The Lighthouses of the East Coast

A special feature of the lighting of the east coast of England is the great number of lightships and buoys which are to be seen between the South Foreland and Spurn Head. The use of so many floating sea-marks is rendered necessary by the almost continuous lines of shoals and banks which lie off this part of the coast and in the estuaries of the Thames and the Humber. 

From the earliest times of which we have any reliable record, and doubtless for ages before, much of our eastern and southern shores has been wasting rapidly away under the erosive action of the sea, which even the hardest rocks of our south-western coast are unable entirely to withstand. The result of this general disintegration of the land is that the adjacent seas are continually receiving vast quantities of rocky or earthy soil, and this, when the flow of the tide is no longer rapid enough to carry it along, is gradually deposited on the sea-bottom, there to form those dangerous sandbanks and shoals which line the greater part of our eastern coasts. 

Speaking roughly, the sea washes away from the whole of the 320 miles of coast-line between the Thames and Flamborough Head an average of 3 feet every year. At Lowestoft Ness the coast has receded 1,100 feet during the last fifty years, or about 22 feet per annum, and at Easton Bavent over two miles within recent years. The section between Bridlington and Kilnsea, where the shore material is glacial drift and easily eroded, is being worn away at an average rate of not less than 11 feet a year, equal to about 2,000,000 tons of soil. 

The tides are greatly influenced by the wind for a strong north west wind, by driving the water out of the Atlantic and down the east coast, raises the tidal wave in the North Sea, while a continuous north-westerly gale, by influencing succeeding tidal waves, still further increases this effect; and should a sudden change to east occur at the time of flood in the Wash, this action is still further intensified. Owing to the complication arising from the tidal stream flowing in different directions, a kind of whirlpool is formed in the centre of the Wash, and it is to the effect of this circular motion of the sea that we may attribute the deep hole known as Lynn Well. The rise of the tide at ordinary springs in Clayhole is no less than 23 ft. 3 in., and during a continuance of spring equinoctial tides with a north-westerly gale it has risen as much as 26 ft. 11 in. 

There is an ancient forest bed extending from Hunstanton across the Wash nearly as far as Great Grimsby, and this at low water is in places still laid bare. This submerged forest is of the pre-glacial period, and there is another of the same period extending along the Norfolk coast off Cromer. These large tracts of land have been swallowed up by the North Sea during or since the Neolithic Age. Plain sailing or steering though it seems to be on the map, the presence of these shoals and sandbanks is a serious menace to the mariner voyaging round our coasts, and has too often proved the cause of disastrous wrecks. 

The most notorious of these sandbanks are the Goodwins, which lie off Deal and extend for ten miles from north to south and three miles from east to west. The deep waters between these and the mainland are the famous Downs, where, in easterly and westerly gales, fleets of vessels anchor for shelter, although even here in very bad weather sailing ships occasionally drag their anchors and are lost. In the gale which destroyed Winstanley’s Eddystone Lighthouse no less than thirty men-of-war and many merchant vessels were wrecked in the Downs; and again in 1836, when over four hundred vessels were sheltering from an unusually violent gale, many of them foundered and all the crews perished. At high water these sands are usually covered to a depth of 16 feet, but at low tide they are to a great extent exposed In some parts they are ever-shifting and changing quick-sands, which long ago were given the name of “ship-swallower,” for when once they grip a vessel, however large she may be, there is little chance of escape for her. 

The origin of the Goodwins is a mystery. Legend identifies them with the once fertile island of Lomea, part of the estate of Earl Godwin, and has it that one wild winter’s night the sea broke down the sea-wall, then sadly in need of repair, and made the island its prey for evermore. Ancient chronicles of this period have references to an appalling inroad of the sea on the western coast of Cornwall, when the land of Lyonnesse was overwhelmed; and as it is certain the Goodwins have been in existence for over eight centuries, it is not improbable that there is more than a grain of truth in this legend. Another account says that these sandbanks appeared when the sea made an inroad on the coast of Flanders, this part of the English coast being consequently diswatered and left bare at ebb -tide. But whatever their origin, there have been found deep down in the sand teeth and tusks of the rhinoceros and the mammoth, together with tokens of human existence in the days of long ago. 

Early in the sixteenth century it was recognized that the position of these deadly sands ought to be indicated by a beacon, but their ever-shifting nature rendered it impossible to erect on them an ordinary lighthouse tower. Many proposals were put forward, but none was carried out. One Gawain Smith, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, told Sir William Cecil that he was ready “to build a beacon firm and staid upon the foresaid Goodwin Sands, twenty to thirty feet above high water, which should be seen for twenty miles, and would show a fire by night for twenty or thirty miles.” The beacon was also “to provide a refuge for as many as two score shipwrecked seamen, if need be.” Smith asked for a reward of £1,000 and permission to gather toll. He was to be paid a further sum of £2,000 when the sand round his beacon should have become firm enough to stand the weight of cannon for the defence of the Channel. But this scheme came to nothing, as also did one put forward by Sir John Coke in 1623, although it had the approval of mariners and their promise to contribute towards its support.

