Every so often in my research I come upon a place or an idea so compelling that I must learn more. Some of these places eventually become scenes, and some of those scenes, alas, end up on the cutting room floor. So it was when I researched the Isle of Wight for a few chapters in the Dark Apostle series.
The place, St. Catherine’s Oratory, a 14th century lighthouse high on a bluff in Chale.
The Oratory was built William de Godeton, Lord of Chale, as penance for an act of plundering. Apparently, he looted a good deal of wine off of a sinking vessel–wine that was meant for a monastery. To avoid excommunication, he built an oratory (a small church) with rooms for a single priest to say prayers for the souls of those lost at sea, and to tend the fire in the tower above. Theoretically, the light would ward off other ships from meeting a similar fate.
Building began around the time of the trial in 1313 and was completed in 1328, shortly after de godeton’s death. The lighthouse remained in use until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. The oratory eventually fell, but the tower remains, rather too far inland to serve as a useful lighthouse, and often shrouded in mist in any case. A new lighthouse was begun nearby in the 1700′s, and never finished. (The tower above is referred to by locals as “the Pepperpot”, leaving its unfinished companion to be called “the Salt Cellar”). A very new (by my standards) lighthouse stands below, on the edge of the sea, in a much more effective location for preventing shipwrecks.
As a setting for a novel, this place is hard to beat. It’s got a fascinating history, a great view, and plenty of atmosphere–it even stands next to a Bronze Age barrow! And the scene that I wrote incorporated all of those elements. Note, I did not say plot advancement, great dialog, or character develpment. . . so, alas, it had to go. But I keep some images of St. Catherine’s Oratory in my files, just in case.