John Bowen is one of Llanelli’s unsung heroes, the son of a blacksmith he was born in Llanelli in the mid 1830’s. He was employed by Messrs. Nevill, Druce and Co. at their Copperworks and was responsible for the design and building of Llanelli’s tallest chimney, the “Stac Fawr”, in1861 on the Copperworks site. Stac Fawr

This stack was 320 feet high, its foundation was some 80 feet across, the base of the stack was 33 feet in diameter and at the top was some 12 foot across the outside. At the time it was claimed to be the tallest chimneystack in Europe.

His other outstanding project was the planning and building of Whitford Lighthouse. The present structure is the second one to be built; the first was designed by Captain J. P. Luckraft, Harbour Master at Llanelli in 1854. Maintenance costs for this lighthouse became unsustainable; a combination of unusually bad weather and collisions with the structure forced the Harbour Trust Commissioners in 1864 to consider building a new structure.

John Bowen drew up plans for a new lighthouse and tenders were sought to build it. A tender was accepted from Messrs. Hennet & Co., and the work completed by 1866. The lamp was lit on Monday 29th October 1866 and an advert in the local paper stated that “the lights will continue to show from half flood to half ebb”.

It was constructed of seven rings of heavy cast-iron plates which were bolted by external flanges. Lighthouses were normally built of stone and many doubted the use of cast iron as this was liable to fracture if hit by debris etc. Access to the light and living quarters was by means of a ladder bolted to the side of the lighthouse. The beam could be seen for up to nine miles. But for some remedial work in the 1880’s the lighthouse continued to operate well for over 50 years.

In 1919, the Harbour Trust decided to put a more powerful automatic gas light at Burry Holmes, the main reason for this was that the channel was now some way from the lighthouse. The new light was built in 1921 being completed in December of that year and the Whitford light was no more.

In 1981 the Ancient Monument Commission listed Whitford as a building of historic interest. This was because it was the only cast-iron lighthouse surrounded by sea; other structures of this type were on land well above the sea. John Bowen’s tower has survived over 140 years of heavy seas, and, although his other masterpiece, the “Stac Fawr”, is no longer (the stack was pulled down in 1928), the Whitford Lighthouse remains a fitting memorial to this talented son of Llanelli.

Picture by kind permission of Llanelli Reference Library