On This Day in Trinity House History – 29 September

1719

Cromer Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Cromer Lighthouse: a light is first exhibited from a coal fire enclosed in a lantern. Before the erection of a lighthouse at Cromer lights for the guidance of vessels were shown from the tower of the parish church, these were small, but served a useful purpose for many years. A number of ecclesiastical lights such as this were exhibited around the coast in medieval times.

During the first twenty years following Charles II’s restoration in 1660 many proposals were put forward for lighthouses on all parts of the coast. One of the petitioners, Sir John Clayton, suggested no less than five lighthouses on four different sites – at the Farne Islands off Northumberland, Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, Foulness at Cromer and Corton near Lowestoft.

Despite opposition to his schemes Sir John, together with a George Blake obtained a comprehensive patent in 1669 and at a cost of £3,000 erected towers at each of the four sites. The patent would last for 60 years and specified rates of dues to to be paid (voluntarily) by the owners of passing vessels.

Unfortunately the cost of maintenance was high and many of the shipowners were unwilling to pay the dues required so that Clayton could not afford to kindle fires in the tower at Cromer. However the unlighted tower served as a beacon and together with the other towers are marked definitely as lighthouses on sea charts after 1680 with references such as “a lighthouse but no fire kept in it”.

The owner of the land at Foulness, Nathaniel Life, considered that the situation required a lighthouse and it is said that he built a tower in 1717 hoping to be granted a patent for the light. It is more likely, however, that Life merely took steps for lighting the shell of Clayton’s tower. Assisted by Edward Bowell, a Younger Brother of Trinity House, he persuaded the Brethren to apply for a patent. They obtained it in 1719, the dues to be ¼ penny per ton of general cargo and ½ penny per chaldron (25 cwt) of Newcastle coal. Life and Bowell jointly received a lease at a rental of £100, on Life’s undertaking that the tower with one acre of ground should pass to Trinity House when the patent expired in 61 years.

The patentees exhibited a coal fire enclosed in a lantern on 29th September, 1719. In 1792 Trinity House, now in possession, fitted here its second flashing light; 5 reflectors and argand oil lamps on each of the 3 faces of a revolving frame.

The present lighthouse, a white octagonal tower standing about ½ mile from the cliff edge, was built in 1833 and converted to electric operation in 1958. In June 1990 the station was converted to automatic operation and is now monitored from the Trinity House Planning Centre at Harwich.

Cromer Lighthouse

Cromer Lighthouse

 


1795

Longships Lighthouse is first lit

The tower was established on Carn Bras, the largest of the Longships Rocks which rose 12m above high tides.

The circular tower, designed by Trinity House architect Samuel Wyatt, had three storeys; the lowest contained water tanks and stores, the next formed a living room and the lightkeepers used as a bedroom the top storey under the wood and copper lantern. The lantern was elevated 24m above the sea, and held 18 parabolic metal reflectors and Argands, arranged in two tiers.

From the terrific seas which swept over the rock during storms, the lantern was so often under water that the character of a fixed light could not be determined with certainty. This eclipse by the waves was the reason given for the replacement of Wyatt’s tower by the present circular tower of grey granite built by Sir James Douglass, Trinity House engineer, in 1875.

Longships Lighthouse

Longships Lighthouse


1957

The crew of the St Gowan Lightvessel station are given a television

Notice in Flash magazine:

“The Master and Crew of St. Gowan Light Vessel on the 29th September 1957 were presented with a Television Receiver by the members of the Tenby Rotary Club. This now means that the crews of all the Light Vessels on the Swansea District can now watch Television, and it is thus the first District to be able to do so.”

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On This Day in Trinity House History – 26 September

1900

Pendeen Lighthouse is first lit

A light is established at Pendeen in Cornwall.

From Cape Cornwall the coast runs NE by E towards the Wra, or Three Stone Oar, off Pendeen. From here the inhospitable shore continues for a further eight miles or so to the Western entrance of St. Ives Bay, the principal feature here being the Gurnards Head, on which many ships have come to grief.

