On approaching the English Channel by night from the west the first light visible to the mariner is that on Bishop’s Rock, which lies to the extreme south-west of the Scilly Isles. The tower is built on one of the outer ledges of the western group, and occupies a more exposed position than any other lighthouse in the world. The earliest lighthouse erected on this rock was an iron structure, but it had not been completed many months when the great storm of February 5, 1850, swept every vestige of it away. It was succeeded by a stone tower which in 1885 was strengthened having its base encased in granite, its height at the same time increased by 30 feet. Even with this edition, which placed the lantern 146 feet above high water level, the light is generally obscured by the land to vessels north-east of the Scillies, although visible between St. Martin and St. Mary’s. The light now shown is a white group flashing twice every minute – a flash of 4 seconds with an eclipse of 5 seconds, then a flash of 4 seconds followed by an eclipse of 47 seconds There is also a fog explosive signal which in thick weather gives one report every 5 minutes. The cost of the improvements in 1858 was £34,560, and of those in 1887 £64,089.
On the summit of St. Agnes, the principal of the Western Islands, stands one of the earliest of the more important lighthouses erected by Trinity House. When an attempt was made in 1661 to obtain a patent for a lighthouse on this spot it was successfully opposed by the Brethren, although, curiously enough, less than twenty years afterwards, they obtained a patent authorising them to construct a light-house there and conferring the power of levying tolls for its support. There was some delay in selecting a site owing to the opposition of the inhabitants, who were notorious for their wrecking propensities; but in the middle of May, 1681, one of His Majesty’s yachts carried a party of surveyors to the island and a start was soon after made by Captains Hugh Till and Simon Bayley. The building was of brick, four storeys high, the walls being 6 feet thick at the base. It was finished in September and The Gazette announced that a light would be regularly exhibited on and after the 30th of the following month. The light was from a fire of coals enclosed in a lantern with a funnel at the top to permit the escape of the smoke and moisture. This is the earliest mention of an enclosed coal fire, and although not a success it was continued for over a century for reasons of economy. The expense attending the erection and equipment of this light-house had been so great that the Master, the Duke of York, was asked to forego his salary on account of the impoverished condition of the Brethren’s finances. It was owing to the dimness of this light, alleged to have been caused by the dirty state of the glass lantern, that Sir Cloudesley Shovell with his fleet was wrecked on the Scillies in the autumn of 1707, when the Admiral and many seamen and soldiers perished.
There were, however, grave suspicions abroad that at times, when there was a chance of a rich harvest of wreckage, the light was purposely allowed to get low, and in 1740 we find the authorities accusing the keeper of inordinate drinking, of keeping his light in an inefficient condition, and sometimes even of omitting to light the fire at all. In 1790 oil was substituted for coal and a better class of keeper employed, with the result that no more complaints of the inefficiency of the light were made. The old fire-grate may now be seen in use as a flower stand in the gardens at Tresco. The light on St. Agnes, which was the first visible to ships coming from the north-eastern ports of America, was discontinued in August, 1911, Trinity House having decided that the light was too extravagant to work in spite of the fact that it had saved many hundreds of ships. Its substitute, a modern iron automatic lighthouse, needing the attention of only one man, has been erected on the neighbouring island of St. Mary’s. On the north side of the eastern group is the lighthouse on Round Island, a solid mass of granite rising 130 feet out of the sea. The building is inaccessible save by a flight ol steps cut in the solid rock.
From Lloyd’s signal station on St. Mary’s Island six lights (Mary’s, Bishop, Round, Seven Stones, Longships, and the Wolf) may be seen on a clear night. The “Seven Stones ” is a lightship lying in 39 fathoms of water on the east side of the rocks, with a one-minute group white flashing light giving three flashes in quick succession, followed by an eclipse of 37 seconds, visible at a distance of eleven miles. The hull is painted red, with the words “Seven Stones ” in white on the sides and a black ball at the masthead It has a fog siren which in thick weather sounds three blasts (low, high, low) in quick succession every minute.
Twenty-five miles east of the Scilly Islands is Land’s End, where, Ruskin says, “is to be seen the entire disorder of the surges when every one of them, divided and entangled among promontories as it rolls, and beaten back from walls on this side and on that side, recoils like the defeated division of a great army, throwing all behind it into disorder, breaking up the succeeding waves into vertical ridges, which, in their turn, yet more totally shattered upon the shore, retire in more hopeless confusion, until the whole surface of the sea becomes one dizzy whirl of rushing, writhing, tortured, undirected rage, bounding and crashing, and coiling in an anarchy of enormous power, sub- divided into myriads of waves, of which every one is not, be it remembered, a single surge, but part and parcel of a vast one, actuated by eternal power, and giving in every direction the mighty undulations of impetuous life, which glides over the rocks and writhes in the wind, overwhelming the one and piercing the other with the form, fury and swift- ness of a sheet of lambent fire.” Here, a little to the west of the Land’s End, on the top of the Carn Brâs Rock, 70 feet above low water, rises the famous Longships Lighthouse, with its lantern 52 feet above the surface of the rock. It is built in three storeys, and from the lantern is given a white occulting light with red sectors, eclipsed for 3 seconds every minute, visible for sixteen miles, a red light being shown towards the land. In thick weather a fog-signal is exploded twice every 5 minutes with an interval of 5 seconds between each report.
