A Potted History of the Mersey Lightvessels


Research on this project was funded as a Local Heritage Initiative project of the Lottery Heritage Fund
c.1811Liverpool Corporation Docks Committee, consider a light to mark the entrance to the River.
July 1812Corporation request the opinions of interested parties as to discontinuing the light on Point Linus (now Lynas) and substituting a floating light at the Northwest station, off East Hoyle sandbank. Replies were considered and Point Lynas light retained but it was decided to add a floating light buoy as and aid to navigation.
Sept 1813An oak built Dutch Galliot (a flat bottomed cargo vessel) of about 90 tons was purchased for £525 and suitable alterations commenced to make her fit for purpose. 1st Dec1813 named the ‘GOOD INTENT’ she was established at the Northwest Station, some 5 miles off Hilbre Island. Considerable early difficulties were encountered with cables parting and lamps blowing out (3 single wick oil lamps hoisted up the mast in a wooden frame). In spite of this she proved indispensable to trade and served until 1836 when she was withdrawn and sold for £21. It was soon realised that a relief lightship would be required and this duty was first undertaken by ‘AURORA’ which was later converted to a buoy tender and survey vessel.
1817MILO, built by Messrs Peter Quirke, and proved much superior to the ‘GOOD INTENT’.
1820COMET, launched by Messrs Humble & Hurry.
1833NORTH STAR built at a cost of £1833. A New channel (Queens) was in use for larger vessels, instead of Horse and Rock Channels.
1834Formby lightship established, by MILO or NORTH STAR.
1835METEOR launched, she was a superb vessel and her record was a great testament to the skill and craftsmanship of her builders Messrs Humble & Milchrist. During violent storms in 1839 her moorings parted and although a large number of fine vessels were lost in the bay she succeeded in making the river under her own sail. She served as a lightship for 45 years and was finally broken–up (scrapped) in 1916.
1839QUEEN, launched. L71ft. B15ft. Displmt.81tons. Cost £2,800 +Lanterns etc. £960. (still in use as a LUMP in 1880)
1840ALBERT, launched.
1840Crosby Station established.

