Local Landmark: The Groyne Pier and Lighthouse – South Shields

The GroyneHow many people whilst having a cup of tea at the Littlehaven Hotel will have cast their eye over the Groyne Lighthouse and whilst not paying it too much attention will have thought it looks a little unusual for a lighthouse, more like a space ship from an old Flash Gordon movie. The other thing, is that there also seems to be an association with the Groyne pier and the lighthouse as being one in the same, but where does the word Groyne come from? Well it’s French and dates back to the 16th century meaning stone structure built from the riverbank to control land erosion. So it’s fair to say the Groyne is the pier and then it has a most prominent feature, the lighthouse which stands upon it. They are two very separate structures built at different times.

The Groyne Pier was built between 1861 and 1867. Original plans from 1867 show the Groyne as a straight line but by 1883 the Commissioners were forming the southern wave trap at its western end which is where it’s present cranked shape comes from. These works were carried out during the construction of the South Pier. The purpose of the Groyne pier was to help the flow of the river and to protect the Littlehaven beach from being swept away by the incoming tide.

The iron lighthouse was erected by the Newcastle Trinity House Board in 1882 after plans were made by the Tyne Improvement Commission. It was built before the North and South piers which incidentally took a staggering 41 years to complete from 1854 to 1895. The official name for the lighthouse is the ‘Herd Groyne Lighthouse’ the word Herd coming from Herd sands which was the original name for the stretch of beach we now call the Littlehaven.

The Lighthouse which stands 13 meters high acts as a navigational aid guiding ships in and out of the river Tyne. It has a very unusual hexagonal shape and is held up on 12 iron legs, the central column being the most important, it has a steel casing which travels a weight to provide motivation for the foghorn mechanism. In April 1962 it had deteriorated so much that a layer of concrete was put around the column itself to protect it. The watchroom and lantern are reached by a stairway up the back of the tower.

The light itself was exhibited for the first time on the 30th October 1882 and is shown from a large rectangular window at the front of the lighthouse. The main occulting light is shown for a duration of 8 seconds at 2 second intervals and is visible for 13 miles. The lighthouse is also one of a few in this country that has an operational fog bell which strikes once every five seconds in reduced visibility.

This amazing lighthouse also seems to have survived the Second World War unscathed, which is surprising considering the heavy aerial bombardment the River Tyne received as the shipyards worked flat out for the war effort. It is currently owned by the Port of Tyne Authority and is still very much in use today. This is one of Shields great landmarks which is owed more than a little respect .