Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Short History of the Fleetwood Lighthouses: Part One

Fleetwood is probably unique amongst harbour towns -- not only in Britain but also in the rest of the world (er…possibly, I haven’t double-checked that, so I’m just guessing here) -- in that it doesn’t just have one lighthouse, but three. Yes, three! Read ’em and weep lighthouse enthusiasts. That’s not bad going for a small Lancashire port measuring only a quarter of a mile in width by half a mile in length. However, there is a good reason for the seemingly disproportionate amount of illuminatory warning systems. (Try saying that with your mouth full of gobstoppers.)
You see, Fleetwood was designed as a purpose-built harbour town by the fancifully named Decimus Burton, under the entrepreneurial guidance of the town’s visionary founding father Sir Peter Fleetwood Hesketh; a sort of flat pack IKEA fishing community, only not so Scandinavian and nowhere near as bland. It wasn’t prone to collapsing and going mildewy after a couple of years either. In fact, that was a bad comparison now that I come to think of it. Better move on.

The channel leading into Fleetwood from Morecambe Bay, by which the trawlers and the shrimpers and the nobbies and the Post and Oriental cruisers* and the private yachts and the now long-since-vanished Isle of Man steamers and the wind surfers and the dredgers and the coastguard boats and dinghies and dug outs and coracles and dead seagulls all arrive in the town, is deep and grooved, difficult to navigate and notorious for the irritating sandbanks that guard each side.

So the idea was that three lighthouses, one tall, one medium, one not quite as tall as the medium sized one but definitely a lot shorter than the tall one, should be arranged in such a way that, when any approaching vessel had all three in its sights in a vertical line, then that meant the channel was directly ahead and they wouldn’t get grounded.

Simple, really!

Here’s a photograph of Pharos Lighthouse, the tallest of the trilogy, because I’m sure you’re all sick of me twittering on by now:

You’ve probably noticed the tramlines running past it. This, again, makes it unique. I vaguely remember somebody who lived in Knott End and worked in Fleetwood telling me once that they were the only person in the world who travelled to work every morning by ferry and tram past a lighthouse. I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of or not, but I suppose it breaks the ice at difficult parties.
On another occasion I overheard the following conversation between a young child and his elderly grandmother who were sitting in the tram shelter beside me, the smaller of which (I can’t remember which one that was exactly) asked the other, “Why’s it called Pharaohs’ light’ouse, Nan? It dunt look much like a pyramid t’ me.” “Because it’s Pharos, you ignorant kid,” I blurted out. “As in the famous lighthouse, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world! Not the bloody Pharaohs!”

Obviously I’d got out of bed the wrong side that morning.
Ironically, or to be more accurate, embarrassingly, I could have been wrong. The truth is, the bottom of Pharos lighthouse does bear a striking resemblance to the entrance of an Egyptian tomb, whereas the lower lighthouse, next in line of descending height, on the promenade, more resembles the original Pharos.

All in all, it was probably just a misspelling on the part of Decimus Burton (or, more likely, some local sign writer) responsible for the confusion.

What became of the startled couple I’ll never know. They departed the tram at Anchorsholme and I haven’t seen them since.

How about a more nostalgic view of Pharos Lighthouse before we move on?

There you go. That’s what it used to look like back when everything was constructed in greyscale (including the people and the sky) and cameras didn’t have the capability of focusing in on things.
Let’s have some facts and figures then for the more historically conscientious, as borrowed from our own publication: “The History of the Fylde Coast in Old Picture Postcards”:

‘Pharos Lighthouse (the name of which is taken from the ‘Pharos of Alexandria’, (Editor: Er…possibly) one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) stands ninety feet above the high water mark and is constructed of red sandstone. Both of Fleetwood’s landlocked lighthouses were originally lit by gas, Pharos being open for visitors to climb the one hundred and seventy-three steps to the top to admire the view. Health and safety regulations have now brought an end to this practice.’

Actually, one of the websites we visited in our lackadaisical research for this article claims that there are only one hundred and seven steps to the top. To be honest, I couldn’t care less either way. It’s a long way up, that’s all that counts, and I’m not about to climb them to double-check.

Pharos lighthouse (along with its stumpier counterpart, of course) is still in full working order. If it wasn’t, we’d have boats stranded all over the bay.