In 1629 a Captain Thomas Wilbraham proposed to put a floating lightship near the Sands on condition that he was empowered to levy a toll of one penny on every ship passing through the Downs. This proposed tax, coming as an addition to the heavy dues already in force for the upkeep of the Foreland lighthouses, probably caused the shelving of this scheme also. 

Attempts to build a lighthouse on the Sands were made from time to time, but without success. Even the Trinity Brethren had bored with the view of ascertaining whether there was any foundation on which to build, but the results showed that it was impossible to get hold of anything solid. Then in 1795 we find Trinity House mooring an old hulk on the North Sands End to act as a lightship, thus carrying into effect a scheme which, less than half a century earlier, it had described as “ridiculous and tiresome”. Some years later a mast fixed to a strong oak base was sunk deep into the Sands, and on its top, some 40 feet above highwater, a beacon was fixed. Built around it was a cage capable of affording shelter to several persons. The combined beacon and refuge successfully survived the attacks of wind and wave for over three years, when it suddenly disappeared. In 1841 Trinity House towed an old ship filled with ballast out to the Sands and there scuttled her. At the top of her mast a beacon was fixed, and this survived the storms for several years, when it began to sink and soon after disappeared altogether. 

The Sands are now effectually protected by four ships – the “South Goodwin” (1832), off the south west end ; the “East Goodwin” (1874 ), a mile and a half to the east of the Sands ; the “Gull”  (1809 ), in the fairway ; and the “North Goodwin” (1795), oft the north end of the sands. Each of these ships has either a fog-siren or a submarine fog-bell for use in thick weather. 

After passing the fixed light (red or green, according to the state of the tide) at the Ramsgate West Pier-head and the occulting red light on the East Pier-head, we arrive off the North Foreland lights and the mouth of the River Thames. As far back as 1505 the North Foreland was the site of two lighthouses which had been erected by Sir John Meldrum, after much opposition from Trinity House and from shipowners who asserted that frequent soundings and the adjacent high land were more to be relied upon than lighthouses. Notwithstanding all opposition, the King was at length persuaded to grant the desired patent, and Sir John proceeded to build his twin towers of timber and plaster, and in the lanterns, when finished, he placed a few candles. The King was next induced to command his “Admiral of the Narrow Seas” to assist the owner collecting his dues of one penny per ton on British vessels and twopence per ton on all foreign vessels passing the Foreland, the rent payable to the Crown being £20 a year. 

These towers lasted until 1694, when a new light-house was built of flints, and for the candles was substituted a fire beacon in an open iron grate fed with coals which the light-keepers had on calm nights to blow into flame with bellows. In the course of a few years this grate became burnt out, and was replaced by a lantern illuminated by a single candle. This continued to be the only light shown until the erection of a more substantial brick-and-stone tower, portions of which may be seen incorporated in the present day structure. The patentee had recourse again to a coal fire, but it was so meagrely supplied with fuel that frequent complaints arose, and Trinity House made this an excuse for endeavouring to obtain a transfer of the patent to itself. The King would not consent to this, contenting himself with a caution to the owner to take care that a better light was shown in future. 

Sir John Meldrum held the patent for a period of fifty years, after which it was transferred to various individuals, finally coming into possession of the Governors of Greenwich Hospital, who obtained a renewal of the patent for a further term of ninety-nine years. The new owners attempted to economise the fuel by enclosing the fire, but this so reduced the light that mariners averred they were able to see the Foreland before they could the light, so the enclosing lantern was removed. The trustees appear to have soon tired of their venture, and in 1787 it was purchased for £8,000 by the Trinity Brethren, who, three years later, raised the towers to a height of 100 feet and substituted oil-lamps for the coal-grates. Now a dioptric apparatus with incandescent oil lamps provides a light which can be seen at a distance of twenty miles. 

We are now at the entrance to the great waterway to London, which is as well lighted as the ordinary street, for, besides the twelve light-vessels, each of the numerous promontories and piers has its own distinctive light. On the south side of the estuary. we pass the two lights at Margate – a red fixed one on the stone column 70 feet in height, and a green fixed one at the end of the promenade pier. 

We will now describe the principal lights of the Thames, starting from Woolwich Reach After passing Plumstead Marshes comes the white light shown from the top of the red iron framework tower of Jenningtree, in Erith Reach, where the Darent contributes its waters to the Thames –

“The silver Darent, in whose waters clear, 

Ten thousand fishes play and seek his pleasant streams.”

Next are seen the two red lights on Dagenham Pier and, on an elevation among the low-lying fields and sheets of water, the once-renowned Abbey of Barking. Then follow Greenhithe and Northfleet, the letter, with its white occulting light, on the India Arms Wharf. Soon the spires of Gravesend come insight ; it is the first port on the Thames, and on the opposite side is the time-honoured fort of Tilbury, with a white flashing light on the Ness. That part of the Thames known to seamen as “The Lower Hope” is formed by the Gravesend and Milton marshes and those of Higham and Clifte and the Essex shore. On the powder-jetty pier-head at Lower Hope Point is a red fixed light. The highlands above are part of the wood domain of Cobham, and we are just able to distinguish Gad’s Hill, rendered memorable by Shakespeare and as being the residence of Charles Dickens. 

