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Interesting England: Somerset - a History of the Lighthouses of Burnham-on-Sea

I love to investigate the history and geography of my home town, my area and my country, England, as well as other parts of Britain.

The Bristol Channel

Burnham-on-Sea is just south of Weston-super-Mare, on the North/South coastline

Burnham-on-Sea is just south of Weston-super-Mare, on the North/South coastline

Victims of a Storm

Wrecked in a storm, Wood that once held Bones

Wrecked in a storm, Wood that once held Bones

Safety at Sea, Safe at Home

One day long, long ago, a fisherman readied his boat to face the treacherous waters of the Bristol Channel. A storm was brewing. He said goodbye to his wife as usual and headed off to meet his crew. The sea never gave up its harvest without a struggle but this trip would be perilous. The tides around Burnham-on-Sea were fickle, the currents surged and swirled and the fisherman had to keep his wits about him, even such an experienced one as he.

His wife was uneasy. The storm increased throughout the afternoon and into the night. The wind whipped up the waves, the spray came over the sea wall close to her house. She feared for her husband and his crew but they had to earn a living, no choice but to go if they were to provide well for their wives and children.

In furious waters, with no guiding light, ships frequently ran aground and were smashed to pieces. She had seen the evidence of a ship’s skeleton on Berrow Beach.

A Solution

She couldn’t just sit and wait for him to come home. Would he come home? Would the following morning bring the knock at the door and the news she dreaded every time a storm churned the waves to grey and brown mud?

How would those men find the shore, how could they turn their boat in the right direction, steer it round the rocks and the mud-banks when the seas tossed them high and drenched them low?

She had to do something.

It might not make a difference but she had to try. She went to the pantry. She took several precious candles from the store, lit one and set it at the upstairs window looking over the sea. It flared well, its light straight and steady; no draughts snuffed it.

Sailing Home by Candlelight

a Candle to Guide the Fishermen Home

a Candle to Guide the Fishermen Home

Success - and a Job!

The candle saved the lives of her husband and his crew; she was asked to continue the practice. To confirm the importance of her actions, she was later paid by the Rev. David Davies.

In 1801 the Reverend built the 'Little Round Tower' after repeated requests to provide a higher light and therefore better aid to navigation in the bay, in particular for the entrance to the River Parrett leading to the then busy port of Bridgwater. It was a circular brick building with a castellated parapet from which a light, probably a coal-burning grate, was exhibited. The building, now a private residence, can still be seen behind St Andrew's Church, close to Burnham sea front.

Following the endeavours of the fisherman’s wife, Trinity House, the lighthouse authority for England and Wales, granted the Rev. Davies a licence to erect his lighthouse and then, in 1813, granted him a 100 year lease. This entitled him to collect dues in the sum of three shillings, from all coastal vessels passing the light. In 1829 the ownership of the lighthouse passed to Trinity House, which left the Rev. Davies £13,681.17s 3d better off!

The Little Round Tower