Until 1891 maritime safety off Pendeen depended more on activity after a wreck rather than effective prevention, the “Admiralty Sailing Directions” for that year being only able to report a “Coastguard Station where a rocket apparatus is kept”. The high cliffs along this sector of coastline prevented passing vessels from catching sight of either Trevose Head to the East or the Longships to the West; and so numbers of them, unable to ascertain their position, were lost, particularly on the groups of sunken and exposed rocks near Pendeen Watch. Trinity House became increasingly concerned about this state of affairs as the nineteenth century drew to its close, and decided to erect a lighthouse and fog signal at Pendeen. Designs for the building were prepared by Sir Thomas Matthews, the Trinity House Engineer, their construction being undertaken by Arthur Carkeek, of Redruth, with Messrs. Chance, of Birmingham supplying the lantern.

More at the Trinity House website

Pendeen Lighthouse

Pendeen Lighthouse

 


1915

First World War casualties

Trinity House Pilot Cutter Vigilant was destroyed by a mine while cruising at Sunk station. Eight of the eleven pilots on board were killed, the rest injured. Seven of the crew were killed and one other injured.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 24 September

1972

Bull Point Lighthouse Falls Down

In the early hours of the Sunday morning, earth subsidence caused serious damage to the Bull Point Lighthouse site, established in 1879 to help light the Bristol Channel. 50 ft. of the cliff face crashed into the sea and a further 50 ft. subsided steeply, causing deep fissures to open up inside the boundary wall. Walls cracked and the engine room/fog signal house partly collapsed, leaving it in a dangerous condition and putting the fog signal out of action.

Trinity House Engineers were quickly on the scene assessing the damage, and commenced work on salvaging equipment and restoring normal conditions to light and fog signal: standby batteries were connected to the main navigation light and shipping was warned that the light was being shown at reduced power and that the fog signal was inoperable.

It was decided, however, that additional aids to navigation would be required until normal conditions had been restored at the lighthouse. On Monday 25 September, a lighted buoy was established off the Point while No. 91 Lightvessel was quickly prepared at Swansea Depot. The lightvessel equipped with red light and fog signal was laid on the Bull Point station by THV Argus on Tuesday 26 September, and the buoy withdrawn.

Trinity House Engineers, in cooperation with the local Electricity Generating Board, managed to restore full power to the light using portable generators, and the mains supply was reconnected a few days later. Practically all the equipment from the engine room/fog signal house was eventually salvaged, and the building demolished in the interests of safety.
Flash magazine reported that:

“During the emergency, the three keepers, led by Mr. Leonard Hart, remained at their posts and gave valuable assistance to the engineers working at the station. They justifiably earned the commendation that they showed an exemplary sense of dedication in an extremely difficult situation. As for the future: a full geological survey is being undertaken. In the meantime, pending a decision on the siting of a new lighthouse, the present lighthouse has been given “Rock” status. The fog signal has been resited in a temporary position, and the “Bull Point” Light Vessel withdrawn. Plans are being made to erect a temporary lattice tower for the main and subsidiary lights, further landward. It is expected that this will be brought into operation early in 1973.”

Bull Point Lighthouse at night

Bull Point Lighthouse at night

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 22 September

1791

Michael Faraday is born

Portrait of Faraday by Thos. Phillips 1842

Portrait of Faraday by Thos. Phillips 1842

Chemist and Physicist Professor Michael Faraday—considered one of the greatest experimentalists that ever lived—is remembered for his pioneering experiments in electricity and magnetism, many of which were carried out at the lighthouse at Blackwall as Scientific Advisor to the Corporation.

During the 1840s most of Faraday’s efforts for Trinity House were directed towards developing a chimney for the purpose of ventilating lighthouse lanterns, to prevent the smoke and fumes from the burning illuminant condensing on the lantern panes which thus reduced the quality of light emitted; it would be the only invention of his to be patented.