Right, onwards then, to the Lower Lighthouse, situated on the promenade as shown in the photograph below:

See? I told you it resembled the original Pharos at Alexandria more than the actual Pharos lighthouse does, didn’t I? (Strewth…I’m mixing tenses more in that sentence than Doctor Who after a bottle of single malt.)
A couple of years ago the good people who maintain such historical buildings opened the doors to the general public, so that we could take a look inside. Naturally me and Michelle were the first in the queue. Well, apart from some fat Italian tourist in tartan shorts who had no idea what was actually going on but reckoned if there was a group of people waiting around for something to happen then it would be a good idea to hang around themselves complaining about the taste of British ice cream and how cold it was for the summertime.

Whatever the case, you don’t get many of these sorts of occasions and we were determined to take advantage of it.

However, we’ve run out of space, so if you want to find out more you’ll just have to come back in a few day’s time for the next instalment

*nb. I've just been informed by Dave Hammond that P&O actually stands for Peninsula and Orient, which makes a lot more sense than what I said. I learn something new every day...*

** nb nb. I've also just noticed that the footnote above should have read 'Dave Hampson' and not 'Dave Hammond'. Apologies for that Dave.


Anonymous said...

A fine post, Brian. Was the Pharoes' lighthouse the one that featured in the mini-series Blackpool? Or maybe that was Blackpool's?
Whatever the case, I think lighthouses are brilliant buildings and should be heritage listed...though judging by our local politicians here in Melbourne, that's the last thing on their mind (just after 'the environment').

Ann oDyne said...

Fabulous Fleetwood - I wish I was there right now.
Having THREE lighthouses, I assume no shipwrecks?

Half the coastline of Victoria is named The Shipwreck Coast because there were so many in the 19thC.

Andrew said...

Now the one we saw, the tall one, that is ninety feet above high water? I am surprised. Must have been a decent drop down to the water. Bit hazy for me. The Lower Lighthouse is very attractive.

Brian Hughes said...


"Was the Pharoes' lighthouse the one that featured in the mini-series Blackpool?"

No idea. The thought of David Tennant singing was enough to make me lock the telly in the wardrobe for the duration.


We've still got plenty of shipwrecks. Mind you, with one of the lightouses being designed by a blind architect it's hardly surprising...oh...hold on...that's probably in part two.


"Now the one we saw, the tall one, that is ninety feet above high water?"

Apparently...I'm just going off what the various text books about these things say. I've never actually got out a tape and measured it myself, so I'll have to take their word for it.

"The Lower Lighthouse is very attractive."

It's a good place for a chip barmcake and a bottle of stout.

Jayne said...

Would have been a worry to have ships sailing past the trams.
Or maybe not.
I like the styles, can we buy one and do they come in other colours?

Brian Hughes said...


The big one was painted white when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, they're not for sale. They're still fully functioning and I suspect that if someone bought one of them to live in and then hung gingham curtains in the bulb room, there might be a few loud crashes out in the bay.

JahTeh said...

Our enterprising government turned most of our lighthouses into B&Bs.

Brian Hughes said...


I can only assume they flattened all the dangerous rocks at the same time...

Jayne said...

No, but the locals are forever piffing said rocks at visiting govt officials.

WV = clarsh

Brian Hughes said...

Piffing rocks, Jayne? Is that like shiffing bricks only after several pints?

John said...

Okay, so I learned that you have to suffer from IKEA and their disposable furniture like we do, and two, you folk built a lighthouse in the middle of the street. No wonder you needed to build two more.

Now that you've let slip that the architect was blind, can we assume he was responsible for placing the lighthouse in the middle of the road?

Lighthouses are brilliant (no pun 'tended), but most of them around here are all automatic now, and monitored by the coastguard. Some of the older ones are now full of shipping memorabilia and pass for museums, and we even have some nearby that you can rent for the weekend.

They admit up front that you are paying for the experience, and not the amenities, and that you actually have to work the light when you sleep there, and yet people do it.

It might be interesting to try, when the weather is dry and I've gotten past the need for modern conveniences...

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


It was a different architect who designed the two land-locked lighthouses other than the blind one. (I jumped the gun a bit there. All will be revealed in Part Two.)

Fleetwood's lighthouses are automatic these days as fact, I don't think there are any lived-in, permanently manned lighthouses left in Britain...although if somebody out there knows different, of course...

Anonymous said...

do we need a part 2...

Brian Hughes said...


Nope...but you're going to get one anyway.

Anonymous said...

how about a nice little piece on roman artifacts found a field in poulton!

Brian Hughes said...

Anonymous...sounds like a good idea...just as soon as said artefacts are back where they belong.