History Booklet of the Lightship LV50

This small volume is dedicated to the men who served on lightship LV50 and bravely put their lives at risk to protect others at sea.

This is an online version of our heritage booklet that is available free to visitors to LV50. This booklet has been written for educational purposes and is not for sale or resale. Every effort has been made to seek permission for material contained in this volume; if we have inadvertently used copyrighted material without permission we apologise and when informed we will correct at the earliest opportunity.

Copyright © The Friends of LV50, 2020

Preface

On a cold November day in 2014 a group of volunteers met to form The Friends of LV50; our purpose being to research, promote and preserve the heritage of the Lightship LV50. With limited resources we set about our task. Some of our members visited archives, researched newspapers and crawled below decks to uncover the rich history of LV50. Although many records were destroyed in a London bombing raid in WW2, we have pieced together much of her history. Through outreach talks and, with the help of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club, who own the vessel, we open her to the public on certain days during the year so that others can discover the unique charm of this grand old lady.
It was through visitors’ comments and their many questions that we realised the need to produce a written history of the vessel, both as a souvenir for visitors and to document her history for the future. We hope you, the reader, find her story as fascinating as we do.

Acknowledgements

This booklet first and foremost would not be possible without the tireless dedication of many members of The Friends of LV50 as well as the invaluable support given by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club.
We also thank the Northumberland County Council Community Chest Scheme, The Sir James Knott Trust, North of England Protecting and Indemnity Association, as well as the generosity of the general public.
The staff of London Metropolitan Archives, who helped locate Trinity House records deserve our gratitude as does the Northumberland CVA for their assistance with funding bids.

The Friends of LV50

Introduction

Moored in South Harbour Blyth you will find the lightship LV50. Built in 1879, she is one of the oldest floating timber lightships remaining in the UK and as such The National Historic Ships UK registers her as being of national importance and has included her in the National Historic Fleet.

LV50 as she is today in Blyth South Harbour. Photograph by Peter J Fairbairn

In 1952 she was rescued from a breakers yard by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club to become their house yacht, HY Tyne III. Her story, and the contribution that light beacons made to safety at sea, began a long time ago.

Early Lights

The first known lights to warn mariners of dangers were erected by the Phoenicians. From 1550-300 BC, their beacon towers marked danger spots on their coastline routes and acted as signposts by day and lighted beacons by night. These beacons were followed by lighthouses, one of the earliest was the Pharos of Alexandria, whose remains have been found on the seabed.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

Later, in 1514, Trinity House, then a guild of seafarers, was awarded a Charter by Henry VIII. In 1566 Elizabeth I granted to Trinity House, the authority to build lighthouses and other seamarks for the protection of mariners around our coast. As merchant shipping increased in the 18th century many vessels were lost where lighthouses could not be built. In 1731, two entrepreneurs, Capt. Hamblin and Robert Avery, placed the world’s first manned lightship at Nore, in the Thames mouth, to warn of the sandbank and collect revenues. As she proved a great success Trinity House gained the authority and placed further light vessels around our southern coast.

“Riding it out” (from Lighthouse and Lightship G W Phillips)

Many others were commissioned by Trinity House during the 19th century. Each Trinity House light vessel was given a number. None of these early lightships had independent propulsion so were towed to their station by a Trinity House vessel then anchored, where they and the men who served on them remained at the mercy of the sea.

Construction of LV50

One of the most dangerous waters for shipping is around the Seven Stones; a cluster of dangerous rocks only partly uncovered at low water, situated between the Scilly Isles and Land’s End. In 1841 lightship LV45 was moored here, however, being exposed to the full fury of the Atlantic, it required many repairs. In 1878, Trinity House decided to improve the strength of the next vessel to be placed on Seven Stones. The following entry was made in Trinity House Wardens’ Minutes of 12 April 1878:
“2037: Letter from Board of Trade H2455 drafted 11 inst. sanctioning acceptance of tender of Messrs. Fletcher, Son and Fearnall to construct new Wood Light Vessel for £5650 and requesting certain information as to circumstances under which vessel is required and estimated cost of fittings and other expenses not included in tender.”
She was designed by Bernard Waymouth, Secretary to Lloyd‘s, designer of “Thermopylae”, a rival of the Cutty Sark, and one of the principal proponents of the “Plimsoll Line”.

The initial design of LV50 by Bernard Waymouth

LV50 is timber built, brass-fastened, and sheathed below the waterline with Muntz metal.
In the 1870s many larger vessels were of composite construction, wooden hull with iron beams; or even entirely of iron. However, LV50 needed to be especially robust to withstand the conditions on the Seven Stones Reef. Bernard Waymouth and Trinity House decided that this could best be achieved by using a wooden construction throughout with the judicious use of wrought iron for some key fittings.

