On This Day in Trinity House History – 31 December

1730

“Unbecoming Words and differences” between the Elder Brethren

Trinity House Court Minute:

“The Court proceeded to consider of some effectual means to prevent unbecoming Words and differences at future Meetings; and Unanimously Resolved that if any Elder Brother of this Corporation shall hereafter give or return any such language to any other Elder Brother, at any Court or By Board, as the said Court or By Board shall judge to be quarrelsome or abusive, provoking or reproachfull, he shall forfeit ten pounds for every such offence; To be deducted out of his next Ensuing Turns for the use of the poor of the Corporation.”

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On This Day in Trinity House History – 30 December

1731

A Curious Notice

A curious notice in The Daily Post recorded that

“Mr Acton, a Woollen Draper in the Strand, and his maid-servant, have been carried to the Buoy of the Nore, to be dipped in salt-water to prevent the mischievous consequences of being bit by a mad cat.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 29 December

1940

Trinity House on Tower Hill is Destroyed

Trinity House falls victim to the most severe of the air attacks on London.

When incendiary bombs landed on the wooden beams of the house, fire fighters were able put out the first fire caused by the bombs, but the shortage of water prevented their efforts to extinguish subsequent fires. On the morning of 31 December 1940 the staff found the whole of the Wyatt building and the offices at the back with their walls more or less intact, but the interiors completely gutted; apart from the separate East Wing, the only surviving portion of the building was the basement wine cellar. Many archives, rarities, fine models, hangings and paintings were destroyed, save for the paintings that had been at Bayham Abbey, and some archives and books that had gone to the countryside.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 26 December

1660

Charles II addresses the Corporation

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Trusty and well beloved we Greet you well, Whereas wee have been gratiously pleased to renue and confirme your Charter with Severall additional powers and priviledges both for the advantage of our service and the Publique Wee cannot but lett you know that we expect you should be very carefull in the choice of such as are to be admitted Members of your Society, that they being persons of exemplary piety, prudence and integrity wee may with confidence hope for Gods blefsing in theire endeavours for ours and the Kingdomes service. Wee will and require you therefore that you elect none to be of your body that have sate in any of the late pretended high Courts of Justice, or who signed any Peticon for the Triall of our Father of Blefsed memory, or who continue disaffected to the Peace of theis Kingdomes under our Government, and refuse the Oathes of Allegiance and Supremancy wch. the Lawes exact of all our subjects, And for the better discharge of the Trust reposed in that Society you are to admit none to be Elder Brethren but able and experienced Seamen and Mariners. And soe we bid you farewell.

Given at our Court at Whitehall this 26th. December 1660”

1280-360 Charles II to TH 1675

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 25 December

1925

Solitary Confinement at Godrevy Lighthouse

Godrevy Lighthouse never had more than two keepers, and once, for eight days, it was reduced to one. On Christmas Day in 1925, one of the two keepers was taken ashore by the St. Ives Lifeboat suffering from pneumonia, and unfortunately the weather made it impossible to land a relief keeper until 2 January. During the intervening eight days, Assistant Keeper W J Lewis, alone on the rock, kept the light and fog bell going without interruption.

Mr. Lewis documented his solitary watch in a later edition of Flash magazine:

“It all happened during my first turn off at the Station in December when the hours of daylight were few and myself unaccustomed to the various weird and occult noises, only heard at such Rock Stations, in addition to those noises which are familiar to most Lighthouses. It made everything so strange and in a way fascinating.

Not many days after landing on the Rock, my mate who had already completed one month and commenced his second, complained of a soreness in his throat, which got decidedly worse as the days passed on and gave him cause for anxiety.

The days were slowly closing on Christmas and my mate was all the time getting worse, then the climax came. It was Christmas Day, I relieved the watch at 0400 and my mate retired to bed feeling very ill. Breakfast time he was so ill that he could not carry on any longer, and so we got the rockets ready to call out a boat to take him ashore for medical treatment. However, he delayed firing the rockets for several hours — a delay which on looking back I have no doubt was the cause of my somewhat harrowing experience. With the weather deteriorating every hour, and the wind freshening, a ground swell and misty rain swept in, so that the first series of rockets were not seen from the shore — this was during the afternoon.

