Ever wondered why we have a castle in a high corner of the city? Located at the intersection of Brown and Tyrrell Streets in The Hill is a tall tower which looks like a standard battlement from a medieval castle. The round tower, with its distinct lean, is a familiar landmark on the Hill.
It is the Lead Light Tower, the remaining one of a pair, known as lead light towers that were used in the navigation of ships into the port in the mid-19th century.
From the mid-19th century the two lights, when aligned to each other, were expected to provide a dead reckoning navigational aid for ships entering the harbour. The sister tower, located lower down the hill in Perkins St, has long since disappeared.
Both towers were originally identical except for colour. The front tower, in Perkins St. was painted white with a red light; the Brown St. tower was red with a white light. Because of the difference in their building elevations the towers and their lights appeared one above the other when seen from the sea outside the port.
The first stone bricks of the lead light towers were laid on November 21 and 23, 1865, by Miss Lewis, the daughter of Mr Miles Lewis, the government architect for Newcastle, and Miss Allan, daughter of Captain Allan, the harbourmaster. Captain Allan's house still stands at 19 Barker Street The Hill, and is a listed heritage building.
It was soon apparent to the harbour authorities that the towers had two serious faults. They were too low, especially the one in Brown St, and spaced too close together.
The later construction of a two storey Wesleyan parsonage in Perkins St obstructed the Brown St tower. This forced the Government to extend the small tower by adding further height. The improved tower began operating in early 1877.
The foundations of the existing tower are made up of seven courses of solid masonry which reach about a metre wide.
Alterations to the bearings of the entrance channel led to the commissioning of new lights in steel towers elsewhere in June 1918. These were then replaced in the 1980's by the existing lead light towers at Queens Wharf, Foreshore Park east, and at 'The Boltons' house group, just off Church Street.
The tower is heritage listed by the City of Newcastle as a locally significant heritage building. With its castle-like parapet it demonstrates the importance of trade and shipping to Newcastle and in turn the importance of Newcastle in developing the Australian economy.