The bold promontory stretching out from the Kentish shore is Cliffe, or Bishop’s Clive, with the church standing boldly out on its summit and serving as a landmark for vessels coming up Sea Reach, as the water below Lower Hope Point is called. This commanding height was in ancient times used for “watch and ward”  to the river. 

Here, in Richard Il’s days, beacons were ordered to be erected, and the watchmen were enjoined to light them whenever they saw hostile vessels approach “and make beside all the noise by horn and by cry that they can make, to warn the country around, to come with their force to the said river, each to succour the other, to withstand their enemies.” 

The Thames now flows rapidly to the sea, passing Canvey Island, the “Convennos” of Ptolemy. Off the island is the “Chapman” screw-pile lighthouse, with its bright red legs, looking not unlike a flamingo fishing. On the hills behind may be descried the ruined towers of Hadleigh Castle. At Sea Reach we notice the church of Leigh and, a little beyond on the Kentish shore the stone marking the boundary of the jurisdiction of the City of London. Then comes Sheerness, with its dockyard and its fort on Garrison Point, where a red fixed electric light is shown. There are other red lights on the landing-stage near the Great Basin and on the pier-end. During the war between the English and Dutch in 1667, De Ruyter made a sudden dash up the Thames and appeared before Sheerness with fifty ships of the line, and, notwithstanding the gallant defence by Sir Edward Spragge, took the place and destroyed it. On the east of the Isle of Sheppey, at the mouth of the River Swale, is Shellness Point, where James II was captured while endeavouring to escape to France. Then we pass the two fixed lights of Whitstable (one white, the other red, the latter being shown only when the harbour is full of shipping and entrance prohibited), and shortly afterwards the red fixed light on Herne Bay Pier. 

Our attention is next attracted by the two low, square towers, surmounted by spires, of the old church at Reculver, a familiar landmark to voyagers down the Thames. In Leland’s days Reculver stood “wythin a quarter of a mile or a little more of the sea syde though it is supposed that in tyme past the sea came hard to it “; but now one-half of the site of the ancient Regulbium has been swallowed up by the sea, and the towers would long since have followed but for the protecting wall and groynes built by the Trinity Brethren. The present metal pyramids erected on the top of the square stone towers replace what Leland describes as “two goodly spiring steeples.” The original church was built in the year 609, and those parts of the later church which had not already fallen into the sea were pulled down in 1890, with the exception of the two western towers and walls. 

Let into the church front is a stone with the inscription “These towers, the remains of the once venerable church of Reculver, were purchased of the parish by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Stronde in the year 1810 and groynes laid down at their expense to protect the clift on which the church had stood. When the ancient spires were afterwards blown down the present substitutes were erected to render the towers sufficiently conspicuous to be useful for navigation.” 

This church has always been a landmark for sailors, and Thomas Ingoldsby in his “Brothers of Birchington ” refers to them as–

“Overhan ging the sea, the et twin towers ” raised there 

By ‘Robert and Richard those two pretty men,’ 

Both tall and upright, and just equal in height ; 

And Trinity House talked of painting them white.;

Well–there the towers stand 

On the verge of the land, 

To warn mariners off from the Columbine Sand, 

And many a poor man have Robert and Dick 

By their vow caused to ‘scape, like themselves, from 

old Nick.”

Retracing our way to the mouth of the Medway, we see in mid-channel the “Nore” light-vessel, moored at the east end of the sand, the scene of many a wreck, and in older days of many a fight when French privateers used to lurk about our coasts in foggy weather. From a picturesque point of view it is very striking the red sides of the vessel, pitching at her moorings, while the many different craft passing in every direction give variety and contrast. On the north of the river we may now see the lights of Southend (red on the pier-head and green on the Corporation jetty ) and the green light on Shoeburyness Pier.

In the middle of the estuary, due north of the Reculvers, are the Girdler Sands protected by three light-vessels ; then are seen two more of the strange-looking red pile lighthouses, the Maplin and the Gunfleet. Marking the eastern entrance to the East Swin is the “Swin Middle” and in the fairway the “Sunk” light-vessels. 

Next in quick succession we leave behind us the ” Long-Sand,”, “Kentish Knock,” and “Galloper” light-vessels, the pier-lights of Clacton and Walton-on-the-Naze, and the various lights at Harwich, Dovercourt, Landguard, Felixstowe, and Woodbridge Haven. The high light at Harwich is a fixed one visible for eleven miles and the low one is of the same kind but visible for only nine miles. These two lights when seen in line indicate the passage between the inner ridge and Andrew’s buoys. The records of Trinity House tell us that when the Dutch fleet was expected to land here in the reign of James II Pepys ordered the lower lighthouse ee to be removed and set up in another place “; but as this would have taken some considerable time, and dispatch being of the utmost consequence, it was decided that when news of the enemy’s approach arrived the real lighthouse should be blown down by gunpowder and at the same time a timber frame covered with canvas to represent a lighthouse should be set up elsewhere so as to mislead the enemy, for when the mariner sees the two lighthouses in line he knows he is in the direct course for the harbour. We do not know whether this ingenious scheme was carried out, but history tells us the Dutch fleet under Admiral Opdam was, in 1665, caught a few miles off the coast and defeated by the English fleet under the Duke of York. In the heat of the action Opdam’s ship blew up and the Dutch made for their own coast. Pepys says they lost about twenty-four of their best ships and between eight and ten thousand men. Opdam was known to Pepys, for we find in the Diary under May 16, 1660 (the Diarist being then on board a ship at the Hague) : “Come in some with visits, among the rest one from Admiral Opdam, who spoke Latin well, but not French nor English, whom my lord made me to entertain.” Six days later Opdam dined on board with the Dukes of York and Gloucester. 

