On This Day in Trinity House History – 7 December

1970

New Pilot Station is officially opened on Ryde Pier, Isle of Wight

Ryde Pier Pilot Station: A new Pilot Station is officially opened on Ryde Pier, Isle of Wight.

The station comprised Operations Room, offices, mess room and cabins.

Two fast pilot launches operated from Ryde Pier during 1970 to ship and land pilots at the Nab Pilot Station and to ferry outward pilots to Gosport on the mainland to facilitate their return to Southampton. The shipping using the Nab Station required pilots for the ports of Southampton, Portsmouth and other ports in the Solent.

During the construction of the shore station, the former cruising cutter Bembridge was used for accommodation and communications and then sold out of service to the charity Dial House, to be used as a training ship for under-privileged youngsters in the care of local authorities.

The V.H.F. R/T communication system for the new Ryde Pier Pilot Station was new to the Trinity House Pilotage Service.
With the introduction of the new scheme, considerable savings in manhours were made. The pilot station and launch system was more economical than maintaining a cruising cutter at the Nab Station.

THPV Vagrant off Ryde Pier station

THPV Vagrant off Ryde Pier station

On This Day in Trinity House History – 1 December

1806

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


1737

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


1847

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)


 

1966

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.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 14 November

1741

The Sovereign’s Pilot

Trinity House Board Minute:

“Mr. Jeffrey Curtis, one of our Pilots, having lately conducted His Majesty’s sloop, the Hawk, from Galleons Reach to the Orkney Islands, thence on a cruise to Iceland and back to the Nore, and there being no established rates for the whole of that service, The Hon. The Comptroller of the Navy was pleased to consult this Board and to desire their opinion thereon which was that Eighteen pounds is a reasonable rate for conducting the said sloop Out and Nine pounds Home: The trip to be rated at seventy days and the excess of time according to the usage of the Navy.

On his proposing a farther case about the pilotage of a sloop from Heligolandup the River Yezer and down the said River to the sea: the Board were of opinion that it will be reasonable to allow the Pilot over and above the Established rates five pounds for his Extra Pilotage of the Sloop up the said River and five pounds more for bringing her down to the sea.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 1 October

1853

Trinity House becomes responsible for the Cinque Ports Pilots

The Cinque Ports pilots were transferred from the jurisdiction of the Lord Warden to that of Trinity House; the recently-deceased Duke of Wellington had been the last incumbent of that post.

The number of pilots transferred was one hundred and twenty-six; the pilot boats (four) and the invested pilots funds, amounting to £15,958, were also turned over to Trinity House, together with the liability for pensioners.

 


1957

A Family Tradition

Principal Keeper Daniel Percival Ford Norton retires from the lighthouse service, an otherwise unremarkable occasion made all the more interesting when we read his letter to the Editor of Trinity House’s Flash magazine in the winter of 1973:

“My great grandfather George Norton was Master of a Light Vessel. My grandfather retired as Master of the Seven Stones Light Vessel and my grandmother was one of the last widows to receive a pension from Trinity House. She died in 1910 and I can remember her telling me at that time the Masters received an allowance for victualling the crew.

My father, George Norton, experienced the longest over due relief at The Wolf Rock Lighthouse in January 1915 (45 days).*

An uncle, Harry Norton, retired as Master of the Breaksea Light Vessel and another uncle, Alfred Norton, retired as Principal Keeper from St. Anthony Lighthouse in 1923.

I had two brothers, Harry and John, who were also Lighthouse Keepers.

I myself retired in 1959 after 39 years service. I joined the Service in 1920 after strict medical examinations (one a local and another in London). I served in the 1914-1918 war and eventually after a long wait I finally started training at Trinity House in 1920. The Experimental Room was known as the Black Hole of Calcutta, Mr. Lee was the Instructor and Mr. Hood was the Engineer-in-Chief. I then went to the Blackwall Workshops for a further period of training and was finally appointed as a Supernumerary Keeper for a period of 6 years. When we were not required for duty we returned to Blackwall where we acted as messengers carrying mail to Trinity House. Friday was Board day and one of my duties was to carry the Superintendent’s coat and cap who at that time was Captain Hattersley. One day I tried the coat and cap on, but was caught in the progress by the Captain who informed me that it took more than a coat and cap to make a Superintendent!

I think it can be fairly said that the Norton family have a record of approximately 300 years service with Trinity House.”

It is no mean feat to have had such a long-standing family tradition of service to Trinity House.

* A letter sent to Flash in response to Mr. Norton’s letter pointed out that, as a matter of fact, Mr. Ted Day must have experienced the longest spell on any Rock Lighthouse. In 1919 Ted Day was landed on the Wolf Rock for a month’s relief duty, but as a result of bad weather and the lack of relief personnel, it was 140 days on the Wolf Rock Lighthouse before Mr. Day could be relieved.


1997

Alderney Lighthouse is automated

Alderney Lighthouse is converted to automatic operation and the lighthouse keepers depart.

The lighthouse was built in 1912 in order to act as a guide to passing shipping and to warn vessels of the treacherous waters around the Isle. It is sited on Quénard Point, to the north-east of the Island. Alderney lighthouse tower rises 32 metres and is painted white with a central black band to make it more visible to shipping during the hours of daylight.

More information at the Trinity House website

Alderney Lighthouse

Alderney Lighthouse

On This Day in Trinity House History – 26 September

1900

Pendeen Lighthouse is first lit

A light is established at Pendeen in Cornwall.

From Cape Cornwall the coast runs NE by E towards the Wra, or Three Stone Oar, off Pendeen. From here the inhospitable shore continues for a further eight miles or so to the Western entrance of St. Ives Bay, the principal feature here being the Gurnards Head, on which many ships have come to grief.

