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Lighthouse Keepers.


Trinity House keeper's uniform in the 1900s

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Belle Toute in the 1900s on the left - Longstone in the 1920s on the right

I receive many requests to help with family histories from surfers trying to find an ancestor who had a lighthouse connection. In general terms I only consider myself to be experienced in English and Welsh lighthouses. That means that any lighthouse keeper who worked in a 'main' lighthouse would have worked for Trinity House and therefore Trinity House would, at one time, have the records of all staff.

As far as I am aware they will not divulge details of any keeper who may still be alive. Their really old records have been deposited at the Guildhall in London. The records will cover only the period when the lighthouse was under their control. However I have indexed some of their notices in their publicly available staff magazines and complied my own database called My Trinity House People Index. .

In 1987 the Society of Genealogists published a book called 'Trinity House Petitions'. It is described as 'A calendar of the records of the Corporation of Trinity House, London in the library of the Society of Genealogists'. The records of Trinity House suffered by fire in 1666 and again in 1714 and the remaining records almost totally destroyed by bombing in 1940. Fortunately the Society of Genealogists acquired, in 1934, the surving petitions for assistance for the period 1787 to 1854. The book contains approximately 300 pages of names and details in alphabetical order. At a guess I would say that is about 17,000 names. Quite a useful resource. I have a copy and am prepared to search it for serious researchers. Because of copyright rules I will not scan and send out pages. I will just say 'yes' or 'no' to a given requested name.

Lighthouses not under Trinity House control will come under the local control. For example New Brighton was never a Trinity House light but was operated by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Please bear this in mind when deciding where to start.

The information I append below is on an 'as found' basis and has no real structure to it. I just add the information, whether it be a photo of a grave or an obituary I came across, in the order that it turns up on my door step. However, if you have anything to add then please let me know.

Try this link for Lighthouse Personnel in England, Wales and the Channel Islands (Trinity House) c1790-1911

Try this link for Liverpool's Lighthouse Keepers (Mersey Docks and Harbour Board)

Here are some photographs of unknown lighthouse keepers.

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On the left - John Redfern; keeper of Godrevy Lighthouse. On the right - William Counter; keeper of St. Mary's, Whitley Bay (Thanks to Steve)

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On the left is Janet Raby who was photographed in 1943. She was the female keeper of the Cockersands lighthouse. On the right is an oil painting of the keeper of Cromer. I have shown the label on the reverse just to prove that you cannot always believe what you read. Cromer is in Norfolk.


This letter was written by Thomas Henry Cutting on 8th October 1881 at Inner Farne lighthouse. He posted it from the lighthouse to an adress in London and it concerned a trunk that he had sent ashore. The letter was for sale on eBay.


Gravestone; plot 16; Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Niton, Isle of Wight.

'Sacred to the memory of: -

Charles Tompkins, devoted husband of Margaret and loving father of Peggy, age 47.

Richard T Grenfell, beloved husband of Annie and loving father of Cyril, age 62.

William E Jones, beloved husband of Phoebe and devoted father of Ted and Olive, age 50.

who were killed by enemy action in the performance of their duties at St. Catherine's lighthouse, 1st June 1943.'

The grave has the bronze crest 'Trinitas in Unitate' set into the headstone giving the impression that it was erected by Trinity House. Placed on the grave was an additional piece of stone which; although I could not read it all; appeared to bear an inscription in relation to Grenfell only and was probably placed there by his family. These lighthouse keepers were killed by enemy action in the 1939 to 1945 war and there are plenty of articles written about this episode for those who are interested.


Gravestone; Hoylake cemetery, Wirral.

'Thomas Williams, who departed this life 18 Sep 1894 in his 54th year who for many years was the keeper of the Hoylake and Leasowe Lighthouse'


Gravestone; Hoylake cemetery, Wirral.

'Maurice Benyon, who died at Point Lynas Lighthouse, 11th April 1915, Aged 61.'

The Gravestone is headed with his young son James Lodwick; then followed by Maurice and finally his wife.


Gravestone on the Wirral.

'John Thompson Francis; late Head Keeper Rock Lighthouse, New Brighton, who died 17 April 1902, Aged 56 years'

It is sad to note that also inscribed on the stone is his wife who died 6 days later aged 54 years, and their daughter who died a fortnight earlier aged 18 years. It looks as though the family caught and shared the same illness.


Gravestone; Amlwch cemetery; approximately 10 feet high.

