On This Day in Trinity House History – 16 January

1947

BBC Men Stranded on Bishop Rock are Rescued

“I spent three years as a prisoner-of-war, and would rather go behind barbed wire again than face a further few weeks on that damned rock.”

Edward Ward, BBC Reporter

Edward Ward and Stanley Coombs of the BBC are rescued from the Bishop Rock after bad weather strands them at the lighthouse for 29 days.

In December 1946 the BBC’s radio features department revived the pre-war round-the-world link-up of Christmas Day greetings which preceded the annual message from the Monarch. So Edward Ward and an engineer set off for Bishop Rock Lighthouse, the most westerly part of England, some 40 miles off Cornwall and seven from the Isles of Scilly, to record the Yuletide contribution from the isolated keepers.

The two men had planned to stay on the lighthouse for only a few days, but the same gale-force winds and heavy seas that featured in their Christmas round-up were also preventing their scheduled relief.

For almost a month the weather did not let up, and with five men on station the supply of fresh food dwindled; the lighthouse keepers radioed Trinity House for permission to break into the emergency stores of bully beef and biscuits.

“It was always the same old walls,”  Ward recalled,

“living completely in one room about 15ft. in diameter, and the only change of view was a trip up to the light above, and walk around the balcony or a trip down into the rock’s ‘vitals’ to look at bits of machinery… I made my own bed each day and helped with the kitchen and house work… Then there was always the polishing of the light and wireless talks with other lighthouses and the coastguard station ashore. But it was all pretty boring once the novelty wore off… we had nothing stronger than tea to drink, and towards the end the cigarettes ran out.”

On the 29th day, a lifeboat boat made it to the lighthouse and the men were lowered by rope towards the boat through the surf.

It took just ten minutes to leave the lighthouse in the breeches-buoy and reach the lifeboat,” he told the gathered newspaper reporters, “but it was the longest ten minutes of my life… There I was, dangling on what seemed a dreadfully thin rope between the sky and the boiling sea. It was not funny at all.”

Now remembered as one of the very best of the BBC’s war correspondents, Ward (1905-1993) was held as a POW in Italy and Germany from 1941-45; four or five days on a lighthouse must have seemed  a relatively trouble-free assignment in comparison. He signed off his stretch as a lighthouse keeper with a palpable sense of relief:

I wore the same shirt for 29 days, and I am fed up of the sight of it. Now I am going home for a bath, a drink, and a change of clothes, and I hope I don’t get another job like that in a hurry.”

Relief Overdue Bishop Rock newspaper clipping

Relief Overdue Bishop Rock newspaper clipping

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The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 4 of 4

The following account of one woman’s life as both a daughter and a wife of men serving in the Trinity House lighthouse service was published in the April and July editions of Flash magazine in 1961.

This fascinating recollection was written by Aurelie Trezise, wife of Cyril Trezise BEM. Cyril (b.1900, d. 1970) joined Trinity House as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1919 and retired in March 1962.

Part 1 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 2 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 3 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 4 of 4: 1929 – 1961

“After spending three years on the Island the Flatholm Lighthouse was made into a Rock Station [i.e. the station and its dwellings would be occupied solely by the lighthouse keepers, and their families would be shore based], this was in the year 1929, so once again we packed our own furniture and were naturally quite excited at the thought of living on the mainland again. The families and furniture were taken ashore in THV Vestal to Swansea in which town I was to reside for the next 4 ½ years. I had a very pleasant time in Swansea enjoying the facilities of town life and made many friends. This was only the second time in my life that I had lived in a town. During this period I had a child of my own so I had plenty to occupy my time whilst my husband was away doing duty at Flatholm Lighthouse and Lundy North Lighthouse.

I was very pleased when in 1933 we were transferred to Trevose Lighthouse. During the five years at Trevose I spent some of the happiest times of my life. All the station personnel were like one big happy family, a most enjoyable time indeed for me. During the summer months my neighbours and I spent many enjoyable hours on the lovely sandy beaches nearby taking the children with us, all as happy as skylarks, bathing, sunbathing, picnicking and playing open air games in the sun.

