Start Point runs sharply almost a mile into the sea on the south side of Start Bay near Dartmouth. The lighthouse - sited at the very end of the headland - guides vessels in passage along the English Channel.
James Walker designed Start Point Lighthouse in 1836 and it owes much to the gothic movement in architecture of the time, with its battlemented parapet. Two white lights were originally exhibited, one revolving and one fixed to mark the Skerries Bank; a fixed red subsidiary light still marks this hazard. The optic used was the first of its kind used by Trinity House.
Even so, the light was found to be inadequate in fog and a bell was installed in the 1860s; the machinery was housed in a small building on the cliff face and operated by a weight which fell in a tube running down the sheer cliff. A siren replaced the bell after only 15 years.
In 1871 the intermediate floors of the tower of 1836 were removed and extra accommodation provided in common with all Trinity House stations. An insight into the lighthouse and the life of its keepers in the nineteenth century is given in a travelogue by Walter White:-
“A substantial house, connected with the tall circular tower, in a walled enclosure, all nicely whitened, is the residence of the light-keepers. The buildings stand within a few yards of the verge of the cliff, the wall serving as a parapet, from which you look down on the craggy slope outside and the jutting rocks beyond - the outermost point. You may descend by the narrow path, protected also by a low white wall, and stride and scramble from rock to rock with but little risk of slipping, so rough are the surfaces with minute shells. A rude steep stair, chipped in the rock, leads down still lower to a little cove and a narrow strip of beach at the foot of the cliffs. It is the landing place for the lighthouse keepers when they go fishing, but can only be used in calm weather.”
Coastal erosion caused the collapse of the fog signal building in December 1989; the site was levelled, a new retaining wall built and a free standing fog signal stack put in place. The lighthouse was automated in 1993.
Start Point Lighthouse was modernised in 2019, upgrading the site’s aids to navigation and control systems to provide simplified maintenance and reliable performance, including the installation of new LED lamps for the main navigation light and a new hazard warning signal.
The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.