Limehouse Docks, home of Fletcher Sons & Fearnall, Union Wharf

LV50 is 100ft long and 21ft wide with a draft of 9ft. She has a gross tonnage of little over 205 tons and was never fitted with a propulsion engine, always being towed to station. The details of her hull planking and frame construction is broadly similar to that of the 18th century fighting ship, although her overall construction is more modern, being double planked with 3in teak timbers on 8 x 4in oak frames set about 4in apart. LV50 was also constructed with a ‘whaleback’ or ‘poop shelter’ to help withstand high waves breaking over her stern. Wrought iron knees (rather than oak knees) and reinforcing straps at stem and stern provided strength, ease of construction and were space-saving.

LV50 was initially fitted with:

Single revolving lantern

Lights evolved from a circular sconce holding an array of tallow candles to a lantern with reflectors. The original vessel on Seven Stones, LV45, had two fixed lanterns but LV50’s light was state of the art for that time, being a single revolving caloric lantern, made by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. The diagrams below show lanterns designed by Chance Brothers.
LV50’s white revolving light was lit manually and gave three flashes in quick succession followed by an interval of 36 seconds of darkness, the whole revolution occupying one minute. The light was exhibited at an elevation of 36ft above the level of the sea. LV50 was never fitted with an electric light; the present lantern is a replica.

View of the Chance Bros yard showing the same lantern as fitted to LV50, note the parabolic reflectors and armand oil lamps as well as the clock work mechanism to rotate the inner mechanism fundamental to the flashing pattern of the light.

Harfield winch

The windlass, made in Gateshead, was used to lift the anchor chain and was driven by compressed air. On Seven Stones Reef a 2 ton mushroom anchor with 1890ft of one and a half inch chain was deployed.

The Harfield winch or windlass

Steel mast

Costing £61 from Messrs. Dalton and Co.

Reed foghorn

The first lightships used gongs to sound a warning during fog. However, the distance over which they could be heard was minimal. These were replaced by guns and later reed foghorns, operated manually. The reed foghorn on LV50, developed at Souter, was a new improvement; a powerful siren trumpet, which gave three blasts in quick succession every two minutes. It was originally powered by two 5HP Brown Caloric engines from New York, USA. Fuelled by coke, these supplied compressed air for the foghorn. Later she had Hornsby engines, Nos. 39825 and 39826.

Brown’s Calorific Engine used to compress air for the fog horn

Over the years LV50 was brought into depots for servicing and often for repairs due to collisions or damage at sea. At such times, her various fittings were upgraded to the latest models at that time. During WW2 she was fitted with deckhouse protection.

LV50 Now

The vessel you see today, while retaining some features, such as her mast, has unfortunately lost many. Her reed foghorn, winch and engines were removed when she was sold to a breakers yard. After being rescued from the breakers yard by the RNYC, LV50 was towed to Blyth where she was refitted for purpose as their club ship. Not being aware of her historical importance, more of her original features were removed at that time.
LV50 also carried freshwater tanks for the crew. The tanks were only refilled once a month so had to hold a significant amount of water. In 2016, following a request by the RNYC to check 2 sets of old water tanks under the bar and saloon, members of The Friends crawled below decks, located the tanks and measured them. It was concluded that they were indeed water tanks; the stern iron tanks (capacity 750 gallons) were installed when the boat was built and the forward steel tanks (400 gallons) were installed during a 1930’s refit.

Freshwater tanks, stern 4 x 195 and forward 2 x 215 Imp. gallons.

Later work showed that the forward starboard tank was ¾ full of fresh water and formed an integral part of the vessels current ballast and most definitely should not be emptied.
Another theme investigated has been the relative importance of wrought iron (iron that has been heated and then worked with tools rather than being poured into a mould – cast iron) in the construction.
Initial indications of the role of this iron were reinforced by detailed survey work of the weatherdeck and other parts of the boat. Although LV50 has a wooden hull, beams and decking, iron has been shown to be critical. It was used mainly to brace and join the wooden parts of the lightship together in such a way that it could be dismantled if needed. The use of iron adding significantly to both strength, spaciousness and ease of maintenance of the lightship.
The Friends of LV50 have spent a lot of time looking over the vessel, poking their noses into all the corners and recording many previously unknown aspects of the vessel’s construction, resulting in the diagram below.

LV50 Stations

LV50 was, to the best of our knowledge, placed on 7 Stations before arriving at Blyth; these are shown below.

LV50’s Stations

Lightships were painted with the name of the station they were placed on. Each Lightship had a specific foghorn and light pattern so whenever a new lightship was placed on a station Trinity House sent out to newspapers “A Notice to Mariners” to inform mariners of the new signal at that station.

