St. Mary’s Lighthouse was opened in 1898 as a replacement for the lighthouse on Tynemouth Priory headland. In the 12th century the monks of the Priory had kept a light burning in the chapel which they had built on St. Mary’s Island and one in the tower of their church at Tynemouth. The latter was replaced by Colonel Villiers, Governor of Tynemouth Castle in 1664, by a lighthouse which stood in the north east corner of the headland, built of stone from the ruined Priory. It stood over 79 ft (23m) high with a top which was roofed and enclosed on three sides.
The keeper lived in the base with his family, and it was his job to keep the coal fire at the top of the tower burning brightly on the incoming tide in all weathers. It was partly rebuilt in 1775, and in 1802 the coal light was replaced by a revolving oil lamp with reflectors.
By the 1890s there were great problems of visibility with the old lighthouse. It gave off a red light, and this was often obscured by the smoke from the steam ships and the industry on the River Tyne. Trinity House decided that a new light should be situated away from the river mouth, and St. Mary's island was chosen as the site to replace it. The old lighthouse was not demolished until after St. Mary’s had been opened.
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