On This Day in Trinity House History – 27 November

1954

The South Goodwin Lightvessel Disaster

During one of the worst channel storms in two centuries, No. 90 Lightvessel founders upon the Goodwin Sands during the night, losing all seven crewmen as storm waves parted the vessel’s mooring cable, dragging it from its position at the north end of the narrowest point of the Dover Straits.

The alarm was raised by Deal Coastguard who reported the South Goodwin light extinguished, the visibility being good, despite the wind. At 01.15 the Coastguard reported the lightvessel was suspected of being off-station; at 02.30 the Ramsgate lifeboat was launched, followed at 02.50 by the Dover boat.

At Harwich the Trinity House Chief Superintendent ordered Captain R N Thompson to sail and THV Vestal left her berth at 05.30, steaming south at her best speed. In daylight, the lifeboats found the lightvessel 6.5 miles to the northward of her Assigned Position, driven on to the sands, close to the Kellett Gut where she had rolled on her side.

At 07.00 an American helicopter from RAF Manston flew over the wreck and at 08.00 the BBC Home Service reported the disaster. The wind remained strong, heavy seas were breaking over the wreck and none of the lifeboats were able to get near the stricken lightvessel lying on her side in the shallows. Several passes were made by the helicopter before a single figure, dressed in pyjamas, was seen clinging to the rails.

Only Ronald Murton, a visitor from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, would survive the night. Lifeboats and a helicopter managed to secure the visitor, found clinging to the side of the vessel, but no other men would be found.

After 27 November, the international maritime community was quick to rally around with commiserations.

Trinity House was fortunate enough to meet recently with Mr. and Mrs. J Park; Mr. Park is the son of the late Major Paul Park, the commanding officer of the American helicopter that led the rescue efforts. The Parks very kindly presented to Trinity House a number of archival mementos from the outpouring of gratitude that was due the brave rescue team after their efforts. A selection of clippings are below.

The men that crewed the South Goodwin lightvessel were Thomas Skipp from
Coggeshall, Essex; Kenneth Lanham from Bow, East London; Sidney Philpott from
Ramsgate, Kent; Walter Viney from Plaistow, East London; George Cox from
Gorlestone, Norfolk; Thomas Porter from Holbrook, Suffolk; and Henry Lynn from
Dovercourt, Essex.

South Goodwin Lightvessel disaster 1954 press clipping 1 (low)

South Goodwin Lightvessel disaster 1954 press clipping

RNLI and USAF crews accolades 1954

RNLI and USAF crews accolades 1954

Letter from Trinity House Chief Superintendent re South Goodwin Disaster 1954

Letter from Trinity House Chief Superintendent re South Goodwin Disaster 1954

On This Day in Trinity House History – 26 November

1998

North Foreland Lighthouse is automated and the last lighthouse keepers leave

The completion of the ambitious lighthouse automation programme came with the North Foreland Lighthouse. Ending four centuries of service, the last six keepers in the Trinity House Lighthouse Service were given a warm farewell by the Master HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and the profession passed into folklore and history.

A light was first exhibited at North Foreland in 1499, but the first real lighthouse was built by Sir John Meldrum in 1636. The lighthouse consisted of a two storey octagonal tower made of timber, lath and plaster with an iron coal burning grate on top. This tower was destroyed by fire in 1683.

A temporary measure of a single candle in a lantern hoisted on a pole proved, not surprisingly, ineffective and the present structure was built in 1691; originally the tower was 12 metres tall constructed of brick, stone and flint. In 1698 the lighthouse is recorded as using 100 tons of coal a year.

North Foreland Lighthouse came into the hands of the Trustees of Greenwich Hospital in 1719, they used the surplus from the light dues for the upkeep of the hospital for the benefit of seamen. They enclosed the fire in a glazed lantern in 1719 but this was removed in 1730 after complaints from shipping. In 1793 a further two storeys were added to the tower and the coal fire was replaced by 18 oil lamps.

Trinity House purchased the lighthouse in 1832. In 1890 a separate room known as the lantern house, was built on to the top of the tower to accommodate the light. An improved light source was installed in 1894, a pair of eight wick Trinity House-pattern burners for heavy mineral oil, replaced in 1904 by a triple mantle burner, and again replaced in 1923 with a ‘Hood’ 100mm petroleum vapour burner.