The sky broke when darkness fell, a sickly waning moon appeared between the fast fleeting clouds. The wind continued to freshen and the sea in large billows curled and broke over the rocks, leaving a mass of seething spume.

With my mate’s symptoms suggesting pneumonia, instant action had to be taken, so another red rocket sped on its way into the sky to call out the Lifeboat, and from their cheery hearths and festivities of Yuletide on this stormy Christmas evening those brave men put out to answer a call of mercy.

It was a problem to know which Landing to use, those situated on the South of the Rock were out of the question, and it was decided to use the Lower Eastern Landing as the Jib Landing could not be manned by one man.

Down on this Landing it was a boiling pot, the sea roared and crashed with violence over the rocks and Landing place, and the wind howled through the walls of the gulch. The moon hidden by ugly black clouds made it eerie as the dark overhanging rocks towering towards the blackness of the sky, like a sheer wall of rock, seemed as if they would crush and bury everything under it.

Great care had to be taken in approaching the Landing owing to the slope and slippery surface. We were unable to see the gully between the towering rocks. Then we saw the Lifeboat approach the Landing bow first with a kedge anchor over the stern. Suddenly the seemingly large bulk of the Lifeboat loomed up above our heads near the Landing, which was now awash, and we stood beck on some higher rocks. The sea passed on and the Lifeboat came lower in line with the Landing, it was then they shouted for my mate to jump, which he did and was hauled inboard by the bowman. Just then a heavy sea broke astern of the Lifeboat, lifting the black form high above the Landing, and it appeared as if only a miracle could avert the disaster of the Lifeboat crashing to pieces on the rocks, but by clever seamanship she was hauled out quickly to the centre of the gully before the following sea could complete the disaster. 

The Lifeboat safely away from the rock, I made my way back to the Tower, it was cosier in there than outside on such a stormy night and being alone there was the problem of keeping things going until assistance arrived.

The hours passed slowly, it seemed a kind of novelty to be alone in a Rock Lighthouse, but then I thought it would only be for one night and not eight as it turned out to be. During the early hours of this first night I had my first attack of utter loneliness and realised fully my unthankful position. I imagined all sorts of things, footsteps on the stairs — lurking figures seemed to creep from room to room. It became uncanny, the atmosphere seemed charged with uneasiness as if caused by those phantoms of the night having gained admittance to the Tower to shelter from the boisterous weather outside. Weird sounds rent the night from time to time. Such phenomenal things do not scare me easily, although on this particular night I was greatly tempted to go down and bolt the Tower door.

Luckily I had plenty to do which helped to take my mind off such phenomena. At this time of the year the nights were long, the lights exhibited before 1600 and extinguished 0830. So that the hours of daylight were limited and occupied with changing and cleaning burners which had been in operation during the night. Carrying up oil to trim the three subsidiary lights and various other jobs which fall in a Keeper’s routine on such Rock Stations.

The day following the one on which my mate was taken ashore (Boxing Day) an effort was made to land another Keeper, but it proved hopeless, because such a heavy sea was running, even though the wind had eased considerably. The sight of the relief boat leaving the Rock without accomplishing its mission left me sick at heart. Alone on an isolated Rock which had no sympathy, imprisoned by a sea which seemed desirous of destroying its very existence. A depressed feeling came over me as the thought of another dreaded night passed through my mind. Those long sixteen hour nights, often eighteen hours when an obscurity sets in — nights which seemed eternities filled with loneliness unbearable and temporary frights which played havoc with the nerves.

To remain awake days even weeks without sleep is not an uncommon occurrence and has often been accomplished. But comparing the different circumstances and conditions under which such are accomplished and it will be found very few have occurred on an isolated Rock Lighthouse with manual labour during the greater part of those days and nights of remaining awake.

Nature may be defied for a while, but sleep is intrinsic to everyone in normal health and cannot be put aside, it comes inevitably even though one is able to subjugate it for a time. When the mind loses its mobility of thought, the body relaxes into oblivion. These conditions faced me, not so much the keeping awake, but the load of responsibility. The knowledge that such a great deal depended on the lights being kept burning and the fog signal sounded. It was the seemingly never-ending winding of the clock for the revolving apparatus and fog signal when in operation. The up and down stairs from the Lantern to Subsidiary Light room and numerous, other things which required attention, put thoughts of sleep during the hours of darkness far from my mind.

