St Catherine's Oratory

Niton, United Kingdom

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 and 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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Founded: 1314
Category: Miscellaneous historic sites in United Kingdom

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User Reviews

Tyler Whitney (4 months ago)
Great evening spent. Also free parking down the hill. Bring wellies as the cattle have made the proceeding hill very muddy.
Charlie Turner (10 months ago)
Slightly longer than a 10 minute hike up the hill from the adjacent carpark than others have suggested - unless you're very fit I guess! But the site was absolutely worth visiting. Incredible views from the top and a nice piece of history with an information board nearby.
Ger Raymakers (11 months ago)
Beautiful spot to visit. From the parking lot it is a very steep climb to st Catherine"s Oratory, also known as the Pepperpot. The tower is the only part that survived over the ages (build around 1328 according the plaquette). From here you have a stunning overview over the Isle of Wight.
Markie.c (13 months ago)
You can park in a car park near the oratory on the a3055. Cross the road an follow the path through a kissing gate. It's a fairly steep climb across the fields but not dangerous. If you get a clear day the views are amazing.
Anthony Chan (14 months ago)
Quite a nice climb up to St Catherine's Oratory. From here on a good day you can look across the channel and see the coast of France. The oratory itself is quite small and you can go inside to have a peak. Be aware. If it is raining or it rained the day before then the grass will be very wet and you might step into some water holes where your shoes will be drenched like my friend here
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