Mumbles Lighthouse - History
Harbour Act of 1791 empowered the Swansea Harbour Trust to construct a
lighthouse on the outer islet of Mumbles Head for the purpose of warning
ships of the dangers of the nearby Mixon Shoal sandbank and the underwater
reef known as Cherrystone Rock. Construction began in July 1792, but the
initial work was of a very poor standard and the half-completed structure
collapsed in the October of that year. In 1793 the Swansea Harbour Trust
accepted new plans drawn up by prominent Swansea architect William Jernegan,
and the Mumbles Lighthouse was eventually completed in 1794. It comprised a
stone tower 56 feet (17 metres) in height which originally housed two
open-fire braziers – one at the top of the tower and the other on a ledge
set some 20 feet (6 metres) below.
In 1798 the two coal braziers were superseded by a lantern
set on top of the tower to house a revolving light made up of twelve
oil-powered Argand lamps fitted with reflectors, and in 1860 the lighthouse
was fitted with a dioptric lens which greatly magnified the light, making it
light visible for up to 15 miles in clear weather. The original set-up of 12
Argand lamps was changed in 1880 to a system of 3 Argand lamps made by
Chance & Bros. of Birmingham, and some years later this system was discarded
for a Kitson & Chance single incandescent mantle burner (this would probably
have been in the mid 1890’s). The incandescent burner was fed by paraffin
(kerosene) and compressed air, and consumed a pint and three quarters of
paraffin per hour.
The occultation system which enabled the light to flash was
introduced in 1905, and consisted of a metal cylinder which was raised and
lowered around the light by a gravity-driven mechanism powered by large
weights which had to be hand-cranked to the top of the tower by the
lighthouse keeper. In 1935, however, the lighthouse was converted from
paraffin to electricity and fitted with a new automatic control system, and
from that point on the role of the lighthouse keeper was no longer required.
In 1969 the dioptric lens was removed and a standard
navigation light fitted to replace the original Edison screw lamp. For many
years the dioptric lens was on display in the old Maritime Museum but, like
so many important local historical artefacts, it now languishes sadly in the
Swansea Museum storehouse. By the early 1980’s the lantern itself had
deteriorated to the point where it was unsafe and had to be removed, but
public opinion regarding the appearance of the lighthouse without its
traditional lantern resulted in the fitting of a replacement from Lightship
No. 25 a few years later.
Swansea Harbour Trust owned and operated Mumbles Lighthouse until 1923, when
the lighthouse was transferred to the Great Western Railway as part of the
company’s take-over of Swansea Docks. It remained in the ownership of the
GWR and its successors – the British Transport Commission and the British
Transport Docks Board - until 1976 when it was finally taken over by the
Corporation of Trinity house.
Maintenance of the Lighthouse
Prior to Trinity House taking over
control of the Mumbles Lighthouse in 1976, all maintenance was carried out
by the Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Departments of Swansea
Docks. This work was done regularly every Friday and, providing there were
no other faults reported by the Coast Guards, would be sufficient to keep
the light going for the week. The Electricians allocated to do this
maintenance lived in or near the Mumbles and would be available to respond
to any call out that may occur.
engineering workshops were originally based in Harbour Road and, in the old
days, the workmen would travel to the lighthouse on the Mumbles train,
together with their tools and any spares that may be required. However, in
later years, the various engineering departments were issued with vans and,
after the South Dock closed, the Harbour Road workshops were relocated to
the Kings Dock.
On the outer island where the lighthouse
is located was a small workshop and a mess room, but no drinking water, so
fresh water had to be carried across to make the tea. In case the men were
cut off by the tide, a supply of tinned food (beans, corned beef etc.) was
kept in the workshop stores. There were occasions when some of these
emergency rations were eaten by anonymous persons who were feeling a little
hungry. If this was not spotted and replaced, anyone who was cut off by the
tide would have to make do with just a cup of tea.
It was the sort of job where the saying ''TIME AND TIDE WAITS FOR NO MAN''
is very true.
The Mumbles light consisting of two open coal braziers was
first lit on the 30th April 1794, and the first lighthouse keeper was a Mr.
John Walker, who was dismissed on the 14th of October of that year after
being found in serious neglect of his duties. A report to the Swansea
Harbour Trustees states that “John Walker the Lighthouse Man came to Swansea
on Saturday the 4th inst., and his son on Sunday, so that there
was no Light at the Lighthouse during the time of the Storm on Sunday night,
and that none of them returned in time to Light the fire on Monday night,
and Walker now writing a Letter for an increase of Wages, it was ordered
that he be discharged from his Employ at the Lighthouse as soon as another
man shall be found to be appointed”.
did not take long and, on the 21st October 1794, Benjamin
Llewellyn was appointed keeper at 18 shillings (90p) per week. Following on
from Benjamin Llewellyn, three Abraham Aces, grandfather, father and son
looked after the light for the next three-quarters of a century – the last
Abraham Ace retiring in 1902. Jasper Williams took over the duties until
1914 when he was succeeded by his assistant John Thomas, who continued until
1923 when the ownership of the lighthouse was taken over by Great Western
Railway as part of the take over of the Swansea Harbour Trust. The last two
lighthouse keepers were Charlie Cottle and Joe Hunt, who were made redundant
in 1936 after the lighthouse had been converted from oil to electricity and
gun battery was built alongside the lighthouse in 1861 by the War Department
to guard the Port of Swansea against the possibility of a French invasion.
The original battery housed five 80-pounder guns and had accommodation for a
Staff Sergeant and a corps of 21 men. At the end of the nineteenth century
the original 80-pounders were replaced by two .303 Maxim machine guns and
two QF (quick-firing) Mark III naval guns with a calibre of 4.7”. In 1942
these weapons were replaced by two more modern 4” BL Mark VII French naval
guns. The gun battery at Mumbles Head was eventually decommissioned in 1957.