- Politics and Social Issues
Demise of the Lighthouses
Six Lighhouses to be closedClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Lights Will Die Under Labor
Lighthouses Face Labor‘s Axe:
Since a young child during the war, I have had a love affair with lighthouses. This is mostly due to the fact I was born within sight and sound of North Foreland lighthouse in Broadstairs, Kent. (see notes below). I can’t recall, being one year old when war broke out, if the lighthouse functioned all through the war years: little could have been a more tempting target for Luftwaffe gunners heading back to Germany than the huge, exposed buildings. But when I was a little older, I do remember the sight of the light sweeping out to sea, warning ships to stay clear of the North Goodwin Sands, and the sonorous groan of the lighthouse foghorn as it sounded in the often inclement and foggy weather along that coast, it’s reassuring basso profundo moan often answered in kind by large ships, their chief officers obviously comforted themselves. And admiration for the lighthouse and the sight of the vessels passing through granddad’s telescope, may have had some bearing on the fact I joined the navy as a young adult and saw many lighthouses beaming and calling to me all round the globe. Some years later, I bought a condominium in Vaucluse, Sydney, and found myself gazing along the coast at the elegant, convict-designed lighthouse, Macquarie Light, (also pictured).
Now we see on the news recently that New Labor, this awful band of shameless thugs, intend putting their stamp on closing many more of the facilities along our coasts to add to those abandoned and rotting already. What on Earth must they be thinking? Well, we know the answer, of course, saving money and their wretched bacon as they compete with the Tories to try and win another 5 years of failure as our government. (Anything would be better, I’d sooner have the Young Communists). They say that we don’t need many lighthouses now we have GPS and other navigation aids able to pinpoint a ship’s position - and there is truth in that, of course. Just as we didn’t need trains, we all have cars, and that we apparently don’t need Post Offices, we all have carrier pigeons! Along with we don’t need industry, we all have welfare, this about explains the attitude of this miserable gang of petty pirates.
Is there anything sadder for many reasons than the sight of one of our wonderful rural train station houses turned into a private cottage with a fence round it and the rails rooted-up or concreted over? With some smug city commuter using it as a holiday retreat? You can almost trace Britain’s demise by the loss of our wonderful rail system, once the pride of the country and the best in the world. No wonder thousands seek out the few hobbyist’s rail lines that remain and queue to travel ten miles and get that old feeling back for just a moment in time?
Now rural populations are fighting a losing battle to keep their post offices open: we are told to “move with the times,” that “no one wants snail-mail any more; to “use our computers,” “set up direct debits to pay our bills,” stop writing to friends and relatives and sent texts and emails instead.” They rarely admit that about 10 million of us still don’t own computers, don’t like computers and don’t know how to operate one. Many of these are seniors who will never use computers and enjoy penning letters and sending cheques and proper greeting cards, not meaningless email rubbish. And this includes people who do have a computer.
But this article isn’t about trains and post offices, we may have already lost that battle as I don’t think who wins the election will make any difference.
Lighthouses, however, are different. For a start, they, and those who have manned them before most were automated, are incredibly romantic. Lighthouses and keepers have saved many lives while not a few of them were lost and drowned. Like windmills (preserved in far-sighted countries such as Holland but not here of course), they have tremendous visual appeal for tourists and artists. They doubtlessly add to the pleasure of visitors, especially from places like Switzerland! But the expense of the few that are still manned or who have caretakers; the automatic lights and foghorn maintenance and the upkeep of the buildings, gardens and grounds, often in rather inaccessible locations, add up to one thing to Labor‘s money crunchers, a few million pounds more to try to extricate them from the numbing debt the country faces in 2010
The department overseeing lighthouses is Trinity House. Their decision is not only controversial, it is highly complicated by the fact that lighthouses have one thing in common…they are all different! That means that the power of the lights vary, the type and number of moving and stationary lights are never the same; some may have the main light removed but continue with fixed lights - and the need for fog warning sirens will carry on. It seems that a final decision won’t be made until after the election in late May or so, although all the objections were requested to be received by January, 29th.
Probably Trinity was surprised by the amount and variety of objections, both from maritime professionals and the general public, many of whom are outraged at what they see as another narrow-minded and potty cost-cutting to the detriment of just about everyone.
There are six lighthouses facing the axe as I write. They will join the twenty more which have been closed over the last 40 years, in a rather more surreptitious manner. At present, there are just 69 left. From this number, we are set to loose the facilities at Beachy Head, Orfordness, in Woodbridge, Suffolk, Hartland Point Light (overlooking Lundy Isle) in Devon, Blacknore, in Portistead, Skokholm, in Pembrokeshire, Wales and Maryport, Cumbria. With no little relief, I see my North Foreland Light is spared for the moment!
