On This Day in Trinity House History – 25 December

1925

Solitary Confinement at Godrevy Lighthouse

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 a later edition of 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.”

Season’s Greetings from Trinity House!

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

On This Day in Trinity House History – 1 December

1806

Flamborough Head Lighthouse is lit for the first time

The current Flamborough Head Lighthouse is first lit.

The following description of the lighthouse is taken from Joseph Cotton’s Memoir on the Origin and Incorporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond written in 1818:

“The site of Flamborough Head was of all others the most calculated for a lighthouse, either for coasters or for vessels from the Baltic and North Sea, but it was not concurred in by the trade until lately, when its utility having been admitted, the present lighthouse was erected, and the light exhibited upon the principle of the Scilly light, but with coloured red glass in front of the burners, by which it is distinguished from Cromer.”

Flamborough Head watercolour

Flamborough Head watercolour


1737

Flatholm Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Flatholm Lighthouse was first lit by private lessees.

The Island of Flatholm lies centrally in the busy shipping lanes where the Bristol Channel meets the Severn estuary. The need for a lighthouse on the island had been discussed for many years by leading shipmasters and by members of the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol when, in 1733, John Elbridge, a senior member of the Society, forwarded a petition to Trinity House setting out the dangers to navigation and the general desire for a light on the island. However, Trinity House informed Elbridge that no application had been made to the Crown for a light and at the same time the Corporation took steps to ensure that no light was erected other than in their name.

In April 1735, William Crispe of Bristol informed Trinity House that he had leased Flat Holm Island for 99 years from John Stuart, Earl of Bute, and wished to build a lighthouse at his own expense, but in the name of Trinity House. Crispe may have demanded too high a toll, or possibly he was not prepared to pay enough to build the tower considered essential for an efficient light by the Society of Merchant Venturers. At their meeting on 9 May his scheme was rejected.

At the end of 1736 sixty soldiers were drowned when a vessel was wrecked near the Holms, and this gave added impetus for further negotiations to erect a light. On 17 March 1737 William Crispe attended at the Hall of the Merchant Venturers with new proposals. The merchants then agreed to support a petition to Trinity House and this was submitted to Trinity House on 2 April. In the petition Crispe stated that the society of Merchant Venturers required the following tolls:

For all Bristol ships to or from foreign parts 1½d per ton both inward and outward, according to their reports of tonnage at the custom house, and double these dues on foreign ships. For all coasting vessels to or from Ireland 1d per ton: vessels from St. David’s Head or Lands End up the Bristol Channel (market boats and fishing boats excepted) one shilling for every voyage inward and one shilling outward”.

The Merchant Venturers insisted that Crispe should lay out not less than £900 for the building of the tower. This he said he would do, and also that he would pay the expenses of Trinity House in obtaining the Crown patent for the light. In return he would expect to be granted a lease at a yearly rental of £5. The Corporation agreed at their next meeting on 9 April, 1737, to apply for a patent and grant him a lease from the kindling of the light to Lady Day 1834, when the lease had expired at a yearly rental of £5 for the first thirty years and thereafter at £10 for the remainder of the term. The lease was finally signed and a light was first shown on 1st December 1737.

 

Trinity House became responsible for the light on 21 March 1823.

Flatholm Lighthouse

Flatholm Lighthouse


1847

Trevose Head Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Trevose Head Lighthouse is lit for the first time.

A lighthouse was first proposed for this area of the North Cornish coast as early as 1809 there being no light at that time to guide ships trading in the Bristol Channel other than the Longships to the south and the old Lundy light to the north.

The position was further considered by Trinity House in 1813 and again in 1832, but it was not until 1st December 1847 that an oil light comprising wicks backed with reflectors, was first lit at Trevose Head.

The light is situated on the north west extremity of the head, with gigantic cliffs of grey granite rising sheer from the sea to a height of 150 feet or more. The area, like so much of the Devon and Cornish coastline is constantly threatened by sea mists that make even the most powerful lights seem like candles.

