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

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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.”