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

We spent quite a happy and comfortable time there for 2 ½ years then world war two ended and on the liberation of the Channel Islands my husband had orders to take up his appointment as Principal keeper to the Les Hanois Lighthouse, Guernsey. Away my husband went to do duty there leaving my son and I behind, for at the time the housing situation and travelling to the Channel Islands were very unsettled. I was left to make all arrangements with the Superintendent, Isle of Wight depot to have my furniture stored in Southampton pending my obtaining accommodation in Guernsey. In the meantime my son and I went into lodgings near the Lighthouse at Souter Point, remaining in these lodgings for seven months during which time I made numerous enquiries in Guernsey. Eventually I was fortunate enough to get a house on rental and in due course my son and I arrived in Guernsey and my furniture shortly afterwards.

We spent five very happy years there. During the last two years my husband was stationed at Sark Lighthouse. To me Guernsey was an ideal place to live, such lovely scenery, cliff walks, sandy bays and most of all the people were very sociable and entertaining – I made numerous friends and when the time came to leave the Island I was really sorry to go.

Sark Lighthouse

Sark Lighthouse

In 1951 we were transferred to Dungeness Lighthouse, so once again I was back to my old home as a child. I pictured Dungeness as I had left it, but of course over the years there was quite a big change in its appearance, especially in the increased growth of vegetation amongst the shingle and there were buildings on the headland. Of the local people living on the headland were quite a few I knew as a child at school which made me feel at home in a very short space of time and life went on very peacefully and happily for a year or so.

Then orders came for my husband to be transferred to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse, Isle of Wight. I was really disappointed with this news as I should have liked to have remained at Dungeness a little longer; like most of us one always feels a little heartache at leaving so many friends and a place one likes, but, this was not to be , so off we went to the Isle of Wight. We were at St. Catherine’s just under three years, quite a happy time spent there, liking it very much. But owing to family reasons my husband in 1955 applied for the post of Principal Keeper at Withernsea Lighthouse which of course is a man and wife station, the wife acting as a “female assistant keeper”. Arriving in that year at our present home at Withernsea, which is quite a pleasant place to live. I have had quite a happy time although kept very busy in one way or another. We have no fog signal and that’s one thing I do miss when it’s foggy weather. It takes such a great deal of getting used to that it makes one feel so conscious of something missing – as I had always been used to fog signals at all the stations I had previously resided at.

Withernsea Lighthouse

Withernsea Lighthouse

With all my life in the service as a light keeper’s daughter and keeper’s wife it has brought to my mind that I have lived and made my home at eighteen various places around England, including living on five different Islands, so have not done so badly travelling around at the expense of the Service and seeing quite a lot of England’s coastline.

It has been my life throughout having known no other. I have always felt life is what one makes it and I can sincerely say with such a varied and interesting life I have been quite content and happy in the Service which up to the time of writing is 57 years. Quite often I have turned to my husband with a smile and said that when he retires I think I deserve to be superannuated from the Service like him, but I am afraid that is being very optimistic.”

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 3 of 4

The following account of one woman’s life as both a daughter and a wife of men serving in the Trinity House lighthouse service was published in the April and July editions of Flash magazine in 1961.

This fascinating recollection was written by Aurelie Trezise, wife of Cyril Trezise BEM. Cyril (b.1900, d. 1970) joined Trinity House as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1919 and retired in March 1962.

Part 1 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 2 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 3 of 4: 1926 – 1929

“Some months later in May 1926 my husband had orders to transfer to Flatholm Lighthouse, then classified as a land light, but which was on an island in the Bristol Channel – a station which was considered by the keepers in those days as the worst land light in the Service. At this time my husband was off on the South Bishop Lighthouse, so the news of my husband’s transfer was brought to me at my house by a keeper sent from the Neyland Depot. This was at the time rather amusing for the keeper said that he had some bad news to tell me, I asked “Whatever can that be?”. He replied “You are being transferred to Flatholm Lighthouse” so I said “That’s a land light, isn’t it?” “Yes”, was the reply, “Well” I said, “you could not have given me any better news.” I had to laugh to see his expression, he was absolutely dumbstruck. “Well, well” he said, “you are the first person in the Service I ever heard say they were pleased to go to that place.”

Flatholm Lighthouse and Fog Signal House

Flatholm Lighthouse and Fog Signal House

As I have mentioned before, in those days we had to do our own packing, and being used to it needless to say I started packing right away. When my husband came ashore from the Rock he was surprised to see that almost everything was packed ready for moving.