Six miles south of the “Longships” is the Wolf Light on the largest of a cluster of rocks around which the water is 40 fathoms deep. This rock, which in olden days was known as the Gulf Rock on account of the roaring of the tides around it, stands 45 feet above the sea at low water, but it is always difficult to effect a landing owing to the surf which dashes around it and to the swirl of the water caused by the fierce currents which rage round the multitude of islets by which it is surrounded. The light is a group flashing alternately white and red – a white flash of 2 seconds followed by an eclipse of 13 seconds, then a red flash of 2 seconds succeeded by an eclipse of 13 seconds; it is visible for sixteen miles. For many years it was considered impossible to place a lighthouse on this rock, owing to its small surface affording so little space for building and for landing the material. Robert Stephenson, after he had completed the Bell Rock Lighthouse, offered to build one on the “Wolf” for £150,000, but his offer was not accepted, and until 1860, when Trinity House erected the present building, the only indication of this dangerous rock was a beacon which was, of course, visible only in daylight. The present tower, which is 135 feet to the top of the lantern, was designed by James Walker and took nine years to complete.
Many ships from the Atlantic keep so far to the south in their desire to give the Scilly Islands a wide berth that the Lizard light is often the first made. This lighthouse stands on the bold headland forming the most southerly point of the English coast, and, strange as it may seem, until its erection in the middle of the eighteenth century this deadly promontory had hitherto been without a warning light with the exception of a brief period in the reign of James I. The first proposal to erect a beacon on this point came from Sir John Killigrew, a Cornish gentleman in the vicinity, who, though willing to build a tower, was too poor to bear alone the cost of its maintenance. He asked King James I for a grant of twenty nobles a year with permission to solicit voluntary contributions from ships passing by, but Trinity House opposed the scheme on the ground that a light on the Lizard was not necessary or convenient, and that in fact it would be positively dangerous as serving to guide pirates and foreign enemies to a safe place of landing. The patent was nevertheless granted in July, 1619, and Killigrew at once began the construction of his lighthouse. The work proceeded very slowly, the inhabitants of the district being So strongly imbued with the spirit of wrecking that it was with great difficulty any of them’ could be prevailed on to assist in the erection of a building which they considered would seriously diminish the number of the wrecks from which they derived so rich a harvest. But in spite of all opposition the tower was eventually completed and a coal fire was kindled on its summit on the Christmas Day of 1619.
Although the number of shipwrecks decreased considerably thereafter, Killigrew complained that he had not been able to collect a single farthing from any of the vessels using the harbours of Falmouth and Plymouth and that his funds had become entirely exhausted. He then prayed for a patent to levy a compulsory payment, and once again, in face of the opposition of Trinity House, the King granted his petition and authorised him to collect a halfpenny a ton from all vessels passing the Point. The levying of this small due caused such an outcry from the shipowners that the patent was recalled, the light was extinguished, and Killigrew was left the poorer by the £600 he had spent on the venture. In the accounts of the Plymouth Corporation are recorded the sums expended in pulling down the lighthouse which the shipowners complained “had proved burdensome to all the country.” Thirty years after the demolition of Killigrew’s lighthouse another scheme for lighting the Lizard was put forward, but Trinity House refused to entertain it on the ground that one light-house on the spot had been dismantled shortly after its erection, it being alleged to have proved altogether useless.
In 1748 a Captain Farrish proposed to build a lighthouse to show four lights, and as he offered to pay Trinity House a rent of £80 a year for a lease of sixty-one years, the Brethren agreed to the scheme but had the patent made out in their own favour. The four towers were completed in 1752, and on the night of August 22nd the four coal fires were kindled for the first time. The fires, being enclosed in glass, were consequently generally dim ; but nothing was done to improve matters until the expiry of the patent, when the Board took over the control of the lighthouses and substituted oil-lamps for the fires. In the spring of 1878 electric lighting was introduced with twin fixed lights, one at either end of the building, and these again were in September, 1903, abandoned in favour of a single white electric light in the eastern tower of 1,750,000 candle-power thrown from a dioptric apparatus which gives a flash of half a second duration every 3 seconds. The apparatus floats on mercury and is driven by clock-work wound up every 40 minutes by a governor arrangement. On the eastern side of the tower a group of lenses shows a small fixed light in the direction of Mount’s Bay. The fog-siren in thick weather sounds two blasts in succession every minute-long blast of 7 seconds followed by a short blast of 2 seconds.
From the Lizard the coast recedes northward and we quickly pass the Manacles, a group of jagged rocks lying six miles south-south-west of Pendennis Point. They are mostly above water, but the tides here set so strongly as to. render their neighbourhood very dangerous to navigation. It was on the outermost of these rocks, known as the Vase Rock, that the S.S Mohegan ran at full speed in October, 1898. So rapidly did she founder that in less than twenty minutes her funnels alone showed above the water, 106 of the 150 passengers and crew being drowned. Again, on the night of May 20, 1890, the American liner, The City of Paris, on her way from Cherbourg to New York, narrowly escaped the Manacles only to run al full speed on Lowland Point beyond it, but happily not one of the seven hundred souls on board was lost, It is still a mystery how such a well -equipped and powerful steamship could have got more than twenty miles out of her course on a fine, clear night. The bell buoy which has now been moored near one of the outer Manacles seems quite inadequate to warn mariners of the danger they are approaching.
Away towards the north-north-east may now be seen St. Anthony’s Lighthouse situated at the foot of the bold headland on the eastern side of the entrance to Falmouth Harbour. It is a white octagonal tower erected by Trinity House in 1835 the lantern, 72 feet above high -water mark, contains eight lamps which revolve every 3 minutes and show a flash every 20 seconds. The fog-bell attached to the gallery of the tower sounds four times every minute.
