All aboard to learn about the lightships

Lester Sher introduces Rotary members and friends to lightship LV50 at South Harbour, Blyth.
Lester Sher introduces Rotary members and friends to lightship LV50 at South Harbour, Blyth.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Twenty five Morpeth Rotarians and friends visited the floating clubhouse of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club in Blyth.

They came to see and hear about an exciting project to preserve and improve this wooden and steel lightship that was built for Trinity House in 1879.

Three wooden lightships remain afloat, but this is the oldest and best preserved. It had served for more than 70 years around the coast of Britain, including the storm-lashed Seven Stones reef at the Scilly Islands.

The ship LV50 was built at Limehouse on the Thames for £5,650, the equivalent of £600,000 today.

It was built like a Napoleonic warship, with a double plank hull of teak on an oak frame, braced with wrought iron and with the hull encased in Muntz metal, an alloy of copper and zinc.

It had the latest technology, with a fog horn driven by compressed air from two coal and coke burning engines from Brown of New York, a Harfield anchor windlass for the anchor cables made in Gateshead, and a Chance Brothers of Smethwick revolving oil-burning light. Each day the lamp had to be brought down to deck to be cleaned before being wound back up to 40ft.

The ship had to be towed into place. A rocket store was held in a store house at the aft. Rockets had been the only means of communicating with the shore.

After seven years at the Scilly Islands it was damaged by heavy seas, had a refit and was held at London as a spare. It was next located at the Shambles at Weymouth, Outer Gabbard and Galloper near Felixstowe, Warner Sandbank at the Isle of Wight, and finally Calshot Spit at Southampton.

It had a crew of 11, with seven on board at any time. There were lamplighters, fog signal drivers and able seamen, who served two months on board then a month on shore.

At the end of service it went to Harwich, before being bought by RNYC in 1952 and towed to Blyth. The light was in such poor condition it had to be removed in 1962. The stem at the centre of the bow was restored with English oak at a cost of £24,000. It now has portholes, a bar, saloon, galley and toilets.

Lester Sher gave a talk on behalf of the Friends of LV50, with Frank Higham, and there was a film about life on a lightship. The ships were unmanned from 1989. All buoys and vessels have been solar powered since 1993.

The visit ended with drinks and fish, chips and mushy peas, accompanied by audio of maritime sounds.

Warm thanks were proposed to the Friends by President Paul Crook. They provide education support for schools on lighthouses, lightships and LV50. The ship is open between 11am and 4pm on the last Thursday of every month in summer. Membership is encouraged through friendsoflv50@gmail.com