North Foreland was the last Trinity Lighthouse to be automated when it was converted to automatic operation at a ceremony attended by his Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh in 1998.

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 25 November

1942

HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester is elected Master of Trinity House

HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester KG KT KP GMB GCMG GCVO is elected Master of Trinity House, on the death of the Duke of Kent.He sat as Master from 1942 to 1969.

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (31 March 1900 – 10 June 1974) was a soldier and member of the British Royal Family, the third son of King George V of the United Kingdom and Queen Mary. The Duke served as a soldier for most of his life. At his death, he was the last surviving knight of the Order of St. Patrick. Also at the time of his death in 1974, he was the last surviving child of King George V and Queen Mary.

Portrait of HRH Henry Duke of Gloucester by Aubrey Claud Davidson-Houston, 1963

Portrait of HRH Henry Duke of Gloucester by Aubrey Claud Davidson-Houston, 1963

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 22 November

1900

Recollections of a Lighthouse Keeper

A letter to the Editor of Flash magazine from Mr. F Squibb on the Isle of Wight offers the following brief recollection of life in the Trinity House service:

“I joined the Lighthouse Service on the 22nd November 1900. At that time we were paid on the 24th of the month, so my first pay day on the 24th November was 3 days. Not a very big sum. I cannot understand about the Classes for Instruction, for at that time we received instruction firstly at the Experimental Room at Trinity House in the management of the Oil Burners which were 8 wick burners and terrors they were. We also received instruction in semaphore and Morse code. If I remember rightly, a Mr. Morrison was our Instructor.

After finishing at Trinity House, we then had to go to Blackwall for further instruction. Captain J.G. Browne was Superintendent at Blackwall then, but before I finished my course there I was sent to duty at the Admiralty Pier, Dover, which they were lengthening at that time. I went back there again in 1913 and stayed there for 11 1/2 years all through the 1914-1918 war, when I went to the South Foreland. I should like to add here that my grandfather, who was a Cornish stone-mason, helped to build the “Scilly Bishop Lighthouse” before he joined as a Lighthouse Keeper.

After that I had three uncles and four cousins in the Service, so we were quite a service family. I served in several more lighthouses including South Foreland, Nab Tower, Lizard, Casquets and the Maplin Sands before finishing up at Pendeen in 1940. So I had a good time and now have been enjoying my retirement for 33 years. So I am what they call one of the “bad bargains”.

But I hope to go on enjoying it as long as the Good Lord gives me the health and strength to do it…”

Lizard Point, Cornwall, lighthouse, lighthouse keeper, Trinity House, history, lighthouse service, British maritime history

Lizard at Night from Housel Bay

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 20 November

1945

THV Alert is launched

Originally intended as a wartime cable-laying ship, Alert was taken over by Trinity House during the building stage for work as a lighthouse tender.

Although she required a considerable amount of time to get up to steam using her water tube boilers, she performed faithful service for 24 years and was decommissioned in 1970.

 


1961

The current Dungeness Lighthouse was first lit

The current Dungeness Lighthouse was first lit after being officially opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester, the Master of Trinity House.

A lighthouse at Dungeness was first lit around 1615.

Dungeness Lighthouse (1975)

Dungeness Lighthouse (1975)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 16 November

1621

The Elder Brethren advise the King’s Navy

Trinity House Court Minutes:

“Commissioners of Navy to Trinity House asking them to consider a plott for a baracado in the Medway.”

“Commissioners of Navy asking Trinity House to examine and report on ship MayfIower, offered for sale as a man-of-war to the King.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 14 November

1741

The Sovereign’s Pilot

Trinity House Board Minute:

“Mr. Jeffrey Curtis, one of our Pilots, having lately conducted His Majesty’s sloop, the Hawk, from Galleons Reach to the Orkney Islands, thence on a cruise to Iceland and back to the Nore, and there being no established rates for the whole of that service, The Hon. The Comptroller of the Navy was pleased to consult this Board and to desire their opinion thereon which was that Eighteen pounds is a reasonable rate for conducting the said sloop Out and Nine pounds Home: The trip to be rated at seventy days and the excess of time according to the usage of the Navy.