The coast continues to recede northwards, and keeping well off Dodman Point and the cliffs at the estuary of Fowey Harbour we see Plymouth Sound with Smeaton’s lighthouse standing on the Hoe. The coast now trends southwards and juts out into the sea at Start Point where, 150 yards inland from the extreme point, stands a lighthouse from which a white light flashes for 1 second thrice every minute, From the same tower a fixed white light is thrown on the Skerries Bank to direct vessels inshore clear of the shoal.
About midway between the Lizard and Start Point and fourteen miles south-west of Plymouth Sound, in the direct route of vessels sailing up Channel, lie the two reefs of jagged gneiss known as the Eddystone Rocks. Dangerous as these were to mariners, it was long before anyone was found willing to attempt the placing of a light on them. In 1665 Sir John Coryton begged the Duke of York, as head of the Admiralty, to grant him leave to place coal fires on several of the more dangerous points in the western part of the Channel, including one on the Eddystone Rock. The proposal was referred to Trinity House, who reported that “a light on the Eddystone would be of as great use as any other light in His Majesty’s dominions,” and expressed their readiness to recommend the petition to the King provided that all English-owned vessels should be exempt from the proposed levy of two-pence per ton. But nothing came of this scheme, and in 1692 another was put forward by one Walter Whitfield, who obtained his patent in 1694, but after making some preliminary experiments on the rock eventually abandoned the scheme owing to the attendant difficulties and dangers.
Henry Winstanley, a mercer of Littlebury, in Essex, but who was possessed of considerable mechanical ability, then came forward with a fresh plan, and on July 14, 1695, began work on the rock by making twelve large holes wherein to fix the irons to which a wooden lighthouse was to be attached. The drilling of these holes in the rock was all that could be accomplished during the first summer. The following spring the warship Terrible was ordered by the Government to accompany Winstanley and his men on their daily journeys to and from the rock, unless she and her boats should be otherwise employed on His Majesty’s service. On June 14th of the following year (1697) the log of the Terrible tells us that she was then standing off the rock, and continued to do so each day the weather permitted work to be carried on until June 25th, when she took Commissioner St. Loe on board and sailed to join the fleet ofT Plymouth. In returning she appears to have been fogbound off Fowey Harbour, where she had to remain until the 30th. On one of these days a French privateer appeared, and sending her boat with an armed crew to the rock, brought off Winstanley and all his men to the ship and sailed with them for France. The news of this raid soon reached the ears of the Admiralty, whose Secretary wrote to Mr. Commissioner St. Loe under date of June 29, 1697, expressing surprise at the unwelcome news and directing him to let their Lordships know “as well as he possibly could how it came to pass that their orders to him to keep a sufficient strength to defend the lighthouse workmen from the enemy had not been obeyed and why he had been short in the relation of the unhappy accident.”
The Admiralty, through the Commissioners of Sick and Wounded, took such prompt measures to secure the release of the prisoners that within a fortnight work on the rock was resumed. The end of this season saw a solid round pillar, 12 feet in height and 14 feet in diameter, standing up out of the solid rock. Early in 1698 the wooden tower was taken out from Plymouth and firmly attached to the stone pillar, the extreme height being 80 feet. By November the building was complete, and on the fourteenth evening of that month the light from numerous tallow candles flashed through the darkness of the winter. On December 17th a notice in the London Gazette stated that this “light was discernible at a distance of some leagues to the entire satisfaction of all masters of ships that have come within sight thereof.”
This lighthouse was a most perfect specimen of misapplied ingenuity, and must have appeared more fitted for a pleasure-garden than for withstanding the buffets of a stormy sea. It was polygonal in form, the material was wood, and it was so deficient in every. element of stability that it is surprising it was able to survive a single gale. The upper part was covered with useless top-hamper, such as large wooden candlesticks, vanes, cranes, and galleries. At the top was a kind of movable chute for showering down stones upon an approaching enemy.
Winstanley, however, would listen to no criticism of his design, but declared himself to be so well assured of the stability of the building that nothing would please him better than to be in it during the greatest storm that ever blew. Nevertheless, during the following summer Winstanley considered it advisable to strengthen it by raising the solid core of masonry from 12 to 20 feet ; but, even with this addition, he said “the sea in great storms flies in appearance a hundred feet above the vane.” But the end was not far distant, and on the night of November 20, 1703, a great storm arose and the entire construction was swept away, and the five occupants, one of whom was the architect himself, perished in a watery grave.
A narrative of the occurrence, printed in the following year, concludes . “It was very remarkable, as we are informed, at the same time the lighthouse aforesaid was blown down, the model of it in Mr. Winstanley’s house at Littlebury in Essex, above two hundred miles from the Eddystone, fell down and was broke to pieces .” When reading these remarks, Smeaton shrewdly remarked “This, however, may not appear extraordinary if we consider that the same general wind that blew down the lighthouse near Plymouth might also blow down the model at Littlebury.”
John Rudyerd, a mercer of Ludgate Hill, then put up a simple timber tower, conical in shape and firmly attached to the solid rock. The base was strengthened by. numerous courses of Cornish granite and stout oak balks firmly fitted and cramped with iron. The upper part of the tower comprised four rooms, on the top being the lantern, which was 92 feet above high-water mark. The lighthouse was completed in 1709, having taken three years to build. Smeaton said it “consisted of a simple figure, being an elegant frustum of a cone unbroken by projecting ornaments or anything whereon the violence of the storms could lay hold.”