Some of the loudest voices against the closures have come from small fishing and tourist boat owners who don’t carry expensive navigation equipment. These people rely on the lighthouses in marginal weather and at night and want them left alone, thank you! Many others have suggested that the beautiful examples of Victorian and other architecture handed over to the National Trust and maintained for the nation’s posterity. At this point, no one can see the lighthouses actually being pulled down, but that must happen if they are not maintained - and if they are, why not leave them as functioning and welcoming signals to arrivals by sea, as they have been for years.
The worst scenario (but one the money-crunchers have no doubt considered) is turning more of them over to the private real-estate companies for sale to the public, like the sad stations. The prime coastal locations and strength of build would ensure they sold for many millions of pounds each; they often have comfortable dwellings attached and would be snapped-up.
Quick! Vote this lot out and prevail on the Tories to rethink this whole plan!
Notes on a Lighthouse.
North Foreland has had light since 1499. In 1636, first structure built which burned down in 1683. Present building completed in 1691: two levels added later. Was automated in 1998 by Prince Charlie. Flashes 5 times every 20 seconds with a range of 19 miles (some 8 miles beyond the dangerous Goodwin Sands).
One of the most famous lighthouses in the world must be the rugged Eddystone Lighthouse, 13 miles SW of Plymouth. The present structure has survived since 1882, despite some of the worst sea conditions around the coast and its location on rocks that are often covered at high tides with combers breaking up to the top of the 150-foot structure. In fact, this is the fourth Eddystone Lighthouse. Henry Winstanley built the first structure in 1698 after being kidnapped by the French off the rocks and held for ransom in exchange for French prisoners. The first tower only lasted a year before the storms destroyed it. Winstanley’s second attempt was also razed by wind and waves, but this time, the ill-fated builder was lost, too. Searchers the next morning could find nothing of the builder or his creation. The next tower lasted 46 years despite being made partially of wood. Fire was the reason it finally died. In a particularly gruesome incident, the lighthouse keeper was killed, too. He was gazing up at the light, in fear and shock when an incandescent lump of molten lead fell into his open mouth! Instant lead poisoning. John Smealton’s next structure lasted another 100 years as building methods improved. The current building - the fifth - a 150-foot-high tower, made from massive granite blocks was ready in 1882 and has survived 128 years to date.
The Most Beautiful Lighthouse?
This accolade is often accorded to the Corduoan Lighthouse at the entrance of the Gironde River near Bordeaux. It has been in place since the 16th Century, replacing a structure that had been there since medieval times. The builder included sumptuous apartments and a chapel in case a king or church leader wanted to stay there - none did, the ungrateful swine! But Augustine Fresnel did test his revolutionary new chandelier-type lens there in the 1820s, his invention was used right up until modern times.
Most Singular Lighthouse.
While we in Britain are doing our best to grind our heritage underfoot in many directions, the North Americans are undergoing a sea-change where restoring their lighthouses are concerned and many lovely buildings have been restored over the last 20 years. One that has commanded world-wide interest is the dramatic blue and white “barber’s pole” decorated Cape Hatteras Light, which, had it been in the UK, would have been doomed as beach erosion threatened its foundation. In “can-do” American, though, 12 million dollars was spent (1990 rate), the massive brick cylinder, weighing thousands of tons and, at 193 feet, having the world’s tallest tower, was moved in one piece, 2,900 feet along the beach back to a safe location far from the waves where it now stands, proudly doing the job for which it was intended and being visited by thousands to stand and gape every year at this wondrous engineering achievement.
A Few Other Significant Lighthouses
One of my favorite buildings is the statuesque Bremerhaven Light in a city - Bremerhaven - that holds no less than 12 lighthouses, perhaps making it a world leader. The lighthouse mentioned is a Gothic Revival building by Simon Loschen who built it to look like a church and succeeded splendidly. With palatial accommodation for its keepers, the Lighthouse has been blinking steadily for more than 150 years near one of the world’s busiest ports and shipbuilding centers.
East Brother Light
A lighthouse that also accommodates a breathtaking guest house (There’s an idea for David Cameron when he takes office - like the Spanish Paradors, which use old monasteries as the basis for luxury hotels, many lighthouses in Britain and elsewhere might be suitable to include guest accommodation?) This lovely classic Victorian building is in Richmond, California and is still a working lighthouse as well as a B and B. Guides ships through the upper regions of huge San Francisco Bay.
La Laterna Light. A huge and majestic structure with the highest and oldest masonry tower in the world, La Laterna was really put on the map by a photo of it in a storm, which has appeared on countless posters and calendars all over the globe. On a promontory in San Benigo, Genoa, Italy, and in continuous use since the 16th Century…a previous light was here from 1128!