**All the vessels to date were built of oak, which was considered the most suitable material.**

1841About this time the question of building vessels of ‘IRON’ was raised. It was generally met with disapproval by some of the foremost experts of the day. The Dock Trustees nevertheless decided to try this relative new material for the construction of their next vessel.
1842The first Iron lightship in the world, ‘PRINCE’, built by Messrs. Laird Bros. of Birkenhead. Length 99 ft, Breadth 21ft, Depth 13.5ft, Displacement 200 tons, Mean draft of 9ft.
1843PRINCE, was placed on the Northwest Station and after a severe winter any doubts about her seaworthiness and general practicability were displaced. She was later converted to a Wreck marking vessel (1896) and finally sold for Scrap in 1926.
1850TOBIN, built by Vernons of Liverpool, L.98ft. B.21ft. D.11.5ft. Displmt.200tons. After several years of Iron ship experience proved their advantages over oak built vessels, the dock trusties decided that in future all lightships would be built of iron.
1858Mersey Docks and Harbour Board take over the running of the docks from the City Council.
1866COMET (2), built by Potter and Co. Positioned at Formby Station. Sold in 1950.
1870PRINCE (2), built by R& J Evans of Birkenhead.
1873SIRIUS and ORION, Built by Potter& Hodgkinson, Liverpool...
The BAR lightship COMET placed on station, marking the start of the main deepwater channel previously marked only by a Bell Boat Buoy. The N.W. Station was also moved, to a position 7 Miles west of the Bar Light.
1874ORION, on station at the Bar until 1880.
1880METEOR, converted to Wreck watch vessel. Note: She passed a Lloyd’s special survey in 1910 and was still employed in 1913 in good condition and fit for further years of service.
1880PLANET (1), launched, by R&J. Evans of Birkenhead, positioned at Liverpool Bar.
1885STAR and ALARM (1), launched.
1886MARS, built at Runcorn for the Upper Mersey Station (Otterspool) - Garston Channel.
1893Bar L/V. moved 6 cables, from original position to be aligned with Formby and Crosby L/Vs
1894After 44 years in the Liverpool Bay, TORBIN was sold to the North British Railway Co. and in 1913 was still serving as a Lightship for Silloth Harbour, Westmorland.
1895COMET, sunk at Crosby Station.
1898COMET, sunk at Crosby Station.
1899After 57 years in the Liverpool Bay, PRINCE (2) was withdrawn from service and converted to a Wreck-watching vessel.
1909COMET, sunk at the Crosby Station.
1911Elders & Fyffe’s vessel ‘PACUARE ‘rammed and sank the Northwest Lightship. (PLANET 1). The lightship was raised but declared a total loss. (Sunk 22nd. Aug.1911)
1912MARS, converted for use as a Sand Barge.
1912ALARM (2), launched built by Hawthorn &Co. (Leith, Scotland). Cost £12,165.
1913Lightship ALARM(2), with a 40,000 candle power light, positioned at the Bar station. She was built to replace the lightship, which was run down and sunk by a steamer. At this time the latest lightship then owned by the MDHB was built in 1885 and many new developments were incorporated in the ALARM (2). She was fitted with a 200watt radio station having a range of 20 miles enabling direct communication with the dock office.
1915ORION , converted to Wreck-watching vessel.
Note. Renamed MARKER in 1934, as Orient Line required the name for a passenger liner.
1921Formby Station PLANET (1) run down and sunk by Elders and Fyffe’s vessel‘GREENBRIER’. She was outward bound from Garston; all the six lightship crew members were rescued.
1923NORTH WESTERN - BAR - FORMBY - CROSBY lightships all had their BLACK Hulls repainted in RED, and their names written in Large WHITE letters.
1927L/v. MARS, previously converted to a barge was broken-up for scrap.
1927The Northwest light vessel STAR, was removed and replaced by a mechanical bell beacon.
Note. During the1914 – 1918 war German U-Boats used the STAR as a rendezvous. (Star’s crew could hear the submarine engines pulsing beneath them). She was secretly towed away by the Admiralty to circumvent this happening.
1931Steamer RUTLAND, outward bound from Manchester, hit the Formby lightship PLANET (1) which sustained damage to her hull and upper works. She was replaced by ORION as relief Lightvessel.
1932The Liverpool Stipendiary (Mr, Stuart Deacon) reserved decision in the case in which Capt. Robert Cecil Smith, master of the steamship Rutland of Leith was accused of carelessly permitting his ship to strike against the Formby lightship PLANET, on Dec 29, last and failing to stand-by (wait) until he had ascertained that the lightship was not in need of assistance.
1939Crosby lightship COMET(2) broke adrift from her station in a strong westerly gale. The replacement lightship SIRIUS was placed in position. At a subsequent BOT inquiry, April1939, the MDHB informed the President that the cause had been traced to the working-out (removal) of a locking pin in the swivel-pin nut of the chain cable which moored the vessel They were now adopting a different type of swivel and also stated that the lightships were fitted with two spare anchors and cables, two lifeboats, four lifefloats, four lifebuoys and six life jackets. The New Brighton and Hoylake lifeboats and one of their own tenders were always available in an emergency situation.
1942STAR, run down and sunk at the Formby station on 7th Sept.1942, by ‘EMPIRE SNIPE’. Formby Station Lightship withdrawn and replaced by a Light float Buoy.
1942Northwest Lightship, repositioned approx. 25 miles seaward from her original peacetime position and renamed WESTERN.
1947Lightship WESTERN (Planet) which was placed 25 miles beyond the Mersey Bar during the war to guide mariners into the swept channel, was towed out to the NorthWest station to act again with the Formby, Crosby and Bar Lightships, she was equipped with a flashing light which could be seen 10 miles away in clear weather.
1949NORTH WEST Lightship withdrawn and replaced by Light float buoy.
1950COMET (2), withdrawn from Crosby Station, replaced by Light float buoy. Sold for a reputed £1.00.
Note.She survived as RN.Association Club ship at Morecambe until scraped at Barrow in 1956.
1951Tug Edgerton delivered Christmas Hampers to the Bar Lightship and the storeship STAR anchored at the Sloane near to the entrance of the Manchester Ship Canal.
1956Fire broke out on the Bar Lightship (ALARM) undergoing repairs in Clarence Dock. Six appliances attended the fire, located amongst timber stored in a ballast hold. Reserve Lightship PLANET(1) (1880) in used as a replacement lightship.
1958MDHB decided to commission a new lightship for the Mersey Bar as a replacement for the ALARM (built 1912). After 45 years service she was in urgent need of major repairs, as these would prolonged her working life for only seven years, it was decided that Philips of Dartmouth would be offered the contract to deliver a new vessel similar to the 25 vessels already designed and operated by Trinity House.
May 1960The new Bar Lightship, named PLANET, was launched by Philip & Son, Ltd. at Dartmouth. L.133ft. D.26.5ft. D.12.5ft. Cost £165,000.
Oct. 1960PLANET (2) positioned on station at Liverpool Bar. (Note.Planet1 renamed Mersey No.44 ).
May 1962Light ships ALARM and Mersey No. 44 (Ex Planet1), left Liverpool for breaking up. Sold Pounds of Portsmouth for £4000.
Aug 1965.Bar lightship PLANET (2), withdrawn from station for a month repaired at Cammel-Lairds. She was replaced by a lightship hired from Trinity House.
Aug 1966The Bar Lightship moved to a new position southwest of its previous location, following completion of the scheme to deepen the channel to a minimum of 28 ft. at low water, and to straighten the approach channel to the Port of Liverpool.
June 1971Talks commenced between the MDHC and Trinity House over the possible transfer of responsibility for some lighthouses and the Mersey Bar lightship.
Sept. 1972Bar Lightship PLANET, replaced by a LANBY BUOY. (Large Automatic Navigation Buoy)
Dec. 1972PLANET towed to Holyhead following transfer to Trinity House fleet and given No.23.
April 1973Trinity House assumes responsibility for all approaches to the River Mersey.
1993 to Date.LANBY Buoy replaced by Auto Buoy No2 L.55ft. Light power 3750 candelas.
Research on this project was funded as a Local Heritage Initiative project of the Lottery Heritage Fund


