Ilfracombe
Ilfracombe Lighthouse
St Nicholas’s Chapel
The Quay
Devon EX34 9EQ

 

Question: When is a lighthouse not a lighthouse? Answer: When it’s a chapel. This riddle applies to Ilfracombe Harbour’s lighthouse, said to be the oldest in Britain.

Perched on the top of Lantern Hill, the medieval chapel of St Nicholas has been showing a light to guide seamen into the harbour since 1650. The current lantern was installed by Trinity House in 1819. The light is presently operated by the Harbour Authority.

St Nicholas’s Chapel
The chapel was built in 1321 as a place of worship for the people of Ilfracombe living and working around the harbour. The first record of a navigation light being shown in the chapel was in 1522.
 
When King Henry VIII Dissolved the Monasteries in 1540, the chapel ceased being used for worship but it continued to be used as a navigational light to guide shipping into the harbour. Over the centuries, the chapel has served as a residence, reading room and a laundry.
 
Between 1835 and 1871 a Mr John Davey lived in the chapel as lighthouse keeper raising a family of 14 children. Subsequent lighthouse keepers lived in the re-purposed chapel but it eventually lapsed into a state of disrepair.
 
In 1962 the building was rescued and repaired by the local Rotary Club. The chapel is today regarded as a special place of interest within the town and is an iconic landmark overlooking the harbour. The old porch has been transformed into a small chancel and occasional services are held there.
 
Within the chapel is a small museum and gift shop run by volunteers. It is free to look around but donations are always welcome which go to charity.
 
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Agoda here:   External Link
 
Disabled Access
Access is via a steep surfaced path. Whilst the chapel is accessible by wheelchair the ascent and descent can be strenuous.
 
Open
A sign at the bottom of the path indicates if the Chapel is open or Closed.
 
Easter to October: Open every day.
10:00 – 16:00 hours
Extra hours May – September: 16:00 – 18:00 hours

Closed end October to Easter

The lookout with its magnificent views over the harbour, the coast to Wales and the town is open all year.

The Light
The lantern is an octagonal wooden and glass turret attached to the seaward end of St Nicholas’s Chapel roof. It is 36 feet (11 metres) above ground level and has a focal height of 128 feet (39 metres). The light is now automated and maintained by the harbour master.
 
In September 2013 the turret was struck by a huge bolt of lightning which shattered some of the glass panels and damaged the electrics. Fortunately, the Grade I Listed building did not catch fire and disaster was averted. Repairs were promptly carried out and the chapel re-opened to visitors.
 
Getting There
Follow the directions in our “Ilfracombe” article in this website.  
 
Google Maps - Ilfracombe Lighthouse