A Notice to Mariners, The London Gazette 10th June 1879

LV50 stations were:
Seven Stones – a dangerous rocky reef between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles; rocks rise out of water and are a hazard to shipping, claiming at least 200 ships.
Shambles – a sandbank southeast off Portland Bill, the southernmost point of Dorset; it stretches for 4 miles and is only a few feet above water at low tide.
Outer Gabbard – a 5 mile long shoal in the North Sea.
Nore is a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames estuary; it marks the point where the river meets the North Sea.
Galloper – a sandbank, around 30 miles off the Felixstowe, around 7 miles long and less than 1 mile wide.
Warner – a sandbank off the east of the Isle of Wight.
Calshot Spit – a mile long sand and shingle bank at the southern bank of Southampton Water. Southampton was an important military port during WW2, from where supplies were sent to the European theatre.

LV50 during WW1 and WW2

World War 1
Trinity House withdrew a number of lightships from service during WW1 so as not to aid the enemy, but some stayed on station with their lights extinguished or dimmed. LV50 was in service at Nore station during WW1 which had a local defence flotilla of destroyers and torpedo boats. In 1916 she was damaged by one of these (HM Torpedo Boat No.8). Later she was also damaged by SS Zealand and taken off Nore for repairs.
World War 2
In April 1943 Trinity House Surveyor of Shipping requested permission for London Graving Dock Co Ltd to cut in the identification numbers on lightships at Blackwall Depot. This could be when LV50 had her number carved into a beam, seen in the present bar area.
At the start of the war she was initially laid up but in July 1943 LV50 was destined for Calshot Spit and brought to Southampton for fitment of deck house protection by D.E. M.S. Dept, Admiralty. She was placed on Calshot Spit at the mouth of the Solent and while there was damaged by 3 UK landing craft.
LC 320/367 on 26th April 1944
LC 7096 on 21 July 1944
LCT 1152 on 19 Dec 1945
She was one of the lightships guiding part of the the D-Day invasion fleet out of the Solent.

Decommissioning

After repairs she was back on Calshot Spit until she was damaged on 26 June 1951 by a Hopper Barge towed by the tug Resnova III. Trinity House Board then decided on 24th July 1951 that she should be replaced and decommissioned “because of her age and condition”. She was sold to J. Howard of Ipswich and removed to Harwich for breaking.

Fortunately, this is not the end of her story because she was rescued by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club and started a new life as their club ship.

Life on Board

Of her 11-man crew, a compliment of 7 were onboard at a time; usually 2 lamplighters, 2 fog signal drivers, 2 able seamen. They served 2 months afloat and 1 month ashore whereas Master and Mate rotated monthly. Totally self-sufficient, they had to remain on station until relieved.
Living conditions onboard were hard, cramped, noisy and dangerous. On the deck there was a deckhouse, below deck were the engine room, oil storage room, Master’s cabin and the crew’s combined sleeping and cooking area. It had a stove, large table and benches, and each man had a locker.
Every morning, Lamplighters, a senior position, were supposed to lower the lantern to the deck using lifting pulleys from a winch behind the mast on the main deck (Although they frequently did not) then polish the reflectors and glass, cleaning and refilling the oil wick burners, and oil the moving parts.

Replica stove made by The Friends

The work was particularly dangerous in bad weather as the lamp was often not lowered for servicing and they had to climb a ladder and service the lantern while it was hoisted. The fog signal drivers maintained the fog signal apparatus, which consisted of a large trumpet reed foghorn operated by compressed air, originally generated by 2 caloric engines fuelled by coke.
As well as these duties, a watch was kept day and night in pairs. Lightships were also tasked with recording weather conditions, and any sightings of vessels in distress; the log entries were made by the Master or Mate. At times they launched their lifeboat and rescued seamen from vessels in trouble. When not on duty or asleep in their hammocks the crew would cook their own meals on a small stove or occupy themselves with their hobbies, for example rope and mat making, toys, decorative boxes and ships in bottles.
In addition to his own kit, including hammock, clothes, and eating equipment, each seaman took his own ‘victuals’. They were allowed per week: meat 8¼ lb (fresh or salted) bread 7lb, flour 2lb, potatoes 7lb, suet 1lb, tea 2oz, sugar ¾lb, butter ¾lb. The vessel also held in stock emergency provisions in case the relief ship could not deliver due to bad weather.
Relief day was looked forward to, but beforehand the crew would clean and polish their quarters and scrub the ship. In calm seas the relief ship would come alongside but in bad weather the crew and provisions were transferred by a small boat, a dangerous task.
When ashore the men still had to work at their local Trinity House maintenance depot; they painted or repaired buoys and worked on any lightship that came in for repairs.
For all the work and danger they faced, Able Seamen, in 1880 started at 55 shillings per month (20 shillings equals 1 pound), earning more as they were promoted to ‘Fog Horn Driver’ and then Lamplighters. The Master was paid £80 per year. The crew and their families lived ashore, near the station.