In due course we arrived at Flatholm Island via Cardiff having been taken to the Island with our furniture by THV Triton. At this time Flatholm Lighthouse was a three years station.

At first we were nine adults only on the Island including the resident caretaker and his wife who looked after an Isolation Hospital there. We soon settled down on the Island and in all we were a very happy community. Most of the young people made the best of things in spite of the solitude.

The caretaker of the Island was also the only boatman and of course was recognised by the Service for bringing our main and food stuff etc. from the mainland which was once per week weather permitting.

My husband was allowed ashore once a year on three weeks’ annual leave taking me with him, of course, so you can imagine how delighted I was to set foot on the mainland if only for a brief period each year. This annual event being the only time I could visit the shops for buying many personal necessities to take back with me to the Island, and naturally as far as funds would allow in those days I always enjoyed our annual holidays, sightseeing and shopping sprees.

The crossing to and fro from the Island could be very tricky at times, as the tidal currents were very strong around the Island. The boatman’s boat was only a 16ft sailing boat and run single handed. Many a time the boatman on his weekly trips to Cardiff would, owing to bad weather, be delayed several days at a time, both from the Island and at Cardiff, so one had to put up with many disappointments but these were soon forgotten when the boat arrived with our mail etc.

I shall always remember my first winter on the Island, as the weather was unusually severe. The boatman went ashore to Cardiff on the 16th of November and did not return until 23rd January owing to continuous gales. The first three weeks we did not mind so much, but with Christmas drawing near we were all getting very concerned whether we should get a boat with provisions and mail for Christmas. Our stock of perishable foods was very low and we were also right out of cigarettes and tobacco.

There was now a baby on the Island who was being fed on Nestles milk. We all gave our tins of milk to the keeper’s wife with the baby, so now the rest of us were all out of milk. At the time I also had a mechanic lodging with me. Christmas came and went and still no boat as the weather continued to be very bad. We had, by this time, run out of perishable goods, such as butter, bacon, yeast etc. We now had to make baking powder bread, for fresh meat we managed to catch a rabbit now and again. On the night of January 22nd all on the Island got together and had a talk about the food situation. It was then decided as the baby was now left with only two tins of milk we should have to inform the District Superintendent via Penarth Coastguard station by Morse lamp of our plight, but during the evening the wind seemed to moderate so that the Principal Keeper decided to wait until the morning before sending any message. All on the Island were up bright an early the next morning. The wind and sea had gone down considerably but we were still doubtful whether a boat would make the crossing. Suddenly, one of the keepers shouted out “I think I can see our boatman coming out of Cardiff harbour.” Fortunately the wind and sea was moderating all the time. Everyone was excited now looking through our glasses watching the boat coming. The boat was being tossed about quite a lot, but once it got near the Monkstone [beacon] we knew the boatman would make it to the Island’s landing beach. Realising this the men went to get the donkey and cart to carry the provisions etc. from the landing to each house, this being the only means of transport on the little Island.

The other keeper’s wife and myself hurried indoors and made our fires up in readiness to cook ourselves what, we called afterwards, “a smashing dinner”. Everyone was on the beach to meet the boat – you can imagine how it did our eyes good to see all the provisions, parcels and mail. What a day that was, everyone smiling and looking more cheerful than we had for many days. After we had had a good cooked dinner, the rest of the day was spent opening Christmas parcels, reading letters and all of us enjoying a jolly good smoke.

Flatholm Lighthouse

Flatholm Lighthouse

Another little episode I experienced at Flatholm gave me at the time quite a big headache – I was now the oldest woman on the Island being 22 ½ years old. I was living at the cottage by the Fog Signal House four minutes’ walk from the Lighthouse Tower. Early one morning at 4 a.m. I was awakened by a loud tapping on the bedroom window. I asked who was there, the other Assistant Keeper of the station answered and said would I come at once to his wife as she was very ill, I replied “You get back to her, I’ll be up to her as soon as possible.” On arrival I found his wife was in bed on the verge of having a miscarriage. I attended to her to the best of my knowledge, and informed the Principal Keeper that a Doctor was needed. The weather was very bad at the time and a message had to be signalled ashore for the Doctor. In the meantime I had the Keeper’s wife on my hands for three days and nights, trusting to providence I was treating her rightly. The Doctor eventually arrived and how relieved and pleased I was to see him. Anyway, the patient though ill was fairly comfortable and the Doctor seemed pleased and complimented me on the way I had looked after her. After this event, life for me went on very happily and peacefully for a few months and the came another worrying time.