On the whole, it was well adapted for the purpose for which it was intended, but it had one great defect, the combustible nature of the material of which it was built, and this led to its destruction after it had survived the storms of no less than forty-eight years. How the lighthouse came to be fired has never been ascertained, but at two o’clock in the morning of December 2, 1755, the keepers found the lantern full of smoke, and within a few minutes they were fleeing for their lives down the stairs. The unusual glare of light was seen from the mainland, and boats at once put off for the rock, arriving only just in time to rescue the keepers from drowning, the raging flames, falling timbers, and molten lead from the roof having driven them down to the edge of the fast-rising tide.
The owner of the patent obtained by Winstanley, Mr. Robert Weston, then employed John Smeaton, the son of a Leeds solicitor, to construct a fresh lighthouse. After carefully examining the plans of the two former lighthouses, with a view to avoid their defects, he arrived at the conclusion that stone was the only suitable material for the tower. But the Trinity Brethren were of the opinion that “nothing but wood could possibly stand upon the Eddystone.” The proprietor also was in favour of wood on account of its lesser cost, but Smeaton, being determined to use stone, eventually gained his point. On April 2, 1757, the new architect paid his first visit to the rock, but was unable to effect a landing owing to the turbulence of the waves, which were breaking over it with great violence. Three days later he was more successful, and on carefully examining the rock found no traces of the two former lighthouses beyond some of the iron stays fixed by Rudyerd. Having perfected his plans, he made a complete model of his lighthouse and submitted it to the patentee, and also to the Lords of the Admiralty, by whom it was unanimously approved. He then returned to Plymouth, and proceeded to engage suitable workmen and to obtain a supply of Portland stone, which he considered to be the best kind for the purpose. On August 3rd Smeaton sailed out to the Eddystone and himself fixed the centre and laid down the lines for the build- ing. The first season was devoted to cutting the recesses in the rock in which to lay the foundation-stones, and this was completed by November 22nd.
One of Smeaton’s difficulties in building his light-house was to find a lime that would not only mix with water but when set into a cement would “bind the stones together as tightly, under the sea as in the air.” He knew quite well that limestone had been burnt in olden times and a lime obtained that would resist water, and he set himself to discover what peculiarity of the stone gave it this much-desired property. He had then no idea that the value of lime consisted in its impurity, and that certain exactly devised quantities of limestone and clay, when mixed and fired, would give a nearly perfect cement.
This is his description of the experiments he made during the winter. “In this respite from sea operations I seriously began to consider the great importance that it was likely to be of our work to have a cement the most perfect that was possible to resist the extreme violence of the sea. And, on consideration of the matter, it appeared that nothing of the resinous or oily kind could have any place in our work as it would require the surface to be dry to enable it to make a compleat adhesion whereas the getting anything compleatly dry was one of our greatest difficulties.
“I determined to winter at Plymouth, though to the detriment of my own private concerns, laying every consideration aside in favour of the Eddy stone. I, therefore, resolved to take every opportunity in the evenings and intervals of my attendance on the work-yard, mould room etc. to go through a compleat set of experiments on cements, so far as it concerned the subject I had in hand ; for I plainly saw from the manner of working the moor stone, that not only much of the beauty and neatness of the work, but its real solidity, too, would depend upon getting a cement that would, in despite of water almost continually driven against it with every degree of violence, become of so firm a consistence in itself and adhesion to the stone, that it should lie fair and flush in the joints and so as to compose one even regular surface with the stone and, without needing hoops of iron or copper to surround the horizontal joints as seems to have been the expedient of Mr. Winstanley, I was so fortunate as to succeed in this part of the business entirely to my satisfaction, and, perhaps, in a degree unknown before.
On this subject I was already apprised that two measures of quenched or slaked lime, in the dry powder, mixed with one measure of Dutch Tarras, and both very well beat together to the consistence of a paste, using as little water as possible, was the common composition generally used in the construction of the best water-works, and which, after being once set, would afterwards become hard with-out ever being compleatly dry ; nay, that it would in time grow hard even under water. Having heard of a lime produced from a stone found at Aberthaw upon the coast of Glamorganshire that had the same qualities of setting in water as Tarras, I was very anxious to procure some of the stone, which I did, and burnt it into lime. I found it to require a good deal of fire to make it, by quenching, to fall into a powder”
While Smeaton was experimenting with cements the workmen were preparing the stone, which was Portland oolite, for the next season’s work. The size of the blocks was to a great extent limited by. the practicability of landing them, and as nothing but small, easily managed vessels could approach the rock the general size was determined at from 1 to 2 tons. By the spring nearly 450 tons of stone had been cut into blocks and fitted. On June 12, 1758, the first stone, weighing 2 tons, was landed on the rock and fixed in position. Two courses had been laid by the end of the month, when a succession of heavy seas interrupted the work ; and it was only on the completion of the sixth course that the building had been raised above the usual reach of the tides. By the end of the season nine courses had been securely laid. It was not until the 12th of the following May that the sea permitted work to be resumed ; nevertheless, by the end of this season the twenty-ninth course had been completed. During these two years Smeaton had to contend not only with incipient mutiny among his workmen but with the press gangs, which frequently carried off both his workmen and the boatmen, although these were always speedily released on the attention of the Admiralty being drawn to the matter.
