When it comes to the Needles rocks themselves, originally there were four rocks and you can see the gap very clearly, like a missing tooth and the name ‘The Needles’ comes from the fourth rock, which was needle-shaped and known as ‘Lot’s Wife’ (the book of Genesis in the Bible records that Lot’s Wife was turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for looking back after being told not to when she was fleeing from the destruction of Sodom). At 120ft, this rock was the tallest of the four and its spectacular collapse in a great storm in 1764 is said to have been felt in Portsmouth, but despite its demise and the relatively squat shapes of the surviving rocks, the name ‘Needles’ stuck.
Apart from its natural beauties and geological curiosities, The Needles has another claim to fame for its part played in the early days of radio transmissions. In early December 1897, to investigate and experiment with transmission to ships at sea, Guglielmo Marconi set up his revolutionary wireless equipment in the Royal Needles Hotel, above Alum Bay, and sent the very first wireless transmission.
The original lighthouse was erected in 1785 on the summit of the Downs at the western extremity, 462 ft above sea level. However, it was generally considered that the building was too elevated above sea level to be really useful, especially in poor visibility, and it became disused when its replacement had been built.
The present lighthouse – Trinity, at 109ft high, clings to the base of the most westerly rock of the Needles group. It started working on 1st January 1859, taking over from the original lighthouse on the cliff top.