On his proposing a farther case about the pilotage of a sloop from Heligolandup the River Yezer and down the said River to the sea: the Board were of opinion that it will be reasonable to allow the Pilot over and above the Established rates five pounds for his Extra Pilotage of the Sloop up the said River and five pounds more for bringing her down to the sea.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 12 November

1961

The East Goodwin Lightvessel Incident

The East Goodwin Lightvessel breaks adrift from her Assigned Position, endangering the lives of the men onboard.

21 LV East Goodwin (1973)

No. 21 Lightvessel at East Goodwin (1973)

From Trinity House’s Flash magazine at the time:

“When the first news about the East Goodwin [Lightvessel] breaking adrift was heard, the hearts of all members of the Service, no matter what the rank or job, must have gone out towards the crew in what turned out to be days of struggle against the elements. The fact that all was well in the end was indeed welcome news throughout the Service. The Light Vessel crew and the crew of Vestal must have lived through many anxious moments during the four days when the Light Vessel was off station. In the following articles both Mr. Harvey, Master of the Light Vessel and Mr. Tarrant, Commanding Officer of [THV] Vestal, have set down the sequence of events as seen from their own particular points of view.”

The Lightvessel

“On the night of the 12th November 1961, almost to the month of the seventh anniversary of the tragic episode involving the South Goodwin Light Vessel, one of her sister ships the East Goodwin was parted from her moorings in a North Easterly gale. When this news became a known fact, the crew were alerted to their various break-adrift positions. This operation was carried out with alacrity, the speed and the drift of the vessel was checked, and eventually she rode securely at 130 fathoms in 15 fathoms of water 2 miles E.N.E. of the South Goodwin Light Vessel. The Ship’s position was made known to the Chief Superintendent, Harwich, via Deal Coastguard.

By this time the Walmer Lifeboat was in attendance, and remained by the Light Vessel the whole of Sunday night. In the meantime a new cable was being put aboard the T.H.V. Vestal at Harwich to be transferred to the Light Vessel on arrival at her position.

The weather by this time had worsened, and the T.H.V. Vestal’s passage to the Light Vessel from Harwich was made in a Force 8 North Easterly gale, and it must have been a most uncomfortable trip for her crew, but they carried on despite the elements, and arrived at the position of the Light Vessel at 1400 on the Monday. The new cable for the Light Vessel had to be clenched together and this involved quite a lot of work. T.H.V. Vestal had to proceed to Trinity Bay to effect this in quieter waters.

In the meantime the Lifeboats in turn — Walmer, Dover and Ramsgate — stood by the Light Vessel and all concerned hoped that the weather would soon moderate and the operation of getting the Light Vessel back on her assigned position would be under way. The weather decided otherwise, and on Monday night the wind had increased to reach Force 10 in the north Easterly squalls. The Light Vessel had dragged to the Southwold, changing her bearings slightly, but was still secure on the Tuesday morning, and constant checks were being made on her position.

On the Tuesday afternoon the weather had moderated sufficiently to allow T.H.V. Vestal to come alongside the Light Vessel and to pass her the new cable, and place the anchor in position, after the Lightship had been towed to Trinity Bay and quieter waters.

On Wednesday the 15th of November, the Light Vessel was towed and relaid to position ½ cable to the Eastward of her charted position, to enable T.H.V. Vestal to grapnel for the lost anchor. This operation was successful and the Light Vessel was then placed on Station, and the drama was over.

Thanks are due to all who took part in this operation for its merciful conclusion.”

The Tender

“The first news of the East Goodwin having broken adrift reached Harwich just before 10 p.m. on Sunday, November 12th, during the Royal Command television programme. Deal Coastguard telephoned to say the Light Vessel appeared to be drifting South and a few minutes later confirmed this by a radio call to the lightship.

Immediate action was taken to call out the crew of T.H.V. Vestal by the ship on stand by for any emergency.

All hands were on board by 11 p.m. some of them turning out in response to the news flash on television, without waiting for the messenger to call. In the meantime T.H.V. Vestal had made R/T contact with the East Goodwin and we were relieved to learn that she had dropped her spare bower anchor and stopped her drift.

