THE sorry state of Whitehaven harbour’s two iconic 19th century lighthouses continues to draw concern but there is much work going on behind the scenes which will hopefully bring about a sign of light at the end of the piers before too long.

A welcome grant of £39,700 from the government’s Coastal Revival Fund has been used to pump-prime the lighthouse development project – put towards the work of conservation research and surveys, coming up with outline options and preparing a budget for the renovation.

It all takes time. Liaison with Heritage England (formerly English Heritage) and obtaining listed buildings consent are key considerations before preparing an outline business case for future funding bids.

The aim is to create a renovation scheme of which the whole community can be proud… but some patience is needed. I’m told it is unlikely anything will materialise before the turn of the year and it will most probably be around late spring/early summer when improved weather will afford a better chance for the start of any proposed renovation and restoration work.

There are currently discussions going on with firms who are in the Cumbria Exchange Network, a scheme under which businesses in the county offer some of their skills and services to help local projects, and it is hoped the lighthouse project will be a beneficiary.

Cultura Trust, formerly the North of England Civic Trust, which has a long history of providing heritage assistance to Copeland, is working with Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners to prepare a grant bid for submission to a variety of sources, especially the Heritage Lottery fund, to obtain financial support for the lighthouse project.

A Cultura spokeswoman said: “Alongside the physical works to the buildings themselves, we envisage a range of public, education and skills-training activities linked with the works, and some interpretation enabling a much greater understanding of the role of the lighthouses within the local and wider community.”

Local support is needed, and Whitehaven Heritage Action Group has already expressed its backing, saying: “In a coastal town such as ours with its wonderful historic harbour and popular marina, the need for such works to preserve these structures is both desirable and necessary. The gradual deterioration of the lighthouses has been of great concern to us, and townspeople, for quite some time.

“For those approaching the town from the sea, these lighthouses signpost our wonderful Georgian port and offer the first sight of landfall, so need to look their best.

“This proposed restoration would not only answer a local desire but would enhance the town’s tourism offer, which can aid economic wellbeing in an area that needs all the help it can get.”

The two Whitehaven lighthouses have been serving mariners since 1839 and 1841 respectively, but caring for the environs of this old harbour, parts of which date back to the 17th century and are listed as ancient monuments, continue to present a logistic and financial challenge for the Harbour Commissioners.

Former harbourmaster Captain David Allan tells us: “The first West Pier Lighthouse was built in 1832, though, almost unbelievably, the Harbour Commissioners of the time were reluctant to build it. Only the shipmasters’ constant demands finally changed their minds.

“West Pier was completed around 1839 with the final build of the West Pier extension as we know it today. The characteristic of the light there has changed several times since inception.”

West Pier lighthouse is the white tower with the red trim and is 14 metres high in total but its full height cannot be seen from the sea because the breakwater’s wall is several metres taller on the seaward side. It shows a flashing green light every five seconds with a range of 13 miles. North Pier was completed in 1841 and shows a fixed red light with a range of nine miles. The Harbour Commissioners are responsible to Trinity House to maintain these harbour lights for the benefit of mariners.

St Bees lighthouse was automated in 1987 and sends out its two white flashes every 20 seconds. It was established in 1832 and was the last coal-powered lighthouse in England.

The outer walls of Whitehaven harbour were constructed in 1839 built from local stone. Daniel Defoe wrote of Whitehaven that, barring Newcastle, it was “the most eminent port in England for shipping of coals”. Of course local mining ended in 1986 with the closure of Haig and there had been no iron ore exports for many a year. Sea transport of Marchon’s phosphate rock ended in 1992, since then the harbour has been greatly revitalised. Now it just needs its two lighthouses smartened up… fingers crossed for a green light.