Surviving Lighthouses

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The Rock Lighthouse and Everton Hill c.1850
The Rock Lighthouse, Fort Perch Rock and the Red Noses c.1850
The Rock Lighthouse, New Brighton
The Rock Lighthouse, or Perch Rock Lighthouse, next to Fort Perch Rock, marks the extreme northern tip of the Wirral. The first structure here, erected in 1683, was a large wooden tripod or perch bholding a fire, hence the current name (formerly Black Rock). This was regularly destroyed by shipping and acquired a light in the early 19th century. Nevertheless it was demolished again in 1821 when a Mersey pilot boat collided with it during a storm.
The present lighthouse is 93 ft (28 m) high and of very solid construction, costing £27,500 by the time it was completed in 1830. It had possibly the first revolving light in the country. It was decommissioned in 1973 when its role was superceded by the radar system at Crosby.
James Stonehouse has this to say in his A New and Complete Handbook for the Stranger in Liverpool (c.1848).
  0n the Cheshire shore is the Rock Perch or Black Rock Lighthouse which is erected at the north east point of the Wirral peninsula. It is a very substantial and elegant building. The foundation stone was laid by Thomas Littledale Esq., 8th June, 1827, from a design by Mr. Foster. It was completed, and the light exhibited, 1st March, 1830. It rises ninety feet above the level of the rock exclusive of the lanthorn. The diameter of the base is thirty five feet. The masonry is solid up to about thirty-six feet, where a spiral staircase commences to the apartments of those in charge of the lights. It is constructed entirely of hard stone from the Isle of Anglesea. [...] The cost of this lighthouse was £27,500. The lights revolve by machinery exhibiting two white lights and one deep crimson light every three minutes. [...] Bells are tolled in foggy weather and there are flag posts for signals on the roof. Previous to the erection of this building the Rock Point was marked by a beacon. [...] At low water an extensive bed of mussels may be discovered surrounding the lighthouse.
The Rock Perch in the late 18th century
The Rock Lighthouse c.1900?
Leasowe Lighthouse c.1900?
Leasowe Lighthouse
The first Leasowe Lighthouse (originally known as the Mockbeggar Light) was built in 1763 by the Liverpool Corporation Docks Committee. It was one of two, the other of which was a short distance off-shore and was washed away in a storm in 1769. Taking a sight on both lighthouses was intended to aid entry to the Mersey estuary. This function was restored by a new lighthouse on Bidston Hill in 1771. Two further lighthouses were constructed at Hoylake, then a major fishing port (the four Leading Lights).
The present lighthouse was built in 1824 (the datestone is from the earlier one), the oldest brick built lighthouse in Britain, and was in operation until 1908. It is 101 ft (27 m) high and on 7 floors, accessed by a cast iron staircase and with accomodation inside. The light was housed unusually in a brick room with small rectangular windows. There used to be an adjoining keeper's cottage, but this was demolished when the lighthouse was decommisioned in 1908.
The last keeper was a Mrs. Williams, who moved into a cottage when it ceased to function and kept the lighthouse as a popular teahouse in the summer. Wallasey Corporation acquired it in 1930. It was refurbished in 1989 by the Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse, who host guided tours, and houses a visitor centre on the ground floor.
James Stonehouse (c.1848) provides some interesting period detail in his book:
  The Leasowes or Mockbeggar Light is situated midway between the Mersey and the Dee Rivers. This light is what is termed a masked light. Strangers are shown over this lighthouse, as indeed all the others, with great politeness. Everything is kept in the best possible order, and cleanliness is particularly observed. [...] We may here remark that if we require any further convincing proof to justify the assertion that the sea has in this part usurped the place of dry land; in the vicinity of the lighthouse, an unanswerable argument is offered, in the fact that the former lighthouse was built where now the sea impetuously sweeps over. The beach here at low water will be found studded for about half an acre with the remains of birch trees.
Hoylake Lower Lighthouse and lifeboat station c.1900?
Hoylake Upper and Lower Lighthouses
Hoylake Upper Lighthouse was first established here in 1764, when, together with the Lower Lighthouse and the two Leasowe lighthouses (only one extant), it was one of the four Leading Lights for guiding shipping into the Mersey estuary. The lights were used for alignment purposes and the Lower Lighthouse was actually movable in order to adjust to the shifting sand banks.
Both lighthouses were demolished in 1865 and rebuilt. The Upper Lighthouse remains on Valentia Road. It is an octagonal brick building that was decommissioned in 1886 and is now part of a private house incorporating the former lighthouse keepers' quarters. The Lower Lighthouse was a similar structure on the shore on what is now North Parade, alongside the lifeboat house (now the Lifeboat Museum) and the coastguard station. It became disused as such in 1908 and was demolished in 1922.
James Stonehouse (c.1848) struggles to explain the navigational intricacies in his book:
  The Hoylake Lighthouses, consisting of an upper and lower light, are situated at the north-west corner of the peninsula. These beacons exhibit masked lights, the upper light is strongly lighted on a north aspect, and so marked as to appear suddenly when coming in, and disappear immediately when going out; it bears south by compass, thereby indicating when Bidston and Leasowe lights must be crossed to clear the six feet flats when inbound or the Spit Elbow of East Hoyle when outward- bound. The lower light is lighted so as to open abruptly when coming from the westward or shut when going westward.