Until 1891 maritime safety off Pendeen depended more on activity after a wreck rather than effective prevention, the “Admiralty Sailing Directions” for that year being only able to report a “Coastguard Station where a rocket apparatus is kept”. The high cliffs along this sector of coastline prevented passing vessels from catching sight of either Trevose Head to the East or the Longships to the West; and so numbers of them, unable to ascertain their position, were lost, particularly on the groups of sunken and exposed rocks near Pendeen Watch. Trinity House became increasingly concerned about this state of affairs as the nineteenth century drew to its close, and decided to erect a lighthouse and fog signal at Pendeen. Designs for the building were prepared by Sir Thomas Matthews, the Trinity House Engineer, their construction being undertaken by Arthur Carkeek, of Redruth, with Messrs. Chance, of Birmingham supplying the lantern.

More at the Trinity House website

Pendeen Lighthouse

Pendeen Lighthouse

 


1915

First World War casualties

Trinity House Pilot Cutter Vigilant was destroyed by a mine while cruising at Sunk station. Eight of the eleven pilots on board were killed, the rest injured. Seven of the crew were killed and one other injured.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 10 August

1737

Storm Damage to Lighthouses

Trinity House Board Minutes:

“Agent at Yarmouth reporting that great damage has been done to our lighthouses at Castor [Caister or Caistor] by the late storm, and that he had done what was immediately necessary for keeping in the lights, and asked for further directions. Ordered, to repair the lighthouses forthwith in such a manner as he shall judge necessary, with due regard to good husbandry and to the safety of navigation.

Letter from a master of a vessel forced into Fowey by bad weather, that he found great difficulty in entering the harbour for want of the mark of St. Saviour’s church lately blown down, and recommending the repair of it, to this Corporation. It was not thought incumbent upon this Corporation to repair the same, and as we receive no Duties on that account we cannot layout the Poors money thereon.”


 

1822

Preceding the Monarch

The Trinity Yacht departs Greenwich for the Nore to join the Royal Squadron bound for Scotland, awaiting the arrival of the Royal George from Greenwich where King George IV had embarked. So began the privilege of Royal escort that became the tradition, whenever the monarch went afloat in English or Welsh waters, of the Elder Brethren preceding the Royal Yacht in pilotage waters.

The twentieth century kept the Trinity House flagships very busy: in 1969, the Corporation was paraded in full public view, as THV Patricia (1938-82) would attend HM The Queen on no less than three high profile occasions: the review of the NATO Naval Force’s 20th Anniversary, the review of the Western Fleet and the departure from the Humber of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh for the royal visit to Norway.

The Corporation and its flagship would discharge this same duty again in 1977, leading as Royal Escort for the Jubilee Fleet Review. Later occasions would include the Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Reviews, the Sea Service’s Thames Water Pageant in 1919, marking the end of the First World War, and the Royal Navy review in the Coronation Year.

HRH Princess Royal took pride of place when Trinity House Motor Boat No.1 led the vanguard of the Diamond Jubilee procession upon the Thames, as the Corporation continued its long-standing engagement with the nation’s most famous waterway; the Corporation would shortly after escort the royal barge Gloriana as she carried the Olympic Torch downriver from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge.

Jubilee Procession 2012 - Copyright Ambrose Greenway

Jubilee Procession 2012 – Copyright Ambrose Greenway


1854

Trinity House is Officially Constituted as a General Lighthouse Authority

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 constituted Trinity House the General Lighthouse Authority for England and Wales and the Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, and the adjacent Seas and Islands, and in Heligoland and Gibraltar.

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. The act opened an account with the Paymaster General to establish the new Mercantile Marine Fund as the repository for Light Dues, although this early pool was simply a catch-all fund for all manner of maritime activities: Local Marine Boards, Shipping Offices, Surveyors, Receivers of Wreck, and so on.

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1898 replaced the indiscriminate Mercantile Marine Fund with the General Lighthouse Fund, an account for Light Dues overseen by Government for the dedicated purpose of ensuring the provision of an aids to navigation service.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 2 August

1732

The Elder Brethren are empowered to search for gunpowder aboard ships

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Instruments under the Seal of the Corporation issued to the following: Captain John Werry; Captain William Harrison; Captain Charles Hardy; Captain Thomas Rogers; Captain John Robinson; Jun. Captain John Denn, Captain Thomas Wilkins, Captain David Greenhill; and Captain William Lorance, empowering them to (respectively) go on board ships to search for gunpowder, pursuant to the late Act of Parliament.”

 


1958

Trinity House Pilot Vessels rescue hapless sailors

Notice in Flash Magazine:

“DUCKS & DRAKES

The rescue season is now in full swing, and the Pilot Vessel Service has contributed in its usual manner. The best day’s bag was that of Mr. J S Brown, acting as Mate of Kihna who on the 2nd August set out in one of Kihna‘s boats to rescue the crew of a capsized sailing dinghy in Dover Harbour. A second dinghy capsized after Kihna‘s boat was got away, and both crews were duly rescued.

In July the Pilot Vessel Pelorus on station at Dungeness took alongside the yacht Salome which was leaking. The sole crew of this boat was an 80 year old Doctor, who refused to come on board. After Salome had been alongside for an hour and a half she was taken in tow by the Dungeness lifeboat.

On the 25th July the Vigia, which was in charge of her 2nd Mate Mr. L. Ablett, took in tow near Platters buoy the yacht Wayward Wind. The yacht was disabled with a broken rudder and choked pumps. The Wayward Wind with her crew of three was taken safely into Harwich.”