Category Archives: News

Drawing of unknown lighthouse, 1871

Can anyone identify the lighthouse in this drawing?

Drawing showing plan and elevations of unknown lighthouse, possibly by James N. Douglass, 1871.

Plan and elevations of unknown lighthouse, possibly by James N. Douglass, 1871.

The drawing was found in a box containing plans of Bidston Lighthouse in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board collection at the Merseyside Maritime Museum Archives. It is signed and dated Jas. N. Douglass, 1871 (I think). If my reading of the signature is correct, then the architect would be the famous James Nicholas Douglass F.R.S., who built many important lighthouses for Trinity House, including the fourth Eddystone Lighthouse.

Was this design commissioned by Mersey Docks for the new Bidston Lighthouse only to be rejected in favour of a later design by the MDHB’s own George Fosbery Lyster? Or was it for another lighthouse altogether, perhaps used as inspiration for Lyster’s own design?

If you have any information that might help us identify this lighthouse, please comment on this post, or write to us via our contact page.

Woodpecker seeking Valentine

Be my Valentine!

Be my Valentine!

Our woodpecker is back. Here he is, advertising for a mate on Valentine’s Day. He has discovered that the most effective way of creating a loud noise is to peck away at the roof of Bidston Lighthouse. We wish him every success.

Meanwhile, the pigeons have already paired up.

Woodpecker and pigeons on Bidston Lighthouse, Valentine's Day, 2016

Woodpecker and pigeons on Bidston Lighthouse, Valentine’s Day, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Edward Quaile

Tonight is Burns Night.

At Bidston Lighthouse, we celebrated Burns Night two days early this year – Sunday’s a better day for recovering than Tuesday.

We addressed the haggis, dowsed it with a wee dram of single malt, and served it with too-generous portions of tatties and neeps. Then we addressed the rest of the bottle; this year a fine Bruichladdich, following on from last year’s superlative Ardbeg Uigeadail. Sometimes I rant about the redundant words “the sake of” that defile most people’s renderings of Auld Lang Syne, but not this year: ITV got it right in the last episode of Downton Abbey (did anyone notice?), and my guests were spared.

During the proceedings, I proposed a toast to Edward Quaile. I had to explain why.

The Quaile family moved from Dumfries, Scotland to Liverpool around the 1830s, where Edward was apprenticed to a cotton broker. By 1870, he was President of the Cotton Broker’s Association, and living in Birkenhead. He built up an enviable collection of illuminated manuscripts and other antiquities.

In his retirement, Quaile applied himself to literary pursuits, and wrote a few obscure books:

  • Bidston and the House of Stanley, 1890, The Journal of Commerce Printing Works
  • Names: their origin, object, influence, Liverpool : The “Journal of Commerce” Printing Works, 1891
  • Books: the Bible, Liverpool : The “Journal of Commerce” Printing Works, 1892.
  • Bidston Hill Preserved, 1894
  • Illuminated manuscripts: their origin, history and characteristics. A sketch, by Edward Quaile. With twenty-six examples from books of hours in his possession. Published 1897 by H. Young & Sons, Liverpool.

Quaile was a member of the committee that campaigned for the acquisition of Bidston Hill for the public. His little volume, “Bidston Hill Preserved” was published at the height of the campaign, and was instrumental in the campaign’s success.

Amongst Quaile’s collection of antiquities was one artifact of singular significance to Burns Night: the last razor that Robert Burns, the bard himself, ever shaved with.

Is that not enough to earn Edward Quaile a toast on Burns Night in Bidston Lighthouse?

Grave of Edward Quaile, in Flaybrick Cemetery

Grave of Edward Quaile, in Flaybrick Cemetery

Obituary of Edward Quaile

Published in the Liverpool Mercury, August 30, 1900.

Death of Mr. Edward Quaile — The death is announced, at the advanced age of 79 years, of Mr. Edward Quaile, of the firm of Messrs. Eason, Barry and Co., cotton brokers. The deceased gentleman, who had suffered from ill health for several months, was one of the oldest cotton brokers of this city, and enjoyed the esteem of the whole of the Cotton Brokers’ Association, of which, so far back as the year 1870, he was president. Mr. Quaile served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Eason and Barry, being afterwards taken into partnership. About the year 1885 he retired from business. During his leisure hours he engaged in literary pursuits, and also devoted some attention to antiquarian and archaeological research. “Illuminated Manuscripts : Their Origin, History, and Characteristics,” written by Mr. Quaile in 1897, was a work which deservedly attracted attention.

