Trinity House Personnel at Lighthouses in England and Wales and the Channel Islands 1841-1910
(NOTE: The project has now terminated, and no further updates are being made to the database.)
Most of the pre-1939 records of the Corporation of Trinity House, the general lighthouse authority for England and Wales, were destroyed in the bombing of its headquarters at Tower Hill during World War II. Following the release of the 1901 census in 2002, a project was conceived in which material from copies of the 1894 and 1910 Service Lists (which had survived outside London) would be amalgamated with extracts from the nationally-available decennial censuses. The aim was to produce, as comprehensively as possible, a service record of lighthouse keepers covering the period 1841 to 1910.
The periodical Service Lists were printed in the order of seniority of the keepers. They showed name, date of birth and date of entry into the Lighthouse Service of each serving keeper, and details of the stations on which he had served. The length of service as Supernumerary Assistant Keeper (an Assistant Keeper not yet appointed to a station), and the dates of promotion from Assistant Keeper to Principal Keeper can be established from these Lists. Unfortunately the surviving Lists do not include keepers who entered the Service before 1856. However, some of the younger men in the 1910 Service List would have served on into the 1940s.
The 1841 census gives no significant detail of date and place of birth, and ages of adults are rounded to the nearest 5 years below. The 10-yearly censuses thereafter give age and place of birth of the keepers, together with the ages and places of birth of any wives and children with them on station. Some of the keepers in the 1841 census would have been born in the 1780s.
The two tables that have been produced in the course of the project are an alphabetical Table of Keepers and a Table of Stations by county. They are accompanied by a Location map of the lighthouse sites.
The Keepers table often maps the whole of a keeper's career, and usually give an indication of where he met his wife and where their children were born - elusive details where a man spent much of his life outside his home county. The names of counties have been abbreviated to those detailed in the Chapman Codes. This table will be mainly of interest to family historians.
The Stations table may be of value to those interested in the staffing of particular lights, also bearing the possibility of intermarriage of Lighthousekeepers' families in mind.
At the planning stage, it was felt that the inclusion of the names of wives and children would be an additional burden on the transcribers and an unnecessary complication in the Keepers table. These details were therefore omitted from the first version of the project, which was completed in August 2003. However, the whole project was reviewed in December 2007, and wives and children and their dates and places of birth have now been included in the Table of Keepers. Where keepers were on station at the time of census the census reference has now been included in the Table of Stations, where they were ashore from rock lighthouses the reference is now shown in the the Table of Keepers.
It was never anticipated that the tables could be wholly comprehensive, and, for a variety of reasons, they are not. Not least among these is the possibility of error in or omission from the original documents. Where entries are sparse it may be that a man proved to be unsuited to the life of a keeper and left the job. Some instances of death on station are recorded. Rock lighthouses were a particular difficulty; some were omitted completely from individual censuses, and for others the place of enumeration was not consistent from one census to another (some were treated as 'vessels', especially in 1901). Furthermore, the project has been hugely dependent upon the generosity of volunteers who have given their time in extracting detail from the censuses in their county record offices. Nevertheless, an extraction rate of rather more than 95% of lighthouse sites has been achieved over the whole range of censuses.
Where service on a station appears to have been interrupted, and the intervening period has not been accounted for, it is because conclusive evidence of continuity is lacking. Personnel who were off-station at the time of a census, e.g. rock lighthouse keepers who were ashore for their spell of relief, could have been anywhere, although they are likely to have been living in a shore parish within easy reach of their station; some have been found by chance.
While the size of the crew remained constant at some lighthouses, circumstances dictated that changes would occur at others. Furthermore, some locations had two lights (to enable mariners to fix their position by line of sight); often referred to as 'High' and 'Low' lighthouses, these were not always differentiated in the censuses and have been amalgamated in the tables.
Movement was limited during the early part of the period, but, with the coming of the railways and other improvements in the means of transport, keepers began to be moved around more frequently. Elevation from Assistant Keeper to Principal Keeper was strictly on the basis of seniority, and it follows that a chain of changes could result from one promotion. This movement is illustrated in the censuses by the place of birth of their wives and children, and is apparent from the tables. There appears to have been some tendency for keepers to marry and have children rather later in life than men in other occupations.