Owing to the tempestuous weather in 1759, work could not be resumed until July 5th ; but such rapid progress was thenceforward made that six weeks later the whole forty-six courses of masonry were completed, each stone being dovetailed and keyed with oak wedges at the sides, the top, and the bottom. The balcony and lantern were then added, Smeaton fixing the gilt ball on the top with his own hands. On the night of October 16, 1759, the light was first exhibited, and Smeaton entered in his Diary “This day the Eddystone lighthouse has, thank God, been completed. It is, I believe, perfect, except that it inclines a quarter ‘-of-an -inch from the perpendicular towards the north-east.” In 1848 the harbour-master of Plymouth, when making his annual inspection of the lighthouse, let fall a plummet to ascertain whether any settlement had taken place in the foundation, and, to his surprise, found that it was still standing precisely as it stood at the time of its completion, eighty-nine years before.
The total height of the building was 85 feet, the first 13 feet being of solid masonry, the diameter of the base 26 feet, contracting to 15 feet at the top. The light, from twenty-four candles fixed in a corona, was 72 feet above the level of the sea, and was visible at a distance of thirteen miles. By making vent-holes in the bottom the lantern was kept cool, so that in summer the candles were prevented from melting – feat which Rudyerd had failed to accomplish. The candles required snufling every thirty minutes, and to warn the keepers when it was time to apply the snuffers, Smeaton fixed to the lighthouse clock a gong which gave the necessary warning.
The wages paid to the light-keepers here had for many years past been estimated at £25 per annum, the men finding their own provision of eating and drinking. Smeaton says that on first going down to Plymouth it was a matter of complaint that the light-keepers had at various times been reduced to the necessity of eating the candles. In Winstanley’s time provisions and stores had been provided by the proprietors, but by degrees the keepers had got into the habit of embezzling the stores and bartering them for strong liquors, and then alleging that they had grown bad and were thrown into the sea so we see that the eating of candles was an early complaint. It was in consequence of these dishonest practices that the keepers were required to victual themselves.
Smeaton tells us that “after the completion of the lighthouse, he took several opportunities of viewing it with his telescope from the Hoa and also from the Garrison, both of which places are sufficiently elevated to see the base of the building and the whole of the rock at low water in clear weather. During a south-west gale, at intervals of a minute, and sometimes two or three, I suppose when a combination happens to produce one overgrown wave, (this is what I suppose the vulgar attribute to the tenth wave) it would strike the rock and building conjointly and fly up in a white column, enwrapping it like a sheet, rising at least to double the height of the house, and totally, intercepting it from the sight.” Winstanley said that he had seen the waves rise vertically more than 200 feet above the rock.
In 1807, when Trinity House took over the lease, a more efficient system of lighting was introduced. A few years later it was discovered that the rock was being undermined by the sea, so under-pinning and the cementing up of cracks was resorted to. As this could not go on indefinitely, it was at length resolved to build another lighthouse, from plans prepared by Sir James Douglass, on a more solid rock adjoining. The foundation-stone was laid by the late Duke of Edinburgh on July 17, 1878, and within two years the new granite building, 130 feet high, was completed. The base, for 25 feet above high-water mark, is solid except for the fresh-water tanks. The walls at the base are 8 feet thick, gradually. decreasing to 2 feet below the gallery. AIl the stones are dovetailed both horizontally. and vertically, their total weight being 4,668 tons. The lantern is 133 feet above high-water mark, and is fitted with incandescent oil-vapour burners producing a light equal to 292,000 candles, visible for nearly twenty miles, thus overlapping the light shed from the Lizard. The fog-signal at first consisted of two bells, each weighing two tons, and struck by mechanical means, but these have since been replaced by explosives The upper part of Smeaton’s tower has since been taken carefully to pieces and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe, where it now serves as a landmark to vessels entering the Sound.
Extending across the entrance of Plymouth Sound is a fine breakwater. The main portion is 3,000 feet in length, and at each end, branching inwards, is an arm 1,000 feet in length, leaving a free passage of half a mile on the east and of three-quarters of a mile on the west. At the end of the eastern arm is a beacon and at the western end a granite light- house, 76 feet in height. The light was first exhibited in 1844 and now shows white (with red sectors ) occurring every half-minute. From a window in the same tower is a white fixed light, visible from N 45° E. to N. 57° E. There is a fog-bell on the tower giving one stroke every 15 seconds.
When the operations on the breakwater were about to be commenced, those whose interests were centred in Plymouth and the neighbourhood were considerably agitated as to the effect it would have on the harbour. The following is an extract from the Globe of September 10, 1812: “We understand apprehensions are entertained that, if this great national undertaking is proceeded with, the accumulation of sand will in a very few years completely choke up the harbour. This objection was stated some time ago to the Admiralty by a gentleman residing in Cornwall, but his opinion was thought to be fallacious ; he has since formed on a small scale a harbour upon the same plan on his estate contiguous to the sea, and has run out a pier similar to the one just begun at Plymouth the result has verified his prediction. He is now in town, and the Board of Admiralty have entered into a serious investigation of the matter .” It was fortunate that the “gentleman residing in Cornwall “, did not succeed in prevailing upon the Board of Admiralty to abandon their enterprise.
Until within the last hundred years none of the headlands between Plymouth Sound and Portland Bill appears to have been lighted, except possibly the hill above Torquay, for tradition has it that a man, who escaped from a ship wrecked on the adjacent rocks, gave an endowment to Torr Abbey on condition that the monks should therefrom display a light every night for the guidance of sailors passing up and down the Channel.
