On This Day in Trinity House History – 21 December

1992

Bishop Rock Lighthouse is automated

Bishop Rock Lighthouse is converted to automatic operation and the lighthouse keepers depart. The lighthouse was first lit in 1858.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse stands on a rock ledge 46m long by 16m wide, 4 miles west of the Scilly Isles. The rocks rise sheer from a depth of 45m and are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean making this one of the most hazardous and difficult sites for the building of a lighthouse.

The rocks around the Scilly Isles caused the wreck of many ships over the years including the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovel’s squadron of the British Fleet in 1707 in which 2,000 men died. The Elder Brethren of Trinity House decided that the lighting of the Scilly Isles, which at that time consisted of only the old lighthouse at St. Agnes, was inadequate, and resolved to build a lighthouse on the most westerly danger, the Bishop Rock.

James Walker, Engineer in Chief to Trinity House, was against building a solid granite tower arguing that the rock ledge was too small and the elements too powerful, being exposed as it was to the full force of the Atlantic ocean. Walker demonstrated that the wind pressures at times exceeded 7,000 lb per sq.ft, and as many as 30 gales a year were not unusual in the area.

Thus in 1847, it was decided to erect a screw-pile lighthouse at a cost of £12,000. The first task was to sink cast iron legs into the solid granite, braced and stayed with wrought iron rods. The designer maintained that the waves would be able to roll freely among the piles instead of being obstructed by the solid mass of masonry tower. When work was suspended at the end of 1849 the building was complete all but the installation of the lighting apparatus. Before it could be completed the following season, a heavy gale swept away the whole structure on the evening of 5 February 1850.

Undismayed by the failure of the first lighthouse, James Walker once again turned to the idea of a granite tower based upon Smeaton’s Eddystone. After surveying the site, he finally chose a small but solid mass giving room for a base 10m in diameter. The surface waves constantly swept over the site, and indeed the lowest blocks had to be laid a third of a metre beneath low water mark. A heavy coffer dam was erected around the site and the water within pumped out, so that the masons might be able to work on a dry rock face. Each granite block, weighing from one to two tons, was set into its preselected position, and each course dovetailed and keyed into position at the sides, top and the bottom thus forming an immovable mass. The workmen were housed on a small nearby uninhabited islet, where living quarters and workshops were erected. The men were carried to and from the site as the weather permitted. Working spells were brief, as well as being few and far between, and after seven years labour the tower was finally completed. All the granite was despatched from the mainland to the island depot where it was shaped and numbered before being sent to the rock. In all the 35 m tower contained 2,500 tons of dressed granite and cost £34,560. The light was first exhibited on 1 September 1858. During one particularly powerful storm, waves rolled up on the side of the lighthouse and tore away the 550lb fog bell from its fastenings on the gallery.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

In 1881 Sir James Douglass made a detailed inspection of the tower and reported extensive damage and weakness in the structure. It was decided to strengthen the tower and at the same time to increase the elevation of the light by 12m. The plans, though quite complex in nature essentially entailed the building of a new lighthouse around the old one, completely encasing it. The real weakness was the foundation and this Douglass proposed to strengthen and enlarge with massive blocks of granite sunk into the rock and held there by heavy bolts. It was an enormous cylindrical base, providing the lighthouse with an excellent buffer onto which the force of the waves could be spent before hitting the tower itself. The masonry casing, averaging a metre in thickness, was carried up as far as the new masonry required for the increased height of the light. The weight of the additional granite was 3,200 tons, making a total weight of 5,700 tons. Work was completed in October 1887 at a cost of £66,000.

Bishop Rock was converted to automatic operation during 1991 with the last keepers leaving the lighthouse on 21 December 1992.

Bishop Rock relief

Bishop Rock relief

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)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 1 September

1832

Nash Point Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Nash Point Lighthouses (high and low lights) are first lit. The transit of the towers and their lights would lead vessels clear of the Nash Sands, which extend some seven miles west of the headland. The sands are a major hazard to shipping which had contributed to the loss of many vessels and lives.

Trinity House instructed Joseph Nelson to construct two towers, 300 metres apart, at Nash Point on the Heritage Coastline of the Vale of Glamorgan. The transit of the towers and their lights would lead vessels clear of the Nash Sands, which extend some 7 miles west of the headland. The sands are a major hazard to shipping which had contributed to the loss of many vessels and lives.

