Timeline

Bidston Lighthouse

Bidston Lighthouse

3000-1800 BCE
Archaeological evidence of human occupation in Bidston. The Museum of Liverpool has a fine stone axe head from this period which was found in Bidston.
902
Vikings are driven out of Dublin and later settle in Wirral.
1086
The Domesday Book is completed. Bidston is not mentioned.
1588
England prepares for the Spanish Armada. An alarm beacon is constructed on Bidston Hill.
1609
A wooden windmill on Bidston Hill is mentioned in contemporary manuscripts.
1690
William of Orange assembles 300 ships in Hyle Lake (a.k.a. High Lake or Hoyle Lake) and arrives at Belfast Lough on 14 June. The Battle of the Boyne is fought on 1 July (old style).
1759
William Hutchinson (1715-1801), a former privateer, is appointed Liverpool Dockmaster.
1761
An Act of Parliament is passed empowering the Corporation of Liverpool to construct lighthouses where necessary for the navigation of the entrances to the port. Some provisions in the act take effect from 24 Jun 1762.
1762
Thomas Moule said, in The English Counties Delineated, Volume 2 (1837), “On the summit of Bidston hill are a lighthouse and signal poles belonging to the merchants of Liverpool which are used to announce the approach of vessels to that port. The lighthouse was erected in 1762 and is supported by a duty paid by all ships sailing to or from Liverpool.” I doubt that this is quite right, for it would make Bidston Lighthouse contemporary with, or even pre-date Leasowe Lighthouse. But Hutchinson must have used some kind of structure on Bidston Hill for his experiments with parabolic reflectors, and it’s not inconceivable that for a short time, three lights could be seen in alignment, two at Leasowe, and one on Bidston Hill.
1763
Two pairs of leading lights are built, the Mockbeggar lights (or Sea Lights) at Leasowe, and the Lake Lights, at Hoylake.
Hutchinson experiments with his parabolic reflector at the new signal station on Bidston Hill. The signal station initially comprised 58 “lofty flagpoles” along the ridge of Bidston Hill from the windmill to north of the present lighthouse, used to give merchants in Liverpool early warning of the arrival of their ships.
1764
Hutchinson commences the first sustained set of tidal measurements in the UK. He measured the heights and times of high waters, and meteorological parameters, for almost 30 years (1764-93) at the Old Dock gates in Liverpool. High waters were measured at all times of day and night and in all weathers with very few gaps. His data have proved to be essential to the construction of a long sea level record for Liverpool which is of importance to climate change studies.
1769
The Lower Mockbeggar light is destroyed by storms.
1771 (and thereabouts)
A lighthouse is built on Bidston Hill, to replace the Lower Mockbeggar light. The first Bidston Lighthouse, is an octagonal building, 55′ high, built from local sandstone. Its light (white, fixed) was visible for 21 miles, thanks to a massive parabolic reflector, 12′ in diameter (according to Hutchinson himself; Stevenson reported 13’6″ in 1801).
1777
William Hutchinson’sTreatise on Practical Seamanship is first published. It will run to four editions.
1778
John Paul Jones, captain of the USS Ranger, leads a raid on Whitehaven.
1785
Joseph Cachin, the French engineer, visits Bidston Lighthouse on a fact-finding mission. He will go on to build Cherbourg Harbour.
1791
The windmill on Bidston Hill catches fire during a gale. A new tower mill, still standing today, will be built to replace it.
1797
Death of Richard Wilding, keeper of Bidston Lighthouse. Succeeded as keeper by his widow Elizabeth Wilding in an uneasy partnership with her son-in-law William Urmson.
1800
Death of Elizabeth Wilding. William Urmson becomes the sole keeper of Bidston Lighthouse.
1801
Robert Stevenson, Scottish lighthouse engineer and grandfather of the author Robert Louis Stevenson, visits the Wirral lighthouses.
1803
England is at war with France.
1804
New semaphore apparatus is installed on Bidston Hill.
Alarm beacons are prepared on Bidston Hill near the lighthouse.