Professor Faraday died 25 August 1867.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 18 September

1947

THV Vestal is launched

THV Vestal is launched from the Bristol yard of Charles Hill and Son, to become the Swansea district tender.

After a long and varied career (for a full history of Trinity House’s tenders, readers may wish to pick up Captain Richard Woodman’s Keepers of the Sea) she was sold out of service in 1975.

THV Vestal

THV Vestal

On This Day in Trinity House History – 13 September

1740

Vandalism at Caistor Lighthouse

Trinity House Board Minute:

“Letter from Captain Millison, our buoy keeper at Yarmouth that some disorderly persons have lately broke several panes of glass in the Castor lighthouses. Captain M. to publish a reward of two guineas to anyone who shall discover the person or persons who did that mischief, so that he may be prosecuted without delay.”

The lighthouse at Castor or Caistor was established in the early 17th century and taken over by Trinity House for its improved operation before too long. A light was exhibited until its discontinuation in 1923.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 12 September

1793

William Pitt Lays The Foundation Stone of Trinity House on Tower Hill

The foundation stone of the current Trinity House was laid by William Pitt, the Master, in the south-west corner of the building.

By 1793 the Trinity House in Water Lane was in need of extensive repair. The Corporation sold the property  to the Commissioners of Customs, and took over a vacant site on Tower Hill. Master carpenter-turned architect and engineer Samuel Wyatt, appointed Surveyor to Trinity House in 1792, drew up plans for a new house, which he can be seen presenting to the Elder Brethren in Gainsborough Dupont’s immense group portrait of 1794. William Pitt, Prime Minister, laid the foundation stone on 12 September 1793, and the first Court inside the acclaimed new headquarters was held on 23 May 1796.

Trinity House, built 1796, rebuilt 1953. Copyright Trinity House

Trinity House, built 1796, rebuilt 1953. Copyright Trinity House

 


1962

Ex-Trinity House Vessel Discovery II is Paid Off

Discovery II is paid-off from the Service of the National Oceanographic Council, after an active life of almost 33 years.

She did invaluable work for Trinity House during the Second World War; one Trinity House clerk from the time remembered that “Discovery II did very good service in the War, and always appeared to be in the War Zone, having “fun and games” as her Captain used to call it.”

Her sea-going life was written up in a 1963 edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

“Originally built for the Discovery Committee, Colonial Office, by Ferguson Brothers, of Port Glasgow, as a research ship, and with Class I strengthening for navigation in ice, she was laid down early in 1929, was completed late in November the same year and within a few weeks (14th December) sailed on her first commission to Antarctic waters, where she was to examine the habitat of the whale.

This was to be the first of six such 2-year commissions, five of which were completed before the Second World War and, with the completion of the sixth in 1951, a major biological and physical survey of the Southern Ocean had been made. Outstanding problems still remain, of course, but these do not materially affect the overall picture now available in respect of the distribution of whale food, the configuration of the sea bed and the general circulation of the ocean. On all the cruises, the DISCOVERY II was a Selected Ship for weather observations, in voluntary co-operation with the Marine Division of the Meteorological Office. Twice was the Antarctic continent circumnavigated in winter — in 1932 and 1951 — and further winter observations on or near the ice-edge were obtained south of Cape Town during a series of repeated cruises in the winter months of 1938. It is probable that the meteorological logs kept during these periods form the greater part of the meteorological information even now available from such high southern latitudes in winter — in oceanic areas.
A further voyage close around Antarctica was made in the summer of 1938-39 and the meteorological observations then obtained must be of considerable value. The meteorological data from the logbooks has been punched on to Hollerith cards and is used as and when necessary for climatological purposes. Moreover, whenever the ship was within the zone appropriate to sending weather reports to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, coded messages were sent. Since DISCOVERY II was normally approaching from a westerly or south-westerly direction, and, from areas from which incoming weather reports were virtually nil, the information was much appreciated by the meteorological offices concerned.

In 1938-39 meteorologists from the countries mentioned above accompanied the ship on the appropriate sectors of her summer circumpolar cruise and, in 1950-51 several research officers from New Zealand made a series of experimental observations between Dunedin and Macquarie Island.