The Walmer Lifeboat had reached the Light Vessel by then and was standing by to take the men off if need be. She had been driven almost 6 miles from her station, and fortunately the direction had been parallel to the Sands and not on to them.

Harwich Depot staff had also been called out and they proceeded to load T.H.V. Vestal with a complete new Light Vessel riding cable, 270 fms. in 15 fm. lengths, and a 5 ton anchor. This was all on board by 2 a.m. on the Monday morning.

By that time the wind had increased to almost Force 9 from the N.E. and this, coupled with the flood tide, made it impracticable for the ship to leave at once without grave risk of damage.

At 4.30 a.m. conditions had improved a little, with the ebb tide, and T.H.V. Vestal got away safely.

The trip to the East Goodwin normally takes about 5 to 6 hours, but it was a very unpleasant 9 ½ hours before she was reached this time. T.H.V. Vestal then fixed her position as being 2 ½ miles East of the South Goodwin Light Vessel and this was reported in order that shipping could be warned about the situation.

Conditions at the Light Vessel were far too rough to take her in tow, and T.H.V. Vestal sought the comparative shelter offered under the lee of the Goodwins, some 5 miles away, in order to start the work of clenching up the new cable. The Walmer Lifeboat was relieved at 2 p.m. by the Dover Lifeboat, having been guarding the Light Vessel since 11 p.m. the previous night. The Dover boat kept watch until 10 p.m. when she was relieved by the Ramsgate boat for the night watch. These crews had a most unpleasant task, and all praise is due to them for sticking it out. The sea was so bad that they were continually soaked by spray and were not able to smoke or make a hot drink at any time.

THV Vestal spent a very uncomfortable night at anchor with the wind reaching Force 10 in gusts and a heavy sea running, even on the lee side of the Goodwins. The Light Vessel was even more uncomfortable of course, and nobody on board had much sleep.

On Tuesday morning, the weather had improved slightly and T.H.V. Vestal was able to stay near the Light vessel, although it was still not fit to take her in tow. About mid-day it was apparent that the weather had moderated sufficiently so that T.H.V. Vestal could lower her boat if it should be necessary, and so the Lifeboat was recalled to her station.

When the Light Vessel’s position had been determined by T.H.V. Vestal it seemed highly probable that she was hooked on to a submarine telephone cable which was known to run close by. In consultation with the Post Office authorities it was decided by Trinity House that the Light Vessel’s anchor and cable should be slipped if necessary, rather than risk damage to the telephone cable. In such cases the Post Office pays for the lost gear as it saves them a greater expense should damage be done in trying to clear the foul anchor.
On Wednesday morning the wind was still fresh, but conditions were fit to take the Light Vessel in tow. T.H.V. Vestal anchored ahead of her and passed a line aboard before weighing the Light Vessel’s anchor. This was found to be foul of something, as suspected, and the anchor cable was cut at 15 fms. and then slipped.

In order to transfer the new cable and anchor T.H.V. Vestal took her in tow into the shelter of the Goodwins and commenced this work on the Wednesday afternoon. By nightfall the new cable and anchor were on the Light Vessel and the remains of her old cable had been removed. Both ships then stayed at anchor in order to catch up on some lost sleep.

Early on Thursday morning the wind and sea had dropped right away and the Lightship was soon back on station. She was laid slightly away from her Assigned Position in order to give room for a search by grapnel for the lost moorings.

This search continued from about 10.15 a.m. until the old cable was hooked at 3.30 p.m. During the search another lost anchor with about 90 fms. of cable attached was recovered, and also an aircraft propellor was dredged up. The anchor and cable had been on the bottom for a long time, and it would be interesting to know under what circumnstances it was lost.
Recovery of the Light Vessel’s anchor with the remnant of cable took about 2 hours hard work. When it was all on board, the Lightship was moved into her proper position, and by 6 p.m. she was finally back home, and watching over the Goodwin Sands once more, having been “absent from duty” for almost 4 days.”

Tribute from HRH Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester, the Master of Trinity House

“Now that you are back on Station I wish as Master of Trinity House to thank you and your crew for your exceptional devotion to duty which has earned the admiration of your fellow countrymen and has been a fine example to us all. The Duchess and I have shared the feelings of your families and of all the Trinity House Service during those anxious days now mercifully passed.”