HRH the Duke of Gloucester and his son Prince William Frederick visit Bidston Lighthouse on 2nd October.
1805
The French fleet breaks the English blockade at Toulon and is at large in the Atlantic.
Jan van Heukelom describes his visit to Bidston Lighthouse in his journal entry for 16th September.
1826
The Liverpool to Holyhead telegraph is set up to augment the existing signals and semaphore systems on Bidston Hill. The telegraph comprised a chain of semaphore stations at Liverpool, Bidston Hill, Hilbre Island, Voel Nant, Foryd, Llysfaen, Great Ormes Head, Puffin Island, Point Lynas, Carreglwyd, and Holyhead, capable of relaying a message from Holyhead to Liverpool in a few minutes.
1829
“Last week the Liverpool Telegraph communicated to Holyhead, a distance of 156 miles, and received an answer in the extraordinary short space of 35 seconds”, reported the Public Ledger and Daily Advertisor on 28 Sep 1829.
1830
The lantern at Perch Rock Lighthouse, New Brighton, is lit for the first time on 1st March. The foundation stone was laid three years earlier, on 8 June 1827.
1835
George Head visits Bidston Lighthouse. A delightful account of that visit is recorded in his book A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835.
Death of William Urmson. His daughter Ann Urmson succeeds him as keeper of Bidston Lighthouse.
1845
Liverpool Observatory is built on Waterloo Dock.
1858
The first cables of a new electric telegraph linking Liverpool to Holyhead, destined to supersede the optical telegraph, are laid. The lighthouse and telegraph services are amalgamated.
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is established.
1861
The electric telegraph linking Liverpool to Holyhead is finally completed, making the semaphore telegraph obsolete.
1862
The CSS Alabama – Merseyside’s most famous contribution to the American Civil War – sets sail from Liverpool Bay on 29 July in exciting circumstances.
1864
The CSS Alabama is sunk by the Kearsarge off Cherbourg. Henry Adams, the son of Bidston’s Telegraph Keeper James Adams, rescues the Alabama’s Captain, Raphael Semmes, from the sea.
1865
Bidston Lighthouse is damaged by fire.
The Lake Lights at Hoylake are re-built and first lit on 8 August, construction having begun the previous year. Admiral Evans observes “the dioptric apparatus fitted by Messrs. Chance Brothers exhibits lights greatly increased in brilliancy over the former catoptric lights”. The attached keepers’ cottages were completed later.
1866
Bidston Observatory is built, replacing Liverpool Observatory, which was closed because of the expansion of Waterloo Dock.
1868
Two boys, James Kell (age 10) and William Keefe (age 12), were convicted of setting fire to the gorse near Bidston Lighthouse on 18 May, and sentenced to three weeks in prison.
1869
Ann Urmson dies in service. James Adams, then at Bidston Telegraph, succeeds her as keeper of Bidston Lighthouse. John Urmson, Ann’s husband and second cousin, carries on as assistant keeper.
1872
The original lighthouse on Bidston Hill is demolished. Construction starts on a new lighthouse, designed by George Fosbery Lyster, a few yards further north.
1873
Construction of the second Bidston Lighthouse is completed. The new lighthouse was equipped with a state-of-the-art first-order dioptric lens with vertical condensing prisms, manufactured by Chance Bros of Birmingham. The light cost more than the tower which housed it. The electric telegraph is now directed from a dedicated signals room, beneath the lamp room.
1875
Bidston Windmill ceases operation.
1908
Leasowe light extinguished. It last shone on 5th July.
Mersey Docks and Harbour Board order the hire of two sets of “Marconi apparatus”, one for the North-West lightship and the other for Bidston Lighthouse and Telegraph Station. The order is never fulfilled.
1909
William John Owens flies across the Mersey on the evening of 4th October. He takes off in Bidston in an aluminium aircraft of his own invention, and lands in the outskirts of Liverpool.
Mersey Docks and Harbour Board decide to increase the strength of Bidston’s light from 4,500 to 12,000 candle-power.
1913
Bidston light extinguished, on 9th October, at sunrise.