The foundations for both towers were laid by 1 October 1831 and the station was completed and exhibited its lights on 1 September 1832, just 11 months later, an incredible engineering achievement. The lighthouse has shone its light every night since, successfully assisting mariners in their safe passages with very few maritime incidences occurring in the intervening time.

Initially both the 37 metre tall High (east) tower and the 25 metre tall Low (west) tower both shone lights but during the 1920s it was decided that the light of the low tower was not required as its function could be taken over by the use of red sectors being exhibited by the light of the High tower. The Low tower lantern and lens were eventually removed in the 1950s.

Originally the light source was provided by Argand burners, which were later replaced by paraffin “Hood” burners and then by 1,500 watt electrical lamps in the 1960s when mains electricity was brought to the station. These lamps have now been replaced with 150 watt electrical lamps within a smaller lens which still gives a light visible for excess of 20 miles.

 


1858

Bishop Rock Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Bishop Rock Lighthouse is lit for the first time. The 35 metre tall tower was designed by James Walker, Trinity House’s Consultant Engineer.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse stands on a rock ledge 46m long by 16m wide, 4 miles west of the Scilly Isles. The rocks rise sheer from a depth of 45m and are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean making this one of the most hazardous and difficult sites for the building of a lighthouse.

The rocks around the Scilly Isles caused the wreck of many ships over the years including the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovel’s squadron of the British Fleet in 1707 in which 2,000 men died. The Elder Brethren of Trinity House decided that the lighting of the Scilly Isles, which at that time consisted of only the old lighthouse at St. Agnes, was inadequate, and resolved to build a lighthouse on the most westerly danger, the Bishop Rock.

James Walker, Engineer in Chief to Trinity House, was against building a solid granite tower arguing that the rock ledge was too small and the elements too powerful, being exposed as it was to the full force of the Atlantic ocean. Walker demonstrated that the wind pressures at times exceeded 7,000 lb per sq.ft, and as many as 30 gales a year were not unusual in the area.

Thus in 1847, it was decided to erect a screw-pile lighthouse at a cost of £12,000. The first task was to sink cast iron legs into the solid granite, braced and stayed with wrought iron rods. The designer maintained that the waves would be able to roll freely among the piles instead of being obstructed by the solid mass of masonry tower. When work was suspended at the end of 1849 the building was complete all but the installation of the lighting apparatus. Before it could be completed the following season, a heavy gale swept away the whole structure on the evening of 5 February 1850.

Undismayed by the failure of the first lighthouse, James Walker once again turned to the idea of a granite tower based upon Smeaton’s Eddystone. After surveying the site, he finally chose a small but solid mass giving room for a base 10m in diameter. The surface waves constantly swept over the site, and indeed the lowest blocks had to be laid a third of a metre beneath low water mark. A heavy coffer dam was erected around the site and the water within pumped out, so that the masons might be able to work on a dry rock face. Each granite block, weighing from one to two tons, was set into its preselected position, and each course dovetailed and keyed into position at the sides, top and the bottom thus forming an immovable mass. The workmen were housed on a small nearby uninhabited islet, where living quarters and workshops were erected. The men were carried to and from the site as the weather permitted. Working spells were brief, as well as being few and far between, and after seven years labour the tower was finally completed. All the granite was despatched from the mainland to the island depot where it was shaped and numbered before being sent to the rock. In all the 35 m tower contained 2,500 tons of dressed granite and cost £34,560. The light was first exhibited on 1st September 1858. During one particularly powerful storm, waves rolled up on the side of the lighthouse and tore away the 550lb fog bell from its fastenings on the gallery.

In 1881 Sir James Douglass made a detailed inspection of the tower and reported extensive damage and weakness in the structure. It was decided to strengthen the tower and at the same time to increase the elevation of the light by 12m. The plans, though quite complex in nature essentially entailed the building of a new lighthouse around the old one, completely encasing it. The real weakness was the foundation and this Douglass proposed to strengthen and enlarge with massive blocks of granite sunk into the rock and held there by heavy bolts. It was an enormous cylindrical base, providing the lighthouse with an excellent buffer onto which the force of the waves could be spent before hitting the tower itself. The masonry casing, averaging a metre in thickness, was carried up as far as the new masonry required for the increased height of the light. The weight of the additional granite was 3,200 tons, making a total weight of 5,700 tons. Work was completed in October 1887 at a cost of £66,000.

Bishop Rock was converted to automatic operation during 1991 with the last keepers leaving the lighthouse on 21 December 1992.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse. Copyright Ian Cowe

Bishop Rock Lighthouse. Copyright Ian Cowe

On This Day in Trinity House History – 31 August

1958

Notice of Centenary of Bishop Rock Lighthouse in Flash Magazine

A notice of the centenary of Bishop Rock Lighthouse is published in Trinity House’s Flash Magazine:

“To mark the occasion of the centenary of Bishop Rock lighthouse, special services were held at St. Mary’s Isle of Scilly this weekend.

On Sunday August the 31st special services were arranged at the Church at St. Mary’s by the Chaplain the Rev. J.Gillett. The Church was very full for both services, the preacher in the morning being the Assistant Bishop of Truro, Bishop Wellington. The lesson was read by Captain Sergeant, the Chairman of the Visiting Committee on THV Patricia. At the evening service the preacher was the Rev. J. Gillette and the lessons were read by the Deputy Master and by Captain Catesby, Master of Patricia. Collections were taken for the benefit of Lighthouses and the the Bishop Rock.

Patricia was laying out in the roads, whilst Satellite was along-side the pier at St. Mary’s on Sunday and open to the public during the afternoon.

Satellite anchored in the roads again on Monday and during the afternoon a special service was held on her foredeck, to commemorate the actual day of the centenary. A congregation of about 200 people was taken on board and addressed by Captain G.L. Parnell of the Missions to Seamen, and the prayers and blessings given by Bishop Wellington; the service was conducted by the Chaplain of St. Mary’s. The collection was taken towards providing television for the Wolf Rock Lighthouse, a set already having been provided for the Bishop Rock by the Scilly Islanders. Whilst the service was being held on Satellite, Patricia, with the Visiting Committee on board, visited the Bishop Rock Lighthouse; owing to weather conditions the Committee were unable to land. Parcels and mementos of the centenary were however delivered by rope to the Keepers on the Lighthouse. To mark the occasion all surviving Principal Keepers of the station have been presented with a granite paperweight in the form of a lighthouse by the Chaplain of St. Mary’s.”

During the centenary celebrations at Bishop Rock, the following messages were telegraphed over the air from lighthouse to lighthouse:

Round Island to Bishop Rock:

“As your nearest neighbouring Lighthouse, our best wishes on the centenary of Bishop Rock. We feel the Bishop will continue to remain steady, for the next hundred years. Best of luck for the future from us all.”

Wolf Rock to Bishop Rock:

“The Wolf Rock Keepers offer their heartiest congratulations to Bishop Rock on reaching its centenary, May that trusted light keep turning for many years to come. Very best of luck from all here.”

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

On This Day in Trinity House History – 8 August

1967

Royal Visit for Bishop Rock lighthouse keepers’ families

The families of the keepers at the Bishop Rock Lighthouse were presented to the Royal Family when the latter made a visit to the Isles of Scilly. The event was written up in an edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

“August 8th, 1967, will long be remembered by the Keepers of Bishop Rock Lighthouse and by their wives. It was on this day that the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA, escorted by the destroyer CARYSFORT visited St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly.

Although the day began blustery with occasional showers, by 10 a.m. the rain had cleared and the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne stepped ashore in bright sunshine.

Among the first people to be presented to the Royal Family were the two Assistant Keepers on shore, Clive Beckett and Russell Pape and their wives; also presented were Mrs. Fearn and Mrs. Carne, the wives of the Principal Keeper and Assistant Keeper on the rock. They were presented by Lt. Cdr. T.M. Dorrien Smith, the Chairman of the Pilotage Committee for the Islands.

The Islands are part of the Estate of the Duchy of Cornwall, and when the Royal Party visited the Duchy offices, the families had a good view of events as the Trinity Dwellings are only a few yards away.

BRITANNIA left at 9 p.m. lit up from stem to stern, leaving at least four families on the Islands tired out after a busy and exciting day.

The only consolation Principal Keeper Graham Fearn and Assistant Keeper David Carne had, was that they were able to see their wives being presented and the children at school when the Royal Party visited there, on their new Television Set provided by Trinity House; by a lucky chance this could not have been delivered at a better time.”

Aerial view of Bishop Rock Lighthouse

Aerial view of Bishop Rock Lighthouse

On This Day in Trinity House History – 14 July

1685

Samuel Pepys is elected Master (again) of Trinity House

Trinity Monday: Samuel Pepys is elected Master for the second time, under the terms of James II’s Royal Charter.