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)


 

1966

The Varne Lightvessel Incident

The No. 95 Lightvessel stationed at the Varne was almost dragged on to hazardous nearby shoals by Force 10/11 storm conditions. The event was later written up in Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

“At the enquiry into the circumstances under which the VARNE (No. 95) Light Vessel dragged her anchor on the night 1st/2nd December, 1966, the Chairman of the Light Committee told Mr. W. Bate, the Light Vessel’s Master how very much the Elder Brethren appreciated the fact that the whole crew returned to their ship without hesitation after experiencing such hazards. 

“We all did our best”, said Mr. Bate.

To those of us who serve Trinity House from behind an office desk doing one’s best rarely calls for heroism, but the ‘best’ of Mr. Bate and his crew needed courage and devotion to duty which was in all respects in accordance with the best traditions of the Service.

Such devotion and fine seamanship were also displayed by Commander E.J. Lawrence of T.H.V. SIREN, his Officers and crew, for their part in standing by the Light Vessel under appalling weather conditions and eventually towing her back to her assigned position.

The Varne incident began at 2100 on 1st December 1966 when the Light Vessel’s Master was informed by the Coastguard at Folkestone, via his normal shore R/T link at Deal Coastguard Station, that his bearing had altered.

The weather at the time was Wind S.W. Force 8 with a heavy sea and swell, intermittent, rain and spray making it impossible for the Master to check his position as his usual marks were not visible.

The Light Vessel was at the time riding to 150 fathoms of cable which was at all times taut and there was no indication that the anchor was dragging, but at 2300 the Coastguard reported that the vessel was about ¾ mile 070 degrees from her usual position.

Meanwhile T.H.V. SIREN, sheltering in the Downs, had picked up the R/T Signals and immediately weighed anchor to go to the assistance of the light vessel. At least that was the intention, but the wind had by now increased to force 10/11 with a very high sea, so that the SIREN was steaming off Dover without making any headway until 0530 on 2nd December when the tide turned.

The Light Vessel Master informed Commander Lawrence, with whom he was in continuous R/T contact, that he was aware that he had been dragging but thought he had now brought up.

The SIREN reached the light vessel on 2nd December at 0650, checked the position and found her to be 050 degrees 2.4 miles from her station, lying in broken water just clear of the tip of the Varne Shoal.

The Light Vessel was by now flying the usual ‘Off Station’ Signals, and at 0730 the Master veered his riding cable to 180 fathoms.

The question facing Mr. Bate and those advising him via the R/T was whether to let go one or both of his bower anchors, the problem being that, in doing so, the riding cable may have been fouled and the situation worsened.

In the event, the decision not to let go the bowers was justified as the Light Vessel held her position at the edge of the shoal in spite of an even further deterioration in the weather conditions.

At about 1030 on 2nd December; with the flood tide about to make and it being impossible for the SIREN to launch a boat in such rough seas, it was decided to call out the Dover lifeboat for the purpose of taking the crew off the Light Vessel. This was done and the mission was safely accomplished at 1148 under very hazardous conditions.

During this operation the lifeboat sustained damage when she was caught by a heavy sea and dashed against the side of the light vessel, breaking the glass in one of the engine room portholes.

Before he would leave his ship Mr. Bate went down below and fastened the deadlight over the broken port which was close to the waterline, and through which the sea was already entering, further evidence of his devotion to duty in the face of danger.

Mr. Bate and his men had previously secured all doors, gangways etc., in order to safeguard the light vessel as far as possible prior to their evacuation.

The lifeboat, escorted by T.H.V. SIREN in view of the damage she had sustained, took the crew of the Varne into Dover Harbour where they were very kindly provided with hot baths and a substantial meal by the personnel of the Pilot Vessel PATROL.

