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1898 - Before the fire and after.
One of the Mersey lighthouses that very rarely gets a mention is Crosby lighthouse, sometimes referred to as Hightown lighthouse or Little Crosby lighthouse. On the northern edge of Liverpool Bay there is the village of Hightown, situated by the mouth of the River Alt and close to the busy Altcar ranges. The first Crosby lighthouse was situated almost on the shore, in the middle of sand dunes, about ¼ mile from the railway station at Hightown, north of Crosby.
The lighthouse was built as a substitute for the Formby lighthouse but a change in the direction of the Queen's Channel made it useless. Built ½ miles SSW from the Formby lighthouse it was a wooden flat faced shaft like structure, in width one fifth of its height and shored up either side. It was constructed under the supervision of Captain Denham under the authority of the Liverpool Dock Committee. It was first lit on 10th October 1839 when it showed a fixed red light at 96 feet above High Water and was visible for 16 miles.
Captain Denham did submit a plan for an iron building, which could be moved to another site in the space of a month if necessary, but nothing came of it.
It was replaced in 1846 with a lighthouse designed by Jesse Hartley, Chief Engineer to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and built in the sand dunes about ½ mile NE by E from the first Crosby lighthouse. It consisted of a square brick tapering tower 74 feet high with an iron veranda near the top. Above the veranda was a wooden lantern room making a total height of the structure of 95 feet. This and the attached keeper's cottage were painted white. It showed a fixed bright light for a range of 12 miles.
It exhibited a fixed red light from 2nd November 1847 until 16th October 1851 when the light was extinguished to coincide with the relighting of the Formby lighthouse in the same year and then was relit on 6th October 1856 when the Formby lighthouse light was finally extinguished.
A fierce north westerly gale on 2nd February 1898 blew in the windows of the lantern room causing the five strong mirror lamps to explode with the burning oil setting fire to the wooden lantern room and floor. The burning dripping oil set fire to each floor in succession. Despite the close proximity to the sea, no water, except the domestic supply, was available to extinguish the fire and within 15 minutes the lighthouse resembled a blast furnace. The lighthouse was totally destroyed and three people lost their lives. A temporary light was instituted but finally discontinued in July 1898.
The first lighthouse keeper was John Christopherson who was initially appointed keeper of Formby lighthouse upon the death of the previous keeper in 1836 and transferred to Crosby in 1839. David Lloyd who continued until the light was decommissioned in 1851 followed him.
When Crosby light was relit in 1856 the newly appointed keeper was Thomas Abernethy. Thomas was born in Stromness in 1818 and was an experienced mariner before he came to Liverpool, serving as mate on board the Victoria in 1842. A seaman's ticket was issued to him in Liverpool on 9th June 1845 and he gained employment with the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board on 23rd June of the same year as a seaman on board a lightship at a wage of £ 2:10:00 per month. By 1851 he had been promoted master at a salary of £ 90.
He took a drop in wages in 1856 to come ashore and take the post of Keeper of the Crosby Light and Superintendent of the Formby Lifeboat at a salary of £ 84, although this was supplemented by an allowance of £ 25 towards the keeping of a pony in order to get himself from the mouth of the Alt where the lighthouse stood to the lifeboat shed in Formby. He gained a considerable reputation for saving life and there is an amusing (in hindsight) account of the MD & HB first proposing that Thomas Abernethy should be awarded £ 2 for saving the crew of the barque Hindoo which was wrecked on the shore in 1862. It was then moved that the reward be increased to £ 5 but others argued that this was a job for the Humane Society and, anyway, that Mr Abernethy did not do anything "very meritorious" and poor old Thomas seems to have got nothing for his pains.
His daughter Mary was known as the Grace Darling of the Mersey for her assistance with the lifeboat. Thomas died at his post on 27th March 1887 shortly after lighting up. A glowing obituary appeared in the Liverpool Echo two days later indicating that he was "an intelligent authority and genial instructor and advisor in matters relating to yachting and pleasure navigation among the mercantile youth of Liverpool".
Edward Jones and his wife succeeded Thomas. They had to battle a major fire in the lantern after which the burners were reduced in number and ran at a lower pressure replaced. Robert Buckley succeeded Edward Jones in 1896.
It was Buckley, who had previously served on the light vessels and had been an Assistant Keeper at Lower Hoylake lighthouse, together with his wife; a lady visitor and a dog, that perished in the Crosby lighthouse fire of 1898. Amongst the charred bones were found the remains of his watch, a gun and a revolver; not all standard lighthouse keeper equipment.
My thanks go to Ian, a direct descendant of Thomas, for the additional information on the lives of the keepers.