After passing the “Cork ” light-vessel, guarding the Cork Ledge, and the “Shipwash”, off the north- east end of the Sand, we come in sight of the Orford Ness lights – the high occulting white, red, and green light visible for fifteen miles, and a low fixed white light in the same tower, visible for six miles, covering the Aldeburgh ridge and Napes. Some two miles behind this lighthouse may be descried the ruined keep of Orford Castle on one of the towers of which in the sixteenth century a beacon was kept burning as a guide to mariners passing up and down this treacherous coast. 

Then we see the little that remains of the once large and prosperous port of Dunwich, which in the year 1328 lost its harbour, several churches and four hundred houses. Next we pass the lights of Southwold, described in 1666 as an island, the disused lighthouse at Pakefield at the southern end of Lowestoft, which has suffered as much from the sea as Dunwich, and then the lights on the Lowestoft Piers. At the High Lighthouse on the cliff at Lowestoft a revolving white light is shown, and from the same tower, 24 feet below the main light, a fixed red light. On the beach at Ness Point is the Low Lighthouse, an iron structure, which during recent years has more than once been moved further inland owing to the encroachment of the sea. 

We now enter upon one of the most dangerous sections of the whole of our coasts. The numerous sandbanks which lie off the shores of Suffolk, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire are, by the joint action of wind and tide, continually changing their shape and consequently altering the position of the navigable channels which intersect them. These passages are indicated by numerous lightships and buoys of various kinds, for on the unstable masses of sand and shingle the ordinary stone tower or screw-pile lighthouse would find no secure foundation.

The Corton Sands lie north of Lowestoft and are protected by a lightship on the outside of the Bank. Corton was one of the places selected by Sir John Clayton for the site of a lighthouse as early as 1675. He, of course, met with the usual opposition from Trinity House, as also he did when suggesting the erection of another nearer Yarmouth for the purpose of marking the entrance of the southern channel to Yarmouth Roads and to Yarmouth Harbour.

The Yarmouth Roads lie between the Scroby Sands and the mainland, and vessels seeking shelter in this comparatively shallow sea-channel, enter through the narrow passage separating the two lines of sandbanks and known as the St. Nicholas Gat. These sands change their position more frequently than do any others. In the sixteenth century they appear to have been a settled island covered with grass and haunted by sea-fowl. This island was the scene of many a shipwreck, for when a vessel, driven out of its course by a gale, had the misfortune to miss the Gat, it was invariably cast on its shores. The town of Yarmouth and the Lord of the Manor each claimed this island, and of course the wrecks also, but before it could be decided which was the rightful owner the sea one night settled the question for ever by washing the island away. 

Yarmouth itself owed its origin to a sandbank which, in the course of centuries, accumulated at the mouth of the estuary of the rivers Bure, Yare, and Waveney. In very early days this estuary extended from East Caister on the north to Gorleston on the south, and also inland as far as Norwich to the spot where now stands the Bishop’s Gateway near Pull’s Ferry at the end of the Cathedral Close. Early in the fifth century sand and silt began to accumulate in the middle of the estuary, and this, tradition says, had grown sufficiently large and compact to permit of Cedric and his followers landing upon it. But there is no record of Yarmouth even as late as the ninth century, and in a map of the district dated A.D. 1000 the site is marked as a sandbank, although in an eleventh-century map the town appears situated on a long sandbank which had formed across the mouth of the estuary. An old writer thus quaintly describes the growth of Yarmouth “As the sand upon which Yarmouth is built did grow to be drye and was not overflowen by the sea, but waxed in height and also in greatness, much store of people did resort thither and did pitch tabernacles and booths for the entertain ing of such seafaring men, merchants and fishermen as would resort unto that place, either to sell their herring-fish or other commodities, and for providing such things as those seamen need.” 

At the end of the seventeenth century Great Yarmouth, now an important seaport, was without a lighthouse, notwithstanding the frequent petitions sent up by mariners, who alleged that as many as two hundred vessels perished on the adjacent sand-banks in a single winter. Molloy, writing in 1676, refers to a lighthouse erected at Gorleston by the great and pious care of Charles II and maintained at his own expense – an unwonted display of generosity on the part of the Merry Monarch. At the present time the port is well protected, there being a fixed red light on Gorleston Pier, a light- vessel, the “St. Nicholas” at the inner end of the channel, the Cross Sand Lighthouse a mile outside the middle Cross Sands, the “Cockle”  lightship on the eastern side of the north entrance to the Roads and the “Caister” (fixed red ) shown from the north-east corner of the Sailors’ Home. 

