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 – 27 November

1954

The South Goodwin Lightvessel Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Goodwin Lightvessel disaster 1954 press clipping 1 (low)

South Goodwin Lightvessel disaster 1954 press clipping

RNLI and USAF crews accolades 1954

RNLI and USAF crews accolades 1954

Letter from Trinity House Chief Superintendent re South Goodwin Disaster 1954

Letter from Trinity House Chief Superintendent re South Goodwin Disaster 1954

On This Day in Trinity House History – 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 – 4 October

1972

First lightvessel relief by helicopter

The Smith’s Knoll became the first lightvessel to have its crew changed by helicopter.

The lightvessel was specially adapted and fitted with a helicopter platform at the yard of Swan Hunter Ship Repairers (Tyne) Ltd. The actual transfer is carried out by winching individual crew members to and from the platform, and it is planned to continue the experiment at fortnightly intervals for the next six months, to test the suitability of the operation under Winter conditions. The first crew members to take to the air were: Mr. Frank Harrison, the incoming Master, and Lightsmen Mr. Jack Akester and Mr. John Griffin.

The experiment was part of a review into the most efficient and economical means of servicing aids to navigation.

No 4 LV relief helicopter 1972_1 4 Oct first LV relief by helicopter

No 4 LV relief helicopter 1972_1 4 Oct first LV relief by helicopter

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 7 September

1972

Trinity House Lightvessel Crew Helps a Stranded Yachtsman

The following appeared in Flash magazine:

“On Tuesday, 5th September, 1972, Mr. Eric Sundberg, aged 62, a lone yachtsman from Stockholm, Sweden, tied up astern of the Smith’s Knoll Light Vessel. He was short of drinking water, after losing much of it during a stormy crossing of the Baltic. Mr. Sundberg boarded the Light Vessel in order to explain, in broken English, his requirements, and turned to find his yacht drifting away in the twilight, on the strong tide! Radio messages were sent by the Master of the Smith’s Knoll, and shortly afterwards his yacht Marelena was picked up by a Belgian Fishery Protection Vessel and towed safely into Great Yarmouth Harbour.

Next day, THV Mermaid arrived, in the normal course of her duties, at the Smith’s Knoll, and took Mr. Sundberg aboard. He was later landed at Great Yarmouth where he was reunited with his yacht.

This experienced sailor made everyone, including the Customs Officials, feel embarrassed by his expressions of gratitude, and self-condemnation!!”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 15 August

1967

Loss of No. 83 Lightvessel

The No. 83 Lightvessel was being towed to drydock when she was struck by a passing trawler. The incident was written up in an edition of Flash magazine:

“On the morning of the 15th August, No.83 NEWARP LIGHT VESSEL was in tow of the VESTAL bound for the Tyne for overhaul. At about 0930 the Light Vessel was struck on the starboard side by the Polish Trawler No. SWI176 SNIARDWY causing fairly extensive damage.

The crew of the Light Vessel were taken off but later the Chief Officer, Chief and Second Engineers of the VESTAL, together with Mr. H.R. Eames, Master of the Light Vessel, went back aboard although it was heeling over. In spite of their strenuous efforts and those of the tug IRISHMAN which arrived about 1030, the Light Vessel continued to list and at about 1100 the Light Vessel turned over on her starboard side. The men on board scrambled on to the side out of the water and were rescued by VESTAL’s motor boat about 3 minutes before she sank at 1107, the towing wire being slipped about 5 minutes after the Light Vessel went under.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 20 July

1685

John Evelyn records his time at Trinity Monday

John Evelyn’s diary entry reads:

“The Trinity-Company met this day, which should have been on the Monday after Trinity, but was put off by reason of the Royal Charter being so large, that it could not be ready before. Some immunities were superadded. Mr. Pepys, Secretary to the Admiralty, was a second time chosen Master. We went to church, according to custom, and then took barge to the Trinity-House, in London, where we had a great dinner, above eighty at one table.”

 


1745

Early problems with the Nore Lightvessel

Trinity House Board Minute:

Nore Lightvessel model

Nore Lightvessel model

“Mr. Cam, one of the lessees of the light at the Nore attended to answer Captain Hallum’s complaint against the light and admitted that there happened an accidental obstruction in one of the funnels just at the time complained of, but said that it was removed in about half an hour, after which there was a good light, as there hath been all along, without any former complaint of this nature and he promised that all possible care should be taken to keep a good light for the future, offering to remove the present lightkeeper and put in anyone whom the Corporation should name,

Which being considered and that Captain Hallum admits in his complaint that one of the lamps was kindled as he came by, Mr. Cam was charged to take especial care that a good light be constantly maintained hereafter, to be kindled every evening immediately after sunset and to be kept burning till it be broad Day Light next morning, and that they give instructions accordingly to such lightkeepers as the lessees shall appoint at their own Risque and for whom they are answerable.”