On This Day in Trinity House History – 1 December


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


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


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)



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.”


The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 4 of 4

The following account of one woman’s life as both a daughter and a wife of men serving in the Trinity House lighthouse service was published in the April and July editions of Flash magazine in 1961.

This fascinating recollection was written by Aurelie Trezise, wife of Cyril Trezise BEM. Cyril (b.1900, d. 1970) joined Trinity House as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1919 and retired in March 1962.

Part 1 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 2 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 3 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 4 of 4: 1929 – 1961

“After spending three years on the Island the Flatholm Lighthouse was made into a Rock Station [i.e. the station and its dwellings would be occupied solely by the lighthouse keepers, and their families would be shore based], this was in the year 1929, so once again we packed our own furniture and were naturally quite excited at the thought of living on the mainland again. The families and furniture were taken ashore in THV Vestal to Swansea in which town I was to reside for the next 4 ½ years. I had a very pleasant time in Swansea enjoying the facilities of town life and made many friends. This was only the second time in my life that I had lived in a town. During this period I had a child of my own so I had plenty to occupy my time whilst my husband was away doing duty at Flatholm Lighthouse and Lundy North Lighthouse.

I was very pleased when in 1933 we were transferred to Trevose Lighthouse. During the five years at Trevose I spent some of the happiest times of my life. All the station personnel were like one big happy family, a most enjoyable time indeed for me. During the summer months my neighbours and I spent many enjoyable hours on the lovely sandy beaches nearby taking the children with us, all as happy as skylarks, bathing, sunbathing, picnicking and playing open air games in the sun.

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

We spent quite a happy and comfortable time there for 2 ½ years then world war two ended and on the liberation of the Channel Islands my husband had orders to take up his appointment as Principal keeper to the Les Hanois Lighthouse, Guernsey. Away my husband went to do duty there leaving my son and I behind, for at the time the housing situation and travelling to the Channel Islands were very unsettled. I was left to make all arrangements with the Superintendent, Isle of Wight depot to have my furniture stored in Southampton pending my obtaining accommodation in Guernsey. In the meantime my son and I went into lodgings near the Lighthouse at Souter Point, remaining in these lodgings for seven months during which time I made numerous enquiries in Guernsey. Eventually I was fortunate enough to get a house on rental and in due course my son and I arrived in Guernsey and my furniture shortly afterwards.

We spent five very happy years there. During the last two years my husband was stationed at Sark Lighthouse. To me Guernsey was an ideal place to live, such lovely scenery, cliff walks, sandy bays and most of all the people were very sociable and entertaining – I made numerous friends and when the time came to leave the Island I was really sorry to go.

Sark Lighthouse

Sark Lighthouse

In 1951 we were transferred to Dungeness Lighthouse, so once again I was back to my old home as a child. I pictured Dungeness as I had left it, but of course over the years there was quite a big change in its appearance, especially in the increased growth of vegetation amongst the shingle and there were buildings on the headland. Of the local people living on the headland were quite a few I knew as a child at school which made me feel at home in a very short space of time and life went on very peacefully and happily for a year or so.

Then orders came for my husband to be transferred to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse, Isle of Wight. I was really disappointed with this news as I should have liked to have remained at Dungeness a little longer; like most of us one always feels a little heartache at leaving so many friends and a place one likes, but, this was not to be , so off we went to the Isle of Wight. We were at St. Catherine’s just under three years, quite a happy time spent there, liking it very much. But owing to family reasons my husband in 1955 applied for the post of Principal Keeper at Withernsea Lighthouse which of course is a man and wife station, the wife acting as a “female assistant keeper”. Arriving in that year at our present home at Withernsea, which is quite a pleasant place to live. I have had quite a happy time although kept very busy in one way or another. We have no fog signal and that’s one thing I do miss when it’s foggy weather. It takes such a great deal of getting used to that it makes one feel so conscious of something missing – as I had always been used to fog signals at all the stations I had previously resided at.

Withernsea Lighthouse

Withernsea Lighthouse

With all my life in the service as a light keeper’s daughter and keeper’s wife it has brought to my mind that I have lived and made my home at eighteen various places around England, including living on five different Islands, so have not done so badly travelling around at the expense of the Service and seeing quite a lot of England’s coastline.

It has been my life throughout having known no other. I have always felt life is what one makes it and I can sincerely say with such a varied and interesting life I have been quite content and happy in the Service which up to the time of writing is 57 years. Quite often I have turned to my husband with a smile and said that when he retires I think I deserve to be superannuated from the Service like him, but I am afraid that is being very optimistic.”