Two miles north of Yarmouth is Caister, where a lighthouse was erected in the year 1600. This, like most of the early lighthouses, was merely a wooden tower surmounted by a lantern lighted “by a single candle, or at most two, of six to the pound and even these were often neglected so that wrecks continued to be almost as numerous as before.” On Winterton Ness, a most dangerous promontory some five miles north of Caister, Sir William Erskine, under a patent from James I, erected a lighthouse in 1618 and levied heavy tolls on all passing coal vessels. These dues amounted to no less than £2,000 a year, while the expense of maintaining the light appears never to have exceeded £100 a year, so that his venture must have been a very profitable one. Trinity House petitioned against this invasion of what it considered to be its rights, but without success, the only result being that the King was moved to sell similar patents to other adventurers. At the present day a lighthouse stands 70 feet above sea-level on the bluff of a sandhill about two miles south of the Ness, from which is shown a fixed white light visible at a distance of sixteen miles. Three light-vessels indicate the sand-banks lying between Winterton and Happisburgh, where there is an occulting white light visible for seventeen miles. After passing the “Haisborough ” and the “Leman” and “Ower” lightships we see the Cromer Lighthouse, standing on the highest part of the line of cliffs running east from Cromer to the “Garden of Sleep” and looking out on the Bay known as the Devil’s Throat, where lie the remains of the ancient village of Shipden, the mother parish of Cromer and formerly a port of some importance, but which fell a prey to the sea about the middle of the fourteenth century; a portion of the tower of Shipden Church may still be seen at very low tides some 400 yards out at sea. By 1551 the sea had begun to encroach on the new settlement at Cromer, and we find the inhabitants petitioning Parliament to give them some protection. At this time it was not an unimportant town, for we find it in 1528 sending thirty ships to Norway and Iceland, as well as possessing many others engaged in the North Sea fishery. The rages and surges of the sea, however, gradually washed away the jetty and the protecting walls, leaving the little port at the mercy of the waves which quickly overwhelmed it. 

In very early days before the erection of the first lighthouse, two lights for the guidance of mariners were shown from the lofty tower of Cromer Parish Church. The apertures may still be traced in the wall about the ninetieth step in the staircase leading to the summit of the tower, but one has long since been built up and the other is now glazed in. It is said that many years ago a schoolboy discovered a jackdaw’s nest a few feet below the eastern opening, and, being unable to reach it unaided, induced a companion to hold him over the edge whilst he rifled the nest. His friend, still holding him by the heels, threatened to loose his hold unless he were given the larger share of the spoils. Not agreeing to this he was told he would be dropped. “Drop away,” retorted Yaxley, who was thereupon promptly dropped and fell into the churchyard below, a depth of some 70 feet. Strange to say he escaped unhurt, but not so his treacherous friend, to whom he at once administered a sound drubbing. 

In 1719 the first lighthouse at Cromer was erected on Foulness Point, 220 feet above sea-level. The keepers were two young women who together received a pound a week for wages with certain perquisites. But the sea encroached rapidly; in 1799, 1825, and in 1852 immense masses of the cliff slipped down into the sea and the lighthouse was considered to be no longer safe. Trinity House then erected the present building about 300 yards further inland. Another landslide occurred in 1866, and with it disappeared the old lighthouse. The present tower is of brick stuccoed; it is 52 feet high, the summit being 250 feet above sea-level. The lantern has fourteen lamps in two groups, back to back, each lamp being in a plated copper reflector. The frame revolves on an upright axis, once a minute, the light therefrom showing every half-minute, and is visible at a distance of thirty two miles in favourable weather. 

Passing the entrance to the picturesque little town of Wells-by-the-Sea, the lighthouse on the cliffs of Hunstanton and the various lights on the shores of the Wash, we at length reach the Spurn lights guarding the entrance to the Humber. To the casual observer this arm of the sea appears to be merely a wide estuary, but in reality it is of great importance, as by means of rivers and numerous artificial connecting links it is practically in touch with the whole country. In the earlier periods of our country’s history the Humber provided a water-way for the Vikings, now it has on its banks Great Grimsby on the south, and Hull, or rather Kingston-upon-Hull (Hull itself being the name of a river), on the Yorkshire side. Very little is known of Hull in feudal times, but Leland tells us that “the toune was in the tyme of Edward the Third but a meane fischer toune. The first great increasing of the toune was by passing for fisch into Iseland, from whence they had the whole trade of stoke fisch into England and partly other fisch. In Richard the Second’s days the toune waxed very rich, and Michael de la Pole, marchaunt of Hull and prentice as some say to one Rotenhering, came into So high favour for wit, actyvitie and riches, that he was made Count of Suffolk ; whereon he got of King Richard the Second many grants and privileges to the toune ; and in his time, the toune was wonderfully augmented in building, and was enclosed with ditches, and the wall begun and its continuance ended, and made all of brick, as most part of the houses at that time were.” 

