the actual tower lighthouse, and past occasions have seen the lighthouse closed to the public, while the centre would remain open. It opened from Easter to the end of September each year, and in 2007 was reported to receive 300,000 visitors a year. The centre featured various displays which provides insight and introduction into Portland’s environment & heritage – ranging from geology, Portland stone and the Jurassic Coast. It also featured a shop which stocks various local souvenirs. The lighthouse had received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2013.


However in September 2013 the centre closed due to lack of funding by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council. In October 2014 it was announced that Trinity House were working alongside The Crown Estate to create a new visitor centre at the lighthouse, themed around Trinity House’s maritime history and its responsibilities providing aids to navigation, charitable support and educational services to the mariner since 1514. This centre was funded from an £80,000 grant from the Trinity House Maritime Charity. After opening in March 2015, HRH The Princess Royal formally opened the new visitor centre on 12 May 2015. The new renovated centre, opened on 29 March 2015, features exhibits on the lighthouse, its keepers, and Trinity House. The new exhibit features a number of interactive displays, historical artefacts, and offers “a stormy sea journey in an exhilarating zone” known as “Into The Dark”.

The tours of Portland Bill Lighthouse are organised by The Crown Estate under licence from the Corporation of Trinity House. Often lasting approximately 45 minutes, visitors are able to climb the 153 steps to the top of the lighthouse on a guided tour with a former Lighthouse Keeper, and view both the inside of the lighthouse and its lamp as well as the surrounding Portland coastline. The nearby Trinity House Obelisk and Pulpit Rock are also popular attractions in the area.

Lamp and Fog Signal
Portland Bill Lighthouse uses a 1 Kw Mbi lamp and 4 Panel 1St Order Catadioptric Rotating Lens. The light flashes four times every 20 seconds and has an intensity of 635,000 candelas, with a range of 25 nautical miles. Also having a fog signal for times of bad weather, the signal uses a four-second blast every 30 seconds, with a range of 2 nautical miles. The Type F diaphone was decommissioned in 1996, but restored in 2003 for the benefit of visitors, where it is sounded every Sunday morning as an added attraction on the island but only used in foggy conditions if the lighthouse is out of operation.

The present optic at the lighthouse is unusual due to the arrangement of the panels, where the character gradually changes from one flash to four flashes between the bearings 221°-224° and from four flashes to one flash between bearings 117°-141°.

One of the old lamp holders from Portland Bill lighthouse can be seen at Portland Museum, which is found in the village of Wakeham, close to Church Ope Cove.

In addition to the lamp and fog, in early 2012, the National Coastwatch Institution, at the local Portland Bill Station, had a CCTV camera installed at the top exterior of the lighthouse to monitor the inshore passage around the Bill. The NCI were originally unable to see this area from the station.



Ticket Type Ticket Tariff
Adult groups (2 free per group) £6.00 per ticket
Lighthouse & Visitor Centre (Guided Tours) £6.00 per ticket
Lighthouse & Visitor Centre (Guided Tours) – Adult £7.00 per ticket
Lighthouse & Visitor Centre (Guided Tours) – Child to 16 £5.00 per ticket
Lighthouse & Visitor Centre (Guided Tours) – Family (2+2) £20.00 per ticket
Pre booked groups (10+) – adults £6.00 per ticket
Pre booked groups (10+) – children to 16 £4.00 per ticket
School/college group (children up to 16) £4.00 per ticket
Visitor Centre only – adult £3.00 per ticket
Visitor Centre only – child to 16 £2.00 per ticket
Visitor Centre only – concession £2.50 per ticket
Visitor Centre only – family (2+2) £9.00 per ticket

Note: Prices are a guide only and may change on a daily basis.

Opening Times

Open All Year
2016 off peak (16 Jan 2016 – 16 Mar 2016)
Day Times
Monday 11:00 15:00
Tuesday 11:00 15:00
Wednesday 11:00 15:00
Saturday 11:00 15:00
Sunday 11:00 15:00
Bank Holiday

* Children must be at least 1.1 metres in height and physically capable of ascending and descending unaided
Under no circumstances can children or babies be carried up or down the staircases.
Sensible Footwear must be worn – sandals without heel straps, flip flops, high heeled footwear and bear or stocking feet are not permitted
Suitable footwear can be borrowed from the reception
Anyone suffering from vertigo, heart or respiratory conditions are advised not to undertake the lighthouse tour.

source: http://www.portlandhistory.co.uk/portland-bill-lighthouse.html – http://visit-dorset.com