Lighthouse that inspired Woolf is to shine on

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The Independent Online

Proposals to extinguish the beacon at Godrevy, near St Ives in Cornwall, by 2010 led to a campaign by Woolf aficionados to preserve its status as the most iconic maritime safety device in English literature.

The Grade II-listed building, which provided the title for the novelist's modernist masterpiece, To the Lighthouse, was earmarked for closure after managers decided it had been superseded by navigational technology.

But Trinity House, the lighthouse authority for England and Wales, said yesterday that it had realised the importance of the facility - albeit to mariners rather than fans of early 20th-century literature.

Jeremy de Halpert, the executive chairman, said: "Clearly Godrevy still fulfils a vital role and once we could conclude that the lighthouse is the most effective means of navigation for the area, we were able to justify its operational future."

A spokeswoman for Trinity House, which spends £108,000 a year to operate the beacon, added: "Our decision was not because of its literary significance."

The 146-year-old lighthouse sits on Godrevy Island, five miles east of St Ives, where the Woolf family owned a holiday home for much of Virginia's childhood.

It steers ships away from the treacherous Stones Reef, sending a 12-mile beam across St Ives Bay, and inspired Woolf to write the novel which includes the lines: "Turning, she looked across the bay. And there, sure enough, coming regularly across the waves, first two quick strokes and then one long steady stroke, was the light of the lighthouse. It had been lit."

The novel is centred on the lives of the Ramsay family and an aspiring artist who frequently plan trips to a distant lighthouse but - until the final pages - never reach their destination.

Woolf scholars acknowledge that it was the sight of the Godrevy lighthouse from Talland House, the holiday home of the novelist, which fired her mind - even though To the Lighthouse is set in the Hebrides.

The decision to keep the facility working was taken for less ethereal purposes after meetings between Trinity House, harbour authorities and fishermen revealed it remained a vital navigational aid.

St Ives Bay is the only place on the north Cornish coast for vessels seeking shelter from storms from the southwesterly direction.

Terry Lello, the mayor of Hayle, near St Ives, said: "When I heard that Trinity House was proposing to extinguish the light I was appalled. We stressed to them that the safety of our local fishermen was imperative, followed closely by the historic and nostalgic importance of the lighthouse to the people of Cornwall."

The reprieve for Godrevy light is part of a general review by Trinity House of its 71 lighthouses, which will see at least 10 marked for closure. A further two, at Southwold and Lowestoft in Suffolk, have been placed under review.

Meanwhile, the Godrevy light will continue to burn, although not as brightly as it once did. Its beam will be reduced from 12 miles to 10.

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