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Flamborough Headland has always been a dangerous place for shipping. There are many chalk reefs and outcrops obscured by the crashing waves. The area is also notorious for the strong tidal currents that are funnelled past the head.
The earliest recorded vessel to be wrecked off the headland was in 1348 when La Katerine, a sailing boat, stranded on the rocks during a raging storm. Between 1770 and 1806 one hundred and seventy five ships were wrecked off the headland (one every twelve weeks). In 1806 Trinity House were convinced that a lighthouse at Flamborough would help prevent numerous wrecks and the lighthouse was designed and built at a cost of £8000. A clockwork motor revolved an oil lamp which warned shipping of the dangerous cliffs and was reportedly visible for twenty miles. In 1925 the tower was raised to its present height of 85 feet, standing 250 feet above the waves. In 1992 a 1000 watt halogen bulb was installed.
There was a lighthouse at Flamborough, however, long before the present one was built. The octagonal chalk tower is in fact the oldest surviving lighthouse in England. It was built in 1674 by Sir John Clayton, who was given permission to build three light towers around the country by King Charles II. Dues were to be collected from ships sailing around the headland. However, Clayton went Bankrupt before he could build the other two. The tower was designed for a coal or brushwood fire to be lit on its top but whether it was ever used is a mystery.
In 1996, mainly due to the persistence of Councillor Norman Hall MBE, the chalk tower was restored at a cost of £100,000. Twenty tons of chalk replaced the badly corroded north face and all the floors and roof were replaced. The cost of the restoration was met by English Heritage and East Yorkshire Borough Council.