August 15 – Lighthouses of the Bristol Channel

“When is a lighthouse not a lighthouse?” This question was put to a packed meeting of The Friends of The Museum of Somerset by their charismatic speaker, John Page. (The answer, of course, is when it’s a harbour light.) The Bristol Channel has a great variety of lighthouses, ranging from the traditional ones such as Watchet, to the far more modern such as the one at Hinkley Point.

BurnhamOnSeaWatchet Low Light

The light at Ilfracombe, situated on a chapel, was the earliest in the Bristol Channel, dating from the Middle Ages. There has been a lighthouse on Flat Holm since 1737 and John pointed out some of the difficulties in manning an offshore light. Coal had to be shipped from the mainland each month for the fire that provided the light, as were provisions for the keeper and his family. In the 1930s the weather became so bad that no supplies could be landed between mid-November and late-January and an SOS had to be sent as supplies of food had run out. Incidentally, the Flat Holm light is now solar powered, automated and unmanned as are the majority of lights around the coasts of Britain.