Books Focus On Iconic Lighthouses Off Scilly

bishop rock from st agnesTwo books about lighthouses near to Scilly have gone on sale.

Author Elisabeth Stanbrook has produced a new 64-page history of the Longships Light.

That structure stands just over a mile off Land’s End and can be seen by passengers traveling to and from Scilly.

She’s also updated a 2008 hardback book about the iconic Bishop Rock light and released it as a softback edition.

It includes additional pictures and reflects on the more recent developments like the installation of a solar powered light and the discontinuation of the fog signal.

Elizabeth says that she’s been impressed how the Victorian structures were engineered and constructed to withstand “terrific and terrifying storms.”

And she’s tried to reflect the impact that living in these isolated, weather-beaten lighthouses would have had on the keepers. She says she felt their sense of incarceration and desperation at times during her research.

In 1923, following a violent storm, all of the Bishop Rock staff asked not to be posted back to that lighthouse because their experience had been so traumatic.

Elizabeth says the Longships staff appeared to be more affected by their service. Her account records more deaths at that lighthouse and, sadly, instances of staff committing suicide.

Her book on the Bishop describes how the nation gained an insight into the lonely life of a lighthouse keeper back in 1947. That’s when the BBC reporter Edward Ward was taken to the rock to compile a report for his ‘Round- Up’ programme about spending Christmas there.

He was only meant to stay for 3 days and should have been taken off on Boxing Day. But major storms prevented his removal until January 17th by which time both the reporter and the keepers were surviving on emergency rations of iron tablets.

Elizabeth says she has also tried to convey the innovation of the crew who had to come up with creative ways to tackle problems.

She interviewed former Bishop Rock keeper Tony Thomas on St Mary’s in 2007 and he explained how he baked bread every three days using yeast which he kept fresh in a kilner jar submerged in the lighthouse water tank.

Providing water for keepers presented a logistical challenge in itself. 140 gallons had to be transferred for each man on duty.

Elisabeth says that there’s something magical about lighthouses, which has encouraged her to publish these books.

She’s previously written about ruined buildings and there’s a similar allure for her.

The new, 64-page Longships Lighthouse book was easier to write, she says, because there’s not so much information contained within it.

But she has documented the tragic tale of the man who built it. Former Naval Officer Lieutenant Henry Smith erected the lighthouse as a business venture, but the excessive building costs bankrupted him.

He was sent to the notorious Fleet Prison as a debtor in 1795.

There are around 80 images in each publication including one of the first Bishop Rock keepers from 1858, John Williams. Elizabeth is particularly proud at having uncovered that picture of him in his uniform.

Both books have required lengthy study because Elizabeth says she likes to research “thoroughly and properly.”

She has had to travel from her landlocked Devon home to London regularly in order to “trawl through Trinity House records.”

And because of the huge commitment, Elizabeth says she has no plans for further books on the lighthouses of Scilly at this stage.

Both A5-sized books retail at £6.50 and can be bought either direct from the publisher at www.twelveheads.com or from Amazon.