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 3 of 4

The following account of one woman’s life as both a daughter and a wife of men serving in the Trinity House lighthouse service was published in the April and July editions of Flash magazine in 1961.

This fascinating recollection was written by Aurelie Trezise, wife of Cyril Trezise BEM. Cyril (b.1900, d. 1970) joined Trinity House as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1919 and retired in March 1962.

Part 1 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 2 of Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 3 of 4: 1926 – 1929

“Some months later in May 1926 my husband had orders to transfer to Flatholm Lighthouse, then classified as a land light, but which was on an island in the Bristol Channel – a station which was considered by the keepers in those days as the worst land light in the Service. At this time my husband was off on the South Bishop Lighthouse, so the news of my husband’s transfer was brought to me at my house by a keeper sent from the Neyland Depot. This was at the time rather amusing for the keeper said that he had some bad news to tell me, I asked “Whatever can that be?”. He replied “You are being transferred to Flatholm Lighthouse” so I said “That’s a land light, isn’t it?” “Yes”, was the reply, “Well” I said, “you could not have given me any better news.” I had to laugh to see his expression, he was absolutely dumbstruck. “Well, well” he said, “you are the first person in the Service I ever heard say they were pleased to go to that place.”

Flatholm Lighthouse and Fog Signal House

Flatholm Lighthouse and Fog Signal House

As I have mentioned before, in those days we had to do our own packing, and being used to it needless to say I started packing right away. When my husband came ashore from the Rock he was surprised to see that almost everything was packed ready for moving.

In due course we arrived at Flatholm Island via Cardiff having been taken to the Island with our furniture by THV Triton. At this time Flatholm Lighthouse was a three years station.

At first we were nine adults only on the Island including the resident caretaker and his wife who looked after an Isolation Hospital there. We soon settled down on the Island and in all we were a very happy community. Most of the young people made the best of things in spite of the solitude.

The caretaker of the Island was also the only boatman and of course was recognised by the Service for bringing our main and food stuff etc. from the mainland which was once per week weather permitting.

My husband was allowed ashore once a year on three weeks’ annual leave taking me with him, of course, so you can imagine how delighted I was to set foot on the mainland if only for a brief period each year. This annual event being the only time I could visit the shops for buying many personal necessities to take back with me to the Island, and naturally as far as funds would allow in those days I always enjoyed our annual holidays, sightseeing and shopping sprees.

The crossing to and fro from the Island could be very tricky at times, as the tidal currents were very strong around the Island. The boatman’s boat was only a 16ft sailing boat and run single handed. Many a time the boatman on his weekly trips to Cardiff would, owing to bad weather, be delayed several days at a time, both from the Island and at Cardiff, so one had to put up with many disappointments but these were soon forgotten when the boat arrived with our mail etc.

I shall always remember my first winter on the Island, as the weather was unusually severe. The boatman went ashore to Cardiff on the 16th of November and did not return until 23rd January owing to continuous gales. The first three weeks we did not mind so much, but with Christmas drawing near we were all getting very concerned whether we should get a boat with provisions and mail for Christmas. Our stock of perishable foods was very low and we were also right out of cigarettes and tobacco.

There was now a baby on the Island who was being fed on Nestles milk. We all gave our tins of milk to the keeper’s wife with the baby, so now the rest of us were all out of milk. At the time I also had a mechanic lodging with me. Christmas came and went and still no boat as the weather continued to be very bad. We had, by this time, run out of perishable goods, such as butter, bacon, yeast etc. We now had to make baking powder bread, for fresh meat we managed to catch a rabbit now and again. On the night of January 22nd all on the Island got together and had a talk about the food situation. It was then decided as the baby was now left with only two tins of milk we should have to inform the District Superintendent via Penarth Coastguard station by Morse lamp of our plight, but during the evening the wind seemed to moderate so that the Principal Keeper decided to wait until the morning before sending any message. All on the Island were up bright an early the next morning. The wind and sea had gone down considerably but we were still doubtful whether a boat would make the crossing. Suddenly, one of the keepers shouted out “I think I can see our boatman coming out of Cardiff harbour.” Fortunately the wind and sea was moderating all the time. Everyone was excited now looking through our glasses watching the boat coming. The boat was being tossed about quite a lot, but once it got near the Monkstone [beacon] we knew the boatman would make it to the Island’s landing beach. Realising this the men went to get the donkey and cart to carry the provisions etc. from the landing to each house, this being the only means of transport on the little Island.