While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, transcription errors cannot be ruled out. Except for those in the 1841 census, dates of birth are normally correct to within a year, depending upon the actual birth date and the date when the census was taken. There are many instances where men followed fathers or brothers into the Service. A number of female keepers were also employed in the early part of the period.
N.B. The wives of keepers often went 'home' for the delivery of their children, so the place of birth does not necessarily point to the station on which the keeper was serving at the time.
Some of the lighthouses around the English, Welsh and Channel Islands coasts were not taken over by Trinity House until after 1910, and some were never manned by Trinity House keepers:-
Scottish lights were not administerd by Trinity House.
La Corbière on Jersey was established in 1874, but the names in the '81 and '91 censuses appear to have been of locally-recruited men, and none of them appear in the Trinity House Service Lists.
The light on Skokholm Island off Marloes in Pembroke was not established until 1916.
Some lights in estuarial waters were maintained by other authorities. For example, Point Lynas, on the most northerly tip of Anglesey, was established by the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board before 1841, but not taken over until 1973. The Humber lights were administered by the Hull authority.
Appended to the Station table, however, are the lights of the Basses in Ceylon, Cape Pembroke in the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. These were manned by Trinity House keepers on detachment, and will account for some absences from the English and Welsh scene.
Serving as guides to mariners when lights were obscured by fog, a few Fog Gun Stations were to be found, ususally in association with lighthouse sites. They were not regarded as part of the Lighthouse Service, and the Fog Signal Gunners who manned them were generally recruited from Trinity House's Lightvessel Service. Little is known of their origins, and guns were ultimately replaced by fog horns, to be operated by lighthouse keepers. What is known of these stations and their personnel is included in appended tables.
This project could not have been undertaken without the help of volunteers in the counties in which lighthouses were sited, and contributions from the following are gratefully acknowledged:
Anglesey - Eluned Jones: Caernarvon - Lynn Roberts (Caernarfon Record Office) - Channel Islands - Maria van der Tang: Cornwall - Pat Wall: Cumberland - Whitehaven Record Office: Devon - Ann Brock and Roy Drew, Dorset - Caryl Parsons: Essex - Ann Church: Flint - Phil Adams; Glamorgan - Andy Boyt, Martin Adlam and Peter Jarvis: Gloucester - John Watts: Monmouth - Nicola Thomas: Norfolk - Rhona Kerswell and Jean Stangroom of the Norfolk FHS, and Patrick Tubby: Northumberland - Linda Bankier and Kevin Graham at Berwick Record Office: Pembroke - Barbara Chester: Suffolk - Ipswich and Lowestoft Record Offices; Sussex - East Sussex Archives and Records: Yorkshire - East Yorkshire Family History Society. Phil Adams provided additional material for North Wales stations, and put the record straight with regard to Point of Air.
Liz Slatter of King Alfred's College, Winchester, was herself researching lighthouse keepers, and filled a number of gaps, and the background information provided by Gerry Douglas-Sherwood, Archivist of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers, has been invaluable.
The census material has obtained through the subscription-based webpages of ancestry.com, which I also acknowledge gratefully. Various other sources include Lighthouses (in the Francis Frith series) by D. Wilkinson & M. Boyle, They all lived in Lighthouses by Elizabeth G. Roberts, Hurst Castle; An Illustrated History by Jude James and a miscellany of websites on the internet. Where a keeper's last station is shown, together with the date of his death, the details have often been taken from obituaries in back numbers of the LAMP journal held at the Lighthouse Museum in Penzance and extracted by Mike Millichamp.
We are grateful to the National Archives at Kew, who are the custodian of the census records, for waiving their copyright in respect of the contents of the returns as transcribed in this project.
The material provided in the tables must not be used for commercial purposes. Copyright is claimed by me, Stan Waight, on behalf of myself and all the contributors mentioned above.