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Home <> Lifestory Library <> Explore By Location <> <> <> Bardsey Lighthouse - Part 1

  Contributor: Harold TaylorView/Add comments

This is the story of professional lighthouse keeper who was stationed at Bardsey for three years.

The District controlling the Bardsey lighthouse is Holyhead on Anglesey in North Wales, almost as far from home in West Sussex as I could get, wrote Harold Taylor. It was August 1958 and if I left home on a train about 7.30 in the evening I got to Holyhead about the same time next morning.

I had no idea where the depot was, and being reluctant to waste money on a taxi, wandered along until I eventually came to the place. I was first in as usual. I had been given an address where I could get my groceries and had sent off an order for them to be delivered, but they had not yet arrived.

I was greeted well by the depot staff and found them pleasant people. I also got to know the wharf bo'son. Eventually the crews arrived, they were a motley lot. Mainly Irishmen who had come off the night ferry still brimming over with the drink they had consumed. There were several new boys there as well, who like me had all been promoted about the same time, but with varying lengths of service.

There was one old hand too. He was older than me, and had been the Gunner for North Stack, a Fog Signal station which had been closed down. He had been absorbed into the service and given the same rank as myself although he had something like 25 years in the job.

The Lighthouses to be serviced on this relief were ourselves which was the closest for the west bound relief, then The Smalls, Skokholm, and South Bishop. On the north bound relief was The Skerries and Morecombe Bay Light Vessel. Two other local lighthouses were also serviced but were done locally. Holyhead Breakwater, where they walked about a mile along its length, and the other was done by road, which was South Stack.

The ship which was to carry out the relief was T.H.V. Argus, this was the depot vessel. It was alongside being loaded in the morning when our gear was put aboard, but later on it was lying out in the harbour for when we were to board it at night.

During the evening I went to a local cinema called the Cybi. It was a bit of a 'bug hutch' type of place, but served well for the purpose. After this I went into a pub, but did not meet any of the others, which was just as well for most arrived in the state you could only describe as incapable. There had been fights among the Irish, even brother to brother. That is the nature of that bloody race.

And so we set sail, what time I am not certain. It is about 30 miles to Bardsey, and we arrived in the dark, and were loaded into the launch and motored onto the beach, or Cafn as the landing place is called. A narrow inlet between rocks that would be covered at high water. There was no harbour or jetty.

The boat's crew getting into the water in waders and we were carried in on their shoulders. Oil drums dropped into the water to float ashore. I was relieving the senior hand George Floyd a Dubliner, although his father; now dead, had been English. He lived with his sister in that city, so perhaps his mother was also dead. The stores were all carted to the lighthouse by the local farmer Will Evans. This was about half a mile from where we had landed.

I was only to do one month this first trip, so as to get in my normal pattern of relief. The P.K. Arthur Watts, was a pleasant enough fatherly figure, but Hugh Jones the other keeper was a bit weird. An ex-corporal in the Welsh Guards, but one was surprised to realise so. Arthur had been backwards and forward to the island several times over the years. Whether by his instigation; or even before his time, there was a sharing system going on.

Tea was communally provided as was sugar, but? Midday the cook of the day did the usual service and provided dinner except for the meat, which he cooked for you. There being large gardens at the lighthouse, fresh vegetables no problem, if you had a garden under cultivation, which I had not. The cook was expected to provide a large milk pudding each day, which is alright, if you come prepared. Fortunately, the local farmer, who acted as official postman for the island made a weekly trip to the mainland; weather permitting, and could replace your stocks or purchase anything you were short of.

Another form of sharing was eggs and chicken, however, there were conditions attached to this. I would not be allowed to share till next summer, but I would be expected to feed and clean them out. This came about because the chickens were fed with meal bought by funds from visitors. They were also fed with household scraps of course, but not entirely. The visitor situation was a bit sparse. There was a Guest House proprietor, who also owned a substantial open boat in which he took trippers round the bay from Aberdaron.

Once a week, weather permitting he would make a trip out to the island. The visitors, who numbered up to 30 would walk up to the lighthouse, where we would provide a cup of tea. So these days, we would all lend a hand. It provided very meagre returns, because including the tea our takings never seemed to average more than 6d per person. Whether they considered that Capt.

