Wyre Heal

A Local History of the Wirral Peninsula

Chapter 5

Wirral Lighthouses

The coast of the Wirral Peninsula was once protected by seven lighthouses.  Today, only five survive and are, sadly, no longer operational. They are situated at Hoylake, Moreton, Bidston, New Brighton and Whitby.  The additional lights were at Hoylake and Leasowe of which little or nothing now remains.

The history of coastal lights in the Wirral area is not very well documented.  There is the possibility that the monks of Hilbre Island may have tended a light about 1230 on the island.  There is no concrete evidence of this except for reference that the Earl of Chester paid the monks ten shillings per year to tend the "Lamps of St Mary".  It is not even known if these lamps had anything to do with maritime navigation.

The earliest reference to a coastal light is of a lightship off Hoylake in 1759 but the ship most probably will have been in operation before this date.  Also, there were numerous “perches” which consisted of wooden poles driven into the sand or ground to warn mariners of the existence of rocks or reefs but these were rarely illuminated.

The earliest reference to purpose built lighthouses on the Wirral coastline is in an application for an Act of Parliament made by Liverpool Council dated 1761 for the erection of four lights or lighthouses “for the safe passage of ships to an anchorage at Hoyle Lake.”  Two of the lights were to be situated at what is now Hoylake and two at Leasowe.

Hoylake Lighthouses

The two Hoylake Lights were named “Upper Lake” and “Lower Lake” Lights.  The lower light was constructed out of timber, was eight metres high and may have been designed to be movable.  It was later rebuilt in brick in 1833, again in 1865 and now forms part of the foundations of the old “Winter Gardens” cinema (now closed) next to the Lifeboat Station. The Upper Light was also rebuilt in 1866 and is still in existence.  The lighthouse now forms part of a private dwelling house in Valencia Road, Hoylake.

Leasowe Lighthouses

At Leasowe there were also two lighthouses.  They were originally called the “Lower Mockbeggar Light” and the “Upper Mockbeggar Light”.  The Lower Light was washed away by storm and tidal actions seven years after being constructed and little is known about it’s appearance or construction.  The Upper Light is still in existence in the form of Leasowe Lighthouse.

The building is circular, 34 metres tall and is said to have it’s foundations built on bales of cotton which came from a ship that foundered nearby. Due to the marshy nature of the surrounding land, the bales of cotton were used to soak-up water whilst the foundations were laid. The lighthouse originally possessed 130 wooden steps, which gave access to the seven floors.  A fire at another lighthouse lead to the wooden steps being replaced with cast iron ones in 1824.  The light was coal fired and converted to oil burning in 1772.  It remained an oil burner for the remainder of it’s operational life and last shone on 5th July 1908.

After it’s lighthouse duties ceased, the building was used as a tea room operated by the former lighthouse keeper, Mrs Mary Williams, who was the only official female lighthouse keeper in that period.  After her death in 1935, the building became derelict.  In the early 1990'’, The Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse was formed.  They raised funds to have the old cast iron staircase replaced and the building is open to the public on selected weekends.  Leasowe Lighthouse is the oldest, surviving brick-built lighthouse in Europe.

 Bidston Lighthouse

The operation of the Lower Mockbeggar Light was taken over by the Bidston Light, situated on Bidston Hill two miles inland, where a temporary wooden structure had been constructed for the testing of reflectors for use in lighthouses.  Prior to the building of the Bidston Lighthouse an Act of Parliament had to be obtained due to the proposed site being more than one mile inland.  The light was installed in an octagonal stone tower 22 metres high and was built in 1771.  This tower was replaced by a more modern building in 1872, which was equipped with a powerful “Dioptic” light and operated until the 9th October 1913.   The 1872 lighthouse is still in existence today and is part of the Proudman Tidal Observatory, which predicted tide times and heights for locations all over the world.  At the Institute, an analogue computing machine was built to calculate the predictions but today this function is accomplished by computers housed in a purpose built modern complex situated next to the old observatory and lighthouse.

Perch Rock Lighthouse

 The Perch Rock Lighthouse in New Brighton is dealt with in detail in the section entitled “The Black Rock” but it’s details are repeated here for the sake of continuity.

Off the northern tip of the Peninsula, is a sandstone reef that has always been a hazard to shipping using the entrance to the River Mersey.  Prior to the building of the lighthouse, the location of the reef was marked by a wooden post or “perch” (hence the name given to the lighthouse), which had a beacon in the shape of a wood burning fire. 

Perch Rock Lighthouse was designed by John Foster and was based on John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse of 1756.  The foundation stone was laid on 8th June 1827. Whilst construction was in progress, temporary floating lights were used to warn shipping of the reef.  The lower ten metres of the lighthouse are made from solid granite, dovetailed and doweled with iron bars. There are three levels for accommodation and storage beneath the red and white revolving light. It had an elevation of sixty-three feet and was visible for thirteen miles. The outside covering of the granite is “Pozzalano”, a form of volcanic rendering said to be harder than the stone itself.

The lighthouse was completed on 1st March 1830, and two keepers took up residence, but by June that year the need for another keeper was fulfilled. The light was powered by Sperm Whale oil throughout it’s life although, in 1838, experiments with Acetylene gas were unsuccessful.

Originally named the Rock Light, the lighthouse has been called Black Rock Light, Rock Perch Light, and it wasn’t until 1870 that the name Perch Rock Light became commonly used.

William Makin - One of the last keepers of Perch Rock Lighthouse

By 1925 the keepers were made redundant when the operation of the light was made fully automatic.

The light shone for the last time in 1973 and the lighthouse was sold to Norman Kingham, a local businessman and owner of the adjacent fort. He installed mains electricity and converted the building into a honeymoon retreat. The lighthouse was sold again, along with the fort to Douglas Darroch in January 1997.

Whitby Lighthouse

 The final lighthouse is located at Whitby Locks, Ellesmere Port.  The main function of the light was to guide boats into the Shropshire Union Canal’s dock complex (now the Boat Museum) from the River Mersey.  It was designed and built by Thomas Telford, the renowned canal and civil engineer, in 1829.  It operated successfully until the Manchester Ship Canal reached Ellesmere Port in 1891.  The Ship Canal cut off the direct access to the Mersey at Ellesmere Port (although access locks were built opposite the dock entrance) and the lighthouse became redundant.  It is now a listed building and is situated on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal adjacent to the Boat Museum’s lower basin.

Whilst on the subject of Ellesmere Port and the Shropshire Union Canal.  The town’s original name was Netherpool but was changed to the Port of Ellesmere (and later, Ellesmere Port) when the “Shroppie” (previously known as the Ellesmere Canal) was constructed which allowed goods brought from Ellesmere in Shropshire to be distributed more widely.

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Updated - 24-09-09