The Dungeness Lighthouses

BBC Radio Four have just broadcast an excellent new two-part Sherlock Holmes adventure, inspired by the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, written by Bert Coules, called ‘The Marlbourne Point Mystery’.

A disused lighthouse on a remote stretch of the Kent coast is the scene of a bizarre double death.

If you listen to the adventure you will soon realise that the description of the fictional Marlbourne Point fits closely to the real location of Dungeness, a popular destination for visitors to the cottage.

Most people who visit Dungeness are fascinated and captured by its unique atmosphere but find it hard to describe or explain – a place of mystery and magic. The perfect location for a Sherlock Holmes story and, indeed, for a Doctor Who story such as the Claws of Axos !

There have been five lighthouses at Dungeness. At first only a beacon was used to warn sailors, but this was replaced by a proper lighthouse in 1615. As the sea retreated, this had to be replaced in 1635 by a new lighthouse nearer to the water’s edge known as Lamplough’s Tower.

As more shingle was thrown up, a new and more up-to-date lighthouse was built near the sea in 1792 by Samuel Wyatt. This lighthouse was about 35 m (115 ft) high and of the same design as the third Eddystone lighthouse. From the mid-19th century, it was painted black with a white band to make it more visible in daylight; similar colours have featured on the subsequent lighthouses here. This lighthouse was demolished in 1904, but the lighthouse keepers’ accommodation, built in a circle around the base of the tower, still exists.

In 1901 building of the fourth lighthouse, the High Light Tower, started. It was first lit on 31 March 1904 and still stands today. It is no longer in use as a lighthouse but is open as a visitor attraction. It is a circular brick structure, 41 m (135 ft) high and 11 m (36 ft) in diameter at ground level. It has 169 steps, and gives visitors a good view of the shingle beach.

‘The Marlbourne Point Mystery’ would appear to be set in this period, when the High Light Tower was built to replace the 1792 lighthouse.

In the Doctor Who Christmas episode, ‘The Snowmen’, Vastra is revealed to be the inspiration for the character Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has been compared to the Doctor on many occasions, and his enemy the Master was directly inspired by Holmes’ enemy Professor Moriarty. Sherlock Holmes has featured in many ways in Doctor Who Stories – read all about them here: