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 – 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

Solitary Confinement at Godrevy Lighthouse, 1925

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

Godrevy Lighthouse in 2009

Godrevy Lighthouse never had more than two keepers, and once, for eight days, it was reduced to one. On Christmas Day in 1925, one of the two keepers was taken ashore by the St. Ives Lifeboat suffering from pneumonia, and unfortunately the weather made it impossible to land a relief keeper until 2 January. During the intervening eight days, Assistant Keeper W J Lewis, alone on the rock, kept the light and fog bell going without interruption.

Mr. Lewis documented his solitary watch in the July 1960 edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

“It all happened during my first turn off at the Station in December when the hours of daylight were few and myself unaccustomed to the various weird and occult noises, only heard at such Rock Stations, in addition to those noises which are familiar to most Lighthouses. It made everything so strange and in a way fascinating.

Not many days after landing on the Rock, my mate who had already completed one month and commenced his second, complained of a soreness in his throat, which got decidedly worse as the days passed on and gave him cause for anxiety.

The days were slowly closing on Christmas and my mate was all the time getting worse, then the climax came. It was Christmas Day, I relieved the watch at 0400 and my mate retired to bed feeling very ill. Breakfast time he was so ill that he could not carry on any longer, and so we got the rockets ready to call out a boat to take him ashore for medical treatment. However, he delayed firing the rockets for several hours — a delay which on looking back I have no doubt was the cause of my somewhat harrowing experience. With the weather deteriorating every hour, and the wind freshening, a ground swell and misty rain swept in, so that the first series of rockets were not seen from the shore — this was during the afternoon. The sky broke when darkness fell, a sickly waning moon appeared between the fast fleeting clouds. The wind continued to freshen and the sea in large billows curled and broke over the rocks, leaving a mass of seething spume.

With my mate’s symptoms suggesting pneumonia, instant action had to be taken, so another red rocket sped on its way into the sky to call out the Lifeboat, and from their cheery hearths and festivities of Yuletide on this stormy Christmas evening those brave men put out to answer a call of mercy.  

It was a problem to know which Landing to use, those situated on the South of the Rock were out of the question, and it was decided to use the Lower Eastern Landing as the Jib Landing could not be manned by one man.
Down on this Landing it was a boiling pot, the sea roared and crashed with violence over the rocks and Landing place, and the wind howled through the walls of the gulch. The moon hidden by ugly black clouds made it eerie as the dark overhanging rocks towering towards the blackness of the sky, like a sheer wall of rock, seemed as if they would crush and bury everything under it.

Great care had to be taken in approaching the Landing owing to the slope and slippery surface. We were unable to see the gully between the towering rocks. Then we saw the Lifeboat approach the Landing bow first with a kedge anchor over the stern. Suddenly the seemingly large bulk of the Lifeboat loomed up above our heads near the Landing, which was now awash, and we stood beck on some higher rocks. The sea passed on and the Lifeboat came lower in line with the Landing, it was then they shouted for my mate to jump, which he did and was hauled inboard by the bowman. Just then a heavy sea broke astern of the Lifeboat, lifting the black form high above the Landing, and it appeared as if only a miracle could avert the disaster of the Lifeboat crashing to pieces on the rocks, but by clever seamanship she was hauled out quickly to the centre of the gully before the following sea could complete the disaster.

The Lifeboat safely away from the rock, I made my way back to the Tower, it was cosier in there than outside on such a stormy night and being alone there was the problem of keeping things going until assistance arrived.
The hours passed slowly, it seemed a kind of novelty to be alone in a Rock Lighthouse, but then I thought it would only be for one night and not eight as it turned out to be. During the early hours of this first night I had my first attack of utter loneliness and realised fully my unthankful position. I imagined all sorts of things, footsteps on the stairs — lurking figures seemed to creep from room to room. It became uncanny, the atmosphere seemed charged with uneasiness as if caused by those phantoms of the night having gained admittance to the Tower to shelter from the boisterous weather outside. Weird sounds rent the night from time to time. Such phenomenal things do not scare me easily, although on this particular night I was greatly tempted to go down and bolt the Tower door.