Eastward of Hull lies the peninsula of Holderness, terminating in Spurn Point. Anciently the chief port of the Humber was Ravenser, lying snugly inside Spurn Point ; but, unfortunately, it was built on very unstable ground, for even in Bolingbroke’s day only a small portion of it was left, and this was soon after swallowed up by the ever-encroaching sea. The coast at this part is being washed away at the rate of about 4 yards a year, and a whole string of villages have been thus destroyed during the lapse of ages. 

Spurn Point is a low peninsula of gravel and sand accumulated by the sea and the wind, and laid in its peculiar form by the united action of currents from the sea and the Humber. The cliffs of Flamborough, Bridlington, and other parts of the coast are being constantly washed down by the action of the sea and the wind, and the materials are sorted by the tide according to their size and weight-the pebbles first, the sand farther south, and the fine, impalpable sand near the mouth of the Humber. 

The projection of this sandy peninsula into the mouth of the Humber renders it a dangerous obstacle to shipping. The sites of the Spurn Point of six hundred years ago and of the lost town of Ravenser are considerably west of the present promontory, which has been almost entirely built up since that time for it is a peculiarity of this Yorkshire peninsula that while in one place it suffers continually from denudation, in others it is being rapidly built up. Between Sunk Island, which comprises some seven thousand acres of reclaimed land and Spurn Point is a bay which provides a very fine anchorage. 

A lighthouse was erected on Spurn Head by a pious monk of the Meaux Abbey, one Brother Mathew, in the reign of Richard II. At his death the monk endowed the hermitage with certain lands, the income from which was sufficient to continue the maintenance of the light ; but the gift being made without the King’s licence, it would probably have been declared forfeit had it not chanced that the place of Henry of Lancaster’s landing on this desolate coast was close to this hermitage, in which the future King was only too glad to seek shelter. On hearing the circumstances under which the bequest had been made, Henry forgave the then occupant, Brother Richard, confirmed to him the gift, and also granted to him the right to wreckage cast on the shore within two leagues of the beacon. Richard, finding that the meagre light shed from the window of his hermitage was so inadequate that numerous wrecks still continued to occur, thought to improve matters by building a lighthouse adjoining his cell. But before it was finished his funds had become exhausted, and in 1427 we find him petitioning for the King’s licence to levy a toll on all ships using the port of Hull. His prayer was granted, and in due time his “beken tower” was finished and for many years continued to guide the passing ships, until at last the sea encroached so far as to wash both hermitage and tower away. Sir Martin Frobisher was the next to attempt to place a light there, but he died before even the necessary licence could be obtained. His relative, Peter Frobisher, then sought to get a patent, but failed. Sir Harry Vane next put the suggestion before Trinity House, or rather the Committee, which, by order of Parliament, was acting for it during the Commonwealth, by whom the scheme was approved but the authorities at Hull succeeded in getting its fulfilment postponed, alleging that the only purpose it would serve would be to guide an enemy into the Humber. At length, in spite of all opposition, one Justinian Angel, a London merchant, built a lighthouse on land of his own with a high and a low light, and afterwards obtained from Charles II a patent which empowered him “to continue, renew and maintain certain lights that he had erected upon a very broad long sand at Spurn Point, which lights had been erected at the request of masters of ships using the northern trade.”

In process of time this “long broad sand” became itself a dry land at high water, and the lights erected by Angell were now at so great a distance from the real point as to be actually deceptive and undoubtedly the cause of many shipwrecks. In 1766 an application was made to Parliament at the instance of the Trinity Houses of Deptford Strond and Hull for power to remove the lights, and in the sixth year of George III was passed “An Act for taking down, and removing certain lighthouses now standing near the Spurn Point at the mouth of the Humber and for erecting other fit and convenient lighthouses instead thereof.” The preamble of the Act sets forth that John Angell of Stockwell in the County of Surrey Esquire, was owner of three-fourths of the said lighthouses, duties and profit and Leonard Thompson of Sheriff-Hutton in the County of York, Esquire, was the proprietor of the remaining fourth part thereof. 

On June 22, 1766, Smeaton met a Committee appointed by Trinity House to select a site for the new lighthouse and also for a temporary light, and the spot chosen was at a distance of more than a mile from the older lights. Although described in the original patent and in the new Act as ” light-houses,” the low light appears to have been exhibited on a swape (a north-country term for a lever fixed upon a centre and worked by hand ), and which, Smeaton says, “worked in a way very similar to that by which water is drawn up by a bucket out of such wells as are not deep in the garden grounds about London and many other places, and as the coast wore away, being moveable, was now placed upon the beach near highwater mark.” “The great lighthouse,” he goes on to say, “was a naked coal fire, which, being unprotected from the wind, was subject to burn with very different and unequal lustre ; and it is related by the master of this lighthouse that in the storm of 1703 (when that of the Eddystone was beat down) he verily believed his tower (twenty yards high – would have been blown down ; and the tempest made the fire in it burn so vehemently that it melted down the iron bars on which it was laid, like lead so that they were forced, when the fire was by this means almost extinguished, to put in new bars and kindle the fire afresh!” 

