Steady As You Go

View from South Stack Lighthouse lantern gallery across to Anglesey

View from South Stack Lighthouse lantern gallery across to Anglesey

The incident reported in the text in the picture above came from a Trinity House District Depot Superintendent’s report in 1960, subsequently reported in our Flash magazine. While a dropped light bulb might not seem all that worrisome to the average reader, it is worth bearing in mind that a 4KW lamp was almost a foot in diameter, came in a relatively heavy wooden crate all of its own.

But anyone in the Trinity House service at the time would have known the real reason for the editor’s smirking inclusion of this report: there are 400 steps from the cliff top down to the lighthouse, and each of the five large heavy lamps would have had to have been carried individually down the steps one at a time.

To get the lamp from the Swansea stores to Anglesey in north Wales, to the top of the cliff, down the 400 zig-zagging steps, over the suspension bridge and up to the lighthouse, only to discover a broken lamp must have been extremely frustrating!

An article written by the Rev. Edward Stanley in 1831 describes the hardships in getting men and supplies from shore to station in the very earliest days of the lighthouse:

“At this period, it should be observed, that the present landing-place, on the north side, indifferent as it still is, at certain times of tide, was then altogether impracticable; and that on the south-east alone, where at all times more or less there is a considerable swell, a precarious footing was attainable. The difficulties of landing being thus so great, and the power of supplying this large population so precarious, particularly with water, there being none on the island, it was found absolutely necessary to provide against this inconvenience. Accordingly a canvas hose, 900 feet in length, was made to communicate with a small tarn, about 800 feet from the summit of the nearest headland, descending thence at a sharp angle the remaining 100 feet, till it reached the island; in connexion with this hose, a stay and traveller were rigged out, by which milk, instruments, and a variety of other articles, were safely and commodiously passed to and fro. On one occasion, a passenger of a very different description attempted this fearful communication in the person of an active young man, one of the workmen. Having received intimation of his mother’s sudden illness, he resolved, as the surf was too high to admit of the usual egress by water, to trust himself to this aerial conveyance. Accordingly, firmly grasping the hose and tackling, he slowly but steadily made his way good, with every eye intently fixed upon him, and trembling for his safety, up this terrific pathway, and safely landed himself on the mountain’s brow. This hazardous adventure took place without the superintendent’s knowledge, who very properly, upon hearing of it, issued a positive order, that it should on no account whatever be repeated.

“As the works proceeded, the necessity of a more frequent and certain communication naturally increased. Accordingly an ingenious old millwright, in conjunction with Captain Evans, set their beads together for the accomplishment of this desirable object, the fruits of which appeared in the course of the summer, in the form of a small box or cradle, suspended on two strong stays, running through sheaves, and swung across the chasm, a distance of 150 feet, (a space 30 feet wider than the present bridge and subsequent cradle passage) being made fast to the nearest projecting point of the mainland rocks, from whence an ascent was practicable. We would request the lightheaded and nervous portion of the community, who may chance to visit the South Stack, to have pointed out to them the precise point on the mainland rocks, from whence this first and original cradle took its departure; and thence to trace clearly and distinctly the goat-like ascent up and down, which all who, whether from business or curiosity, visited the island, were necessitated to clamber and crawl.

“The cradle itself, moreover, in its infant state, was by no means a bed of roses, before experience and practice had vouched for its security; and it is but fair to allow to Captain Evans, who was the first to embark and ferry himself over, something of the “robur et aes triplex,” [i.e. a man of oak and bronze] assigned by Horace to the man who first ventured his person on the wide seas, in the crazy barks of ancient times.”

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. February, 1831, pages 159-175. Retrieved from Google Books.

Superseding this cradle device, a rope suspension bridge was constructed, and by the second half of the last century a metal footbridge took its place across the chasm and remains today.

South Stack Lighthouse is open to visitors, as long as those visitors don’t mind a few steps! To find out more about the lighthouse, visit our website or look at opening hours for the lighthouse visitor centre.