Luckily I had plenty to do which helped to take my mind off such phenomena. At this time of the year the nights were long, the lights exhibited before 1600 and extinguished 0830. So that the hours of daylight were limited and occupied with changing and cleaning burners which had been in operation during the night. Carrying up oil to trim the three subsidiary lights and various other jobs which fall in a Keeper’s routine on such Rock Stations.

The day following the one on which my mate was taken ashore (Boxing Day) an effort was made to land another Keeper, but it proved hopeless, because such a heavy sea was running, even though the wind had eased considerably. The sight of the relief boat leaving the Rock without accomplishing its mission left me sick at heart. Alone on an isolated Rock which had no sympathy, imprisoned by a sea which seemed desirous of destroying its very existence. A depressed feeling came over me as the thought of another dreaded night passed through my mind. Those long sixteen hour nights, often eighteen hours when an obscurity sets in — nights which seemed eternities filled with loneliness unbearable and temporary frights which played havoc with the nerves.

To remain awake days even weeks without sleep is not an uncommon occurrence and has often been accomplished. But comparing the different circumstances and conditions under which such are accomplished and it will be found very few have occurred on an isolated Rock Lighthouse with manual labour during the greater part of those days and nights of remaining awake.

Nature may be defied for a while, but sleep is intrinsic to everyone in normal health and cannot be put aside, it comes inevitably even though one is able to subjugate it for a time. When the mind loses its mobility of thought, the body relaxes into oblivion. These conditions faced me, not so much the keeping awake, but the load of responsibility. The knowledge that such a great deal depended on the lights being kept burning and the fog signal sounded. It was the seemingly never-ending winding of the clock for the revolving apparatus and fog signal when in operation. The up and down stairs from the Lantern to Subsidiary Light room and numerous, other things which required attention, put thoughts of sleep during the hours of darkness far from my mind.

It is strange how, imagination plays such tricks to one in solitary confinement — the mind seems conducive to the supernatural and shocks are frequent with unreal objects formed by a vivid imagination.

For instance a waning moon had floated into the heavens, its mellow light casting grim shadows over the rocks. I was standing gazing out of a window facing the Oil-Store, at the end of whose wall was a gate, beyond which a barren waste of rock. A mountainous sea was rolling in and flying spray passing through the rays of the light, thickening them to beams of refulgence. Suddenly my eyes caught sight of an object coming through the gate and creeping along the wall of the Oil-Store, then falling back into the shadows. No one could possibly have landed on the Rock, so it must have been an object of my imagination — a visionary phenomenon. I consoled myself with such thoughts when I was startled with hearing what I thought to be the latch and the Tower door opening, and a rush of cold air came up to the Tower to confirm it. Then a steady fall of footsteps sounded on the stairs and a cold shiver went through me. I was alone, nerves highly strung and tired through lack of sleep. I stood rooted where I stood for some time, the sound of footsteps on the stairs came no nearer, so gaining confidence I descended the stairs to find the cause of the mystery. One of the bedroom windows had blown open and the wind howling through had caused the linoleum on the floor to flap and resemble footsteps.

It was after 54 hours constant watch keeping that I had to succumb to a few hours’ sleep and felt so much refreshed, that the coming night was not so much dreaded, even though I was beginning to feel the effects of loneliness. I craved for someone to talk with, and can hardly credit, that for a week I never uttered a word either in speech or song, not even to myself.

Another fright was the hearing a roaring noise like that of a lion rent the air and shake the Tower. For hours this went on, and kept my nerves on edge. It was solved when I saw in the light of the waning moon, a volume of white spray shoot out of a cave. This cave passed almost under the Tower and out on the North East side, the heavy seas were entering the cave at both ends and compressing the air, which when forced out caused the unearthly roar and shook the Tower. For eight days and nights the Lights and Fog Signal were kept going single handed with eight hours broken sleep during the lone vigil.”

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Trinity House!

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

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

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

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S CHRISTMAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All at once it is Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Merry Christmas”.

Pendeen Lighthouse

Pendeen Lighthouse

Editor’s note accompanying article:

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

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

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

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

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