Lost Lighthouses

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There were originally four lightships on the approach to the River Mersey: Crosby, Formby, Bar and North West. The Bar lightship was off the tip of Taylors Bank, out from Formby Point. Lighthouses of the World by Alexander G. Findlay (1861) tells us that Crosby Lightship was 'off the north east elbow of Burbo Bank', that Formby Lightship was 'at the elbow of Crosby and Queen's Channels' and that the North West Lightship was 'off the Horse and Helbre Channels'.
An article from the Liverpool Mercury in 1907, Life on the Mersey Lightships, provides a vivid description of life on board:
  Theirs is a cheerless task, their lonely vigil being rarely broken with the sounds beyond the howling of the wind, the surging and dashing of the waves or the shriek of the sea bids. [...] Silently and unobstructively the lightships fulfil their mission of guiding vessels along the right channels when entering or leaving port. Plainly rigged and, carrying only sufficient sail to use in an emergency, the lightships proclaim their use by the prominence of the 'cage', or apparatus for holding the light. They are the lamps of the channel and their beacons are regularly and properly trimmed all through the night by the men on watch. The crew of each ship consists of 8 men and the Captain, two or three are on duty at one time during the 24hrs of the day. One man at least is always on deck, to do lookout, to attend to the signals and foghorns and to see the lights. The ships are kept scrupulously clean, on deck and below. The seamen are a handy body, they have to do their own cleaning, cooking, mending, washing and sewing, a good deal of this is necessary as they are on duty for 2 mths at a time, they then have the joy of a month on shore. About once a week the ships are visited by the Dock Board vessel which conveys to the men fresh supplies of food and other necessities, and one can understand how welcome such visits are, so far from and yet so near to shore.
Traditional lightship c.1800
Formby Lighthouse
Formby Lighthouse was once located about 420 yds (390 m) south and 70 yds (65 m) west of the railway bridge over the River Alt, now part of Altcar Rifle Range. It was built in 1729, soon after the opening of the Old Dock, which made it one of the earliest such structures connected with the port of Liverpool. It was used for most of its life as a simple landmark. At 120ft (36 m) high (it was known as the Methuselah of local nautical structures) it would have fulfilled its purpose admirably. Unfortunately this brought about its demolition in 1941 following the May Blitz on Liverpool when it was thought that German bombers were using it for navigation. There are currently no visible remains.   It served as a lighthouse for a relatively short part of its life. It was only in 1831 that it was converted to be used in conjunction with a new Formby light vessel out at sea on a sandbank known as The Bar. The cottage for the keeper, who was also in charge of the existing Formby Lifeboat Station, was built at this time. The first keeper lost his life when the lifeboat capsized during a severe gale. The lighthouse ceased to function as such in 1839, but was reinstated from 1851 to 1856, at which point Crosby Lighthouse took over its role.
Formby Lighthouse in around the 1930s
Crosby Lighthouse
The original Crosby Lighthouse, of which nothing remains, was located in sand dunes (now the beach) to the west of Hightown. Its position was near to the present landmark on the shore, about a mile (1 km) west of Hightown station. It was a wooden structure 96 ft (30 m) high and first came into use in 1839. The shifting sands eventually rendered it useless and it was replaced in 1846 by a new lighthouse.   The new Crosby Lighthouse was located about a quarter of a mile south-west of Hightown station, currently near the junction of Thornbeck Avenue and Sandhills, an area of modern housing completely obliterating the original site. It was a 95 ft (30 m) square tower built of brick with an iron balcony and a wooden lantern room at the top. There was also an attached keeper's cottage. The light was extinguished from 1851, when Formby Lighthouse was reinstated, to 1856, when the roles were interchanged for the last time. The lighthouse burnt down during a fierce gale in 1898, when the lantern room windows blew in and the lamps exploded, igniting dripping oil. The keeper, his wife and her friend, a lady visitor from Hoylake, all died in the fire.
Watercolour painting of the New Crosby Lighthouse in the 1890s
Bootle North Wall Lighthouse c.1900
Bootle North Wall Lighthouse
Bootle North Wall Lighthouse was built in 1877 by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on the seawall between Hornby Dock, at that time the most northerly of the docks (now filled in) and Alexandra Branch Dock No.3. It was 70 ft (21 m) high with a brick built square tower surmounted by an iron balcony and a circular lantern room. It was known locally as the Bootle Bull on account of its penetrating fog horn. It was demolished in 1927 when Gladstone Dock was built and replaced by a concrete structure better located to mark the start of the docks.
Landmark on the shore at Bootle in the 18th century
Weston Point Lighthouse
A lighthouse was built at the docks on the Manchester Ship Canal at Weston Point in 1843 across the entrance to the Old Basin from Christ Church, which was completed 1841 and is now derelict and inaccessible to the public. It was a red sandstone structure built for the Weaver Navigation Company. It was decommisioned in 1911 and demolished in 1960. Scant remains of the foundations are all that is still visible.
Weston Point Lighthouse and Christ Church c.1900
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
For further reading see Formby Civic Society: Formby Lighthouse by Reg Yorke, from whom I obtained the photo of Formby Lighthouse. The painting of Crosby Lighthouse is from Liverpool's Own Lighthouses. See also the Lighthouse Compendium: Crosby Lighthouse, Bootle North Wall Lighthouse photo, Weston Point Lighthouse, which supplied the photo of Bootle Lighthouse. The Weston Point photo is from Kevan Craft. The old engraving of a lightship is a freely licensed image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The engraving of the landmark at Bootle is from The History of Liverpool, 1810. 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.