On This Day in Trinity House History – 29 September


Cromer Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Cromer Lighthouse: a light is first exhibited from a coal fire enclosed in a lantern. Before the erection of a lighthouse at Cromer lights for the guidance of vessels were shown from the tower of the parish church, these were small, but served a useful purpose for many years. A number of ecclesiastical lights such as this were exhibited around the coast in medieval times.

During the first twenty years following Charles II’s restoration in 1660 many proposals were put forward for lighthouses on all parts of the coast. One of the petitioners, Sir John Clayton, suggested no less than five lighthouses on four different sites – at the Farne Islands off Northumberland, Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, Foulness at Cromer and Corton near Lowestoft.

Despite opposition to his schemes Sir John, together with a George Blake obtained a comprehensive patent in 1669 and at a cost of £3,000 erected towers at each of the four sites. The patent would last for 60 years and specified rates of dues to to be paid (voluntarily) by the owners of passing vessels.

Unfortunately the cost of maintenance was high and many of the shipowners were unwilling to pay the dues required so that Clayton could not afford to kindle fires in the tower at Cromer. However the unlighted tower served as a beacon and together with the other towers are marked definitely as lighthouses on sea charts after 1680 with references such as “a lighthouse but no fire kept in it”.

The owner of the land at Foulness, Nathaniel Life, considered that the situation required a lighthouse and it is said that he built a tower in 1717 hoping to be granted a patent for the light. It is more likely, however, that Life merely took steps for lighting the shell of Clayton’s tower. Assisted by Edward Bowell, a Younger Brother of Trinity House, he persuaded the Brethren to apply for a patent. They obtained it in 1719, the dues to be ¼ penny per ton of general cargo and ½ penny per chaldron (25 cwt) of Newcastle coal. Life and Bowell jointly received a lease at a rental of £100, on Life’s undertaking that the tower with one acre of ground should pass to Trinity House when the patent expired in 61 years.

The patentees exhibited a coal fire enclosed in a lantern on 29th September, 1719. In 1792 Trinity House, now in possession, fitted here its second flashing light; 5 reflectors and argand oil lamps on each of the 3 faces of a revolving frame.

The present lighthouse, a white octagonal tower standing about ½ mile from the cliff edge, was built in 1833 and converted to electric operation in 1958. In June 1990 the station was converted to automatic operation and is now monitored from the Trinity House Planning Centre at Harwich.

Cromer Lighthouse

Cromer Lighthouse



Longships Lighthouse is first lit

The tower was established on Carn Bras, the largest of the Longships Rocks which rose 12m above high tides.

The circular tower, designed by Trinity House architect Samuel Wyatt, had three storeys; the lowest contained water tanks and stores, the next formed a living room and the lightkeepers used as a bedroom the top storey under the wood and copper lantern. The lantern was elevated 24m above the sea, and held 18 parabolic metal reflectors and Argands, arranged in two tiers.

From the terrific seas which swept over the rock during storms, the lantern was so often under water that the character of a fixed light could not be determined with certainty. This eclipse by the waves was the reason given for the replacement of Wyatt’s tower by the present circular tower of grey granite built by Sir James Douglass, Trinity House engineer, in 1875.

Longships Lighthouse

Longships Lighthouse


The crew of the St Gowan Lightvessel station are given a television

Notice in Flash magazine:

“The Master and Crew of St. Gowan Light Vessel on the 29th September 1957 were presented with a Television Receiver by the members of the Tenby Rotary Club. This now means that the crews of all the Light Vessels on the Swansea District can now watch Television, and it is thus the first District to be able to do so.”

On This Day in Trinity House History – 13 August


Trinity House Becomes Responsible for the Last of the Private Lighthouses in England and Wales

An Act of Parliament empowers the Corporation to buy out the last of the privately-operated lighthouses: Harwich High and Low, Dungeness, Winterton, Hunstanton, Orfordness High and Low, Smalls, Longships, Tynemouth, Spurn Point and Skerries.