Deerhound, Alabama and Kearsarge

J.R.W. Davies, who gave us this article, reminds me that – arguably – the American Civil War ended 150 years ago today, in Merseyside. He writes:

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the last Confederate raider’s formal surrender, which took place in the Sloyne off Rock Ferry. I imagine you’d have had a good view of the ceremony from Bidston Hill. Shenandoah would have been alongside the Royal Navy’s 101-gun steam first-rate Donegal, with the latter’s captain and a detachment of her crew on Shenandoah’s quarterdeck to watch the flag lowered. Captain Waddell of the Shenandoah would then have put off in a ship’s boat, probably in the direction of the present ferry terminal at the Pier Head, carrying a letter for the Prime Minister handing over the ship to Britain, which he gave to the Mayor of Liverpool at the Town Hall.

When I introduced Davies’ article in this post, I was intrigued by the thought of what an observer at Bidston Lighthouse would have seen of the CSS Alabama’s sea trials in Liverpool Bay, and whether any telegrams from Thomas Dudley, the U.S. Consul at Liverpool, would have gone through the new electric telegraph station at Bidston in a final attempt to foil the Alabama’s escape. Since then, I have learned (thanks to Maurice Rigby), that there is an even more fascinating connection between the Alabama’s end and the people of Bidston Lighthouse and Telegraph Station.

I am not referring to the fact that Cherbourg Harbour, the scene of the final showdown between the Alabama and the Kearsarge in 1864, was designed by Joseph Cachin, the same French engineer who drew this delightful illustration of Bidston Lighthouse in 1785.

No, what fascinates me is the identity of the Able Seaman who rescued the Alabama’s Captain, Raphael Semmes, from the sea after the Battle of Cherbourg. His name was Henry Adams, and he was the son of James Adams, Bidston’s Telegraph Keeper.

The Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama, Edouard Manet, oil on canvas, 1864. Wikimedia commons (original currently held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama, Edouard Manet, oil on canvas, 1864, from Wikimedia Commons. The original is currently held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When Henry Adams died in 1909, newspapers far afield ran his obituary. This is what the Aberdeen Journal reported on 20 March, 1909.

OLD SEA FIGHT RECALLED.

The death of Mr Henry Adams, which has occurred at Liverpool, recalls one of the most notable naval engagements of the nineteenth century. Mr Adams was mate on the yacht Deerhound which was present at the fight between the U.S. warship Kearsage and the Confederate cruiser Alabama off Cherbourg on 19th June, 1864. After doing enormous damage to the shipping of the northern states – for which Great Britain had subsequently to pay – the Alabama was cornered in the Channel, and Captain Semmes decided to give battle. The result was decisive, and when the Alabama, wrecked by the guns of the better-protected Kearsage, was sinking, Captain Semmes and some of her crew were rescued by a boat from the Deerhound commanded by Mr Adams. The captain of the Kearsage demanded that they should be given up, but Adams, wrapping a Union Jack round Semmes’s body, laid him at the bottom of the boat and defied anyone to remove him. For many years Mr Adams was employed by the Star Tug Company, of Liverpool, and he was both liked and respected in shipping circles on the Mersey.

More about Henry Adams

Henry Adams was born in 1840, in Penmon, Anglesey, probably on Puffin Island, where his father James was the Telegraph Keeper. On 8 April 1852, at the age of 12, he was appointed assistant telegrapher at Point Lynas, becoming the youngest employee in the telegraph service. He was replaced by Joseph Armitage on 11 August 1853, but took up the post again on 9 March 1854, following Joseph’s resignation. In the years that followed, he went to sea.

Henry Adams joined the crew of the Deerhound in Birkenhead in April, 1864, having known the captain, Evan Parry Jones, since childhood. The Deerhound was a steam yacht, owned by Mr John Lancaster, of Wigan. It was in port in Cherbourg when word of the impending showdown between the Alabama and the Kearsarge reached them, and the Deerhound put to sea in time to observe the fight from a safe distance, out of gun range. When the crew of the battered and sinking Alabama abandoned ship, Adams took charge of the Deerhound’s gig and rescued many of the Alabama’s crew from the sea, including Captain Semmes. The Deerhound refused to surrender the Confederates to Captain Winslow of the Kearsarge. In the years that followed, the U.S. sought compensation from Britain for the damage caused by the Alabama, and the testimony of Adams and others was an important part of the proceedings.

Presumably, Adams’ experience giving evidence in the protracted Alabama claims stood him in good stead, for he gained employment as a solicitor for a steam tug company, and went on to become the manager. Henry married Margaret Pryce, née Savage, the widow of Thomas Hargreaves Pryce, at St John the Baptist, Toxteth Park on 5 July 1870. Margaret and Henry appear not to have had any children. They lived for a while in Liverpool, before moving across the Mersey to Seacombe. Henry died on 16 March 1909, leaving an estate valued at £128 to his widow, Margaret.