In respect of the temporary lights, Smeaton says “Having then examined the low light machine, called a Swape, though that was scarcely capable of hoisting the light about twenty-five feet above ordinary high water, yet I doubted not but to produce a machine upon the same principle, so much more complete, that it should hoist a light fifty or even sixty feet high, if required. ” 

On July 12, 1766, at a General Court of Trinity House, the situation, height, &c., of the new lights at the Spurn were agreed on – the great light to be placed within the Spurn at a distance from high-water mark at common spring tides of 90 yards, and the small to be 116 yards distant from high-water mark without the Spurn. Both towers were to be of brick, the larger 90 feet in height and the smaller 50 feet in height, each with an enclosed lantern for a fire-light. 

In January, 1776, a great storm took away so much of the south-east coast in general that not only was the site of the old lighthouse entirely swept away, but the circular court-wall of the low light was laid bare. On September 5th following the fires in the new lighthouses “were kindled with Stone coal, which exhibited an amazing light, to the entire satisfaction of all beholders,” Smeaton tells us.

The “low light ” has been so much exposed to the destructive action of the tide that it has been frequently rebuilt. Sir G. Head, while proceeding to Spurn Point from Patrington, passed through Kilnsea, and in his description of the district remarked : “I thought I had never seen human dwellings so critically placed ; the houses huddled together on a bleak bare spot, unrelieved by surrounding objects – a low promontory on a crumbling foundation,’ against which the waves beat con-tinually with a heavy swell ; indeed, the imagination can hardly depict a more abrupt and daring position. It seems extraordinary that people can endure residence on so precarious a tenure. The apathy of the villagers is so great that many have rested quietly for weeks together with the spray of the sea-storm rattling against their windows, and thus have remained till the ground has been almost torn from under their very beds.” 

From the present lighthouse, completed in 1895, the high light is visible for seventeen miles. It is white, with flashes of 1 second’s duration and eclipses of 18 seconds. From a lower window in the tower there is shown a low, fixed white light, visible for thirteen miles, cover- ing the Chequer Shoal, a fixed red showing on the sand Haile buoy, and a fixed white visible between ESE. and SE E. 

In mediæval days the coast north of the Humber was probably unprotected save by the lights at Tynemouth and on the Farne Island. Although Camden says there was a pharos on Flamborough Head there is nothing to support his statement, the word being derived not, as he supposed, from its being the place of a flame, but from the Saxon word “flaen,” meaning a dart, to which the shape of the headland bears some resemblance. In Domesday Book the word is spelt “Flaneberg.” 

The lighthouse stands some distance back from the edge of the bold and wind-swept promontory, and rises about 200 feet above the sea, being itself 85 feet in height. 

Sailing past the pier-lights of Scarborough, the powerful occulting white light with a red sector on Ling Hill, near Whitby, comes into sight. This light-house, the lantern of which is 240 feet above sea-level, was erected in 1858 to warn vessels not to approach too closely the dangerous Whitby Rock, towards which a red occulting light is thrown from the tower. At the extremity of Whitby East Pier is a small lighthouse 54 feet high, which serves to guide ships making the haven after dark ; and on the West Pier is a tower 84 feet high, where a green light is exhibited when there is a sufficient depth of water on the bar to permit of a ship passing safely over it. The Tees Bay and River, and the harbours of Hartlepool, Seaham, and Sunderland, are well protected by various lights and buoys. Next we see the two electric lights in the tower on Souter Point, the lower indicating the position of Mill Rock, the White Stones, and the Hendon Rock.

Then we pass in quick succession the lights at the mouth of the Tyne, at North Shields, Cullercoats, on St. Mary’s Island, and at Blyth. On the south-west part of the island, lying at the mouth of the Coquet, is seen a white square tower with turreted parapet, which shows from its lantern an occulting white light with red sectors, while behind rises the imposing grey ruins of Warkworth Castle. 

Dunstanborough, standing grim and rugged on a solitary cliff in all the majesty of a shattered ruin, next holds one’s attention, until it is diverted to the still grander spectacle of Bamborough Castle, rising vast and isolated from a huge whinstone crag 150 feet above the level of the sea. About two miles from the mainland lie the Farne Islands, a group of some twenty islets and rocks, the narrow passage between being extremely dangerous in rough weather. 

In the middle of the fifteenth century these islands were held by the Blackett family of the Dean and Chapter of Durham College, and who had, under an agreement with the Corporation of Trinity House, furnished lights for the safety of vessels navigating in this neighbourhood ; but they were so inefficient that upon complaint being made to the Corporation the lessees were required to improve them. lessees demurred, The lessees demured and on their tenure being examined it was discovered that their lease had not been executed. As soon as they found that they were liable to be dispossessed, the lessees consented to carry out whatever improvements the Corporation required, and the shipowners at the same time expressed their willingness to pay an increased toll. But Trinity House, feeling that mariners must be protected, but at the same time being unwilling to take advantage of the supposed lessees’ situation, determined, after attentive survey and examination by the Committee, to build two lighthouses- a white tower on the Farne and a red tower with white bands on the Longstone. After the completion of these, the Corporation appointed the keepers and paid the amount of the net profits to the family yearly until the date of the expiry of the term granted by the unsigned lease. 