Crew Lists

The above 1891 Seven Stones Census is after LV50 had left Seven Stones but since the same men stayed with the station, they also served on LV50.

*This information shows that where possible, repair work could be done while at sea. The engine fitter was on board to repair the fog signal engines.
John Paul and Richard Hale progressed from Able Seamen in 1881 to Lamplighters by 1891. John Paul joined the Trinity House Lightvessel Service in 1878; he transferred to the Lighthouse service in 1902 but later returned to Lightships and went on to become Mate on the South Goodwin Lightship.
Census records are also available for Shambles 1891 and 1901 as well as 1911.

LV50 as HY TYNE III

The final ‘station’ for LV50 is South Harbour, Blyth, Northumberland. The original house yacht HY Tyne I was moored on South Harbour’s Tyne Quay, which gave the name to subsequent club vessels. HY Tyne I was a sloop previously owned by the famous railway engineer Robert Stephenson. After she rotted away the Cretehatch, a concrete tug, replaced her as HY Tyne II but on October 27th 1949 she capsized and sank during severe gales. The club then moved to temporary premises on land and started looking for a new floating clubhouse.

The Purchase of LV50

Towards the end of March 1952, the club heard of a light ship, LV50, in Harwich that was being auctioned off by Trinity House. After a visit it was concluded that the Club was unlikely to find a better type of vessel for their purpose and agreed to bid for her. However, the bid was unsuccessful, and she was bought by a scrap merchant who removed the engine room equipment and the main winch, with very little damage to the rest of the ship. Following negotiations, the merchant agreed to sell on the ship for £600 (£15,800 today).

Dry Docking and Fitting Out

When LV50 arrived in Blyth it was agreed that the heavy work would be carried out in Blyth Dry Docks.

LV50 dry docked in Blyth

This included fitting ten 14in round portholes. Two additional portholes were cut in the forward compartment in 1953. In July 1954 the vessel was opened for use by club members. In 1955 she was re-ballasted with 6 tons of granite blocks (from Northumberland Street in Newcastle), in 1956 the new deckhouse extension was installed and in 1957 the ‘Penthouse’ was constructed, raising the former cadets’ quarters by 15ft. By 1962 she was, externally, much as we see her today.
In May 1996 Blyth Marina was redeveloped and she moved off the old jetty to her current location.

Preservation

Wooden vessels such as LV50 were not expected to survive beyond about 30-50 years. While this old lady has survived 140 years, the ravages of time and the ingress in particular of rainwater with repeated drying out has led to extensive rot in the timbers above the waterline, particularly affecting the outer skin teak cladding, the structural timbers of the bulwarks, the stem and the stern. Limited replacement of outer planking has taken place. Photographs below show replacement of a section of the outer skin with new cladding and stem post replacement.
In 2016 a major stem repair was undertaken with the replacement of the rotten stem post with a prefabricated English oak one.

Replacing the outer skin with new cladding
Rotten Stem Post
Excised fragments of post
New prefabricated stem being lowered into place
After undercoat painting of replacement

While this work has been successfully completed, further repairs are needed to the stern. The next project is to replace and restore the rotting stern and whale back and reinforce the rudder tube.

LV50 Timeline

When a lightship was taken off station for repairs or refit, upon completion of the work it often became a spare until it was needed on another station. The times LV50 was a spare are included in the Timeline:


1879 Built and placed on Seven Stones
1883 Removed to London for repairs and overhaul then placed back on Seven Stones
1887 Back in for repairs and then London Spare
1891 Placed on Shambles
1893 Brought in for repairs and overhaul and placed back on Shambles
1900 Brought in for repairs (and probably placed back on Shambles)
1909 Placed on Outer Gabbard
1912 Brought in for repairs (not known if she then went back to Outer Gabbard or was placed on Nore)
1916 At Nore, and damaged by HM Torpedo boat
1919 Damaged by SS “Zeeland” and taken off Nore
1920 LV50 being prepared to go to East Goodwin
1924 At Outer Gabbard
1925 Brought in for repairs and overhaul
1926 Became Spare at Harwich
1929 At Galloper
1940 At Warner
1943 At Calshot Spit after refit with deck house protection
Damaged by H.M. Solent Patrol Vessel 14
Damaged by HM Invasion Craft (320/367, 1152 & 7096)
1944 One of the Lightships guiding the D-Day invasion fleet from the Solent
Damaged by “Duke of Wellington”
Damaged by tug “DanubeII” towing Whale Link
1945 Brought in for repairs after damaged by a HM Landing Craft 1152 and placed back on Calshot Spit
1951 Damaged by tug “Resnova” and brought in for repairs. Due to her age Trinity House decided to decommission LV50
1952 RNYC rescued LV50 from breakers yard to become their club ship in Blyth.

LV50 at the end of her service with Trinity House