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Cockersand Lighthouse.


In March 2000 my wife and I visited the ruins of Cockersand Abbey which stand on land projecting into the River Lune estuary on the Lancashire Fylde peninsula.

We saw the current 1847 stone lighthouse on Plover Scar at 834 yards from where we stood. As the Front Light, also called the Low Light, it used to be surrounded by the wattle fencing of a fish trap built by the monks from the Abbey to catch salmon from the river estuary as the tide fell.

However the Rear Light, also known as the High Light, was not to be found but its footprint adjacent to Lighthouse Cottage, where we were standing and next to the car park, confirmed its location on the shoreline and by the time of our second visit in September 2003 my research was complete.

The purpose of both these lights was to guide shipping through the channels of the River Lune into Glasson where sea going boats could reach the port of Lancaster or by connecting to the Lancaster canal could reach Kendal in the Lake District.

This Rear Light was known as Cockersand Lighthouse and was built in 1847 to the plans of Jesse Hartley, the Dock Engineer to the Port of Liverpool (1824 to 1860) and built by the builder Chas Blades at a cost of £ 650. Hartley had designed some very attractive lighthouses for the Port of Liverpool and even Plover Scar is a pleasing design, but Cockersand was purely functional and economical.

It was a square timber framed tower approximately 54 feet tall and supported by two wooden props at each corner. Where the timber props reached the ground they were incorporated into four separate single storey buildings of similar construction to be used as the living accommodation for the keeper. This humble dwelling was simply plastered on the inside with only the living room having an open fire contained in a cast iron box; a simple but necessary fire precaution. The flue to the firebox, which protruded some distance from the roof, was less than useless due to the tower virtually overhead. At a later date a stone cottage was built adjacent to the lighthouse to accommodate the keeper's growing family and it is this cottage that stands today.

The tower was clad with close fitting wooden weather boards up to the balcony, which surrounded the lantern room on three sides. The lantern room was of a similar build and again purely functional with a window for the light and an access door onto the balcony in order to clean the window from the outside. Inside the tower was a spiral staircase with 50 steps leading up to the lantern room.

The fixed white light of 2,000 candle power, which was visible for 9 miles, was originally fuelled by two paraffin lamps with parabolic reflectors and one inch flat wick burners, with candles as a back up. It was converted to electricity in 1947.

In 1953 in order to keep up with modern technology a red painted square steel tubular tower, also 54 feet high, was built as a replacement lighthouse, and a new light placed on the top. The illumination was provided by a pair of 12 volt, 12 watt bulbs in a changing mechanism set between a reflector and a magnifier. An on/off switch in the keeper's cottage manually controlled this simple apparatus but by the late 1950s the light was fully automatic. The steel tower, similar to the current red tubular tower at Glasson Dock, continued until 1985 at the earliest but eventually it too was discontinued and removed as the need for it diminished.

The keepers for both the lighthouses for the first 100 years was the Raby family with Francis Raby in 1847, followed by Henry Raby in the late 1870s and finally Janet Raby and her brother Richard Raby who held the positions until the end of 1945. The second and final family to take the baton was the Parkinson family with Thomas and Beatrice Parkinson and their son Richard. In 1948 Mrs Parkinson obtained notoriety when she appeared in national magazines as the only woman lighthouse keeper in Britain. This is a claim often made from time to time and no doubt her husband, who continued his duties as lighthouse keeper to both lights and retired in 1963, turned a deaf ear to her claims.

The wooden tower was demolished in February 1954 and with it yet another idiosyncratic example our rich and varied heritage of lighthouses was gone forever.