Early on the morning of the 2nd December, T.H.V. PATRICIA had been detailed to assist the SIREN as necessary and, having landed the men from the Harwich South Relief at Deal (with the exception of those from the East Goodwin who were still awaiting relief) entered Dover Harbour, collected the crew of the Varne Light Vessel, proceeded, transferred them to the SIREN off Hythe at 1730 that evening, and anchored there for the night ready to assist as necessary.

By 0745 on 3rd December the weather had improved sufficiently to allow T.H.V. SIREN to return the light vessel crew to their ship, where they quickly had her operational again, and hove in the riding cable after the SIREN had got a towing hawser on board.

The Varne was towed back to her assigned position where she resumed her normal station duties at 1127.

This final operation itself called for a great degree of skill and courage on the part of all concerned as there was still a heavy sea running and the wind was W.S.W. Force 7.

In the long history of Trinity House there have been many examples of devotion to duty and fine seamanship. The Varne Light Vessel Incident will rank high among them.

By order of the Board, letters of commendation were sent to Mr. Bate and each member of his crew, to Commander Lawrence, Officers and Ratings of T.H.V. SIREN and also to Acting Commander G. Roberts, Officers and Ratings of T.H.V. PATRICIA.

Letters of thanks were also sent to the Coxswain and Crew of the Dover Lifeboat for taking the crew off the light vessel under extremely difficult conditions, to the Coastguard at Folkestone for their vigilance in noting that the Varne was off station, to the Dover Harbour Board for the assistance rendered by their Port Control Officers, to the Superintendent of Pilots at Dover and his staff for their willing co-operation and for the facilities placed at the disposal of Captain R.J. Galpin, R.D., Chairman of the Light Committee, who used their office as his centre of communications during this incident, and to the Master, Officers and Crew of the Pilot Vessel PATROL for looking after the men of the Varne so well while they were in Dover Harbour.”

 

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 – 1 October

1853

Trinity House becomes responsible for the Cinque Ports Pilots

The Cinque Ports pilots were transferred from the jurisdiction of the Lord Warden to that of Trinity House; the recently-deceased Duke of Wellington had been the last incumbent of that post.

The number of pilots transferred was one hundred and twenty-six; the pilot boats (four) and the invested pilots funds, amounting to £15,958, were also turned over to Trinity House, together with the liability for pensioners.

 


1957

A Family Tradition

Principal Keeper Daniel Percival Ford Norton retires from the lighthouse service, an otherwise unremarkable occasion made all the more interesting when we read his letter to the Editor of Trinity House’s Flash magazine in the winter of 1973:

“My great grandfather George Norton was Master of a Light Vessel. My grandfather retired as Master of the Seven Stones Light Vessel and my grandmother was one of the last widows to receive a pension from Trinity House. She died in 1910 and I can remember her telling me at that time the Masters received an allowance for victualling the crew.

My father, George Norton, experienced the longest over due relief at The Wolf Rock Lighthouse in January 1915 (45 days).*

An uncle, Harry Norton, retired as Master of the Breaksea Light Vessel and another uncle, Alfred Norton, retired as Principal Keeper from St. Anthony Lighthouse in 1923.

I had two brothers, Harry and John, who were also Lighthouse Keepers.

I myself retired in 1959 after 39 years service. I joined the Service in 1920 after strict medical examinations (one a local and another in London). I served in the 1914-1918 war and eventually after a long wait I finally started training at Trinity House in 1920. The Experimental Room was known as the Black Hole of Calcutta, Mr. Lee was the Instructor and Mr. Hood was the Engineer-in-Chief. I then went to the Blackwall Workshops for a further period of training and was finally appointed as a Supernumerary Keeper for a period of 6 years. When we were not required for duty we returned to Blackwall where we acted as messengers carrying mail to Trinity House. Friday was Board day and one of my duties was to carry the Superintendent’s coat and cap who at that time was Captain Hattersley. One day I tried the coat and cap on, but was caught in the progress by the Captain who informed me that it took more than a coat and cap to make a Superintendent!