Reinforced by the recommendations of a Royal Commission Report of 1834, and the desire of shipowners and government to bring the last private aids to navigation under the steady arm of Trinity House, an act was passed on 13 August 1836 empowering the Corporation to buy out all remaining private lighthouses, whether held by the Crown or by Perpetual Lease under Act of Parliament, being twelve in total. The buy-out money was raised—£1,182,546—against the funded properties of the Corporation and the Pilot Fund, with a loan of £150,000 from the Treasury and money raised upon the Corporation’s bonds. The Skerries Lighthouse leaseholders held out until 1841, reluctant to relinquish an average annual profit of £12,525.

Although the act of 1836 arguably sowed the early seeds of the modern lighthouse service, it was the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1854 that officially constituted Trinity House as the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the adjacent seas and islands, and Heligoland and Gibraltar.

As Trinity House became responsible for these remaining lighthouses, it undertook the upgrading of the various architectural and technological aspects of each lighthouse.

Skerries Lighthouse section copyright Trinity House

Skerries Lighthouse section copyright Trinity House

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 1 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 4: 1903 – 1920

“At the time of my birth in November 1903 my parents were stationed at Bardsey Island Lighthouse off the coast of Wales, at that time a land light. My mother had made full arrangements to go ashore at Pwllheli, on the mainland but, owing to continuous gales it was impossible for the small sailing boat to cross over in time. Hurried arrangements therefore had to be made on the Island which at that time had a population of around 45 people, but no resident Doctor. One of the inhabitants, a lady of 70 years of age, said she would come and act as mid-wife to my mother.

Bardsey Lighthouse

Bardsey Lighthouse

The Island Veterinary Surgeon (who was really an amateur vet) said if things should go wrong he would come and do his best for her. As things turned out however, I was brought into the world safe and sound. I was told in later years that those happenings caused a great deal of worry and excitement on the Island.

When I was 13 months old my father was transferred to Dungeness Lighthouse. I now pass on until I was around 5 years old when I commenced school at Dungeness. On the station were five other children, all boys older than myself and being the only girl a “misfit” with the boys. I can well remember being taught to walk on “Back-Stays”. “Back-Stays” were oblong shaped slats of wood with leather straps attached for fitting to the feet. There being no roads in those days the “Back-Stays” were commonly used for making walking much easier and quicker upon the shingly headland. As the school was one mile from the Lighthouse one can imagine what it was like walking to and fro in all weathers in this manner, but one soon got used to it.

Another recollection I have of my early childhood at Dungeness is of a very severe winter with heavy snow storms and we children on the Station building a large snow man which stood up for over a month inside the station grounds and of which we all felt very proud. Then word went round that the Superintendent was making a visit to the Station so our poor snow man had to be knocked down as the then Principal Keeper would not allow it to be standing there when the Superintendent visited, much to our dismay and disappointment.

Dungeness Lighthouse (pre 1961 tower)

Dungeness Lighthouse (pre 1961 tower)

Some months later another Principal Keeper was appointed to the Station, whom the children thought was rather a “fusspot”. We were not allowed to play around the grounds inside the boundary wall of the Station, but had to be outside on the shingly headland and whenever the Elder Brethren or Superintendent paid a visit the Principal Keeper told all the parents that we were to be sent off the Station and to keep clear and not return until after the Ensign was lowered after the inspection. He would also not allow the Keepers wives to have any washing hanging on the clothes line after 1 p.m. at which time all had to be taken down including aIl clothes posts. I often smile to myself whenever these little incidents of years ago recur to mind.

When I was seven years old my parents were transferred to North Foreland (1910). We were only there 10 months. My brother and I had more or less a quiet time there. We had a walk of 2 ½ miles daily to school.

From there we were next moved to Sennen, Land’s End in 1911. I still think of what a dismal night it was when we arrived there around 8 p.m. We were all very tired after a long day’s travelling and my father at the time was none too well. We were given the keys of our house by the Principal Keeper ashore. There was such a gale and rain that we were more than pleased to get into our new home. What a disappointment it was to me in the morning to find that I was amongst boys again. So once more there was no girl playmate for me. Land’s End was rather bleak but on the whole I enjoyed myself there especially when we visited Sennen Cove. We used to delight in watching the Fishermen with their catches of fish, and playing on the nice sandy bench. Whilst there I well remember my father being sent off to Longships Lighthouse for a duty of six weeks, but owing to continuous stormy weather he was off on the Lighthouse for 19 weeks before being relieved.

