Relieving the shift on Bishop Rock Lighthouse 1969 (thanks to Gibsons of Scilly); Portland Bill Lighthouse, Dorset (thanks to Trinity House); a storm lashes Longships Lighthouse (thanks to Tim Stevens, image courtesy of Trinity House)
Happy New Year! Lighthouses: Life on the Rocks is the title of a major new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall from February 2010.
For centuries the men who operated these iconic beacons of light protected our seas in a very hands-on way, but the UK’s last manned lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in November 1998. This exhibition will therefore explore the lives of the last of the lighthouse keepers before their histories slip out of living memory, and explain the feats of engineering that lie behind the building of the lighthouses themselves.
It will feature a large array of objects including a massive four tonne optic, and there will also be a reconstruction of a lighthouse’s living quarters featuring original curved furniture from Godrevy Lighthouse.
The keepers lived a life of strict routine and isolation, and to fill their time would engage in all sorts of interests including poetry, crafting ships in light bulbs, and supplementing their limited supplies using surprising techniques such as kite fishing.
The exhibition is supported by Trinity House and the General Lighthouse Authority, which is lending a large number of artefacts to the exhibition, which complements the authority’s own heritage centre at the Lizard, and by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund.