On This Day in Trinity House History – 25 October


The Night of the ‘Royal Charter Storm’ at South Stack Lighthouse

Over the course of the Royal Charter Storm, 25-26 October 1859, over 200 vessels were either driven ashore or totally wrecked with the loss of 800 lives.

The steamship Royal Charter was among these, and she sunk within yards of help with the loss of almost 500 passengers and crew.

On that evening South Stack Lighthouse Assistant Keeper Jack Jones had been making his way across the iron bridge on to South Stack so that he could join the Principal Keeper Henry Bowen, already on duty.

As the story goes, a rock was swept from the cliff by the strong wind, fell and struck Jones on the head. Covered in blood, almost senseless with concussion, he dragged himself up the gale lashed path. Feebly he cried out for help, then, head in hands, he lay unable to move any further. Henry Bowen found him in the same place on the Wednesday morning, groaning and unable to move, his hair matted with blood. Jack Jones died three weeks later of a compound fracture of the skull.

South Stack Lighthouse

South Stack Lighthouse


Trinity House Replaces Lost War Tonnage with THV Ready

THV Ready is commissioned, to become the Harwich district tender.

THV Ready (1947-77)

THV Ready (1947-77)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 12 September


William Pitt Lays The Foundation Stone of Trinity House on Tower Hill

The foundation stone of the current Trinity House was laid by William Pitt, the Master, in the south-west corner of the building.

By 1793 the Trinity House in Water Lane was in need of extensive repair. The Corporation sold the property  to the Commissioners of Customs, and took over a vacant site on Tower Hill. Master carpenter-turned architect and engineer Samuel Wyatt, appointed Surveyor to Trinity House in 1792, drew up plans for a new house, which he can be seen presenting to the Elder Brethren in Gainsborough Dupont’s immense group portrait of 1794. William Pitt, Prime Minister, laid the foundation stone on 12 September 1793, and the first Court inside the acclaimed new headquarters was held on 23 May 1796.

Trinity House, built 1796, rebuilt 1953. Copyright Trinity House

Trinity House, built 1796, rebuilt 1953. Copyright Trinity House



Ex-Trinity House Vessel Discovery II is Paid Off

Discovery II is paid-off from the Service of the National Oceanographic Council, after an active life of almost 33 years.

She did invaluable work for Trinity House during the Second World War; one Trinity House clerk from the time remembered that “Discovery II did very good service in the War, and always appeared to be in the War Zone, having “fun and games” as her Captain used to call it.”

Her sea-going life was written up in a 1963 edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

“Originally built for the Discovery Committee, Colonial Office, by Ferguson Brothers, of Port Glasgow, as a research ship, and with Class I strengthening for navigation in ice, she was laid down early in 1929, was completed late in November the same year and within a few weeks (14th December) sailed on her first commission to Antarctic waters, where she was to examine the habitat of the whale.

This was to be the first of six such 2-year commissions, five of which were completed before the Second World War and, with the completion of the sixth in 1951, a major biological and physical survey of the Southern Ocean had been made. Outstanding problems still remain, of course, but these do not materially affect the overall picture now available in respect of the distribution of whale food, the configuration of the sea bed and the general circulation of the ocean. On all the cruises, the DISCOVERY II was a Selected Ship for weather observations, in voluntary co-operation with the Marine Division of the Meteorological Office. Twice was the Antarctic continent circumnavigated in winter — in 1932 and 1951 — and further winter observations on or near the ice-edge were obtained south of Cape Town during a series of repeated cruises in the winter months of 1938. It is probable that the meteorological logs kept during these periods form the greater part of the meteorological information even now available from such high southern latitudes in winter — in oceanic areas.
A further voyage close around Antarctica was made in the summer of 1938-39 and the meteorological observations then obtained must be of considerable value. The meteorological data from the logbooks has been punched on to Hollerith cards and is used as and when necessary for climatological purposes. Moreover, whenever the ship was within the zone appropriate to sending weather reports to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, coded messages were sent. Since DISCOVERY II was normally approaching from a westerly or south-westerly direction, and, from areas from which incoming weather reports were virtually nil, the information was much appreciated by the meteorological offices concerned.

In 1938-39 meteorologists from the countries mentioned above accompanied the ship on the appropriate sectors of her summer circumpolar cruise and, in 1950-51 several research officers from New Zealand made a series of experimental observations between Dunedin and Macquarie Island.

During the six voyages made to the Southern Ocean in all seasons, and often in unpleasant weather, much data was collected on the subject of pack-ice, more especially with regard to its distribution, and the relation of meteorological conditions — particularly in winter.