It is strange how, imagination plays such tricks to one in solitary confinement — the mind seems conducive to the supernatural and shocks are frequent with unreal objects formed by a vivid imagination.

For instance a waning moon had floated into the heavens, its mellow light casting grim shadows over the rocks. I was standing gazing out of a window facing the Oil-Store, at the end of whose wall was a gate, beyond which a barren waste of rock. A mountainous sea was rolling in and flying spray passing through the rays of the light, thickening them to beams of refulgence. Suddenly my eyes caught sight of an object coming through the gate and creeping along the wall of the Oil-Store, then falling back into the shadows. No one could possibly have landed on the Rock, so it must have been an object of my imagination — a visionary phenomenon. I consoled myself with such thoughts when I was startled with hearing what I thought to be the latch and the Tower door opening, and a rush of cold air came up to the Tower to confirm it. Then a steady fall of footsteps sounded on the stairs and a cold shiver went through me. I was alone, nerves highly strung and tired through lack of sleep. I stood rooted where I stood for some time, the sound of footsteps on the stairs came no nearer, so gaining confidence I descended the stairs to find the cause of the mystery. One of the bedroom windows had blown open and the wind howling through had caused the linoleum on the floor to flap and resemble footsteps.

It was after 54 hours constant watch keeping that I had to succumb to a few hours’ sleep and felt so much refreshed, that the coming night was not so much dreaded, even though I was beginning to feel the effects of loneliness. I craved for someone to talk with, and can hardly credit, that for a week I never uttered a word either in speech or song, not even to myself.

Another fright was the hearing a roaring noise like that of a lion rent the air and shake the Tower. For hours this went on, and kept my nerves on edge. It was solved when I saw in the light of the waning moon, a volume of white spray shoot out of a cave. This cave passed almost under the Tower and out on the North East side, the heavy seas were entering the cave at both ends and compressing the air, which when forced out caused the unearthly roar and shook the Tower. For eight days and nights the Lights and Fog Signal were kept going single handed with eight hours broken sleep during the lone vigil.”

Season’s Greetings from Trinity House!

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

On This Day in Trinity House History – 24 December

1976

Longstone Lighthouse Christmas Broadcast

The keepers on Longstone Lighthouse take part in a special Christmas Eve programme for Radio Tyneside, the local hospital broadcasting service.

The keepers talked via a special radio link to Mike Neville and George House, telling hospital patients what it is like to spend Christmas working in the isolated world of lighthouses.

Also appearing on the programme, called ‘The More the Merrier’ was Bing Crosby, live by satellite from America, along with Morecambe and Wise and a host of other local personalities.

Longstone Lighthouse

Longstone Lighthouse

On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 December

1566

The Seamarks Act is passed in the House of Lords

An Act “concerning Sea-marks and Mariners” is read for the first time and passed in the House of Lords.

This Act, passed by Elizabeth I enabled Trinity House

“at their wills and pleasures, and at their costs, [to] make, erect, and set up such, and so many beacons, marks, and signs for the sea, in such place or places of the sea-shores, and uplands near the sea-coasts, or forelands of the sea, only for sea-marks, as to them shall seem most meet, needful, and requisite, whereby the dangers may be avoided and escaped, and ships the better come into their ports without peril.”

 


1977

The Last Trinity House Oil-Burning Lighthouse

St. Mary’s Island Lighthouse is the last of the Trinity House lighthouses to be converted to electric operation.

The paraffin vapour burner (PVB), which had been in use since 1898, was replaced by a temporary portable lamp which was used at the lighthouse for two months while a permanent electrical system was installed.

SI. Mary’s Island, sometimes called Bait Island, lies north of the popular holiday resort of Whitley Bay which is a long stretch of sand with low rocks running far out from the shore. Steep banks of grass front the sea and the many acres of lawn make it a very attractive resort. A causeway links the island to the mainland, and at low tide holiday makers can cross to the lighthouse on the small island and scramble over the rocks.

The lighthouse was built for Trinity House by Messrs. J. Miller in 1898. During the excavation for the foundation of the lighthouse, the workmen unearthed several skeletons and stone coffins from what used to be the burial ground for the monks of Tynemouth Priory. The white round tower is 37 metres high and is connected by service rooms to the keepers’ dwellings.

Postcard from St Marys Lighthouse

Postcard from St Marys Lighthouse