20 Miles west of St Davids Peninsula, Smalls Lighthouse stands alone on its rock, one of the most remote Lighthouses in England and Wales. Built in 1861 by engineer James Douglass it replaced a previous lighthouse which was erected in 1776 on the same rock.
The original lighthouse stood on nine oak pillars which allowed the sea to flow beneath and although it was rocked and buffeted it stood for 80 years. It has been reported that a ‘message in a bottle’ was sent from this original lighthouse and reaching the shore the message resulted in the rescue of stranded repair workers and the designer of the lighthouse Henry Whiteside.
Far less romantic than a message in a bottle, the tale of two keepers, Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith was gruesome enough to cause a change of lighthouse policy in 1801. The two men were known to argue, so when Griffith died in a freak accident, Thomas Howell feared he would be accused of murder if he buried the body at sea. He built a makeshift coffin for the body and tied it to the outside of the lighthouse where, blown by the wind the box started to fall apart. The arm of Griffith fell out of the coffin and as the wind caught it, eerily waved at the window of the keepers hut. Howell kept the lamp lit but it is said that when he was relieved from duty, the experience of living with the decaying corpse of his colleague, left him unrecognisable. From that time, until the automation of lighthouses in the 1980s all teams were made up of three men.
A helideck was added to the present lighthouse in 1978 and it was automated in 1987. It is the first wind and solar-powered lighthouse in the UK and the light can be seen up to 21 miles (34km) away. It is also the first in the country to have a flushing toilet. In 1997 the red and white stripes which had long distinguished the tower were removed and the tower returned to its natural granite.
You can take a trip to Smalls Lighthouse with St Davids and Ramsey Island – Voyages of Discovery and who knows, in that lonely place you might see or hear the echo of Thomas Griffith’s arm waving in the breeze….