On This Day in Trinity House History – 17 December

1744

The Elder Brethren ask the Navy to stop pressganging Trinity House men

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Request to the Officers impressing seamen, not to impress Mr. John Rooff nor four men now sent down in all haste with our sloop to lay a new buoy on the Woolpack in the room of that which broke away on Friday last to prevent losses to navigation… under the seal of the Corporation.”

We can at least be thankful that the men and women on our tenders today don’t have to worry too much about being pressganged by the Royal Navy.

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 – 18 September

1947

THV Vestal is launched

THV Vestal is launched from the Bristol yard of Charles Hill and Son, to become the Swansea district tender.

After a long and varied career (for a full history of Trinity House’s tenders, readers may wish to pick up Captain Richard Woodman’s Keepers of the Sea) she was sold out of service in 1975.

THV Vestal

THV Vestal

On This Day in Trinity House History – 8 September

1541

Sir Thomas Spert, first Master of Trinity House and Comptroller of the Navy, dies

As Sailing Master of first the Mary Rose and then the Henri Grace a Dieu, Thomas Spert was well-placed to accept the Royal Charter on behalf of the Corporation of Trinity House on 20 May 1514. Spert later became Clerk Controller of the King’s Ships circa 1524, a time when Henry VIII was becoming increasingly involved in shipbuilding in London, and was knighted for his work in 1529. Upon his death, he was buried in St. Dunstan’s Church, Stepney.

The inscription upon this monument runs as follows:-

“Here under was laid up ye bodie of Sir Thomas Spert, Knight, sometyme Comptroller of the Navy to K. Henry VIII. and both the first Founder and Master of the Worthie Society or Corporation called the Trinity House. He lived enobled by his own Worth, and dyed ye 8th of Septemb, in ye year 1541. To whose pious memory ye said Corporation hath gratefully erected this memoriall.

‘Not that he needed monuments of stone,
For his well-gotten Fame to rest upon,
But this was reard to testifie that he
Lives in their Loves, that yet surviving be.
For unto Virtue which first raised his name
He left the Preservation of the same,
And to Posterity remain it shall
When Brass and Marble Monuments do fall.
Learn for to die while thou hast breath.
So shalt thou live after thy death.’

An. 1622. By the Company of the Trinity Howse This Monument was erected 81 yrs after ye decease of theyr Founder.”

 

 


1958

A Letter to the Editor of Flash Magazine

Amble, Northumberland
8 September 1958

“To The Secretary,
Trinity House.

Dear Sir,

It was a very great pleasure to receive on Saturday 6th instant a magnificent granite model of a lighthouse. As one of the older generation of PKs [Principal Keepers], I remember those early days when, as an SAK [Supernumerary Assistant Keeper] in 1911, I was rowed out to the Bishop in a 6-oared gig by six powerful St. Agnes fishermen, men with muscle and brawn; we had harness casks to stow our food in on reliefs. When I come to look back, and compare the great amenities and other benefits the present-day keeper receives, with big wage packets, TV and R/T in the Lighthouses, I am beginning to think I was born 50 years too soon.

Yours faithfully,

S D Knox”

[Note appending letter from Editor: Mr. Knox, now retired, served as Principal Keeper at Bishop Rock from 1939-40]


1959

THV Mermaid enters service

THV Mermaid enters service, built by J Samuel White of Cowes, Isle of Wight.

Mermaid was the first of three ‘Mermaid-class’ vessels, followed by THVs Siren and Stella. She was the third Trinity House Vessel to bear the name Mermaid, and was sold out of service in 1986 before the fourth THV Mermaid entered service.

THV Mermaid (3)

THV Mermaid (3)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 3 September

1890

Southwold Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Construction of Southwold Lighthouse began in 1887 under the supervision of Sir James Douglass, Engineer in Chief to Trinity House. The lighthouse replaced three local lighthouses which were under threat from severe coastal erosion at Orfordness to the South. The light was originally provided by an Argand burner, replaced by a Matthews incandescent oil burner in 1906.

Southwold Lighthouse © Tim Warner

Southwold Lighthouse © Tim Warner

 


1944

Trinity House receives thanks from Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief for its role in Second World War

Trinity House receives the following letter of thanks from Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief:

“I wish to place on record my high appreciation of the invaluable work performed by the vessels of Trinity House and their crews, as well as by those who have been responsible for the organisation and preparations ashore, during recent operations involving the landing on the Continent of Europe of the greatest seaborne expedition in history. The great success achieved was due in no small part to the contribution of Trinity House.

“The smooth way in which the buoy-laying has progressed has been in particular due to the work and splendid co-operation of your superintendent at Cowes, Captain Barber. Without his willing help and advice at all times both before and during the operations the many problems which arose could not have been so easily overcome.

“Success is seldom achieved without loss, and it was with great regret that I learned of the loss of THV Alert on 16th June. She had done fine work close off the enemy coast and it was most gratifying to know that none of her crew was lost. I shall be grateful if you will convey my appreciation to all of Trinity House.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 29 August

1940

THV Triton is commissioned

THV Triton is commissioned into service, built by Cochran’s of Selby. This vessel had a slightly altered design intended for lightvessel relief and towing rather than buoy-lifting.

THV Triton was initially designed as an Icelandic trawler, but her building was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. As casualties to Trinity House’s fleet mounted, Trinity House took over Triton and converted her (while afloat) into a lightvessel relief tender. A later survey of the vessel stated that “the ship had unusually unkindly sea behaviour due to her conversion.”

Her length overall was 189′ 9″ and she sailed with a complement of 29. THV Triton was sold out of service 1963.

THV Triton (2)

THV Triton (2)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 15 August

1967

Loss of No. 83 Lightvessel

The No. 83 Lightvessel was being towed to drydock when she was struck by a passing trawler. The incident was written up in an edition of Flash magazine:

“On the morning of the 15th August, No.83 NEWARP LIGHT VESSEL was in tow of the VESTAL bound for the Tyne for overhaul. At about 0930 the Light Vessel was struck on the starboard side by the Polish Trawler No. SWI176 SNIARDWY causing fairly extensive damage.

The crew of the Light Vessel were taken off but later the Chief Officer, Chief and Second Engineers of the VESTAL, together with Mr. H.R. Eames, Master of the Light Vessel, went back aboard although it was heeling over. In spite of their strenuous efforts and those of the tug IRISHMAN which arrived about 1030, the Light Vessel continued to list and at about 1100 the Light Vessel turned over on her starboard side. The men on board scrambled on to the side out of the water and were rescued by VESTAL’s motor boat about 3 minutes before she sank at 1107, the towing wire being slipped about 5 minutes after the Light Vessel went under.”