James Adams, Henry’s father, was born about 1807 in Kilkhampton, Cornwall. He married Esther Jones in 1837, in Penmon. James and Esther had at least eight children together, from Ann (1839), Henry (1840) to Esther (1861). James was Keeper of Puffin Island Telegraph Station from 1838-1852, then Point Lynas (15 Jan 1852-1856), returning to Puffin Island until its closure in 1960. When the electric telegraph replaced the semaphore telegraph, there was no longer a need for a station at Puffin Island, and James was pensioned off, only to be re-employed at the new electric telegraph at Bidston later in 1861.  On 7 Apr 1861, the night of the census, he was living at Telegraph House, in Penmon, a pensioner. He was Keeper of Bidston Telegraph Station from 1861 to 1869, and was probably on duty  when the Alabama set sail from Liverpool Bay on 29th July 1862.  He became Keeper of Bidston Lighthouse in 1869, following the death of Ann Urmson.  He was in charge while the new Bidston Lighthouse was being built in 1872-3. He retired to Beaumaris in 1879.

 Acknowledgments

Thanks to Maurice Rigby, for pointing out the connection between Bidston Lighthouse and Henry Adams, the saviour of Captain Semmes.

Further reading:

ALK AGM 2015

The Annual General Meeting of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers took place on the Island of Portland, in Dorset, on the last weekend in September, 2015. There were excursions to Anvil Point Lighthouse, Portland Bill, the old Portland upper and lower lights, and a boat trip out to the Portland Breakwater Light. Anvil Point and Portland Bill are still operational. The old upper light is now holiday accommodation, and the lower light is a bird observatory. It was a privilege to visit the breakwater light with retired lighthouse keeper Gordon Medlicott, who was stationed there in 1967, the year it was decommissioned.

CSS Alabama

On this day in 1862, the CSS Alabama – Merseyside’s most famous contribution to the American Civil War – set sail from Liverpool Bay. She would go on to have a remarkable career raiding Union merchant ships.

Her voyage began in the most exciting of circumstances. An apparent series of sea trials turned suddenly into a dash across the Atlantic, foiling the US Consul’s attempt to get her impounded under the Foreign Enlistment Act. An observer at Bidston Lighthouse would have seen the Alabama sail to and fro between the Bell Beacon and the Northwest Lightship until, instead of returning to port to let the Liverpool crew and their sweethearts ashore, she disappeared over the horizon near Great Ormes Head.

Guest writer J.R.W. Davies has written this excellent article on the subject.

"CSS Alabama" by User McMullen on en.wikipedia - From the US Navy's Naval Historical Center. Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here * 03:11, 14 November 2004 [[:en:User:McMullen|McMullen]] 740×571 (59,800 bytes) (Painting of CSS ''Alabama''). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CSSAlabama.jpg#/media/File:CSSAlabama.jpg

“CSS Alabama” from the US Navy’s Naval Historical Center, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

State of the roads

Letter from John Hartnup, Directory of Bidston Observatory, complaining about the state of the road

Letter from John Hartnup, Directory of Bidston Observatory, complaining about the state of the road leading to the Observatory and Lighthouse in 1874.

Little has changed in 140 years, apart from the names. The road is now Wilding Way, which is dangerously potholed. The roles of the Dock Board and Mr Vyner are now played by the Natural Environment Research Council and Wirral Borough Council, and I’m cast in the role of John Hartnup.

Wirral Borough Council own the road in question, and have the duty to maintain it. This is a condition of the lease from Wirral Borough Council to NERC over the piece of land that was once the kitchen gardens of the lighthouse and more recently the site of the Joseph Proudman Building, if only for a little while.

Despite owning the road, and being responsible for maintaining it, the Council have never actually adopted it. So whenever someone reports a pothole in the road through the proper channels (i.e. via this webpage), the complaint is initially referred to the people who look after Roads, who eventually pass the buck to the people who look after Parks (because it’s part of the Bidston Hill estate). Parks have neither the budget nor the equipment to do anything about it, so the complaint is finally closed (without informing the complainant). I’ve tried this several times and I always get the same result. Have a go yourself if you don’t believe me: here’s that link again.

I have a lot of sympathy for Parks. Wirral Council has been hit hard by round after round of unprecedented cuts, and it’s not over yet. Parks is feeling the pinch. Four senior ranger posts have been eliminated recently, and Bidston Hill and Flaybrick Cemetery have just lost their dedicated ranger. It will be a miracle if Bidston Hill doesn’t lose its Green Flag status within a year or two.

The only player in this drama with the power to make Wirral Borough Council fix the road is NERC. I have no rights under English law to enforce a condition in a contract to which I am not a party. So I shall write to NERC, in the hope that they in turn will write to Wirral Borough Council. In that respect, John Hartnup had the advantage over me, for he at least could expect the Dock Board, his masters, to fight his corner.

Yours truly,

Stephen Pickles

The French Visitor

In 1785, the French engineer Joseph Cachin drew this delightful illustration of Bidston Lighthouse.