The other keeper’s wife and myself hurried indoors and made our fires up in readiness to cook ourselves what, we called afterwards, “a smashing dinner”. Everyone was on the beach to meet the boat – you can imagine how it did our eyes good to see all the provisions, parcels and mail. What a day that was, everyone smiling and looking more cheerful than we had for many days. After we had had a good cooked dinner, the rest of the day was spent opening Christmas parcels, reading letters and all of us enjoying a jolly good smoke.

Flatholm Lighthouse

Flatholm Lighthouse

Another little episode I experienced at Flatholm gave me at the time quite a big headache – I was now the oldest woman on the Island being 22 ½ years old. I was living at the cottage by the Fog Signal House four minutes’ walk from the Lighthouse Tower. Early one morning at 4 a.m. I was awakened by a loud tapping on the bedroom window. I asked who was there, the other Assistant Keeper of the station answered and said would I come at once to his wife as she was very ill, I replied “You get back to her, I’ll be up to her as soon as possible.” On arrival I found his wife was in bed on the verge of having a miscarriage. I attended to her to the best of my knowledge, and informed the Principal Keeper that a Doctor was needed. The weather was very bad at the time and a message had to be signalled ashore for the Doctor. In the meantime I had the Keeper’s wife on my hands for three days and nights, trusting to providence I was treating her rightly. The Doctor eventually arrived and how relieved and pleased I was to see him. Anyway, the patient though ill was fairly comfortable and the Doctor seemed pleased and complimented me on the way I had looked after her. After this event, life for me went on very happily and peacefully for a few months and the came another worrying time.

The boatman’s wife was taken ill and I was sent for. I did all I could for her that afternoon and night but in the morning she was so poorly that she had to be taken ashore in her husband’s 16ft boat to Cardiff with myself in attendance. I accompanied her to her flat and sent for the Doctor and arranged to leave her in the good hands of relatives. Fortunately the weather was fine and I returned to the Island the following day with the boatman. After landing he informed me that he would be returning to Cardiff the next day and asked me if I would look after his place for him. I replied, yes certainly, but I was wondering how I would get on looking after all his chickens, 60 in all, with quite a number of them nesting, six goats to feed and milk daily and to cap it all a lady dog which was soon to have puppies. The best of it was I had never milked goats in my life. Oh what a game I had trying to get milk from them the very first time. I tried on the eldest nanny first. It took me an hour struggling away before I managed to draw any milk. Eventually I got the knack of it and managed to do the other five goats. I often have a good laugh to myself when I recall to mind these little incidents. Added to all this the other Assistant Keeper’s wife became poorly again, and went ashore with her baby to see the Doctor. Within two days the boatman returned with the Keeper’s wife and baby and a mechanic for the station, but the Keeper’s wife had only returned to collect together some extra clothes as she had to return to Cardiff again and remain ashore at least four months as another baby was coming along and things were not going too well with her, and would I look after her baby whilst she was ashore. To crown it all I also had to lodge another mechanic. Well, well, I thought, here I am only just 23 years of age and not so very long married myself. What worried me most was I never had any experience with the handling of babies before, I really thought I should go grey overnight.

I was now the only woman left on the Island, the boatman’s wife being still ill on shore. Her husband, the boatman, remained ashore whilst his wife was ill and only visited the Island at weekends to bring our mail and provisions and to take our mail, and grocery orders by return for the following week, weather permitting. What with looking after my husband, lodger, baby, the boatman’s house and all his farm family of chickens, goats, dogs with puppies, and donkeys and in addition with the men on the Island often visiting me to tell me of all their little troubles, I sure had a hectic time of it. But with it all the men were very good to me and assisted all they could in one way or another. In fact I think I had more jolly good laughs at the time than I ever had before or since listening to their jocular remarks and advice on how to do this or that, but oh how I wished sometimes for another woman’s company. I was the only woman on the Island for four months before the other Keeper’s wife returned to the station with her second child – one can imagine how pleased I was to see her.

The following 12 months passed away more or less uneventfully excepting for the occasional overdue boat to which one got accustomed. We were a small community on a very small island, but we were all a very friendly and jolly crowd making our own amusements with the usual game of cards of an evening and often picnicking in the centre of the Island, all joining in the fun and making life as pleasant as possible. But sometimes I would look across the channel to the mainland rather pensively watching the trains and cars travelling to and fro along the coastline and the lights of the towns twinkling away at night made one wish one could walk ashore whenever one felt like it.”

Mrs. Trezise’s story will continue in the very near future.