The first beacons
The rights of 'beaconage' included lighthouses, but the first Trinity House lighthouse was not built until 1609 at Lowestoft.
During this period, Trinity House had to share the administration of lighthouses with several private firms. Many of these had little concern for the safety of sailors, but a great interest in making money from light dues.
In these early years, shipowners were annoyed at being forced to contribute to the upkeep of private lighthouses, most of which were poorly managed.
Some were indistinguishable from other lights along the coast and in many cases not lit at all.
The Lighthouse Fund
The expenses of the Trinity House Lighthouse Service (but not the Corporation's charitable activities) are paid from the General Lighthouse fund - at no expense to the taxpayer. This is also true of the General Lighthouse Authorities for Scotland and Ireland.
The Trinity House lighthouses
Eddystone became the responsibility of Trinity House in 1696 and was originally made of wood. At the end of the 1990s there were 70 Trinity House lighthouses around the coasts of England, Wales and the Channel Islands.
Today, almost all of the lighthouses around Britain are fully automated. Offshore stations are occasionally visited by a helicopter operated by the Lighthouse Service. Before this, Trinity House staff had to spend up to two months at a time in an isolated rock or island station.
On land stations there was often accommodation for a keeper's family, but on rock stations the staff lived a lonely life for weeks on end until relief arrived. Relief at rock lighthouses was often overdue in winter conditions.
Wolf Rock lighthouse
In January 1965 at the Wolf Rock lighthouse, 6 km (4 miles) south-west of Lands End, the relief was 19 days late because a Trinity supply vessel could not land in the rough seas.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse got its name from the howl heard when the wind blows through the cracks in the rock on which it stands. Work on the current structure started in 1861, but was slow because of the poor weather.
The tower was completed in July 1869 and the light started shining in the following year. In July 1988 the station was automated and it is now monitored from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich.
At Harwich a team of monitoring officers constantly oversee the operation of all automated stations, diagnosing any faults and arranging repairs.
Maintenance and training
In the early 1880s a miniature lighthouse was built for training likely keepers. The ship depot was transferred to Harwich during the Second World War because of enemy air attacks. The workshops remained, and after the war the bombed buildings were renovated.
On mainland and island stations, lighthouse keepers had homes next to their lights. Land-based staff were not relieved in the same way as those on isolated rock stations. Instead, the keeper was given an annual holiday.
In those locations where keepers were given a house, it was often the case that his family would move in with him. As a result, lighthouse keeping, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, became something of a family business.
Grace Darling and the 'Forfarshire'
The Longstone house contained four rooms below the lantern where William Darling and his wife lived with their nine children. All of the family, except Grace and her brother William, left home in due course, but these two regularly looked after the light.
In the early hours of 7 September 1838, William was ashore when Grace saw the paddle steamer Forfarshire grounded on a rock. Of the 60 people on board, only about 13 remained alive and managed to scramble onto the rocks.
The details of the rescue are given in a letter from William Darling to the Secretary of Trinity House:
The Darling legend
Four years after the wreck, Grace became ill with tuberculosis and died aged only 26. Her early death only served to strengthen the legend that grew up around her.
|Back to Demise of the Great Eastern|