During the war DISCOVERY II was requisitioned for service as an armed boarding vessel and was stationed to intercept ships on the northern route, via the Denmark Strait — a very suitable area for a ship built for the Antarctic — but life on board for a crew nearly four times the normal complement must have been a little trying. It must also have been difficult, in such a lively ship, to lower a boat and get a boarding party away. Released from this service in 1942, she was re-fitted for service with Trinity House, and, during this period, she was for a time stationed in Iceland, laying buoys at a convoy anchorage. She also suffered damage from a ‘near-miss’ by a mine off the east coast of England. Later, she was transferred to the Irish Light Commissioners’ service and, after returning to Trinity House, was eventually released for re-conversion to a research ship in 1948. To rebuild the DISCOVERY II took nearly fifteen months; the accommodation being modernised and mechanical ventilation introduced, as far as space would permit. Unfortunately, it was not possible to increase the space occupied by laboratories and for the next 12 years, it has been increasingly difficult to fit in all the scientific instruments now essential for the work.

As already mentioned the last of DISCOVERY II Antarctic cruises took place in 1950-51, and a circumnavigation of the continent in winter was successfully completed in generally unpleasant weather, Only the Master, the Senior Scientist and the Bo’sun had had previous experience of working under Antarctic conditions, which rather slowed down the work in the earlier stages of the cruise.

While the Institute of Oceanography was getting into its stride, the DISCOVERY II was laid up for a year (1953-54), and on commissioning again, was employed continuously in home and North Atlantic waters until paid-off finally in September of this year [1963]. She remained a voluntary observing ship, during this period and in February-March 1955 she was chartered by the Meteorological Office and did a successful tour of duty as an emergency weather ship as Station ‘K’.

In this more recent period of DISCOVERY II‘s career she was more often used for testing prototype instruments and equipment than for taking routine oceanographical observations. Among other new instruments tried out was the shipborne wave recorder, now an established instrument on a world basis, a precision deep echosounder, a new method of measuring deep ocean currents using a neutrally-buoyant float, a plastic reversing deep sea water-bottle (now in production), and a depth of net indicator. Experiments have also been made in the location of fish shoals, and the same transducer — which is stabilised against rolling — has also been used successfully to scan the bottom on the continental shelf.

It has been difficult shortly to encompass all that the DISCOVERY II, and those who have manned her — both ship’s company and scientists — have achieved in the thirty-three years of her life. Much of the work has been carried out under arduous conditions, both for ship and men, and it is a tribute to her designers, and to her builders, that she has served science for so long and so well. Many, especially those who served in her on the long prewar cruises, will regret her passing. She was not, perhaps, the most comfortable of vehicles in which to travel or work; her design, while producing a ‘safe’ ship for ice navigation or work in stormy seas, did not, perhaps, lend itself to the provision of as stable a working platform as modern oceanographical research demands. She was, however, able to keep the seas, and work efficiently, in weather which would have daunted most other research ships.”


South Stack Lighthouse is automated

South Stack Lighthouse is converted to automatic operation and the keepers depart.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1871. South Stack Lighthouse was first lit on 9 February 1809. The lighthouse, erected at a cost of £12,000, was designed by Daniel Alexander and originally fitted with Argand oil lamps and reflectors.

In the mid 1870s the lantern and lighting apparatus was replaced by a new lantern. No records are available of the light source at this time but it was probably a pressurised multiwick oil lamp. In 1909 an early form of incandescent light was installed and in 1927 this was replaced by a more modern form of incandescent mantle burner. The station was electrified in 1938.

The light and fog signal are now remotely controlled and monitored from the Trinity House Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.

South Stack Lighthouse

South Stack Lighthouse

On This Day in Trinity House History – 9 February


South Stack Lighthouse is lit for the first time

South Stack Lighthouse is lit for the first time. The lighthouse was designed by Trinity House’s surveyor Daniel Alexander and originally fitted with Argand oil lamps and reflectors.

South Stack Lighthouse was first envisaged in 1665 when a petition was presented to Charles II. The patent was not granted and it was not until 9 February 1809 that the first light appeared to mark the rock. The lighthouse, erected by Trinity House at a cost of £12,000, was designed by Daniel Alexander and originally fitted with oil lamps and reflectors.

The chasm between the mainland and the rock was at first traversed by a hempen cable 21 metres above sea level, along which a sliding basket was drawn carrying a passenger or stores. This system was replaced in 1828 by an iron suspension bridge 1.5 metres wide.