On 13th October, the Marine Committee agree to a suggestion of 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 electric telegraph station at Bidston continues until alternative arrangements can be made.
1914
The telegraph station at Bidston Lighthouse ceases operation. The telegraph and telephone instruments are removed from the Bidston Station on 2nd March.
King George’s Way is opened on 25th March.
1935
Mersey Docks and Harbour Board sell Bidston Lighthouse and Lighthouse Cottages to Birkenhead Corporation for the knock-down price of £1000, on the understanding that the property would be used for the recreation of the people of Birkenhead. The conveyance contained a covenant forbidding the erection of new buildings.
1944
Tide tables for D-Day landings are calculated at Bidston Observatory.
1947
Bidston Hill Lighthouse is taken over by the crew of the Sea Ranger Ship “Seafarer”, in April. The sea cadets used to practice semaphore in the Lighthouse on Friday evenings.
1950
Fire! Extract from The Log of Bidston Hill Lighthouse for Sunday 14th May. “The East door of the lightroom caught fire. The wind blew the flames into the lightroom and broke the glass. The Observatory called the fire brigade who brought the flames under control. All the gear was in the Wardroom and Galley, where the flames did not penetrate. The Lightroom was gutted, but the main structure and the copper roof were untouched. Later the Fire Brigade report stated that the fire was caused by sparks from the cottage chimney igniting the leaves blown onto the parapet, which in turn set fire to the East door. The crew were thus very relieved to hear that they were completely exonerated from any blame connected with the accident.”
1969
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) takes over Bidston Observatory.
1972
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is re-constituted as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.
After only 12 years’ service, the Bar Lightship is sold to Trinity House on 4 September, becoming LV23.
1973
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company quit the lighthouse business. Trinity House takes over the operation of the lighthouses at Hilbre Island, Great Orme’s Head, and Point Lynas. Perch Rock Lighthouse is decommissioned and sold to Mr Kingham.
1974
Birkenhead Corporation lease the Lighthouse gardens to NERC for 99 years, effective from 1 June 1973. This is the land on which the Joseph Proudman Building is later constructed, despite the 1935 covenant against new buildings.
1978
NERC buy the Braehead Cottage site from Wirral Borough Council on 19 September.
1979
The official opening of the Joseph Proudman Building on 18th April. It has already been in use for several years.
1981
NERC buy Bidston Lighthouse and Lighthouse Cottages from Wirral Borough Council.
1989
The Lighthouse, Observatory and Boundary Wall become Grade-II listed buildings.
2000
Some restoration work on Bidston Lighthouse is carried out using lottery funding. The Lighthouse is opened to the public on two occasions.
2004
The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory moves from Bidston Hill to the University of Liverpool.
1 Lighthouse Cottages is transferred from NERC to Wirral Borough Council (reversing part of the 1981 conveyance). Mary Connell exercises her right to buy.
2005
Peel Ports acquire the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.
2010
In April, the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory merges with the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. The new organisation is called the National Oceanography Centre.
NERC puts Bidston Lighthouse and 3 Lighthouse Cottages on the market. Dr Pickles is the highest bidder.
2011
The sale of Bidston Lighthouse and 3 Lighthouse Cottages to Dr and Mrs Pickles is completed.
2012
English Heritage rejects an application to list the Joseph Proudman Building. Wirral Council consent to its demolition. Demolition commences on 26th November, at a cost of £177,000.
2013
The road leading to Bidston Lighthouse is named Wilding Way, in honour of the first lighthouse keepers.
2014
Mary Connell, resident of the Lighthouse Cottages since 1937, dies in her 80th year.
2015
NERC sell Bidston Observatory and the site of the former Braehead Cottage to Bidston Observatory Developments Limited.
Bidston Lighthouse C.I.C., a Community Interest Company, is incorporated.
2016
Bidston Observatory is sold again, in September. Edward Clive, wife Fiona James and friend Kymberley Ward announce plans to operate the Observatory as a not-for-profit artists’ research centre. Bidston Lighthouse hosts sesquicentenary celebrations for the Observatory.

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