After Bolt Head and the Start Lighthouse are passed we see on our left the lights marking the entrance to Dartmouth, which was a harbour in Saxon days. Hence William I on his expedition to relieve Mans, and a century later the ships of the Third Crusade, sailed, passing out through the narrow channel known as the “Jawbones ” which in more primitive days was protected by a strong chain stretched from one bank to the other. Next we pass Berry Head, the diminutive lighthouse on the Den at Teignmouth, the estuaries of the Exe and the Axe and the light on the Cobb at Lyme Regis.
The Channel now gradually contracts, and the mariner then has lights on either hand all the way to the Downs. On the north are the “Shambles ” light-ship and the lights on Portland Bill, that rude sea-mountain rising at the eastern end of the Chesil Beach. Although Weymouth was an important port in the Middle Ages, there is no record of any light-house on the Bill until Trinity House itself obtained a patent in 1716. The lighthouse then erected was one of the earliest to have the coal fire enclosed within a glass screen, which it was supposed would be a more economical method of using coal than an open grate. Owing to the lack of a proper outlet for the smoke, and possibly also to ill-keeping, the glass was apt to become dimmed, and the authorities received numerous complaints of the weakness and fitfulness of the light and even of its not infrequent and entire obscuration. At the present day there is a white group flashing light, showing groups of four flashes every 20 seconds and visible for eighteen miles. Below in the same tower is a fixed red light visible for 13 miles over the “Shambles” lightship, which serves to indicate the whereabouts of a perilous whirlpool caused by the meeting of the tides between the Bill and the Shambles sandbank about three miles to the south- east. From this vessel, which is moored in 15 fathoms of water, a single white group light flashes every half-minute, visible for eleven miles. The fog-siren sounds two blasts (high, low) in quick succession every minute and on the submarine fog-bell five strokes are struck, also in quick succession.
After passing Portland Bill we soon see St. Alban’s Head, or St. Aldhelm’s Head, rising to a height of 353 feet, while from its base projects 150 feel into the sea a perilous reef known as the Dancing Ledge from the peculiar dancing motion of the waves as they roll against or over it. On the Head may be seen the ruins of the small chapel in which St. Aldhelm died in 709 A.D., and where in later days the monks kept a warning beacon burning at night. Four miles to the east is Anvil Point Lighthouse, beneath which lies Swanage, the “Knollsea” of Thomas Hardy’s novels.
Far away to the south may now be seen the Casquets’ light on the largest of those deadly rocks which lie at the western extremity of a chain of islets extending for about two miles nearly midway between England and Brittany. Upon the northern-most of the Casquets a lighthouse with three towers was built in 1724 to mark the southern limit of the English Channel and to warn mariners of the dangerous rocks and rapid tides of the Channel Islands. The first lights exhibited on the three towers were merely coal fires, but in 1790 the towers were rebuilt and oil-lamps substituted. In 1855 the towers were raised 30 feet and further improvements made in the lights. Each tower had its name, the higher two being called respectively St. Peter and St. Thomas, and the lowest one the Dungeon ; from each was thrown simultaneously a bright flash of white light every 20 seconds from a catoptric apparatus of twelve argand burners and reflectors in each tower. In 1877 two of the lights were abolished, and now from the remaining lantern are shown three quick flashes each of 2 seconds’ duration at intervals of 3 seconds visible al a distance of seventeen miles, followed by an eclipse of 18 seconds In thick weather a siren sounds three blasts every 5 minutes.
It was on these rocks that the ill-fated steamship Stella struck during a dense fog at the Easter of 1890 at about four o’clock in the afternoon. She sank in a few minutes, seventy lives of a total of two hundred on board being lost.
The following beautiful lines by Swinburne refer to the Casquets Rocks :
“All shores about and afar lie lonely,
But lonelier are these than the heart of grief,
These loose-linked rivets of rocks, whence only
Looks one lone tower from the sheer main reef ;
With a blind wan face in the wild wan morning,
With a live lit flame on its brow by night,
That the lost may lose not its words’ mute warning
And the blind of its grace have sight.”
The principal lighthouse of Guernsey is the Hanois, which rises from a reef on the south-west side of the island ; St. Peter’s Port is protected by five lights. of the few lights in Jersey.
Turning again to the north we pass the lights of the Isle of Wight – the Needles at the western entrance to the Solent and St. Catherine’s at the extreme southern point of the island. A new light-house on Hurst Castle was completed on November 30, 1911, for further safeguarding the entrance to the intricate passage at the western end of the Solent. This new light working in conjunction with the New Bridge Buoy and the South-West Shingles Buoy brings the fairway for vessels further from the Needles Rocks and the Isle of Wight shore.
On the summit of High Down, a noble chalk hill extending from Freshwater Gate to the Needles, stands a beacon 490 feet above the sea, now used as a landmark only. The Down ends with the Main Bench overhanging Scratchell’s Bay, which is bounded northwards by those high masses of glittering rocks so widely known as the Needles, and seen on the right of vessels entering the Solent from the West. The passage between the Needles and Hurst Castle is regarded by many Americans as a far grander spectacle than the cliffs at Dover, bold even as they are. On the outermost of the Needles Rocks the Trinity Board in 1858 erected a lighthouse from the lantern of which there is a splendid and remarkable view. Prior to this the Point had been marked by a light on the cliff overhanging Scratchell’s Bay, but it was so often enveloped in mist as to be practically useless when most needed. A new lighted buoy has now been placed just off the Needles Lighthouse to mark the extreme end of the dangerous reef of rocks of which the Needles are the base.
