At the very northernmost point of Texel, near the town of De Cocksdorp, we find the Eierland lighthouse. Built in the 19th century out of necessity due to the large number of shipping accidents, the lighthouse is now an attractive sight. If you climb the tower, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the surroundings on the top floor at a height of 47 meters. The lighthouse is still in use. At night the beam of light is visible from at least 29 nautical miles.
The plans for a lighthouse on Texel
It was the well-known Texel notary Johannes Ludovicus Kikkert, also clerk and member of the Provincial Council, who saw the need for a lighthouse on the northernmost point of the island. This northern part of Texel is called Eierland. Among sailors, this place, where the North Sea and the Wadden Sea meet, is known as one of the most dangerous parts of the Dutch coast. Between 1848 and 1860, no fewer than 72 ships sank during storms in the shallow waters around the Eierland coast. Most of the time the crew could not be saved. A beacon would certainly reduce the risk of shipwreck during dark nights.
JL Kikkert urged the government for years to have a lighthouse built on the northernmost point of Texel. Around 1860, Kikkert finally got a response. Construction of the tower started in 1863.
The design and construction of the tower
The Texel lighthouse was designed by the famous architect Quirinus Harder. He designed a round brick tower with a height of (then) 43 meters. The first stone was laid by Harder on July 25, 1863.
Construction of the tower was completed in 1864. JL Kikkert himself lit the light on the tower on November 1, 1864. The light source was then still based on the principle of an oil lamp, in combination with a system of rotating Fresnel lenses. First whale oil was used as fuel, then petroleum.
The spiral staircase and the mezzanine floors in the tower were made of steel. To get to the top one had to climb 153 steps. This original spiral staircase still stands.
The original light source
The lighthouses of the 19th century used a light source based on the principle of the ring-shaped oil lamp (the so-called Argand lamp). A number of Argan oil lamps were combined into one large burner to create the greatest possible light output. An optical system of rotating Fresnel lenses and mirrors was placed around the light source to create a rotating horizontal beam of light. This optical system was driven by a mechanical clockwork.
Electric light source on the lighthouse: the Brandaris lamp
Electricity was introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. They were looking for an electric lamp that could replace the oil lamps on a lighthouse. In the Texel lighthouse you can view a small exhibition about the different types of electric lamps that have been used since 1920.
The first lighthouse lamp, developed by Philips, was the Brandaris lamp. The electrical power of this light bulb was 4000 watts. The lamp was powered by an electrical voltage of 80 volts; the current through the filament was 50 amperes. The Brandaris lamp was tested and first used on the Brandaris lighthouse on the island of Terschelling, hence the name.
From 1920 onwards, all Dutch lighthouses would use this electric light bulb as a light source. From then on, the optical system of lenses and mirrors would be driven by an electric motor instead of a mechanical clockwork.
A Brandaris lamp can be easily recognized by the sand in the lamp. This sand was used to clean the lamp on the inside of the glass balloon. Due to the large current that flowed through the filament, a lot of material from the filament (made of tungsten) evaporated onto the inside of the lamp, resulting in less light output.
Philips continued to technically improve the Brandaris lamp. Around 1950, a cylindrical Brandaris lamp with a modified filament was used. The power was further increased to 4200 watts. Nowadays, gas discharge lamps, rather than incandescent lamps, are used in the Texel lighthouse. There is no longer a filament in a gas discharge lamp. An electric current that runs through a gas between two electrodes produces light. The lamps used contain mercury vapor under high pressure as a gas. These lamps only have a power of 2000 watts, but provide a light intensity of 2.85 million candela. This is approximately the luminosity of 2,850,000 candles!
There are a total of three lamps in the light chamber of the Texel lighthouse. One lamp lights up when it is dark, the other two lamps are spare lamps. A spare lamp is automatically lit if the burning lamp breaks down.
The Texel lighthouse after the shelling. / Source: Vlis, JA van der / Anefo, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)
Heavy shelling during the Georgian uprising
During the last days of the Second World War, the lighthouse had a hard time. The area around the lighthouse was the place where the last Georgian rebels were defeated by the German occupiers. Since February 1945, a battalion of 800 Georgian soldiers had been stationed on Texel, together with soldiers from the German Wehrmacht. The Georgians, mostly taken prisoner of war by the Germans, were incorporated into the German army, whether voluntarily or not.
When they saw the end of the war approaching and would be transferred to the mainland to fight against the Allies, the Georgians rebelled against the Germans. On the night of April 5 to 6, 1945, their attack began in Den Burg. Hundreds of German soldiers were killed mercilessly. Most of Texel fell into the hands of the Georgians. However, the German commander managed to raise the alarm.
Reinforcements of German troops quickly arrived from the mainland. In the weeks that followed, the Georgian rebels were pushed back further to Eierland and the area around the lighthouse. On April 21, 1945, the last Georgians surrendered to the Germans near the tower. However, the German army itself would capitulate on May 8, 1945.
The Texel lighthouse suffered greatly from the shelling. The impacts of bullets and grenades can still be seen on the original lighthouse wall. The upper part of the tower was severely damaged.
Reconstruction after the war
In 1948, a new second wall was placed around the damaged wall of the lighthouse. In addition, the destroyed upper part of the tower was replaced. It is possible to visit the space between the two tower walls from the fourth floor of the tower and see the traces of impacted bullets and grenades. In 1977 the new wall was covered with a red top layer.
The lighthouse keepers
A team of six lighthouse keepers manned the tower until 1990. The keepers alternated day and night shifts. Their task mainly consisted of keeping an eye on shipping traffic, both large boats and pleasure craft. They maintained radio traffic with the ships in the area. The lighthouse keepers were also responsible for checking the equipment and cleaning the lamps.
From 1990 onwards, modern radar equipment took over most of the work of the watchmen. The lighthouse has been unmanned since 2003, but is still in use.
The space between the original tower wall and the new tower wall. / Source: Jcb, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)
A visit to the lighthouse
For practical information about entrance fees, opening hours, accessibility, etc., please refer to the website of the Texel lighthouse.
To reach the top floor of the tower, one must climb 153 steps via the original spiral staircase. Due to limited space, only 50 people are allowed to visit the tower at the same time. Persons descending the spiral staircase have priority over persons ascending. It may therefore happen that you have to wait a while on a certain floor before you can go further up. There is no elevator in the tower.
On the fourth floor there are entrances to the space between the original tower wall and the new tower wall that was built in 1948. There you can view the impacts of ammunition in the original wall.
On the sixth floor, at a height of 47 meters, you can enjoy the beautiful view of the North Sea, the Wadden Sea, part of Texel and the neighboring Wadden Island of Vlieland from the balcony. You can also view the office of the former lighthouse keepers here.
Still active after more than 150 years
Nowadays, modern navigation and radar equipment has greatly reduced the risk of accidents at sea. Yet most lighthouses remain in use, including the Eierland lighthouse on Texel.
As a means of control for modern navigation systems, lighthouses continue to fulfill their important role. That is why the rotating beam of light from the Texel lighthouse is still visible at night, twice every ten seconds, from at least 29 nautical miles.