A look at the Wirral’s lighthouses

To protect and guide shipping along Liverpool Bay and the River Mersey throughout its seafaring history, several lighthouses have been built in the Wirral area. Three of them are still standing today: New Brighton, Bidston and Leasowe.

New Brighton Lighthouse

New Brighton Lighthouse is one of the Wirral’s most well-known landmarks, looking out over the River Mersey and Liverpool Bay.

Locals call the lighthouse Perch Rock. This is because in 1683, a tripod made out of perch timber was constructed that supported a lantern. In the 19th Century, as shipping developed in the Liverpool region, the limited light of the lantern was inadequate to meet the demands of the busy shipping lanes.

The existing tower was constructed in 1827. The builders, Tomkinson & Company, imported granite from Anglesey to construct the lighthouse in a similar style to the famous Eddystone Lighthouse of the Cornish coast. The granite blocks were fixed using dovetail joints and marble dowels. The tower is painted white with a red iron structure at the top that houses the lantern.

The New Brighton Lighthouse was lit for the first time in 1830 and continued in service until 1973 when modern navigation technology rendered it obsolete. For while the lighthouse remained derelict, but in 2001 it was repainted and restored, albeit without the light.

Last year, a new light was installed thanks to the support of Wirral business and community groups at a cost of £6,000, and the building was lit again on April 23rd, 2016.

The New Brighton lighthouse is a Grade II listed building and is privately owned. At low tide, visitors can walk to the base of the lighthouse, but there is no access to members of the public to the inside.

Bidston Hill Lighthouse

Bidston Hill Lighthouse, according to some sources, holds the British record for the lighthouse situated the greatest distance from water.

A lighthouse was built on Bidston Hill site in 1771 and featured an octagonal tower and a large 12-foot parabolic lens, which at the time was the largest lens of its kind in existence.

The original lighthouse was damaged through fire, but the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board commissioned its replacement to house both a light and a telegraph station. George Fosbery Lyster designed the structure in 1872 and the construction was completed in 1873. The tower cost £970 and the lightkeeper’s cottage cost £1,475, which was actually cheaper than the £1,600 paid for the lamp.

The cottage housed three lightkeepers and their families. The cottage area is connected to the tower through a hallway so that the journey to the tower could be made without going outside.

Advances in communication technology made the telegraph station redundant and the light was permanently extinguished in 1913. Safe navigation was ensured through buoys and lightships.

In 1935, Birkenhead Council took over the lighthouse and used it for council housing. In 1974, the lighthouse gardens were leased to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). When Birkenhead Council was absorbed as part of Wirral Council in the early 1980s, the whole site was sold to the NERC. Cottages number 2 and 3 were used by the NERC, while number 1 cottage residence was still occupied by a council tenant who had lived there since the 1930s.

In 1989, Bidston Lighthouse received Grade II listed building status. Although the NERC used the cottages, the lighthouse was rarely used apart from for storage space and the occasional training of Sea Cadets.

Heritage funds in 2000 provided the means for restoration work to be carried out at the lighthouse, and the tower was occasionally opened to the public.

In 2004, the resident of No. 1 bought the cottage under the Right to buy Legislation. Seven years later, the cottages and lighthouse were sold with the other two cottages made fit for residential use.

In 2015, Bidston Lighthouse C.I.C., a nonprofit community organisation, was formed to preserve Bidston Lighthouse. Guided tours of the buildings are available every Saturday.

Leasowe Lighthouse

Leasowe Lighthouse was built in 1763 by Liverpool Corporation Docks Committee, and is notable for being Britain’s oldest brick lighthouse.

The lighthouse is 33.5 metres tall with arched windows on every floor. Instead of the normal glass structure used to house the light, the light of the Leasowe Lighthouse was lit in a half open brick structure at the top of the tower. Before modern parabolic lights were installed, light was by means of braziers lit using wood and coal.

The lighthouse was built on a foundation of cotton bales that prevented the structure sinking into the marshy land on which it was built. The bricks were handmade and are over a metre thick. There are seven stories in the tower accessed by means of a cast iron spiral staircase.

In the 1890s, the Williamses, a husband and wife, moved from the Great Orme Lighthouse in Llandudno, and Mr. Williams was appointed the lightkeeper of Leasowe. After he became ill, his wife assumed his duties. After her husband’s death, the owners of the lighthouse, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, appointed her the official lighthouse keeper. At the time, she was Britain’s only female lighthouse keeper.

The lighthouse was used until 1908, after which Mrs. Williams continued to live at the lighthouse and turned the building into a tearoom for visitors.

In 1930, the then Wallasey Corporation purchased the lighthouse for the sum of £900. Over the years, it became derelict.

In 1989 Wirral Council allocated £30,00 for restoration work on the lighthouse. A brand new roof was installed and the structure was cleaned. The windows were sealed to stop pigeons entering, and iron steps and balustrades were also replaced.

In 1996, a safety certificate was given to the lighthouse, which meant that members of the public could enter the building. Leasowe Lighthouse is now run by the Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse who run open days and guided tours twice a month.

More good news for lighthouse lovers came last year, when Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse were granted a 99-year lease to continue to maintain and run the building for the community.

As you can see, the Wirral area has a rich history of lighthouse construction. Thanks to the dedicated work of community groups, the lighthouses at Brighton, Bidston and Leasowe are being preserved for the enjoyment of visitors.

Posted by Mark
March 17, 2017

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