East of the Needles the coast forms a large bay indented by smaller ones, the beach being closed in with, at first, cliffs of white chalk and then of variously coloured sandstone, rising to a height of nearly 300 feet at St. Catherine’s Down. Here are three interesting buildings – the shell of a lighthouse begun by Trinity House in 1785, but abandoned before completion owing to the mists which so frequently enveloped the hill ; a sandstone pillar 72 feet high, erected by Mr. Hay to commemorate the visit of the Emperor Alexander of Russia to England in 1814 (on the base of this pillar, curiously enough, is an inscription to the memory of the English soldiers who perished in the Crimea in 1855 ), and thirdly, the ruins of a lantern-shaped tower. This last is a small but interesting relic, and formerly formed part of an ancient chapel built by Walter de Godyton in 1323 as an atonement for buying, nine years before, some of the wine cast ashore from the wreck of a fleet carrying the produce of the vineyards of the monks of Picardy. Its founder endowed it with lands to provide a priest, whose duties included the provision of a light by night to warn passing ships of the dangers of St. Catherine’s Point. Close to the site of this chapel are the remains of an ancient cell or hermitage to which, we read, the Bishop of Winchester in 1312 had admitted one Walter de Langeberewe.
When the tower was restored in 1757 the foundations of the cell as well as of the oratory were discovered. The tower is octagonal without and square within, and just beneath the roof are eight small windows, the openings in which all tend towards the centre of the building and diminish inwards, an excellent contrivance for the diffusion of a light placed within. Its height to the turret is 35 feet, and each side of the octagon externally and of the square within is 4 feet, and it consists of four storeys. Altogether it makes a most picturesque ruin with unusually romantic associations, and is evidence of the far-reaching power of the papacy in mediæval days. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries this light was probably discontinued after the confiscation of the property which provided the means for its maintenance, and it was not until the seventeenth century that efforts were made to re-establish it.
The present lighthouse commenced in 1838 from the design of Messrs. Walker and Burgess, of London. The foundations rest upon a huge rock 27 feet below the surface. The tower was originally 120 feet high, but in 1872, after an unusually rainy season, the structure began to show signs of slipping, and the Trinity Board then had it lowered by some 38 feet. Inside now hangs a plumbline which would indicate any subsidence of the land likely to endanger the building. The tower is cased with Purbeck and Portland stone, the honeycombed appearance of which is evidence of the corrosive power of the sea spray. The light was first displayed on March 1, 1840, and was supposed to cut the horizon at a distance of twenty-two miles, although it had been seen at the “Owers” ligh -vessel twenty-seven miles away. At first sperm oil was used in the lamps, but later on this gave way to rape oil in lamps on Sir David Brewster’s principle. This again was superseded in 1875 by a new lamp with a six-inch burner using paraffin oil, the result being that the intensity of the light was doubled. Yet another change was made in 1888 by the installation of a very powerful electric light showing a flash of 5 seconds’ duration every half-minute, and this has been seen on favourable nights as far off as Cherbourg, a distance of seventy-two miles. The light given is equal to 35 ,000 candle- power, which is magnified by an optical apparatus containing 250 mirrors to 7,000,000 candle-power, a light so intense that to look at it except through blackened spectacles would result in instant blindness. Two steam engines work the dynamos which generate the electric current, while a third is employed in foggy weather to compress the air for a double-toned fog-horn of extraordinary power. Everything is in duplicate in case of a breakdown, and there is also an oil-lamp as a final reserve.
Between the Culver Cliffs and the Foreland at the eastern extremity of the island, a limestone reef, known as the Bembridge Ledge, stretches seawards for twelve miles, covered at high water but bare at ebb tide. On the reef the iron barque Alphela ran ashore on November 14, 1877, and remained fixed there for five months, when she eventually got off, towed into Portsmouth, and refitted for sea. This ledge has been the scene of many ship-wrecks and the services of the lifeboat are often needed. The “Nab” lightship lies two miles off Bembridge and three miles south-east of the Nab Rock. The “Warner” lightship is moored off the northern end of a shoal about midway between Southsea Castle and St. Helen’s.
On the eastern side of the island is a very familiar sea-mark, the tower of St. Helen’s old church. Tradition has it that the old entrance to Brading Harbour was near this church, which, in Cromwell’s days, was at high tide washed by the waves. In the time of Elizabeth the church had fallen into such complete ruin owing to the encroachments of the sea that a presentment made concerning its ruined condition stated that “foreign sailors, seeing the shameful using of the same, think that all other churches within the realm be like used and what they have said and made report of in their own country God knoweth. It is a gazing stock to all foreign nations.” The only part now left standing is the tower, and this the Government has found it necessary to protect with a brick wall on the seaward side. The tower has been coloured white to render it a more conspicuous landmark for vessels entering St. Helen’s Roads.
Having left the Isle of Wight behind, we see on the north Selsey Bill, a tongue of land projecting into the stretch of shallow water marked on the charts as the “Park.” Only four hundred years ago this shallow area was an extensive deer forest wherein Henry VIII was wont to hunt the stag, and in its midst, some 2,000 yards from the present shore-line, stood the remains of the first Saxon monastery founded in Sussex. Owing to the extreme shallowness of this area ordinary vessels keep so far to the south of it that a lighthouse on the point would be useless. The sands are therefore protected by a lightship, known as the “Owers,” moored in 14 fathoms at six cables’ distance from the South Spit of the Outer Owers, and from which a red and white alternate revolving light is visible every half-minute at a distance of eleven miles. There are also on the vessel, for use in thick weather, a fog-trumpet giving a blast of 4 seconds’ duration every 10 seconds and a submarine fog-bell sounding seven strokes at intervals of 7 seconds.