The boatman’s wife was taken ill and I was sent for. I did all I could for her that afternoon and night but in the morning she was so poorly that she had to be taken ashore in her husband’s 16ft boat to Cardiff with myself in attendance. I accompanied her to her flat and sent for the Doctor and arranged to leave her in the good hands of relatives. Fortunately the weather was fine and I returned to the Island the following day with the boatman. After landing he informed me that he would be returning to Cardiff the next day and asked me if I would look after his place for him. I replied, yes certainly, but I was wondering how I would get on looking after all his chickens, 60 in all, with quite a number of them nesting, six goats to feed and milk daily and to cap it all a lady dog which was soon to have puppies. The best of it was I had never milked goats in my life. Oh what a game I had trying to get milk from them the very first time. I tried on the eldest nanny first. It took me an hour struggling away before I managed to draw any milk. Eventually I got the knack of it and managed to do the other five goats. I often have a good laugh to myself when I recall to mind these little incidents. Added to all this the other Assistant Keeper’s wife became poorly again, and went ashore with her baby to see the Doctor. Within two days the boatman returned with the Keeper’s wife and baby and a mechanic for the station, but the Keeper’s wife had only returned to collect together some extra clothes as she had to return to Cardiff again and remain ashore at least four months as another baby was coming along and things were not going too well with her, and would I look after her baby whilst she was ashore. To crown it all I also had to lodge another mechanic. Well, well, I thought, here I am only just 23 years of age and not so very long married myself. What worried me most was I never had any experience with the handling of babies before, I really thought I should go grey overnight.

I was now the only woman left on the Island, the boatman’s wife being still ill on shore. Her husband, the boatman, remained ashore whilst his wife was ill and only visited the Island at weekends to bring our mail and provisions and to take our mail, and grocery orders by return for the following week, weather permitting. What with looking after my husband, lodger, baby, the boatman’s house and all his farm family of chickens, goats, dogs with puppies, and donkeys and in addition with the men on the Island often visiting me to tell me of all their little troubles, I sure had a hectic time of it. But with it all the men were very good to me and assisted all they could in one way or another. In fact I think I had more jolly good laughs at the time than I ever had before or since listening to their jocular remarks and advice on how to do this or that, but oh how I wished sometimes for another woman’s company. I was the only woman on the Island for four months before the other Keeper’s wife returned to the station with her second child – one can imagine how pleased I was to see her.

The following 12 months passed away more or less uneventfully excepting for the occasional overdue boat to which one got accustomed. We were a small community on a very small island, but we were all a very friendly and jolly crowd making our own amusements with the usual game of cards of an evening and often picnicking in the centre of the Island, all joining in the fun and making life as pleasant as possible. But sometimes I would look across the channel to the mainland rather pensively watching the trains and cars travelling to and fro along the coastline and the lights of the towns twinkling away at night made one wish one could walk ashore whenever one felt like it.”


Mrs. Trezise’s story will continue in the very near future.

Solitary Confinement at Godrevy Lighthouse, 1925

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

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 the July 1960 edition of Trinity House’s 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.”

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Trinity House!

We hope everyone stays safe at sea (and everywhere else), especially at this cold, dark time of the year.

To help celebrate the period, we still have a number of seasonal cards and the 2013 calendar is still on offer at the online store.

For those of you wondering what the holiday period meant for lighthouse keepers, the following festive account is reproduced from Trinity House’s Flash magazine of 1987:

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S CHRISTMAS

by Principal Keeper Handel (‘Andy’) Bluer, Pendeen Lighthouse  [1987]

It is the middle of December and a gale is blowing. The sky is dark although it is mid-day and the sea is the colour of lead with long white streaks of windblown spume scarring the surface.

The sort of day to put some more coal on the fire and curl up in front of it with a book if you do not HAVE to go out.

But there are people who DO have to go out and the keeper returning to the Lighthouse is one of them.

His period of leave is over and he huddles in the shelter of the buildings at the tiny airfield waiting for the sound of the approaching helicopter above the howling wind.