Between 1813 and 1972:- 19 Lightships were to serve in the River Mersey or Liverpool Bay.
  1. 1813 Good Intent
  2. 1817 Milo
  3. 1820 Comet (1)
  4. 1833 North Star
  5. 1835 Meteor
  6. 1839 Queen
  7. 1840 Albert
  8. 1842 Prince (1) — First iron Lightvessel in the World.
  9. 1850 Tobin
  10. 1866 Comet (2)
  11. 1870 Prince (2)
  12. 1873 Sirius
  13. 1873 Orion
  14. 1880 Planet (1)
  15. 1885 Star
  16. 1885 Alarm (1)
  17. 1886 Mars
  18. 1912 Alarm (2) — Built at Leith.
  19. 1960 Planet (2) — Built at Dartmouth.
    N.B. Number in brackets indicates first or second vessel of this name.


Summary
From 1813 to 1960 a total of 18 Lightships were built for the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board (excluding the Good Intent which was purchased as a Dutch galliot and converted to a lightship)
2 sunk due to collision by merchant ship.
1 sunk three times and on each occasion raised and repaired. (COMET in 1895, 1898, 1909,)
6 sold out of service.
16 built on Merseyside.
As an example:
In 1913 Total 11 Vessels
7 as lightships
2 as watch vessels
2 as work barges.
There were also manned lightships in the Upper Mersey that were operated by the MDHB.

L/v MARS was anchored by Otterspool from 1886 until 1910, when the station was abolished. Also an unknown vessel was anchored off Tranmere.

The Upper Mersey Navigation Trust was formed 1910.

L/v Rival was anchored off the Weston Mersey Locks in the 1920s. (Manchester/River Weaver entrance)

Unmanned stations were:
G.R. Jubb, off Ince (Near Stanlow), Vencedora off Hale Point, Arthur Sinclair off Ditton.

Other lightships thereabouts at the turn of the century were the Defiance, Lyon, Shamrock and Adventure.




AcknowledgementsPublications
C.J.M. Carter.Liverpool Daily Post and Echo
K. Gane.Sea Breezes Magazine (J.McRoberts)
G.J. Holden A.R.I.C.S.Safety at Sea Magazine.
E.James.Trinity House Magazine “Flash” 1973.
A. Jarvis.Leading Lights Magazine. 1995.
M. Mahon.Shipping Today & Yesterday. 09/2002.
G. Medlicott.Shipbuilding & Shipping Record. 10/1960.
C. Michael.Lancashire & Cheshire Historical Society. 10/1945.
P. Moran.“Mersey” Journal of MDHC Trust.