London’s Only Lighthouse | Trinity Buoy Wharf
Trinity Buoy Wharf is an absolute London gem, a small but mighty community of creative businesses and artists in a beautiful – and historic – riverside setting.
But one of the key reasons to visit, s to see London’s only lighthouse!
Early History of Trinity Buoy Wharf
First known as Orchard Place, this peninsula within London Docklands was rural until the late 18th century (as seen on the above map from layersoflondon.org).
But with the building of the East India and Blackwall Docks in the early 1800s it then became and industrial hub, popular with trades like shipbuilding and whaling.
C and J Greenwood Map c,1828 from layersoflondon.org
It only becomes known as Trinity Buoy Wharf from 1869 when Trinity House buys the land. Trinity House has a fascinating history dating back to the 1500s and essentially looked after maritime navigation around England coast. They were also in charge of the maintenance of all the country’s lighthouses.
Trinity House used the land for repairing and testing equipment and their coat of arms below (they received a Royal Charter from King Henry VIII) can be seen on some of the Victorian buildings.
London’s only lighthouse was built in 1860s by James Douglass. Originally it was one of two but sadly the second no longer survives.
It was this one that was used for scientific experiments by Michael Faraday and this fact is remembered in the Faraday Primary School on Trinity Buoy Wharf and this interactive installation seen beside the lighthouse today.
Now the lighthouse serves a very different purpose.
Since 2000 the lighthouse has housed ‘Longplayer’ an epic (in the real sense of the word) artwork. “From its inception, Longplayer is about long-term thinking” it’s essentially a piece of music, played on a computer that started in 2000 and will continue until 2999.
A Longplayer trust has been established to ensure there are people today, training people to work on the project tomorrow. In this sense it can be seen as a social organism depending on people across generations and relying on a community of listeners over the coming centuries.
Inside the lighthouse you will find curved shelves of hundreds of Tibetan Singing Bowls
Not just for decoration, this is a vast custom-made orchestra, comprised of 234 bowls. The ones on display are only part of the 66 ft wide orchestral instrument used to perform Longplayer Live, which last occurred in the Camden Roundhouse in 2014.
Today Trinity Buoy Wharf is independently managed by Urban Space Management. They’re separate from the huge residential development that’s underway nearby – run by Ballymore. Read more about their work and get the latest information about visiting Trinity Buoy Wharf here.
Watch the YouTube video below to discover more about Trinity Buoy Wharf and hear Longplayer in action!
Other London ‘Lighthouses’
I know of two other London landmarks that could dispute the ‘London’s only lighthouse’ claim. But neither are truly lighthouses (or even near water!)
The first is in Kings Cross, now a retail space above a Five Guys, it was originally a marketing ploy by an oyster restaurant on this site in the 19th century. It’s been refurbished in the last few years and gloriously restored as a landmark in the area.
The second is in Walthamstow and is part of the Lighthouse Methodist Church on Markhouse Road. The idea of a lighthouse came from Captain King who had purchased the land in 1889. Sadly he died that year but the lighthouse was completed and instead of church bells, the light would be illuminated!