Soon after this my father was transferred to St. Anthony’s Lighthouse in 1912. To my dismay we travelled there on Christmas Eve. I was now 10 years old. That Christmas I remember well as we had to make do with the personal things we brought with us in our luggage as our household furniture never arrived at the Station until well into the month of Janaury. In those days it was brought by the Trinity House tender from Penzance to the Lighthouse landing.

Once we settled down in our new home my brother and I really had a very happy time during our stay there. We attended St. Anthony school a distance of 2 ½ miles from the Lighthouse. We had to walk to school and of course we took our lunch with us.

Shortly afterwards my brother left school and started work. Now I was on my own being the only child on the station. Within six months unfortunately for me St. Anthony school closed down and I had to attend the school at a place called Gerrans five miles from the Lighthouse, which made quite a long walk on my own (10 miles) daily. My brother had a 10ft rowing dinghy and when he commenced work he gave the boat to me. At this period the 1914-18 war broke out and owing to war restrictions I had to register the boat in my name and give it a number (347). It was a proud day for me, being so young, to have a boat of my own and in which I spent many happy hours.

Near the Lighthouse there was a large Army Camp. I mention this as I had to pass through this camp every day to go to school. It was a headache to me especially in the winter time as I was always given a fresh counter sign daily so as to pass eight different sentries through the camp. Sometimes the counter sign would given was a little difficult to remember. I often laugh now as sometimes returning home from school I had forgotten the word and if new recruits were on sentry they would hold me up before I could convince them that I was from the Lighthouse; it generally ended up by having to call out the N.C.O. of the guard to verify who I was. The sentries who knew me used to write the counter-sign word on a piece of paper for me. I used to enjoy going to the Army Y.M.C.A. concerts accompanied by my mother and occasionally I played the piano for the C.E.M.S. [Church of England Men’s Society] Sunday services.

St Anthonys Lighthouse

St Anthonys Lighthouse

At St. Anthony we had to keep a good stock of food in, which was obtained at Falmouth. I often rowed my dinghy across the river to Falmouth about six miles distant to get odds and ends for those at the Lighthouse during the summer months. Normally the weekly groceries were brought from Falmouth to a small cove called Place House landing by ferry boat and my brother and I would walk 2 ½ miles to this cove to meet the ferry taking with us a small home-made hand cart. After we had collected the groceries we would return home pushing and pulling the hand cart. In the summer time we enjoyed doing this, but in the winter time we used to grumble between ourselves, especially in bad weather, but we still had to do it. Anyway, our parents always compensated us with a few coppers, which of course we expected and which satisfied us.

While at St. Anthony I remember quite well going to the Cinema for the very first time in Falmouth at the age of 13 years.

I now move on to our short stay at Lowestoft Lighthouse in September 1918. It was a big change for me to live in a town as up to now I had lived in isolated places. It was rather amusing the first night we were there, we were unpacking our luggage when a knock came on the door, it was the police warning us we were showing a light out of the window so we had to take more care after that.

We were only at this station for eight months so there is not much to relate concerning our stay there, excepting I went to the Theatre for the first time in my life and thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked our short stay at Lowestoft but preferred the country to town life.

Our next transfer was to St. Bees in 1919. I was now 15 years old and had left school. I was at home assisting my mother who was not in good health. My schooldays had been very happy ones, the only drawback I found was that owing to frequent transfers I had to attend five different schools which was really a set back for me regarding education in comparison with facilities the young ones of today have.

My start at St. Bees was very nice as I was very fond of walking and roaming the beaches. Now came my first winter at St. Bees. The station was quite a distance from the village and town, and I was wondering how I should get on in my leisure hours of an evening outside of home entertainment, knitting, playing the piano, etc., as I was the only young girl in the neighbourhood. I was not of the nervous type so my parents allowed me to walk to Whitehaven about five miles away to do some shopping and go to the first house of the theatre which every week I looked forward to. Otherwise my life at St. Bees was the usual daily routine at home, as previously stated, my mother was in poor health.”

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