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Portland Bill

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67568011LRPortland Bill - world famous because of its picturesque and wild location. The lighthouse is perhaps the most photographed feature on Portland.

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JT01103The first proposal to build a lighthouse at Portland Bill was made in 1669 but it wasn't until 29th September 1716 that the first coal-fired lamp shone out from where the upper lighthouse now stands.

The coal had to be drawn by horse and cart from the ships at Castletown on the furthest northern part of Portland. There was then no track to Portland Bill and in the winter the coal often did not arrive and the fire in the lighthouse went out.

The Trinity House examiners were appalled at this situation and they arranged for the present ‘Higher Lighthouse’ to be built. The lamp was fired using oil; this being the first lighthouse in Britain to be so lit.

In 1789 a second lighthouse was built where the lower - bird observatory - lighthouse now stands.

The main lighthouse on ‘The Bill’ was built and first shone out on 11th January 1906.






On the left the stars of Orion shine above the ‘new’ Portland Bill Lighthouse in January 1990. The pinkish object  in Orion's sword is the Orion Nebula where millions of stars are being created from interstellar gas and dust. This picture was taken from the Portland Bill car-park at 2 a.m. on a freezing winter's morning. I won a 15 prize with this picture awarded by the magazine ‘Astronomy Now’ in 1990. It was almost worth nearly freezing to death!

On the right the lighthouse appears to be shining but it is only the sun glinting through the optics in this carefully positioned picture.


Two more unusual pictures of the ‘new’ lighthouse. On the left Portland Bill Lighthouse is swathed in scaffolding and polythene undergoing a facelift, 1990. On the right we see the moon rising early one winter’s morning.. 


On the left this old lamp holder from Portland Bill lighthouse can be seen in the Portland Museum close by Pennsylvania Castle in Wakeham. The ship in the old picture on the right has probably been superimposed for artistic effect.


The Pulpit Rock is a man-made feature created in Victorian times.


It was intended to have the appearance of a bible opened and leaning on a pulpit. In the 19th century many Portlanders were fiercely religious and followed a variety of sects; many having sprung from a visit by John Wesley.

By the turn of the 20th century churches and meeting halls - such as the ‘Ranters’ Lodge’ on Chesil - housed worshippers of many generally non-conformist groups such as Wesleyan Methodist Church, Primitive Methodist Church, Congregational Church, Bible Christian Connexion, Salvation Army, Zionists, The Brethren as well as the conformist and Catholic religious groups.

The picture below shows a group of worthy Portlanders who attended the Zion Chapel in Weston around 1900. Beards were very much a status symbol in those far off days!





OK! So that’s me in the late 1980s but I was young and foolish in those days. Do what I say - not what I do!


In the rock near the Pulpit someone has carved their name. The graffiti reads "B Low 1890" - Victorian graffiti has a rarity and interest value that modern graffiti will not acquire.


People climbed on Pulpit Rock even in Victorian times!


The whole of Portland Bill has been shaped by quarrying. The two pictures below show the quarrying activity in the 1930s and the effect on the present landscape.



The following pictures show quarrying activity in the early 1900s.








Before the ‘new’ lighthouse was built in 1906 there were tramways running over the area of Portland Bill. The old map above shows a tramway which ran to the ‘Red Crane’. Traces of this tramway can still be seen.


Stone blocks were used to support the tramway rails and these are still visible. The run from south of the lighthouse and go under the buildings to emerge near to the Lobster Pot Cafe. The track then ran in a gulley until it reached the cliff edge and the crane.


The tramway ran to the right of the cafe and beach huts to the Red Crane.




These tramway rails were exposed by a storm in the 1990s.





The ‘Red Crane’ in the early 1980s.

In those days it was used to haul fishermen’s boats into and out of the water. A few years after I took this picture the crane was destroyed by vandals and was replaced by a metal crane. Vandalism is a popular pastime on Portland. One of many other Portland features that have drawn the attention of gangs of vandals and arsonists has been Lano’s Bridge in Tout Quarry which was attacked with heavy equipment with the intention of completely destroying it.



The Cosy Cafe photographed in the early 1990s


The Lobster Pot Restaurant photographed in the early 1990s


In October 2002 a planning application was submitted to demolish "The Cosy Cafe" - for long a familiar landmark at Portland Bill. By April 2003 it was gone leaving just the Lobster Pot restaurant..



This looks like a terrible outbreak of pollution but it was a rare but natural phenomenon.







There was a total eclipse of the Sun in the South-West of England on this day; an event I had been eagerly awaiting since I was a small child. I first saw a prediction of this event in about 1950. It seemed (and really was) a lifetime away and I really hoped I would live long enough to see it.

The southernmost point in Dorset - Portland Bill - the northern limit of totality for the eclipse was predicted to pass just one kilometre south of Portland Bill but that was out at sea.

The weather forecast was bad and did not improve as ‘Eclipse Day’ approached. I opted to stay in Dorset.

My partner and I cycled the 18 kilometres to Portland Bill from our house. Even if the eclipse was not total, being less that 1,000 metres from the northern limit meant that the sky would get spectacularly dark and it might even be possible to see the ‘Bailey’s Beads’ phenomenon as the limb of the Sun passed along the mountains and valleys of the Moon’s limb. Indeed, some observers deliberately place themselves in this very narrow zone where the limb of the Sun flickers down the valleys on the Moon’s limb.

Through the clouds we got glimpses of the crescent Sun - that was when it really got exciting! The eclipse I had been waiting for over six decades to see was underway!


Cars were jammed all over Portland; their drivers desperate to get as far south as possible. By the time my partner and I arrived at the southern tip of Portland every field was full of cars - never previously had local farmers had such a financial bonanza! These fields were normally deserted and barren.

By the time we and two friends arrived it was getting significantly dark. As the time of the eclipse approached the cloud was continuous.

However, we saw a dark patch on the horizon in the west which was moving towards us. It got larger, the surroundings quickly dimmed to almost perfect darkness and the huge black stain on the clouds moved quickly past us to the south. It was then so dark that only the immediate ground about us could be seen and the beams of Portland Bill lighthouse shone out. Cheering broke out despite the obscuration of the clouds and a large group of Hell’s Angels revved up their bikes to show their appreciation of this spectacle.


The picture above was taken by me at the mid-eclipse showing how dark the scenery became despite not quite being in the track of totality. The light to the left is the lantern of Portland Bill lighthouse.