The famous chalk tower at Flamborough Head was built in 1674 as a lighthouse by Sir John Clayton and partner George Blake who were granted additional patents from Charles II to build lighthouses at Farne Islands, Cromer, Lowestoft and Portland Bill.
Constructed of brilliant white chalk, the tower was a visible beacon from afar, both at sea and on land. It was as a signalling point that the tower was particularly useful.
Semaphore telegraphy was devised by Claude Chappe in 1792 for transmitting visual coded messages with coloured flags or a frame fixed to the top of a tower holding two boards or paddles which moved to communicate the message.
The tower could have worked in conjunction with the fort in Bridlington, transmitting messages during the Napoleonic wars as fear of a French invasion was widespread.
There are 98 steps rising to the top of the tower where a fire could be lit on the flat roof, but there is no evidence to suggest that a fire was ever lit. It could be that a fire burned in a metal basket hanging over the parapet as at a 17th-century lighthouse at Brandaris, Holland.
In the middle of the 19th century, local man George Mainprize messaged passing vessels in semaphore with waving flags from the top of the tower. Since 1952, the chalk tower has been a Grade 2 listed building and in 1996 received a major restoration initiated by local resident Norman Hall MBE, funded by East Yorkshire Borough Council and English Heritage.
Ships passing the tower were supposed to pay Clayton a tax to support provision of the fires based on the weight of their cargo. Paying the tax was voluntary and so many mariners refused which reduced Clayton to bankruptcy and the end of the lighthouse as such.