Samuel Pepys FRS MP JP (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament (for Harwich) who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by 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 influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.


1843

Elder Brethren Drowned on Duty

A Committee of Elder Brethren attempted to land at Trevose Head Lighthouse in a boat from the Vestal. The weather was too bad to permit of landing; on returning to the Vestal, owing to some confusion, the boat was run down by the steamer, resulting in the deaths of Captain Richard Drew and Captain Jenkin Jones, whose bodies were recovered.

The following excerpt of an Elder Brother’s diary is reproduced here from our recently-published history Light Upon The Waters:

“Early on Monday we weighed anchor and steamed out of Penzance Roads, round the Land’s End… towards Trevose Head. It was a brilliant morning, little or no wind, but rather a heavy ground swell. At 9 o’clock we lowered the cutter, Captain Drew (chairman) proposing to land and inspect the outer Quay’s Rock to which Probyn and I urgently dissented, seeing it would be attended with danger.

Drew replied ‘Let us attempt it, at all events,’ and perceiving his obstinacy and apprehending some accident, I advised Captain Jones, who was a very stout man, to remain on board, as four of us were quite sufficient to do the needful, should we succeed in landing, which was very doubtful. This he would not listen to and on approaching the rock we found it impracticable to land, so Drew ordered the boat to return. By this time the steamer was very near the rock, and as we were also close to it, had we struck we must all have perished.

At this moment the steamer struck the cutter midway between the five Elder Brethren and the seamen [rowing], the latter were fortunate in laying hold of different parts about the [Vestal’s] figurehead and got safely on board. We were carried under the steamer’s bows and poor Jones and Drew were drowned. Captains Probyn and Maddan were soon all right, but I was with great difficulty brought to, owing to my long immersion in the water, which completely exhausted me.

Although my health did not suffer from this accident, it caused the total loss of my right eye, the nerves having completely given way.

It was a sad sight to see the two dear fellows cold in death, who but an hour before had been in high health and spirits, and there was not a dry eye on board when the last sad duties were performed.”

After landing the bodies at Bristol, Captain Alexander Weynton joined the ship and the voyage continued.


 

1852

Bishop Rock stone-laying ceremony

Bishop Rock Lighthouse: The first stone (one of the fifth course) was laid in a ceremony attended by the Master the Duke of Wellington and the Deputy Master Captain Sir John Henry Pelly. The lowest stone was afterwards laid in the chasm of the rock, at one foot below the level of low water spring tide on 30 July 1852. The stone work of the tower was finished 28 August 1857, without loss of life or serious accident.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

On This Day in Trinity House History – 29 June

1960

The new Dungeness Lighthouse is opened

Dungeness Lighthouse (Artists Impression)

Dungeness Lighthouse (Artists Impression)

The opening ceremony of the new Dungeness Lighthouse building is performed by the Master HRH The Duke of Gloucester, when a plaque commemorating the occasion and one taken from the old lighthouse were unveiled.

On the previous day, HRH The Master had inspected Harwich Depot and Service personnel before sailing in THV Patricia to Dover.

 


1986

Sir Richard Branson’s powerboat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II passes Bishop Rock to win world record

From Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

“Sir Richard Branson’s VIRGIN ATLANTIC CHALLENGER II passes the finishing line at Bishop Rock Lighthouse 3 days, 8 hours and 31 minutes after leaving the Ambrose Light Tower in New York Bay, beating the eastbound transatlantic record set in 1952.

Principal Keeper E J Dobbin with Assistant Keepers D Price and T Elvers had been avidly watching the television news and weather forecasts for news of the speedboat’s arrival, and eventually they heard the following over the marine radio: “Bishop Rock Lighthouse this is V.A.C.II we’ll be with you in about half an hour.” V.A.C.ll passed Bishop at 1934 BST with a time of 3 days, 8 hours, 31 minutes. The crew on Bishop Rock responded to this success with three blasts from its Supertyfon Fog Signal giving the “little boat people” a bit of a fright! BBC TV news was informed and a caption was superimposed over the World Cup Final. Sir Richard and his crew were presented with a handsome model of Bishop Rock Lighthouse mounted inside a 1500 watt lamp on behalf of the people of the Isles of Scilly.

V.A.C.II‘s navigator was Dag Pike, a former Chief Officer in the Trinity House Support Vessel Service.”