On This Day in Trinity House History – 20 December

1627

Trinity House and the Royal Navy

Two Trinity House Court Minutes:

“Commissioners of Navy consult Trinity House as to three (3) decked ships and as to the height of lower tier of guns above water.”

“A survey by Trinity House of all ships in Thames suitable for H.M. service.”


1912

George V bestows an honour upon the Elder Brethren

George V issues a Warrant confirming the longstanding custom of the Elder Brethren using the style and title of “Captain” after Captains in the Navy:

“Now know ye that in the exercise of Our Royal Prerogative We do hereby declare Our Royal Will and Pleasure that in all times hereafter the Elder Brethren of the said Corporation of Trinity House shall be styled “Captain”, and shall on all social and ceremonial occasions have place and precedence next and immediately after the place and precedence which maybe accorded to Captains in Our Navy.”


1995

Trevose Head Lighthouse is automated

Trevose Head Lighthouse is converted to automatic operation and the keepers depart. The lighthouse was first lit 1 December 1847.

The existing optic was retained but the rotation speed was slowed to alter the character to one flash every 7.5 rather than every 5 seconds. The red screens were removed to give a white light. The lamp was changed to 35 watt metal halide in a two position lampchanger. A Tideland ML300 lantern mounted on the lantern gallery hand rail gives an emergency 10 sea mile light. The air fog signal was replaced by an electric omnidirectional signal controlled by a fog detector. The light is controlled by a photocell mounted on the lantern murette; telemetry equipment was also installed for remote monitoring and control from the Trinity House Planning Centre at Harwich in Essex.

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 1 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)

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 July

1685

Samuel Pepys is elected Master (again) of Trinity House

Trinity Monday: Samuel Pepys is elected Master for the second time, under the terms of James II’s Royal Charter.

Samuel Pepys FRS MP JP (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament (for Harwich) who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.


1843

Elder Brethren Drowned on Duty

A Committee of Elder Brethren attempted to land at Trevose Head Lighthouse in a boat from the Vestal. The weather was too bad to permit of landing; on returning to the Vestal, owing to some confusion, the boat was run down by the steamer, resulting in the deaths of Captain Richard Drew and Captain Jenkin Jones, whose bodies were recovered.

The following excerpt of an Elder Brother’s diary is reproduced here from our recently-published history Light Upon The Waters:

“Early on Monday we weighed anchor and steamed out of Penzance Roads, round the Land’s End… towards Trevose Head. It was a brilliant morning, little or no wind, but rather a heavy ground swell. At 9 o’clock we lowered the cutter, Captain Drew (chairman) proposing to land and inspect the outer Quay’s Rock to which Probyn and I urgently dissented, seeing it would be attended with danger.

Drew replied ‘Let us attempt it, at all events,’ and perceiving his obstinacy and apprehending some accident, I advised Captain Jones, who was a very stout man, to remain on board, as four of us were quite sufficient to do the needful, should we succeed in landing, which was very doubtful. This he would not listen to and on approaching the rock we found it impracticable to land, so Drew ordered the boat to return. By this time the steamer was very near the rock, and as we were also close to it, had we struck we must all have perished.

At this moment the steamer struck the cutter midway between the five Elder Brethren and the seamen [rowing], the latter were fortunate in laying hold of different parts about the [Vestal’s] figurehead and got safely on board. We were carried under the steamer’s bows and poor Jones and Drew were drowned. Captains Probyn and Maddan were soon all right, but I was with great difficulty brought to, owing to my long immersion in the water, which completely exhausted me.

Although my health did not suffer from this accident, it caused the total loss of my right eye, the nerves having completely given way.

It was a sad sight to see the two dear fellows cold in death, who but an hour before had been in high health and spirits, and there was not a dry eye on board when the last sad duties were performed.”

After landing the bodies at Bristol, Captain Alexander Weynton joined the ship and the voyage continued.


 

1852

Bishop Rock stone-laying ceremony

Bishop Rock Lighthouse: The first stone (one of the fifth course) was laid in a ceremony attended by the Master the Duke of Wellington and the Deputy Master Captain Sir John Henry Pelly. The lowest stone was afterwards laid in the chasm of the rock, at one foot below the level of low water spring tide on 30 July 1852. The stone work of the tower was finished 28 August 1857, without loss of life or serious accident.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, Part 4 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 Mrs. Trezise’s story can be read here.