On This Day in Trinity House History – 9 November

1670

The Elder Brethren Sacrifice Their Salary For Victims of Piracy

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Towards the redemption of captives now at Algiers every Elder Brother is to allow a turn, and if the next turn does not amount to £3 it is to be made up to £3, and every Younger Brother to allow 6/8, and their next turn is to be stopped for it.”

‘Turns’ were the payment to Elder and Younger Brethren before salaries were introduced in 1822.


1915

Trinity House During the Second World War

The Corporation’s steam vessel THV lrene was sunk near the Tongue, with the loss of twenty-one lives, including the Master, after contact with a mine when on special service.

PHILLIPS, Hugh Leopold Master, THV Irene
THOMAS, Harold Frederic 2nd Mate, THV Irene
DEWAR, Henry Ritchie 1st Engineer, THV Irene
ALDERSON, Joseph Coxswain, THV Irene
BARBER, Walter Henry Seaman, THV Irene
BARNES, Edward Stephen Seaman, THV Irene
BATT, Walter Edwin Trimmer, THV Irene
BAYLEY, Robert William Cook, THV Irene
BLAKEMORE, Alfred Fireman, THV Irene
CLARKE, George Fireman, THV Irene
COOK, William George Fireman, THV Irene
EADES, George Augustus Fireman, THV Irene
GIBBS, William Edward Fireman, THV Irene
GODFREY, Thomas William Seaman, THV Irene
HAZELL, Frederick William Trimmer, THV Irene
HILL, David Trimmer, THV Irene
KERR, Thomas Seaman, THV Irene
MERRALLS, William Thomas Fireman, THV Irene
MURRELL, Walter Steward, THV Irene
POWELL, Percival Arthur Seaman, THV Irene
TRICKER, William James Steward, THV Irene
WALKER, William James Kinsey Seaman, THV Irene
THV Irene 1907

THV Irene 1907

On This Day in Trinity House History – 4 November

1717

Skerries Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Skerries Lighthouse is lit for the first time by a private owner. It was purchased by Trinity House in 1841, the last privately owned lighthouse in the British Isles to be bought by Trinity House.

The rocks upon which the Skerries Lighthouse stands are at the end of a low tract of submerged land North-East of Holyhead which lies directly in the path of many of the major shipping lines from Liverpool and Ireland. The lighthouse gives a guide to passing shipping and a warning of the dangerous rocks.

A light was proposed on the Skerries as early as 1658, by Henry Mascard, a private speculator who saw the lucrative possibilities of the tolls that could be levied on the site, but this was opposed by Trinity House, as was a petition in 1705 from the Irish Sea Traders. In 1714, William Trench, who actually held the lease of the Skerries was granted a patent by Queen Anne for the building of a light. For a Crown Rent of £5 a year, Trench was given the right to levy dues of one penny per ship and twopence per ton of cargo, but far from being the profitable venture which he envisaged, the Skerries proved to be his ruin. When the light was first kindled on 4 November 1717, William Trench was wealthy but traders and mariners evading payment of dues caused him to fall heavily into debt. He died in 1729 a ruined man.

After Trench’s death the lease passed to his daughter, and because of the nature of the debt, an Act of Parliament was passed to give his family sole claim to the Skerries. This act caused a great deal of embarrassment to Trinity House. In 1834 when an attempt was made to purchase the patent for this lighthouse, the proprietor, Morgan Jones, asserted that under this Act he was absolved from any responsibility to sell. For five years after the Act of 1836 which empowered Trinity House to purchase all private lighthouses, he opposed the purchase, the Skerries by this time being an extremely profitable light. It was finally purchased by Trinity House in 1841 for over £444,984, the last privately owned lighthouse in the British Isles to be bought by Trinity House.

The original coal-burning grate which surmounted the tower was replaced in 1804 by an oil lamp, and was subsequently converted to electric operation in 1927. The lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and demanned in 1987 and is now remotely monitored and controlled from The Trinity House Planning Centre at Harwich.

Skerries Lighthouse

Skerries Lighthouse