Drawings of Bidston Lighthouse and reflector, by Joseph Cachin, 1785.

Drawings of Bidston Lighthouse and reflector, by Joseph Cachin, 1785.

Cachin’s careful drawings include a scale, and one can take measurements from them. The scale is in toises and pieds du roi. These units were used in France before the Revolution. There were twelve pouces in one pied du roi, and six pieds du roi in one toise. Pouce, pied du roi and toise correspond respectively to the Imperial units inch, foot and fathom, but were slightly longer. Thus one toise was 1.066 fathoms, 6.394 feet, or 1.949 metres.

If you measure the diameter of the reflector in the drawing using Cachin’s scale, and convert back to Imperial units, you should get a value very close to 12 feet. This is the size that William Hutchinson reported in 1777 in his Treatise on Practical Seamanship, but less than the thirteen-and-a-half feet reported by Robert Stevenson when he visited Bidston Lighthouse in 1801. Perhaps Stevenson was more casual while he was still learning the trade of lighthouse-engineering, for he seems also to have exaggerated the height of Leasowe Lighthouse.

Bidston’s reflector was (probably) the largest parabolic reflector ever to be installed in an operational lighthouse. It was also one of the first – Hutchinson installed parabolic reflectors in all the Wirral lighthouses about the same time. Hutchinson’s breakthrough in lighthouse optics was driven by the needs of Bidston Lighthouse, which was built further from the body of water it lit than any other lighthouse in the world (a record it holds to this day).

As far as I know, Cachin’s is the only drawing to show a cross section of the lamp room, with the stairs that the keeper would climb to replenish the oil reservoir, and the elaborate chimney through which the smoke and vapours of the lamp would escape.

Joseph Cachin (1757-1825) was a French engineer, best known for his work at Cherbourg Harbour. In 1785, while at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, he travelled to Britain and the United States. In England, he visited the ports of Sheerness, Liverpool, Bristol, Portsmouth, the quarries of Portland, and the Hospital at Greenwich. He examined lighthouses and lime-kilns, the cranes on the Bridgewater Canal, and studied the materials used in their construction. (Readers of French can check my translation against this article.)

My thanks to Thomas Tag of the United States Lighthouse Society for bringing the drawing to my attention.

Has anyone seen our lamp?

This is a photograph of the lens that was installed at Bidston Lighthouse in 1873.

1st order dioptric lens with vertical condensing prisms, made for Bidston Lighthouse

1st order dioptric lens with vertical condensing prisms, made for Bidston Lighthouse

It was a first order dioptric lens with vertical condensing prisms, manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. The photograph was taken in the factory, before the lens was dis-assembled, shipped to Bidston Hill, and re-assembled in the lamp room of Bidston Lighthouse.

It shone every night for forty years, until it was finally switched off on 9th October, 1913, at sunrise.

We don’t know what happened to it after that. Did it sit, forgotten and ignored, in Bidston Lighthouse for many years? Was it transferred to a museum? Or was it re-deployed in another lighthouse?

National Museums Liverpool don’t have it (but they do have a smaller one that was used at Hale Head Lighthouse).

Given that it was a very expensive piece of equipment, originally costing much more than the tower that housed it, it would have made sense to re-deploy it another operational lighthouse.

Have you seen our lamp?

Update

In the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board collection at the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Archives, there is a “worked up paper” on lighthouses.  It contains a memorandum for October 1913, stating that the Board agreed to a suggestion from the Marine Surveyor “that the lighting apparatus at the Bidston Lighthouse be fixed in the North Wall Lighthouse in substitution for the present one”. The North Wall Lighthouse, also known as the Bootle Lighthouse (or Bootle Bull) was built in 1877 at the north end of Liverpool’s Dock system, and discontinued in 1927 to make way for Gladstone Dock.

Drawing of North Wall Lighthouse in 1927

North Wall Lighthouse in 1927, from “Sea Breezes”, December 1973

The minutes of the Marine Committee of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for 21 Nov 1927 state that “The Account Sales in respect of Glass Prism Panels &c from the North Wall Lighthouse were submitted”. Unfortunately, the minutes do not record who bought the prisms, nor how much was paid.

Our quest continues.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Thomas Tag for bringing the photograph to my attention, and to the helpful staff at the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Archives.

Wirral History and Heritage Fair

Birkenhead Town Hall

Birkenhead Town Hall

Once again the annual Wirral History and Heritage Fair will take place in the impressive Grade II* listed Birkenhead Town Hall, on Saturday, March 7th, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm. Over 50 stalls and displays will showcase local history and heritage groups – books, memorabilia and postcards will be on sale. Hot and cold refreshments will be available for purchase – catering by Demspey’s. Something for all the family. Everyone welcome. Admission Free.

For details see www.wirralhistoryandheritage.org.uk