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.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 2 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 4: 1920 – 1925

“November 1920 we were transferred to Hartland Point Lighthouse. The nearest railway station, Bideford, was 18 miles and the village of Hartland 5 miles. Another out of the way place but this I did not mind so much as I was always fond of the countryside and cliffs.

I was now 17 years old and once again the only young girl on the station, which was rather disappointing to me, as with all the Lighthouses I had already been to I never had a girl companion. Anyway I soon settled down. The grocer delivered our main groceries once a week, but every Saturday I walked to the village of Hartland, 5 miles, to fetch meat from the Butcher and other oddments which were needed. After a week or so of this my parents bought me a bicycle. As it happened there was a single keeper on the station who offered to teach me to ride the cycle, which the keeper said was his doom, as a few years later he became my husband. The bicycle was a blessing to me as it saved me many a long walk. To get to the nearest town one had to walk to Hartland, the nearest bus service. I very often cycled the 18 miles to Bideford and back for, a day’s outing and shopping which, [during] summer time, to me was quite enjoyable for it was such nice scenery along this part of North Devon.

Hartland Point Lighthouse

Hartland Point Lighthouse

On one of my cycling excursions to Bideford and accompanied by the single keeper, who also had a cycle, we started off in glorious sunshine, arrived in Bideford and obtained various articles which my mother required and then had lunch. During our lunch the sky clouded over so we decided to collect our parcels, put them on the cycles and to make our way home – 18 miles to ride. During this return journey it commenced to rain heavily with an increasing wind. By the time we arrived within a mile of the Lighthouse we were soaked to the skin and the wind which was head on was blowing with such gale force that we had to leave our cycles at the nearest form. The farmer’s wife loaned us two large baskets to put our parcels in and then we made our way on foot over the headland to the approach road leading to the Lighthouse. The walk down this road I shall never forget, the wind in our faces and blowing with such force that we had the utmost difficulty in reaching the Lighthouse. We were being blown in all directions, with the rain beating into our faces that we could hardly see. The large baskets we were carrying were swinging about like ladies’ handbags. It took us well over half an hour to walk this last half mile. When we got inside my home, we were utterly exhausted and to make things worse some of the small parcels were missing out of the baskets. After a short rest we braved the elements again, retraced our steps up the approach road hunting for the missing parcels which we found were blown to the top of the road. We struggled back again and weren’t we pleased to get back into dry clothes and have a refreshing cup of tea. So ended what we thought was going to be a perfect day’s outing.

After a few visits to the village of Hartland I was introduced to a young girl of my own age. We liked and took to one another right away and became very firm friends, the first girl friend I’d ever had. She had a cycle and we had many happy times together visiting each other’s homes, going to occasional Whist Drives and dances, and I got to know a great many friends, in fact, I experienced some of the happiest times of my life while living there.

We had been at Hartland 2 ½ years when my father received orders for transfer to the Maplin Lighthouse. In those days keepers still did their own packing up of furniture to be ready for transport. Anyway, my father and I started packing up, a job which both of us liked, my mother was useless at it. Eventually we finished packing and waited for final orders when to leave. At that time the Trinity Service maintained a certain amount of essential furniture in the Lighthouse cottages so while waiting we utilised this furniture and our own necessary requirements such as cooking utensils, bedding and crockery which one always kept in readiness to take as personal luggage when travelling as more often than not one arrived at one’s destination a week, sometimes up to three weeks, before the furniture arrived. In those days it was usually transported by rail. However, we had been waiting three weeks, all packed up, when a letter arrived cancelling our orders and instructing my father to remain as a large reconstruction programme of work to the buildings was to be carried out. Two single keepers were being sent to relieve the other two married assistant keepers (the previous single keeper had left the station some 18 months before), so this meant unpacking again which as it happened we were not sorry to do, as my parents and I did not really want to live in the London area.

About three months later reconstruction work commenced when in full swing between 40 and 50 men were at work on station which included building a sea wall and knocking down part of the high headland nearby which had been very dangerous for those using the approach road, many a morning when I walked up this road to the nearby farm for our milk huge boulders of rock and rubble which had loosened from the cliff top had fallen on to the road. In these conditions it always kept one ever watchful whenever going up and down this road. Up to now my life at Hartland Point had been quiet but now with all this reconstruction work the place soon began to look like a breakers yard, what with all the masonry, debris, dust and lorries flying around. My mother and I certainly had a busy and hectic time of it as we were the only women on the station. When work on the houses was in progress we were always moving from room to room until each particular part was completed, so one can imagine how happy things were. But I must say all the workmen were very nice and considerate under the circumstances. I had many a good laugh and exciting incidents such as minor injuries to the men which were frequently happening. My father and I would have made good nurses for almost every day one or other of the workmen would be calling at our door with either injured fingers, bruised limbs, foreign matter in the eyes etc. which we attended to. Mother always kept plenty of hot water and bandages ready for such needs. I always remember one outstanding incident for me, one of the men was struck on the head with a piece of flying rock which almost severed his ear. When brought to the house the greater portion of the ear was hanging down. We did the best we could for him such as cleansing and stopping the bleeding. In the meantime a lorry was at the door to take the injured man to the nearest hospital at Bideford 18 miles away. It was left to me to accompany him and I had to hold the ear in position until we arrived at the hospital where it was stitched together. Eventually this man got well again and returned to his old job of work at the lighthouse.

Close upon this incident I was preparing for my forthcoming marriage which was to take place in the month of August. My parents were greatly concerned how to arrange the Wedding Reception for me as under the then existing conditions it was impossible to hold it at the Lighthouse. It was arranged therefore to hire a marquee locally for the occasion which was erected in a field near the approach road to the Lighthouse. Permission was given to use the field by a very friendly neighbouring farmer. The fixing of my Wedding date was left in abeyance until after the arrival after the arrival of my husband to be, who was an assistant keeper on the South Bishop Lighthouse. He was relieved on the 17th August and arrangements were quickly made for my Wedding to take place on the 20th August 1925. For me this great day passed off very well indeed, and after spending our honeymoon in Cornwall we returned to Neyland in Pembrokeshire, at that time a Trinity House Depot. We arrived on the Friday night and my husband was due to go off to the South Bishop Lighthouse on the following Monday September 5th, so the weekend was a busy one for me preparing for my husband’s departure with the usual custom of cooking a few delicacies, gathering clothes together to take off with him on the rock and ordering from the shops meat and main groceries etc., I had to visit the wives of my husband’s colleagues to collect their letters and parcels for their husbands who were on the rock, the bulk of the relief gear being collected and put aboard the relief Tender the previous day in readiness for the departure of the relief the following morning. My husband, of course, left on the Monday with the relief.

South Bishop Lighthouse

South Bishop Lighthouse

Needless to say I was none too happy about all this being just under 22 years of age and the first time I had ever left home. I was now alone, a stranger in new surroundings, which I must admit made me feel a little lonesome, and with the thoughts of only one letter from my husband during the next two months. Unfortunately this particular winter was very rough one and in the first five months of my marriage I saw my husband for 17 days only owing to overdue reliefs. This I thought was not a very good start to my young married life.”


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