The pier lights of Bognar, Littlehampton, Worthing, Brighton, Rottingdean, and Newhaven are quickly passed in succession, and we then see on the foreshore under Beachy Head the new light-house, a grey circular tower, with a black band, lantern, and gallery, which replaces the Belle Tout erected in 1828 on the Head, the ultimate eminence of the South Downs. It had been found that the sea-fogs so frequently obscured the cliff light, which was 284 feet above high-water level, while the atmosphere below was comparatively clear, that Trinity House decided in 1899 to build a fresh lighthouse on the foreshore at a distance of 570 feet from the base of the cliff. The work was completed in 1902 at a cost of £56,000. The height of the gallery coping from the foundation is 123 feet, the focal flame being 103 feet above high-water level.
Shortly after passing the “Royal Sovereign” lightship, which is stationed three-quarters of a mile south wards of Southern Head and has a small ball over a large one at the masthead and a single group flashing white light every 45 seconds, we are abreast of Dungeness, a dreary and monotonous flat of sand and shingle, but nevertheless a very dangerous point upon which it is said over a thousand bodies of shipwrecked sailors have been thrown.
No light appears to have been shown here between the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the year 1616, when Sir Edward Howard, then one of the King’s cupbearers, obtained a patent for building a lighthouse on the Ness, with power to levy tolls of one penny per ton from all ships passing it during the succeeding forty years. Owing to the great difficulty experienced in collecting the dues, Sir Edward sold his interest in the lighthouse to one William Lamplough, who obtained the aid of the customs’ officers in getting his dues paid. Shortly afterwards we find the Trinity Brethren endeavouring, but unsuccessfully, to get the patent cancelled on the pretence that the lighthouse was “a nuisance to navigation.” Then the inhabitants of Rye attempted to get an Act passed which would vest the interest in the venture in the Mayor and jurâts of that town, it being intended to apply the surplus profits towards the reparation of their harbour. This attempt also failed, and Lamplough in 1635 built a larger and more substantial tower which did duty for more than 150 years, although it had a narrow escape from destruction by the ground landlord during the Commonwealth, the rent having been allowed to fall into arrear.
The present main lighthouse, a blue tower with a white band, lantern, and gallery, is 140 feet high and about 319 yards within high -water mark. The previous tower was built by Wyatt in 1831, the light being provided by eighteen sperm-oil lamps which took the place of the coal fires. When the electric arc light had become available for light-house purposes Trinity House installed an apparatus of the sixth order. This was made in duplicate, one set above the other, so that in case of the stoppage of one the other might at once be brought into use, the already existing catoptric apparatus being left in position for use in case of need. electric light continued in use without a single breakdown for nearly three years, but it was discarded in 1874 in favour of oil, the results not having been commensurate with the cost, for experience had quickly proved that a light of the third order is the smallest suitable size for sea- lights. The present light shows a flash of 1 second duration every 2 seconds visible for seventeen miles. In the same tower is another light with fixed red and green sectors visible for thirteen miles.
Owing to the rapid accumulation of beach, this lighthouse now stands more than 500 yards inland from high water mark, necessitating the placing of another light in a white cylindrical tower 485 yards to the south, from which flashes a white light of 2 seconds’ duration every 5 seconds. There is also a fog-siren, giving a high and a low blast in quick succession every 2 minutes. Next after Dungeness comes the “Varne ” light-vessel, near the west end of the shoal, and the white group flashing light on Folkestone Pier, visible at a distance of twelve miles. At the head of the Admiralty Pier at Dover is a white light visible for ten miles, and flashing once every 7 seconds, while the fog explosive gives a report once every 2 minutes in thick weather and a fog-bell one stroke every 7 seconds Over the town of Dover, 2,260 feet above sea-level, is an occulting red light, and when the mariner gets this in line with the flashing green light on the Prince of Wales’s Pier he can steer inside the south-western head of the southern breakwater. There are various other lights on the piers and jetties, besides a reed- horn, a fog-bell and a fog-whistle.
The last promontory on the south coast protected by a lighthouse is the South Foreland, on which Sir John Meldrum, under a patent granted by Charles I, erected two beacons with wood fires to warn vessels against the dreaded Goodwin Sands. In 1793 the fires were replaced by sperm-oil lamps with reflectors, and these, again, in 1843 gave way to a four-wick lamp and a dioptric apparatus of the first order. A temporary installation of the electric light was introduced in December, 1853, but it was not until January 1, 1872, that oil was permanently abandoned in favour of electricity in lamps of the Holmes type, the light from which is visible at a distance of twenty-five miles. These lights are an admirable example of the method by which any desired graduation of intensity in the distribution of the light over the sea may be obtained by a suitable adjustment of the refracting zones. In the case of the high light, the focal flame of which is 375 feet above high water, the refractors have been so arranged as to spread the rays passing through them over various angles of vertical divergence, the light being brought up to 1,174 yards from the tower while the low light, which has its focal plane 290 feet above high water, illuminates the sea to within 304 yards of the tower. The full power of the high light has been estimated at 152,000 candles, and of the low light at 131,000, being twenty and ninety times respectively the power of the lights, one dioptric, the other catoptric, previously in use.