Part 4 of 4: 1929 – 1961

“After spending three years on the Island the Flatholm Lighthouse was made into a Rock Station [i.e. the station and its dwellings would be occupied solely by the lighthouse keepers, and their families would be shore based], this was in the year 1929, so once again we packed our own furniture and were naturally quite excited at the thought of living on the mainland again. The families and furniture were taken ashore in THV Vestal to Swansea in which town I was to reside for the next 4 ½ years. I had a very pleasant time in Swansea enjoying the facilities of town life and made many friends. This was only the second time in my life that I had lived in a town. During this period I had a child of my own so I had plenty to occupy my time whilst my husband was away doing duty at Flatholm Lighthouse and Lundy North Lighthouse.

I was very pleased when in 1933 we were transferred to Trevose Lighthouse. During the five years at Trevose I spent some of the happiest times of my life. All the station personnel were like one big happy family, a most enjoyable time indeed for me. During the summer months my neighbours and I spent many enjoyable hours on the lovely sandy beaches nearby taking the children with us, all as happy as skylarks, bathing, sunbathing, picnicking and playing open air games in the sun.

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

Trevose Head Lighthouse (Photo by Dave Wilkinson)

We spent quite a happy and comfortable time there for 2 ½ years then world war two ended and on the liberation of the Channel Islands my husband had orders to take up his appointment as Principal keeper to the Les Hanois Lighthouse, Guernsey. Away my husband went to do duty there leaving my son and I behind, for at the time the housing situation and travelling to the Channel Islands were very unsettled. I was left to make all arrangements with the Superintendent, Isle of Wight depot to have my furniture stored in Southampton pending my obtaining accommodation in Guernsey. In the meantime my son and I went into lodgings near the Lighthouse at Souter Point, remaining in these lodgings for seven months during which time I made numerous enquiries in Guernsey. Eventually I was fortunate enough to get a house on rental and in due course my son and I arrived in Guernsey and my furniture shortly afterwards.

We spent five very happy years there. During the last two years my husband was stationed at Sark Lighthouse. To me Guernsey was an ideal place to live, such lovely scenery, cliff walks, sandy bays and most of all the people were very sociable and entertaining – I made numerous friends and when the time came to leave the Island I was really sorry to go.

Sark Lighthouse

Sark Lighthouse

In 1951 we were transferred to Dungeness Lighthouse, so once again I was back to my old home as a child. I pictured Dungeness as I had left it, but of course over the years there was quite a big change in its appearance, especially in the increased growth of vegetation amongst the shingle and there were buildings on the headland. Of the local people living on the headland were quite a few I knew as a child at school which made me feel at home in a very short space of time and life went on very peacefully and happily for a year or so.

Then orders came for my husband to be transferred to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse, Isle of Wight. I was really disappointed with this news as I should have liked to have remained at Dungeness a little longer; like most of us one always feels a little heartache at leaving so many friends and a place one likes, but, this was not to be , so off we went to the Isle of Wight. We were at St. Catherine’s just under three years, quite a happy time spent there, liking it very much. But owing to family reasons my husband in 1955 applied for the post of Principal Keeper at Withernsea Lighthouse which of course is a man and wife station, the wife acting as a “female assistant keeper”. Arriving in that year at our present home at Withernsea, which is quite a pleasant place to live. I have had quite a happy time although kept very busy in one way or another. We have no fog signal and that’s one thing I do miss when it’s foggy weather. It takes such a great deal of getting used to that it makes one feel so conscious of something missing – as I had always been used to fog signals at all the stations I had previously resided at.

Withernsea Lighthouse

Withernsea Lighthouse

With all my life in the service as a light keeper’s daughter and keeper’s wife it has brought to my mind that I have lived and made my home at eighteen various places around England, including living on five different Islands, so have not done so badly travelling around at the expense of the Service and seeing quite a lot of England’s coastline.

It has been my life throughout having known no other. I have always felt life is what one makes it and I can sincerely say with such a varied and interesting life I have been quite content and happy in the Service which up to the time of writing is 57 years. Quite often I have turned to my husband with a smile and said that when he retires I think I deserve to be superannuated from the Service like him, but I am afraid that is being very optimistic.”