The History of St. Mary's Island and Lighthouse
|Map of the Island||
There has been a light on St. Mary's Island since mediaeval times. The present lighthouse was opened in 1898 to replace the old lighthouse on Tynemouth Point, the last of many which had stood there for over 400 years.
The Lighthouse beamed its warning light for 86 years until taken out of service by Trinity House in 1984, when it was bought on behalf of the local community by North Tyneside Council with generous help from the Countryside Commission and the R. W. Mann Trust.
In the early days of Christianity the island was probably the home of hermits, for holy men have always been attracted to islands. Sometime after 1090 a chapel dedicated to St. Helen was built on the north side of the island and it carried an endowment of 5 shillings a week to keep a light, known as a St. Mary's Light, in the tower to warn sailors of the rocks.
Next to the chapel a burial ground was in use for about 700 years but in 1860 it was reported that there was no trace of the chapel left. St. Mary's Island was once known as Bates Island, probably because it was owned by Thomas Bates surveryor for Northumberland under Queen Elizabeth I in the 1580s.
The Island has known its share of violence over the years in spite of its religious connections. The deep winding channel on the north side of the island is known as Smugglers' Creek. In 1722 Anthony Mitchell, Surveyor of Customs, was found dead near there, thought by some to 'have been murdered by two villains who used to run brandy'. It was said that the smugglers hid their booty in haystacks along the Links.