On This Day in Trinity House History – 26 November


North Foreland Lighthouse is automated and the last lighthouse keepers leave

The completion of the ambitious lighthouse automation programme came with the North Foreland Lighthouse. Ending four centuries of service, the last six keepers in the Trinity House Lighthouse Service were given a warm farewell by the Master HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and the profession passed into folklore and history.

A light was first exhibited at North Foreland in 1499, but the first real lighthouse was built by Sir John Meldrum in 1636. The lighthouse consisted of a two storey octagonal tower made of timber, lath and plaster with an iron coal burning grate on top. This tower was destroyed by fire in 1683.

A temporary measure of a single candle in a lantern hoisted on a pole proved, not surprisingly, ineffective and the present structure was built in 1691; originally the tower was 12 metres tall constructed of brick, stone and flint. In 1698 the lighthouse is recorded as using 100 tons of coal a year.

North Foreland Lighthouse came into the hands of the Trustees of Greenwich Hospital in 1719, they used the surplus from the light dues for the upkeep of the hospital for the benefit of seamen. They enclosed the fire in a glazed lantern in 1719 but this was removed in 1730 after complaints from shipping. In 1793 a further two storeys were added to the tower and the coal fire was replaced by 18 oil lamps.

Trinity House purchased the lighthouse in 1832. In 1890 a separate room known as the lantern house, was built on to the top of the tower to accommodate the light. An improved light source was installed in 1894, a pair of eight wick Trinity House-pattern burners for heavy mineral oil, replaced in 1904 by a triple mantle burner, and again replaced in 1923 with a ‘Hood’ 100mm petroleum vapour burner.

North Foreland was the last Trinity Lighthouse to be automated when it was converted to automatic operation at a ceremony attended by his Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh in 1998.

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 21 October


 The Rebuilt Trinity House is Reopened After the Second World War by HM The Queen

Having being destroyed during the Blitz, the rebuilt and improved Trinity House is opened by HM The Queen on Trafalgar day.

Architect Professor (later Sir) Albert Richardson initially submitted plans for building a new house, but the Brethren were determined to not only reinstate Wyatt’s building as it had been, but also to demolish the old Pilotage Service office building and build in its place a new library, grand enough to host functions and banquets, laid with carpet of the same pattern used in cabins of ships of the line at the end of the 18th century, as well as offices and sleeping quarters elsewhere in the building. In addition, an entirely new seven-storey office block was built at the rear, with laboratories, a research department and recreation rooms.

HM Queen Elizabeth II reopens Trinity House London 21 Oct 1953

HM Queen Elizabeth II reopens Trinity House London 21 Oct 1953


End of an Era: North Foreland Lighthouse is Converted to Automatic Operation (But Not Formally!)

North Foreland Lighthouse is converted to automatic, unmanned operation, the last Trinity House lighthouse. The formal closing ceremony would come on 26 November 1998.

North Foreland Lighthouse copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 16 May


The First Trinity House Buoy Tender

The Board minutes record the origins of the Corporation’s first vessel:

“The Master was pleased to observe that he thought it might be of service to the Corporation & for the Safety of His Majesty’s Ships to have a vessel of our own, to be sent down amongst the Sands, to observe their bearings, the setting of the Tides & the Depths of Water, Especially from the Naze to the North Foreland & to have some of our Pilots go therein for their Improvement, under the Direction of some of the Brethren, as also for the better care & placing of our Buoys.”

One month later, the minutes would name the vessel and issue its first assignment:

“Our Buoy boat called the Trinity Sloop, being now ready… and she to be sent out immediately on an inspection of the Buoys and Beacons in the North and South Channels.”

The ensuing ‘Yacht Establishment,’ a precursor to the Steam (later ‘Support’) Vessel Service was also used to survey the shifting sands of the Thames, a function performed today by the Admiralty Hydrographer and the Port of London Authority.

For a full history of the Trinity House Support Vessel Service, readers may want to pick up a copy of Richard Woodman’s Keepers of the Sea, the story of the Trinity House Yachts and Tenders.

Thomas Whitcombe's Seascape with a Trinity House Yacht and a man-o-war of the Blue Squadron off the Casquets, 1795, Copyright Trinity House

Thomas Whitcombe’s Seascape with a Trinity House Yacht and a man-o-war of the Blue Squadron off the Casquets, 1795, Copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 20 April


East coast lighthouses prepared for King George II’s passing-by

Trinity House Board Minute:

“His Majesty about to go to Holland, the Keepers at Harwich, Orford, Lowestoft, and the Foreland [lighthouses] ordered to take special care of their respective lights as soon as the time of his Majesty’s time of departure shall be fixed. A like notice to the Trinity Sloop concerning the buoys in the Nth. & Sth. Channels.”



THV Alert enters service

THV Alert was commissioned into service, having been converted from an Admiralty cable ship (HMS Bullseye).

This Alert, the fourth Trinity House Vessel to bear the name, was built to replace the Alert sunk by a mine during the Second World War. She served well as was sold out of service in 1970.

THV Alert 1946 - 1970

THV Alert 1946 – 1970

On This Day in 1998… The Last Lighthouse Keepers

On 26 November 1998, Trinity House’s then Master HRH The Duke of Edinburgh oversaw a ceremony to mark the automation and demanning of North Foreland Lighthouse, the last manned Trinity House lighthouse, completing the ambitious lighthouse automation programme.

Ending four centuries of service, the last six keepers in the Trinity House Lighthouse Service were given a warm farewell by the Master, and the profession passed into folklore and history.

The last keepers were Tristan Sturley, Dermot Cronin, Tony Homewood, Colin Bale, Dave Appleby and Barry Simmons. It should be noted that towards the end of manned lighthouses, ‘double manning’ had been brought in, with two teams of three lighthouse keepers alternating their time at the lighthouse; each team was made up of a Principal Keeper and two Assistant Keepers.

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation [Flash 1998] copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation 1998 copyright Trinity House

North Foreland Lighthouse Automation 1998, with the last six lighthouse keepers, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (then Master) and Rear Admiral Sir Patrick Rowe (then Deputy Master). 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.