During the six voyages made to the Southern Ocean in all seasons, and often in unpleasant weather, much data was collected on the subject of pack-ice, more especially with regard to its distribution, and the relation of meteorological conditions — particularly in winter.

During the war DISCOVERY II was requisitioned for service as an armed boarding vessel and was stationed to intercept ships on the northern route, via the Denmark Strait — a very suitable area for a ship built for the Antarctic — but life on board for a crew nearly four times the normal complement must have been a little trying. It must also have been difficult, in such a lively ship, to lower a boat and get a boarding party away. Released from this service in 1942, she was re-fitted for service with Trinity House, and, during this period, she was for a time stationed in Iceland, laying buoys at a convoy anchorage. She also suffered damage from a ‘near-miss’ by a mine off the east coast of England. Later, she was transferred to the Irish Light Commissioners’ service and, after returning to Trinity House, was eventually released for re-conversion to a research ship in 1948. To rebuild the DISCOVERY II took nearly fifteen months; the accommodation being modernised and mechanical ventilation introduced, as far as space would permit. Unfortunately, it was not possible to increase the space occupied by laboratories and for the next 12 years, it has been increasingly difficult to fit in all the scientific instruments now essential for the work.

As already mentioned the last of DISCOVERY II Antarctic cruises took place in 1950-51, and a circumnavigation of the continent in winter was successfully completed in generally unpleasant weather, Only the Master, the Senior Scientist and the Bo’sun had had previous experience of working under Antarctic conditions, which rather slowed down the work in the earlier stages of the cruise.

While the Institute of Oceanography was getting into its stride, the DISCOVERY II was laid up for a year (1953-54), and on commissioning again, was employed continuously in home and North Atlantic waters until paid-off finally in September of this year [1963]. She remained a voluntary observing ship, during this period and in February-March 1955 she was chartered by the Meteorological Office and did a successful tour of duty as an emergency weather ship as Station ‘K’.

In this more recent period of DISCOVERY II‘s career she was more often used for testing prototype instruments and equipment than for taking routine oceanographical observations. Among other new instruments tried out was the shipborne wave recorder, now an established instrument on a world basis, a precision deep echosounder, a new method of measuring deep ocean currents using a neutrally-buoyant float, a plastic reversing deep sea water-bottle (now in production), and a depth of net indicator. Experiments have also been made in the location of fish shoals, and the same transducer — which is stabilised against rolling — has also been used successfully to scan the bottom on the continental shelf.

It has been difficult shortly to encompass all that the DISCOVERY II, and those who have manned her — both ship’s company and scientists — have achieved in the thirty-three years of her life. Much of the work has been carried out under arduous conditions, both for ship and men, and it is a tribute to her designers, and to her builders, that she has served science for so long and so well. Many, especially those who served in her on the long prewar cruises, will regret her passing. She was not, perhaps, the most comfortable of vehicles in which to travel or work; her design, while producing a ‘safe’ ship for ice navigation or work in stormy seas, did not, perhaps, lend itself to the provision of as stable a working platform as modern oceanographical research demands. She was, however, able to keep the seas, and work efficiently, in weather which would have daunted most other research ships.”


1984

South Stack Lighthouse is automated

South Stack Lighthouse is converted to automatic operation and the keepers depart.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1871. South Stack Lighthouse was first lit on 9 February 1809. The lighthouse, erected at a cost of £12,000, was designed by Daniel Alexander and originally fitted with Argand oil lamps and reflectors.

In the mid 1870s the lantern and lighting apparatus was replaced by a new lantern. No records are available of the light source at this time but it was probably a pressurised multiwick oil lamp. In 1909 an early form of incandescent light was installed and in 1927 this was replaced by a more modern form of incandescent mantle burner. The station was electrified in 1938.

The light and fog signal are now remotely controlled and monitored from the Trinity House Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.

South Stack Lighthouse

South Stack Lighthouse