On This Day in Trinity House History – 25 October

1859

The Night of the ‘Royal Charter Storm’ at South Stack Lighthouse

Over the course of the Royal Charter Storm, 25-26 October 1859, over 200 vessels were either driven ashore or totally wrecked with the loss of 800 lives.

The steamship Royal Charter was among these, and she sunk within yards of help with the loss of almost 500 passengers and crew.

On that evening South Stack Lighthouse Assistant Keeper Jack Jones had been making his way across the iron bridge on to South Stack so that he could join the Principal Keeper Henry Bowen, already on duty.

As the story goes, a rock was swept from the cliff by the strong wind, fell and struck Jones on the head. Covered in blood, almost senseless with concussion, he dragged himself up the gale lashed path. Feebly he cried out for help, then, head in hands, he lay unable to move any further. Henry Bowen found him in the same place on the Wednesday morning, groaning and unable to move, his hair matted with blood. Jack Jones died three weeks later of a compound fracture of the skull.

South Stack Lighthouse

South Stack Lighthouse


1947

Trinity House Replaces Lost War Tonnage with THV Ready

THV Ready is commissioned, to become the Harwich district tender.

THV Ready (1947-77)

THV Ready (1947-77)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 18 September

1947

THV Vestal is launched

THV Vestal is launched from the Bristol yard of Charles Hill and Son, to become the Swansea district tender.

After a long and varied career (for a full history of Trinity House’s tenders, readers may wish to pick up Captain Richard Woodman’s Keepers of the Sea) she was sold out of service in 1975.

THV Vestal

THV Vestal

On This Day in Trinity House History – 24 January

1671

Samuel Pepys is Elected an Elder Brother of Trinity House

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Samuel Pepys, Esq., Clerk to the Acts of H.M. Navy, is chosen an Elder Brother.”

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament; through patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II. His reforms as an Admiralty administrator were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy, but he is now best remembered for the diary he kept for a decade as a relatively young man. The detailed diary Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.

Pepys was twice Master of Trinity House; he was elected by the annual Court in 1676, and he was made Master by King James II when the Corporation’s Royal Charter was renewed in 1685. Pepys was the architect of the rewritten and vastly improved charter, such was the strength of the new document that it is still in use by the Corporation today.


1947

THV Argus Joins the Steam Vessel Service

THV Argus is commissioned, built at the Port Glasgow yard of Messrs. Ferguson Bros., to become the Holyhead district tender, replacing tonnage lost during the Second World War.

THV Argus (1966)

THV Argus (1966)

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