Hoylake Upper Lighthouse
Bidston Lighthouse
Bidston's first lighthouse was built in 1771 on Bidston Hill as a replacement for one situated a quarter of a mile out to sea at Leasowe. The 55 ft (17 m) octagonal tower with five floors was the furthest inland of any lighthouse in Britain, the ground elevation of 180 ft (55 m) making up for this. After a century's service the lighthouse was demolished and the current lighthouse (four floors with a circular tower) and cottages were built from local sandstone in 1873. The lamp shone until 1913, when it was no longer needed because of advances in navigation buoys.
In 1763 a signalling station was built near to the location of the lighthouse and functioned using flagpoles as a complicated early warning system. As merchant ships rounded the Point of Ayr or sailed past Formby point the ship would be spotted and identified. Flag runners were employed to watch for ships and had 11 minutes to raise the correct company's flag on the correct pole, followed by the correct cargo flag. This enabled supervisors in the docks to ready their work force to off-load the ship. In 1771, the system was updated when the first lighthouse and semaphore station was built. It formed part of the chain of semaphore signals along the North Wales coast. A signal could be sent from Holyhead to Liverpool in only 8 minutes and meant that employers and dock workers had a little longer to organise offloading the cargo.
James Stonehouse (c.1848) has this to say about the old lighthouse in his book:
  Bidston Lighthouse is placed on an eminence, about two miles inland. It was erected in 1770 under the Act of Parliament of 1760. Along the summit of the hill, poles are planted, on which the merchants' private signals are hoisted, to intimate the arrival off the port of any of their vessels. The lighthouse is an octagonal building, and resembles at a distance a church tower. The ascent to the lanthorn is by a spiral staircase. From this room the visitor can step on to a gallery which surrounds the building, whence a charming and extensive view is obtained including the town of Liverpool, the Welsh mountains, the Irish channel, and the country round.
Oil Painting of the old Bidston Lighthouse by Robert Salmon, 1825
Ellesmere Port Lighthouse before restoration
Ellesmere Port Lighthouse
Thomas Telford's Ellesmere Port Lighthouse, also known as Whitby Lighthouse, is located at Whitby Locks on the Manchester Ship Canal at the entrance to the Shropshire Union Canal. Its main function was to guide boats into the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal dock complex (now the site of Ellesmere Port Boat Museum) from the River Mersey at Pool Hall Docks.
The present 36 ft (11 m) lighthouse was built in 1874 by the London and North Western Railway Company who were improving the area. It operated successfully until the Manchester Ship Canal, which opened in 1894, reached Ellesmere Port and cut off the direct access to the Mersey, thus rendering it redundant. It is the only lighthouse on the British inland waterways system. The lighthouse and Harbour Master's office have been restored and are now listed buildings situated adjacent to the Boat Museum's lower basin.
Hale Head Lighthouse and the fog bell (date unknown)
Hale Head Lighthouse
Hale Head Lighthouse (once known as the Dungeon Light), to the south east of Liverpool at the southernmost point in Lancashire, was built on the site of an earlier octagonal lighthouse dating from 1838. The present round tower was completed in 1907.
During the Second World War, the light attracted the attention of enemy aircraft, and bombs were dropped in the vicinity. In one incident, the keeper's wife was machine gunned from the air as she was opening the lighthouse shutters.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1958 and is now a private residence. The lenses are in the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The widest part of the Mersey estuary is around here. The water is deserted now, though only a 100 years ago it was busy with shipping supplying the industries up-river.
The Mersey Bar Lightship 'Planet' at sea in the 1960s
Mersey Bar Lightship 'Planet'
The Mersey Bar Lightship called Planet was ordered by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1958. When in service from 1960 to 1972, it marked the start of the shipping lane into the River Mersey at the notorious Mersey Bar sandbanks off Formby Point. It had a crew of seven on two week shifts and was the first indication that returning sailors had of their approach to Liverpool.
In 1972 it was moved and in 1979 began service in the English Channel off Guernsey. When it was decommissioned in 1989, it was the last manned lightship in UK waters. It was then sold and moved several times, appearing in Liverpool's Canning Half Tide Dock in 2006. It now resides in Canning Dock and functions as a museum and café bar.
'Planet' in Canning Half Tide Dock
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
For further reading see The Lighthouse at New Brighton, Worldwide Lighthouses (an excellent general site): Perch Rock Lighthouse and Leasowe Lighthouse, Friends of Bidston Hill: The Lighthouse, The Photographers Resource: Hale Head Lighthouse and Preserved lightships: Planet/Bar Lightvessel. The 19th century engravings of the Rock Lighthouse are from The Stranger's Complete Guide, 1854, and that of the Rock Perch is from The History of Liverpool, 1810. The black and white photos of the Rock, Leasowe and Lower Hoylake Lighthouses are from Lighthouses by Geoff Topp. The oil painting of old Bidston Lighthouse is from Bidston Lighthouse. The black and white photo of Ellesmere Port Lighthouse is from The Big Ditch: Description of the Route of the Manchester Ship Canal, that of Hale Head Lighthouse is from the Photographers Resource: Hale Head Lighthouse and that of the lightship Planet is from Preserved Lightships: Planet/Bar Lightvessel. My thanks to all of those authors from whom I have borrowed images, to whom I am very much indebted.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author.