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St Catherine's Oratory, Niton

#13 of 31 in Historic Sites in Isle of Wight
Historic Site · Hidden Gem · Tourist Spot
St. Catherine's Oratory is a medieval lighthouse on St. Catherine's Down, above the southern coast of the Isle of Wight. It was built by Lord of Chale Walter de Godeton (sometimes spelled "Goditon") as an act of penance for plundering wine from the wreck of St. Marie of Bayonne in Chale Bay on 20 April 1313. The tower is known locally as the "Pepperpot" because of its likeness.

It is Britain's only surviving medieval lighthouse, and the second oldest (only the Roman lighthouse at Dover being older). It is a stone structure four stories high, octagonal on the outside and four-sided on the inside, originally attached to the west side of a building; remnants of three other walls are visible.
de Godeton was tried for theft in Southampton, before a jury from the island, and fined 287 and half marks on 27 February 1314. However, he was also later tried by the Church courts, since the wine had been destined for the monastery of Livers in Picardy. The Church threatened to excommunicate him unless he built a lighthouse near Chale Bay.
There was already an oratory on the top of the hill, dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. This was augmented by the construction of the lighthouse, with a chantry to accommodate the priest who tended the light, and also gave Mass for those at peril on the sea.

Although de Godeton died in 1327, the lighthouse was nevertheless completed in 1328. It remained in active use until the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1538-1541.

In the 18th century Sir Richard Worsley of Appuldurcombe House bolstered the structure by adding four large buttresses to prevent its collapse.

Nearby there are the footings of a replacement lighthouse begun in 1785, but never completed, because the hill is prone to dense fog. Its remnants are known locally as the "salt cellar". A nearby Bronze Age barrow was excavated in 1925.
The current St. Catherine's Lighthouse, constructed after the 1837 wreck of the Clarendon, was built much closer to sea level on St. Catherine's Point.

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  • We parked in the viewpoint car park on the main road (free). Take care in crossing the road to the footpath as there are blind bends from both directions. A steep climb up to the top, ( I would...  more »
  • Stopped off to go up the hill, which wasn't too bad but looked quite steep. The views to the sea were amazing and the oratory too  more »
  • Beautiful views and an interesting piece of history. Park at the free car park (marked with a brown 'viewpoint' sign, carefully cross the road and walk up the hill. There is a carved bench to sit on about halfway up. Views are gorgeous. You can go inside the lighthouse but you can not go up to the top of the tower.
  • It's a bit of a steep path up to this historic site, but well worth the climb. The oratory itself is simple - but so ancient. And when you take in the view, you can see why it was a strategic spot - and still is, with a big communications tower adjacent!

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