In the mid-1870s the lantern and lighting apparatus was replaced by a new lantern. In 1909 an early form of incandescent light was installed and in 1927 this was replaced by a more modern form of incandescent mantle burner. The station was electrified in 1938.

On 12 September 1984 the lighthouse was automated and the last lighthouse keepers left the station. The light and the fog signal are now remotely controlled and monitored from the Trinity House office in Harwich, Essex.

You can find more information about South Stack Lighthouse on our main website.

South Stack Lighthouse 2013

South Stack Lighthouse 2013 copyright Trinity House

Steady As You Go

View from South Stack Lighthouse lantern gallery across to Anglesey

View from South Stack Lighthouse lantern gallery across to Anglesey

The incident reported in the text in the picture above came from a Trinity House District Depot Superintendent’s report in 1960, subsequently reported in our Flash magazine. While a dropped light bulb might not seem all that worrisome to the average reader, it is worth bearing in mind that a 4KW lamp was almost a foot in diameter, came in a relatively heavy wooden crate all of its own.

But anyone in the Trinity House service at the time would have known the real reason for the editor’s smirking inclusion of this report: there are 400 steps from the cliff top down to the lighthouse, and each of the five large heavy lamps would have had to have been carried individually down the steps one at a time.

To get the lamp from the Swansea stores to Anglesey in north Wales, to the top of the cliff, down the 400 zig-zagging steps, over the suspension bridge and up to the lighthouse, only to discover a broken lamp must have been extremely frustrating!

An article written by the Rev. Edward Stanley in 1831 describes the hardships in getting men and supplies from shore to station in the very earliest days of the lighthouse:

“At this period, it should be observed, that the present landing-place, on the north side, indifferent as it still is, at certain times of tide, was then altogether impracticable; and that on the south-east alone, where at all times more or less there is a considerable swell, a precarious footing was attainable. The difficulties of landing being thus so great, and the power of supplying this large population so precarious, particularly with water, there being none on the island, it was found absolutely necessary to provide against this inconvenience. Accordingly a canvas hose, 900 feet in length, was made to communicate with a small tarn, about 800 feet from the summit of the nearest headland, descending thence at a sharp angle the remaining 100 feet, till it reached the island; in connexion with this hose, a stay and traveller were rigged out, by which milk, instruments, and a variety of other articles, were safely and commodiously passed to and fro. On one occasion, a passenger of a very different description attempted this fearful communication in the person of an active young man, one of the workmen. Having received intimation of his mother’s sudden illness, he resolved, as the surf was too high to admit of the usual egress by water, to trust himself to this aerial conveyance. Accordingly, firmly grasping the hose and tackling, he slowly but steadily made his way good, with every eye intently fixed upon him, and trembling for his safety, up this terrific pathway, and safely landed himself on the mountain’s brow. This hazardous adventure took place without the superintendent’s knowledge, who very properly, upon hearing of it, issued a positive order, that it should on no account whatever be repeated.

“As the works proceeded, the necessity of a more frequent and certain communication naturally increased. Accordingly an ingenious old millwright, in conjunction with Captain Evans, set their beads together for the accomplishment of this desirable object, the fruits of which appeared in the course of the summer, in the form of a small box or cradle, suspended on two strong stays, running through sheaves, and swung across the chasm, a distance of 150 feet, (a space 30 feet wider than the present bridge and subsequent cradle passage) being made fast to the nearest projecting point of the mainland rocks, from whence an ascent was practicable. We would request the lightheaded and nervous portion of the community, who may chance to visit the South Stack, to have pointed out to them the precise point on the mainland rocks, from whence this first and original cradle took its departure; and thence to trace clearly and distinctly the goat-like ascent up and down, which all who, whether from business or curiosity, visited the island, were necessitated to clamber and crawl.

“The cradle itself, moreover, in its infant state, was by no means a bed of roses, before experience and practice had vouched for its security; and it is but fair to allow to Captain Evans, who was the first to embark and ferry himself over, something of the “robur et aes triplex,” [i.e. a man of oak and bronze] assigned by Horace to the man who first ventured his person on the wide seas, in the crazy barks of ancient times.”

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. February, 1831, pages 159-175. Retrieved from Google Books.

Superseding this cradle device, a rope suspension bridge was constructed, and by the second half of the last century a metal footbridge took its place across the chasm and remains today.

South Stack Lighthouse is open to visitors, as long as those visitors don’t mind a few steps! To find out more about the lighthouse, visit our website or look at opening hours for the lighthouse visitor centre.