Medieval Lighhouse Keepers in North Devon.......
........sounds a very dry topic until Chris Preece, returning to Coastwise after a previous talk, brought it to life and gave members a fascinating account of the origination of lighthouses and navigation aids from medieval times.
Hermits and anchorites were the original light-keepers as the need for navigation aids became apparent with the increase in sea traffic due to Crusades and pilgrimages, as well as fishing.
The wealthy monasteries frequently funded the lighthouses, which usually started as chapels, supplemented by taxes on fishermen and visiting traders. At the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, he founded Trinity House to maintain the lighthouse service.
Chris outlined six "type-sites" to give an overview of the the provision of marine guidance - St Nicholas'Chapel in Ilfracombe (the longest-serving light in Britain), Rame Head (Plym Estuary), St Michaels Mount opposite Penzance, Carn Brea near Sennen, St Michael's Chapel in St Ives, and St Nicholas' Island (now Drakes Island) in Plymouth Sound.
There is a common thread in the saint's names, with saints Michael, Nicholas, Anne, and Peter often associated with lights due to their protection for travellers and against storm and shipwreck.
Chris covered our local North Devon sites in some depth, with chapels at St Catherine's Tor near Hartland Quay, St Michael's Chapel overlooking Braunton and the River Caen approach, and St Anne's Chapel on Lundy.
Members were very appreciative of Chris' historian's rigour and easy delivery style to a very interesting subject.
The picture at R show (top), St Nicholas's Chapel overlooking Ilfracombe Harbour. A very small building, this housed a very large family at one point in it;s life, and the structure has been heavily modified over the centuries. Below is the chapel at Rame Head, which we know was a light because a record of payment for "byckenage" (beaconage) exists. This chapel was probably also whitewashed as a day navigation aid. (Pictures courtesy of Chris Preece)