Eventually the helicopter comes into view its navigation lights flashing and twinkling in the gloom. Lower and lower it descends, facing the buffeting wind until it lands, not too far, from the waiting Keeper and his trolley loaded with boxes of stores.

This year he will be spending Christmas at the Lighthouse with two colleagues already out there and the boxes contain all the food they will need for the next month together, with some ‘extras’ for Christmas Day.

Once all the boxes are stowed into the cargo space of the helicopter the Keeper climbs in through a side door and sits on a bench seat behind the pilot and engineer. The rotor blades spin faster and faster and the tiny helicopter is in the air once more and is immediately blown sideways with the force of the gale but the pilot skilfully corrects the course and heads for the “Tower” some six miles further out in the Atlantic Ocean. After a few minutes flying they see it.

It looks very like a tall factory chimney standing all alone in the sea but with a lot of scaffolding around the top. As they get nearer the ‘scaffolding’ is revealed as a strong steel structure supporting a platform on which the helicopter will land. The platform doesn’t look very big but as they approach they see that it is quite large enough for their helicopter.

After landing all the boxes are unloaded and lowered through hatches in the landing platform to the Keepers waiting below. When all this has been done the Keeper going home climbs into the helicopter taking the place of the Keeper reporting for duty. A quick wave from the pilot and the helicopter zooms up and away, heading for land again.

On the Lighthouse the Keepers begin the task of emptying the boxes and stowing away the meat in the freezer or the ‘fridge. As they do so they are chatting eagerly and passing on the latest bits of news from ashore and from the other Lighthouses. Then, as they open one box, they find a letter inside. It’s from the local Round Table/Rotary Clubs informing them that this is a hamper donated specially to the Keepers who will be away from home this Christmas.

Apart from a plump fowl they find a big cake and a super box of crackers. Everything else in the hamper is in threes… three tins of fruit, three small Christmas puddings, three net ‘stockings’ of oranges, apples and nuts, and so on ensuring that each man gets an equal share of the ‘Goodies’. This may not be the only ‘present’ the Keepers get because sometimes the local Church will send out a hamper and occasionally Lighthouses get “adopted” by Guides or Brownie Packs or schools who will send letters and cards to let the Keepers know that they will not be forgotten.

It looks as though the Keepers will have a splendid time after all because, of course, they have all got presents from their own families too.

But, in the meantime, the work of the Lighthouse must go on. Every morning when the sun is above the horizon the light is extinguished and heavy curtains hung down the interior of the lantern to protect the ‘Optic’ from the sun. The Optic is a series of very strong lenses some six feet in diameter mounted in a bronze and steel rotating framework weighing about two and a half tonnes. It is massive and as soon as the curtains have been hung the Keeper sets to dust and polish it and oil the machinery and generally see that all is ready for lighting up later that evening.

Different days bring different tasks designed to keep the Lighthouse in tip top condition. One day is given over to washing the glazing… the ‘windows’ of the lantern… and although the insides are easy, it is a different matter when the Keeper has to clean the outsides, one hundred and eighty feet above the sea!!! Then there are the engines and electric generators to clean and overhaul so that they are ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Every day the floors will be swept and washed all the way down from the lantern to the entrance door… eight flights of curving stairs down!!

Only when the Keeper has finished all his routine duties is he free to spend time on his hobby or even just reading. Nowadays every Lighthouse has radio and colour television but keepers still will often spend time together playing games like Chess, Cards or Dominoes.

Christmas time is the time when they really ‘get-together’.

A couple of days before Christmas they put up a few streamers and decorations in the Sitting Room and display all the cards they have received and, from the cupboard under the stairs, they retrieve the old plastic Christmas tree that they have had for years. A few baubles and bits of tinsel and the room takes on quite a festive air.

All at once it is Christmas.

At breakfast the Keepers greet each other and exchange little gifts then, as soon as breakfast is over start to unwrap the presents from their families. There are “Oooh’s” and “Aaah’s” and “Blow-me-Downs” intermingled with the laughter as the brightly coloured wrapping paper covers the floor.

Over the extra cup of coffee they sit silent and their eyes glaze a little as they perhaps picture their own children opening presents under the Christmas tree at home.

