The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1984 (just two years after its conversion to automatic operation). At the time, its fine first-order fresnel lens was removed by Trinity House and put on display in their museum in Penzance. A few years later, St Mary’s was opened as a visitor attraction by the local council. In place of the original, Trinity House offered a smaller optic from their decommissioned lighthouse at Withernsea, and this can still be seen at the top of the tower. Following closure of the Penzance lighthouse museum, the original lens was returned to St Mary’s in 2011 to be put on display
The lighthouse today
Since 2012 St Mary’s lighthouse has been grade II listed. While it no longer functions as a working lighthouse, it is easily accessible (when the tide is out) and regularly open to visitors; in addition to the lighthouse itself there is a small museum, a visitor’s centre, and a café. The cottage was upgraded with a wood pellet boiler in 2014.
In 2017 a renovation plan for the site (including roof-top viewing platforms and various glass-covered extensions) was rejected by the local planning authority due to environmental concerns. A new refurbishment proposal (to include rebuilding the original optic) was presented in 2018; however the Heritage Lottery Fund later turned down North Tyneside Council’s £2.1m funding application.
Another Victorian lighthouse may be found a few miles to the south of the River Tyne. Souter Lighthouse is also now decommissioned, and open to visitors. Souter Lighthouse can be seen with the naked eye from the top of St Mary’s Lighthouse.
by simon schofield