A Tour of Manx Lighthouses…John Hellowell

by John Slater

What a delight to see a crowded Centenary Centre for such an enlightening talk full of flashes of inspiration! John Hellowell gave us a splendid presentation based on his book, A Tour of Manx Lighthouses.

John traced back his obsession with lighthouses, lifeboats and rescue to a childhood visit to Whitby. He was completely hooked when he saw the lifeboat being launched down its ramp, crashing into a high sea to head out, in danger, to save lives. He added, ‘We didn’t have a lifeboat on the canal at Hebden Bridge!

John loved the Isle of Man from family holidays and managed to move here when he was thirty. Although dyslectic, his fascination with local and maritime history encouraged him to start writing a series of articles on Manx lighthouses.

John was really surprised, given his problems with writing, to have the first published in a specialist magazine and even more so, to be asked for further articles. The editor then asked him to write a comprehensive work on Manx lighthouses and the book was born. It was sold in countries around the world but is no longer in print. Apparently, a copy has just been sold on Amazon for £95! A number of the audience were fortunate enough to own copies.

A great strength of John’s writing is that it is all original research, including weeks in the archives of Northern Lights, the board responsible for our region, Trinity House and the Irish board are responsible for the remainder. The thousands of pages of photocopied minute books and other records underpinned the three years taken to complete the book.

The accompanying photographs, inside, outside and from the Island’s lighthouses were stunning. The Stevenson family, of engineering and literary fame, were responsible for many, including the Point of Ayre, 1818.

We headed down to Maughold  Head lighthouse lit in 1915 and learned that it had been hit by an aircraft in WW11 causing substantial damage that had to be rapidly repaired. Earlier, there had been a lightship moored on the Bahama Bank.

Douglas Head, not the first on the site, dates from c1880.

Langness was one of the better postings with a nice garden, enabling vegetables to be grown and livestock kept.

The Calf of Man lower light dates from1818, the higher one dates from 1880. Chicken Rock was clearly illumined for the first time. A newer light was built in the 1960’s. All the Island’s lights are now automated.

Chicken Rock is the most hazardous to reach and we learned how this was done.

The second part of the evening was dedicated to the lives of the keepers. The demands on them and their families were considerable in a highly disciplined service. There was a principal and two assistant keepers on each light. The widest room was only nine feet in diameter so a rigid discipline was demanded akin to the military. This included a devotional service led by the principal keeper on Sundays. Everything had to be kept spotless and the lights, lenses and mirrors were polished daily. A visiting inspector could demote, sack or downgrade a keeper to a less popular posting if they failed.

Do have a look on the internet for more information. We’re all ‘hooked’ as well.

Our next event is the Christmas dinner at the Marine Hotel at 7.30pm on Thursday 8th December. The booking form is in the Newsletter or ring Nikki Sperring on 845623.