Penarth Dock, South Wales - 150 years - the heritage and legacy  
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Volume Eight - Pre-Victorian to the present day - more aspects - A brief history of Trinity House lightvessels . .

In Volume 4 Chapter 8, on the subject of activities at the Penarth Dock during the 1950's and 60's, I included some images of a lightvessel. You may recall that as a lad of about ten years old I witnessed a variety of ships under repair on the pontoon at Penarth Dock, and one of those ships was the Breaksea lightvessel.

After making contact with Trinity House, Mr Neil Jones, the Public Relations & Records Manager kindly sent me his history of lightvessels which I felt gave a great insight into the work of Trinity House to make the life of our mariners progressively safer for nearly the last two hundred of their amazing 500 year heritage. Thank you Neil for your contribution to the Penarth Dock story.

A Brief History of Trinity House Lightvessels

Origins:- Lightvessels are lighted floating aids to navigation that are moored in deep water or over sands too unsuitable for a lighthouse. They are instantly recognisable thanks to their distinctive shape, red hull and elevated lantern. The first lightvessel station was at the Nore in the Thames Estuary, in 1732, and was simply a couple of ships’ lanterns mounted twelve foot apart on a cross beam upon a single mast. The lightvessel was put on station by two private patent applicants, who saw an opportunity to improve navigation at night by setting up variations on lighting arrangements to make stations more readily identifiable.

The lightvessel, despite some unstable legal footing, gradually found favour once the patent was given by the King to Trinity House, and the lease passed to the original applicants. The lightvessel became a success, and similar vessels were eventually established around the coasts. Lightvessels are placed chiefly on the east coast, where shoals extend well out to sea, and also in the Bristol Channel.

Lights and construction:- Until about 1886, lightvessels were of wood construction. Later they were chiefly composite, followed by iron, and after 1936 the new builds were all of steel. The vessels ranged in size from 84’ to 137’ overall length and from 20’ to 26’ in width. The last Trinity House lightvessel was built in 1967.


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