Land ahoy!

Although this is the time of year when the
lights are lengthening and electronic location devices are almost mandatory, shipping still benefits from the presence of lighthouses warning of hazards. The Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen was created by A. G. Findlay in 1863 and shows the location, extent of the beam of each lighthouse, and gives information about the type of beam and frequency of light pulses. This wealth of information is exquisitely engraved and coloured but as a specialist map it would not have had a large print run. However it is a handsome thing mounted on linen and folded into covers with brass decorative gothic clasps. The boards of the covers are covered in cloth with a blind stamped decoration and the title, motto and coat of arms of Trinity House in gilt.


The map was published ‘By order of the hon[oura]ble. the Corporation of Trinity House.’ which is the authority controlling lighthouses, lightvessels and buoys in England and Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar (Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland). The board was established by a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1514. Prior to this there were privately run beacons or towers so it wasn’t until 1609 Trinity House established its first, Lowestoft Lighthouse, as a pair of wooden towers with candle illuminants. The risk of fire must have been very great but it wasn’t until 1777 the first mirrored reflectors were used.


The cartographer of this map, Alexander George Findlay was a leading compiler and publisher of geographical and hydrographical works and after the death of Richard Holland Laurie, took over the well-known and long established printing house of Laurie & Whittle. He researched meteorology, published nautical directories the whole world and received a Society of Arts medal for his dissertation The English Lighthouse. He also served the British Association for the Advancement of Science so he was uniquely qualified to produce this map.


Today lighthouses are still relevant but function more as a back up to electronic equipment. The last manned lighthouse, North Foreland in Kent, was automated in 1998 after the automation process started in in the early 1980s, bringing to an end the work of the lighthouse keepers or “wickies”. This lighthouse had seen the departures of forces defending our islands and the arrival of all manner of vessels – some in joyous homecoming, some limping back after difficult journeys and trade vessels from all over the world. Trinity house currently maintains 65 lighthouses but it has provided temporary lighting. For D-Day it laid 73 lighted buoys and 2 lightvessels to indicate a safe route for landing craft in the poor weather of the English Channel. Redundant lighthouses have been re-purposed as holiday lets or even conversion to domestic properties – albeit ones with fantastic views!

Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen. London, 1863. C15 d.197