“Come on… Shift yourselves!” calls one Keeper. “Can’t sit ‘ere all day”. He is ‘Cook-of-the-Day’ today and there is a bird to get in the oven, a pudding to steam, potatoes to roast and sprouts to boil and a hundred and one things that go towards dinner on Christmas Day.

The other two leave the Kitchen and take the opportunity to telephone home their “Merry Christmasses” to their respective families.

Christmas dinner is superb. The bird is done to a turn, the stuffing mouth watering. The ‘taters are brown and crisp and the pudding with Brandy Sauce… Mmmm.!! They really enjoy it and pretend not to notice the pile of pans and dishes in the sink waiting to be washed up.

Eventually when every cup is back on its hook and every pan In its place in the rack the Keepers retire to the Sitting Room where they will relax for a while. Coloured paper hats are donned as they pull a cracker or two. Then out come the ‘once-a-year’ fat cigars that seem to signify Christmas to a lot of men… and possibly a glass of home-made wine as they sit back and watch the Queen on the ‘telly’.

After the Queen’s Speech they jump up and turn on the radio transmitter. It has been a tradition ever since radio was introduced that, on Christmas Day afternoon, each Lighthouse will, on a special frequency, call up the neighbouring lights … some may be up to a hundred miles away… and in turn will serenade each other with a Carol or two that they have rehearsed. How the families ashore enjoy it, for they too have been listening in on the radio back home and for a few minutes the Keepers do not seem too far away after all.

But soon the reality of their position is brought home to the Keepers again as the approaching dusk tells them it is time to ‘light-up’. The Keeper on duty will go down to the engine room near the base of the Tower and starts up one of the powerful diesel engines that powers a large electric generator. When everything is running smoothly, he toils up the stairs again all the way up to the lantern. There he takes down the heavy protective curtains, switches on the electric motor to rotate the Optic then, after testing the ‘Standby Lamp’, throws the switch to light the ‘main’ lamp of some 3,500 Watts. The blinding light is magnified by the lenses in the Optic and rhythmic, monotonous spokes of light are revolving out over the sea. All night the five million candlepower beams will signal to passing ships the location of the lighthouse and signpost a safe passage for them.

In the Kitchen the kettle has boiled again and a pot of strong tea is brewed. The remainder of the bird is eaten, the cake is cut and shared out with a bowl of fruit and cream for each man.

After tea it is back to the Sitting Room again for more crackers and nuts and television for the rest or the evening… except for one man. He is on duty and often must leave the room to check the light… the engines… the visibility for even the slightest gathering of mist will alert him to prepare the Fog Signal machinery.

Hopefully that will not be necessary but he notices that the barometer is reading lower and they may be in for another gale. “Ah well!” he thinks; “We aren’t going anywhere for a while anyway and here inside the Lighthouse we are warm and safe.” “I’m Cook-of-the-Day tomorrow, Boxing Day, and there’s that Leg of Pork and Parsnips and Apple Sauce.”

“Merry Christmas”.

Pendeen Lighthouse

Pendeen Lighthouse

Editor’s note accompanying article:

Pendeen Lighthouse was established in 1900. In David Mudd’s book “Cornish Sea Lights” the author says of the station “It is not to the disgrace of the lighthouse to say that it has had an uneventful and unspectacular life and that in the period from the switching on of the electric light in 1926 to the outbreak of war its records are amongst the least exciting of any in Britain…”

H. (Andy) Bluer reckons that nothing has really altered. However there was a flurry of excitement in 1985 when the Crown Prince of Japan made an unscheduled visit. For all that, Pendeen has one of the most picturesque situations in the land standing between Gurnard’s Head and Cape Cornwall warning mariners of the danger of the Wra Stones off the head.

The first beacon was an ecclesiastical foundation, established in the sixteenth century as an adjunct to the nearby Chapel of St. Nicholas. It was maintained for the benefit of mariners to the cost of the church, and tended by a hermit; the antiquary John Leland (1506-52) notes that there stood “a pharos for a light for ships failing by night in these quarters”. The beacon disappeared at the dissolution of the monasteries.

The present lighthouse, established in 1900, and built of rubble stone rendered with cement mortar, was designed by a Cornishman, Sir Thomas Matthews, who was Engineer-in-Chief to Trinity House from 1892-1915.

Mr. Bluer’s tale was published in September 1986 by A & C Black in their children’s classwork A Christmas Tinderbox.