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Thursday, 16 April, 1998, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Lighthouse keeper bows out to technology
Around 300 years of maritime history has come to an end in south-west England after the region's last manned lighthouse became automated.

The Lizard Lighthouse in Cornwall is to be remotely controlled by a computer at Harwich in Essex.

Its veteran keeper Eddie Matthews gave over control of the centuries-old beacon at a handing over ceremony. He described the moment as "the saddest day of my working life".

The first lighthouse on the notoriously hazardous Lizard peninsula was built in 1619 by Cornishman Sir John Killigrew, but was eventually demolished.

The current 19 metres high twin-towered lighthouse was completed in 1751, with the company Trinity House assuming responsibility 20 years later.

Mr Matthews, who was born just a few minutes from the lighthouse, said he understood why the automation decision was made as technology moved on, but said he regretted the loss of human involvement.

"The disadvantage is you take away the local knowledge and the eyes of the keepers," he said.

"People think all the time of the big tragedies, but people fall off cliffs, swimmers get into trouble, and local knowledge is essential for these smaller incidents."

But Mr Matthews, who has been with Trinity House for 42 years, will be staying on as attendant at the lighthouse where he served for the last 10 years.

There are now just three staffed lighthouses remaining in Britain as the Trinity House automation programme, which began in the early 1960s, nears completion.

St Ann's Head in Anglesey, Nash Point in Pembrokeshire and North Foreland in Kent will be automated by the end of the year.

BBC News
BBC's Charles Eaden reports on the end of an era
BBC News
Matthews 'It's the saddest day of my working life'
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