Jones's fare included a trip to the lighthouse; or perhaps tea, I do not know. So this small income was placed in a jar and saved to pay the farmer when he brought across the chicken feed. Likewise the eggs were stored in Isinglass for the winter or when the birds went off lay.
Besides the keepers there were a few residents on the island, which compared to the turn of the century, when there were about 110 people. Quite a turn around.

There was Will and his wife Nellie and their daughter Jane, and a son Ernest. There was Eddie Roberts a single man, who had taken on one of the farms, and eventually married Jane. There was also Brenda Chamberlain, who was living alone and was reputed to be a Welsh artist and poet. Bert Panek was a Polish displaced person, who was caretaker of a house rented by a Professor at Liverpool University.

There was a Bird Observatory, manned about six months of the year by Reg Arthur. There was one other of the 10 farmsteads occupied periodically by a family Griffith, the father Tom had the official post round of the island, although the resident farmer usually brought it. Tom had a son Guto who more often than not did the delivery in a very leaky 10 foot dinghy with an outboard engine. This usually failed half way across, and he finished up using a raincoat as a sail.

In addition to these there would be numerous visitors, mainly staying at the Observatory. There was another family that rented a house but only visited in the summer. He considered himself an author, and had appeared with small parts in films, John Underwood. I believe I also saw him on T.V.

My first week on the lighthouse, became rather strange. I mentioned that we shared? Now it has always been my habit when drinking tea, to have a second cup, but when drinking coffee I do not. During this first week there had been no comment, but the second week when I went from the dining table after dinner to get a second cup of tea, the pot had been drained, so I re-boiled the kettle and scalded the leaves.

The next day I found the pot empty, so I re-made tea. Nothing was said. The third day both pot and kettle were empty, and I was beginning to get some sort of message. I therefore made the tea with my own stores, and not the shared containers.

The following day, the fire had been drawn so there was no heat to boil the kettle. Still no one said anything. It seemed that the problem was milk. This was supplied free from the farm. The P.K. was of the habit on his 'day off' to go up to the farm for supper, and when he returned brought back a bottle of milk. This was the milk we used until it ran out. Then we used our own until supper night again. It seemed that someone was against me using two cups worth of milk at lunch time, although there was no knowing how much was being used at other times by other people during their watch day or night. A most peculiar situation, especially as no one seemed prepared to make a comment and I was not going to open it.

On my next day off, which always commenced or ended with a visit to the farm, I brought up the subject and asked if I could purchase some milk for myself, they would not hear of it, but told me I could call and collect milk everyday if I liked. This I did and became invited to regular evening suppers on my day off like the P.K. In fact it was only myself or he who collected the milk as Hughie never moved himself that far. It was about a mile there.

I think it was he who was causing the situation, I know he could not be trusted by anyone on the station in regards to his skill work wise. I am certain it was not the P.K. because when he was later transferred he gave me nearly all his gear he could not take with him. The milk story had another tale later.

I suppose I had gone off on that relief during September, and I only did the one month going ashore for one month to return and pick up the regular turn. I had replaced a senior hand who had been promoted P.K. to Beachy Head, a chap by the name of Arthur Burgess.

So when I returned I fell in with the double turn with Arthur Watts, after storing up at the depot he invited me home and I spent the evening with his family, but that was not to last long for during the turn he got a transfer and went ashore on the Xmas relief. He was being transferred to Dungeness Lighthouse, where he stayed until he retired. In the meantime I had changed my food supplier.

The address I had been given transpired to be the most expensive in Holyhead, he was an ex-steward of the company, who had opened up a provisions shop in a post office near the depot. I settled with the local Co-op. They had a very good system there, all the store boxes were collected by the shop and packed for you, so you had very little handling of the goods, other than the meat which of course came down late so it could be put in the ships refrigerator last thing.

My eyes were opened up to many of the wild things the drunken Irish got up to. On one occasion having arrived at the depot and found it locked, they had broken in and the police called in. On another there had been a fight, during it one brother had kicked in the eye of another, but I do not recall the out come of this other than he did not stay with Trinity much longer and was next heard of in the Merchant Navy.

Continued in part2
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