I think it can be fairly said that the Norton family have a record of approximately 300 years service with Trinity House.”

It is no mean feat to have had such a long-standing family tradition of service to Trinity House.

* A letter sent to Flash in response to Mr. Norton’s letter pointed out that, as a matter of fact, Mr. Ted Day must have experienced the longest spell on any Rock Lighthouse. In 1919 Ted Day was landed on the Wolf Rock for a month’s relief duty, but as a result of bad weather and the lack of relief personnel, it was 140 days on the Wolf Rock Lighthouse before Mr. Day could be relieved.


1997

Alderney Lighthouse is automated

Alderney Lighthouse is converted to automatic operation and the lighthouse keepers depart.

The lighthouse was built in 1912 in order to act as a guide to passing shipping and to warn vessels of the treacherous waters around the Isle. It is sited on Quénard Point, to the north-east of the Island. Alderney lighthouse tower rises 32 metres and is painted white with a central black band to make it more visible to shipping during the hours of daylight.

More information at the Trinity House website

Alderney Lighthouse

Alderney Lighthouse

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.”

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

On This Day in Trinity House History – 8 September

1541

Sir Thomas Spert, first Master of Trinity House and Comptroller of the Navy, dies

As Sailing Master of first the Mary Rose and then the Henri Grace a Dieu, Thomas Spert was well-placed to accept the Royal Charter on behalf of the Corporation of Trinity House on 20 May 1514. Spert later became Clerk Controller of the King’s Ships circa 1524, a time when Henry VIII was becoming increasingly involved in shipbuilding in London, and was knighted for his work in 1529. Upon his death, he was buried in St. Dunstan’s Church, Stepney.

The inscription upon this monument runs as follows:-

“Here under was laid up ye bodie of Sir Thomas Spert, Knight, sometyme Comptroller of the Navy to K. Henry VIII. and both the first Founder and Master of the Worthie Society or Corporation called the Trinity House. He lived enobled by his own Worth, and dyed ye 8th of Septemb, in ye year 1541. To whose pious memory ye said Corporation hath gratefully erected this memoriall.

‘Not that he needed monuments of stone,
For his well-gotten Fame to rest upon,
But this was reard to testifie that he
Lives in their Loves, that yet surviving be.
For unto Virtue which first raised his name
He left the Preservation of the same,
And to Posterity remain it shall
When Brass and Marble Monuments do fall.
Learn for to die while thou hast breath.
So shalt thou live after thy death.’

An. 1622. By the Company of the Trinity Howse This Monument was erected 81 yrs after ye decease of theyr Founder.”

 

 


1958

A Letter to the Editor of Flash Magazine

Amble, Northumberland
8 September 1958

“To The Secretary,
Trinity House.

Dear Sir,

It was a very great pleasure to receive on Saturday 6th instant a magnificent granite model of a lighthouse. As one of the older generation of PKs [Principal Keepers], I remember those early days when, as an SAK [Supernumerary Assistant Keeper] in 1911, I was rowed out to the Bishop in a 6-oared gig by six powerful St. Agnes fishermen, men with muscle and brawn; we had harness casks to stow our food in on reliefs. When I come to look back, and compare the great amenities and other benefits the present-day keeper receives, with big wage packets, TV and R/T in the Lighthouses, I am beginning to think I was born 50 years too soon.

Yours faithfully,

S D Knox”

[Note appending letter from Editor: Mr. Knox, now retired, served as Principal Keeper at Bishop Rock from 1939-40]


1959

THV Mermaid enters service

THV Mermaid enters service, built by J Samuel White of Cowes, Isle of Wight.

Mermaid was the first of three ‘Mermaid-class’ vessels, followed by THVs Siren and Stella. She was the third Trinity House Vessel to bear the name Mermaid, and was sold out of service in 1986 before the fourth THV Mermaid entered service.

THV Mermaid (3)

THV Mermaid (3)