It was from the well known Longstone, a mere low-lying rock and the most remote from land of the whole group, that Grace Darling accomplished the deed which made her name famous. On the evening of September 5, 1838, the steamship Forfarshire, with sixty-three persons on board, passed between the Farne Islands and the mainland, being already in difficulties owing to a leak making it difficult to maintain the boiler fires, which were shortly afterwards extinguished. She then set her sails, but these were unable to prevent her being driven southwards ; and about four o’clock on the following morning she struck bow foremost on a precipitous part of one of the islets. She divided into two parts, the stern portion being rapidly carried off by the current through a channel known as the Pifa-gut. The fore-part, on which were grouped the survivors, remained fast on the rocks and when day broke, William Darling, the keeper, descried them from the lighthouse, as also did the fishermen of Bambor ugh The waves were beating against the rocks so fearfully that the boatmen refused or were unable to launch their boats, and even Darling shrank from the peril. But not so his heroic daughter, who, after much entreaty, induced her father to accompany her in the lighthouse boat to the wreck. On reaching it, after a terrible struggle, they found only nine survivors, whom they rescued and carried back to the lighthouse, where they were forced to remain for two days until the storm abated. The heroic girl did not long survive this feat ; she died of consumption four years later.

In the churchyard at Bamborough is the memorial in the form of an altar tomb, on which lies a recumbent figure holding an oar, erected to commemorate this heroic lighthouse-keeper’s assistant. In the chapel of St. Cuthbert, on Farne Island, is a slab, bearing beneath a St. Cuthbert’s cross this inscription :

“To the memory of GRACE HORSLEY DARLING 

a native of Bamborough 

and an inhabitant of these islands 

who died October 20th, A.D. 1842, 

Aged 26 years. 

Pious and pure, modest and yet so brave, 

Though young, so wise ; though weak, So resolute.”

Five years after the foundering of the Forfarshire the Pegasus struck on the Goldstone Rock and foundered with the loss of the forty-nine passengers and crew, among the former being Elton the tragedian. A benefit for the actor’s widow and children was given at the Haymarket Theatre, the prologue being written by Thomas Hood. It contains an allusion to the former wreck, and runs :-

“Sigh for the dead I Yet not alone for him, 

O’er whom the cormorant and gannet swim 

Weep for the dead, yet do not merely weep 

For him who slumbers in the oozy deep. 

But, like Grace Darling in her little boat, 

Stretch forth a saving hand to those who float 

The orphan seven, so prematurely hurl’d 

Amid the surges of this stormy world, 

And struggling ~ save your pity, take their part- 

With breakers huge enough to break the heart.”

Continuing our voyage for a short four miles we find ourselves off Holy Island, the ancient Lindisfarne, crowned by the ruins of the stately cathedral,

“On whose deep walls the ancient Dane,

 Had poured his impious rage in vain, 

And needful was such strength to these, 

Exposed to the tempestuous seas,

Scourged by the wind’s eternal sway, 

Open to rovers fierce as they.”

Here St. Aidan, “a man,” Bede tells us, “of sin-gular meekness, piety and moderation,” found a home on coming to England from his native Iona. Beside his cell he built an oratory in which to perform his devotions. Oswald, King of Northumbria, made Lindisfarne the seat of a bishopric, with Aidan as bishop. His successor, Finain, built a church, after the fashion of the Scots, “of hewn oak, not ot stone, and covered it with reeds, and the same was afterwards dedicated in honour of St. Peter.” Into this, the first cathedral of the North, he moved the bones of St. Aidan. In 685 came St. Cuthbert, the sixth of the line of bishops and the most famous of the early bishops of the See. 

The legend runs that here

“Saint Cuthbert sits and toils to frame 

The sea-born beads that bear his name,”

the beads being, as a matter of fact, merely the fossil fragments of encrinites. On this island, about the year 1500, Prior Castell built a tower, which, in the reign of Elizabeth, was converted into a fort. After the Act of 1539 ordering the fortification of all havens with bulwarks and blockhouses, a more imposing building was erected and given the name of the Castle of Lindisfarne. An amusing incident in connection with the castle is said to have occurred in 1715, when it was captured for the Young Pretender’s party. At that time the garrison consisted of about a dozen soldiers, under the charge of a sergeant. A daring scheme to seize the island for the Prince was concocted by two members of an old Northumberland family, the Erringhams. The two men rowed out to the island in a small boat, and persuaded the sergeant to accompany them on a little trip along the coast. The soldier was made very drunk and then put ashore on a lonely spot. The two plotters next made for the island, and found it in charge of a corporal and four soldiers, whom they quickly overpowered. The gates were then closed and the standard of the Pretender raised. But the reign of James III over the island of Lindisfarne was of very brief duration, for a detachment of soldiers quickly arrived on the scene and made the Erringhams prisoners. They were, however, soon afterwards released, under the general pardon granted to all who had taken part in the unfortunate rising. 

As we approach the little watering place of Spittal, and catch sight of the long, curving pier with the two fixed lights (one white, the other red), which serve to guide the few small vessels frequenting Berwick through the narrow channel of the bar, our voyage along the east coast of England comes to an end.

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