'In loving memory of Thomas Cunningham, 41 Mona Street, Almwch. August 17th 1910. Age 70.'

Thomas was a lighthouse keeper in Shanghai, China for about 30 years.

Gravestone; St. Seiriol, Penmaenmawr cemetery.

'George Gould - Late Principal Keeper of South Stak Lighthouse. Formerly of St. Bees, Cumberland. Died 25th January 1873.

My old friend; John Mobbs; Ex Trinity House lighthouse keeper, sent me the following photo and comments :-


"The grave is that of John Le Feuvre, the Occasional Keeper at the Lighthouse at Sark in the Channel Islands. He was quite a character and never went anywhere without his fox terrier and a shotgun. He used to blast away at the rabbits on the cliff side and the dog would rush off and bring them back. He taught me how to skin and clean a rabbit, but I've never done it since. It just occurred to me to take a look in the little cemetary and there he was, only a few feet away from Sybil Hathaway, the Dame of Sark, herself! "

"The above photo and comment is courtesy of John Trotter, of Brisbane, Australia, who hailed from Teeside and was a TH SAK keeper for 14months (c1966) before deciding to do something else."

The inscription reads 'John Philip Le Feuvre, died 27 May 1979, Age 86 years'


Here lies the body of Thomas Abernethy who died 27th March 1887 whilst carrying out his duties as keeper of the Crosby lighthouse. He is buried in Altcar. My thanks go to Ian, a direct descendant, for sending in this photo. You can read all about Thomas and Crosby lighthouse under my Lost Lighthouses.

pExtract from 1841 Census for Happisburgh High Lighthouse.p

Name and SurnameCondition as to MarriageAgeProfession or OccupationWhere Born
Edward GarwoodHusband70Lighthouse KeeperNorfolk
Sarah GarwoodWife75Not Norfolk
John KnowlesFather38Assistant Lighthouse KeeperNorfolk

Extract from 1841 Census for Happisburgh Low Lighthouse.

Name and SurnameCondition as to MarriageAgeProfession or OccupationWhere Born
James Thatcher-75Lighthouse KeeperNorfolk
Elizabeth Thatcher-55-Norfolk
Charles Thatcher-25Assistant Lighthouse KeeperNorfolk

Extract from 1851 Census for Happisburgh High Lighthouse.

Name and SurnameCondition as to MarriageAgeProfession or OccupationWhere Born
William KelseyHusband51Lighthouse KeeperAsh, Sandwich, Kent
Sarah KelseyWife49-Broadstairs, Kent
John H TrothHusband36Lighthouse KeeperPoole, Dorset

Extract from 1851 Census for Happisburgh Low Lighthouse.

Name and SurnameCondition as to MarriageAgeProfession or OccupationWhere Born
James DillingHusband60Lighthouse KeeperCrediton, Devon
Mary DillingWife60-Oakhampton, Devon
John WatsonHusband22Lighthouse KeeperNewcastle, Northumberland

I have found Sir James Douglass buried in two places.


The first instance is an inscription on a slate tablet placed in the cemetery of Bonchurch Old Church, Isle of Wight - 'In this churchyard lies buried Sir james Nicholas Douglass FRS, Lighthouse builder 1826 - 1898. Re-interned Aug 1913 St. Petrox, Dartmouth'

The second instance is a grave is in the church yard of St. Petrox Church, Dartmouth, Devon. The church obverse facing side of the stone reads :-

'Sacred to the memory of James Nicholas Douglass, Knight, F.R.S. Late engineer in Chief to The Honorable Corporation of Trinity House.'

The reverse town side of the stone reads :-

'Walk as he walked in faith and righteousness;
Strive as he strove the weak and poor to aid;
Seek not thyself but other men to bless;
So win like him a wreath that will not fade.'

A commemorative table in the church reads :-

In proud memory of Sir James Nicholas Douglass, KT, FRS. Died June 19th 1898 age 71.

And of Mary, his wife, died June 22nd 1922 aged 92.

Also of their three beloved grandsons who fell in the Great War .

Percy Cuthbert Douglass Douglass; FLT. Commdr. RN. Died December 10th 1917 at Salonica aged 31.

William Douglass James, Lieut. RGA. Died September 26th 1915 at Loos age 23.

Douglass Charles James, 2nd Lieut S.Staff Reg. Died September 30th 1915 at Loos age 20.


Great Ormes Head in the 1930s