Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2016

Lost Lighthouse Survived German Zeppelin Attack

By Timothy Harrison


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On the night of April 1, 1916 during the Great War, now referred to as World War I, the German Imperial Navy dirigible Zeppelin L 11 attacked the civilians of Sunderland, England. During this deadly, but short, reign of terror, the bombs dropped from the airship wrecked a number of structures and killed 16 people and wounded 128 others. But the Wheatsheaf Lighthouse that dated from the 1870s survived the attack.

The Wheatsheaf Lighthouse was built by a blacksmith turned businessman William Wills as the focal point for his shopping complex. He petitioned the government to allow a light to shine from the tower, but officials vetoed the idea, claiming that it would confuse the mariners.

According to the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, Mr. Wills operated a store on the ground floor and made the lighthouse into a café where his customers could enjoy a meal after shopping with him. He also rented out other sections of the lighthouse to other small firms. One of those renters was named Lighthouse Upholstery that used the advertising slogan, “Let us light up your house.”

Mr. Wills died in 1924, but his lighthouse continued its role. In 1947 a fire caused some extensive damage, but the structure was saved and repaired. But the lighthouse that had survived German bombs in World War I, the death of its builder and owner, and the 1947 fire could not survive progress. The end came in 1970 when it was decided that it and the entire corner where the lighthouse stood had to come down to make room for road changes in the area. The lighthouse was to be dismantled, perhaps to be reconstructed elsewhere. But before that happened, the entire structure caught fire and went up in flames. (Photograph courtesy Sunderland Antiquarian Society.)

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2016 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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