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Leasowe Lighthouse, Wirral, UK

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Wonders of The Wirral
Port Sunlight | Leasowe Lighthouse | Williamson Art Gallery | Birkenhead Priory
Birkenhead Park | The U-Boat Story | Port Sunlight River Park | Hadlow Road Railway Station
Forget Me Not Care Farm | Burton Mere | New Ferry Butterfly Park | Hilbre Islands
Leasowe Lighthouse

Leasowe Lighthouse was built in 1763 and was in use until 1908 as a 'leading light' enabling ships to navigate the entrance to the River Mersey. Situated on the Wirral in the UK, the lighthouse is now a Grade II   Listed Building.

Structure

The lighthouse is brick-built to an innovative double-walled design - the inner wall has the supports for the wooden floors embedded into it, and the outer wall protects the inner wall and wooden structures from the elements. The cavity between the walls would also have helped to retain warmth inside the building, as it does in modern houses.

The building is approximately 110ft (30m) tall. The original wooden spiral staircase was replaced by wrought iron in 1824 for fire safety1. The ground floor was a storeroom for the coal that fuelled the lighthouse lamp (in 1772 the lamp was converted to oil-burning). The first and second floors housed the living rooms, kitchen and bathroom, and the higher floors were bedrooms.

The seventh floor was the Light Room. Here, too, Leasowe Lighthouse featured innovative technology - it was one of the first, if not the first, lighthouse to be fitted with a parabolic reflector lamp so its beam could be seen for many more miles than the light from an unreflected flame.

History

Leasowe Lighthouse began life as one of a pair of lighthouses that were built in Leasowe in 1763 to assist ships with navigating the route through to the port of Liverpool between the sandbanks known as East Hoyle Bank and Burbo Bank. The second lighthouse was destroyed in a storm in 1769 and a replacement was built at Bidston Hill in 1771. Unlike lighthouses with flashing lights that were built to warn ships away from rocks, these lighthouses provided constant beams of light - when the lights were aligned, the ships were in the correct position to proceed safely along the channel between the sandbanks.

Various people were appointed as lighthouse keepers with responsibility for keeping the light burning. The first known Principal Keeper was Alexander Smarley. John Jones was Principal Keeper in the 1850s. He was dismissed in 1854 'for intoxication and insubordination' and his wife Ann was appointed as Principal Keeper instead. She continued in the role for ten years after her husband died - Ann Jones died in service in 1867.

The last lighthouse keepers at Leasowe were Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Williams. Thomas was Principal Keeper from 1892 until his death in 1894 from tuberculosis. Mary took over as Principal Keeper, and she was granted the same salary and pension rights as her husband had been given. She was assisted by two of her daughters, Rose and Mary Beth2. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1908 as the channel between the sandbanks had changed shape3. Mary Williams stayed on for a year as caretaker and then ran a café in the ground floor of the lighthouse, serving sightseers from the seaside resorts that had been established in the area. She died in 1935 and the café closed.

Leasowe Lighthouse fell into disrepair as it was unoccupied for more than 50 years. A developer's plans to turn the building into a nightclub galvanised local support for the lighthouse. The Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse group was established in 1989. A refurbishment took place and funds were raised for the ongoing maintenance of the building.

Visiting

When the lighthouse was built, it was classed as 'remote and eerie' because there was only access to it for the lighthouse keepers. In the 21st Century, Leasowe Lighthouse can be reached by car from the M53 motorway. It is situated in the North Wirral Coastal Park, which is accessed via the Wirral Circular Trail and National Cycle Route 56, so it is now a well-known Wirral landmark.

Until 2020, abseiling and fundraising events took place regularly throughout the year. There was a café and shop in the ground floor room and the lighthouse was open for guided tours on various Sundays. The first and second floor rooms contain exhibitions about the history of the lighthouse and the restorations since 1989. The third floor contains the archives of the Friends of Leasowe Lighthouse. The Light Room is also able to be visited during a tour when the lighthouse is open.

During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/21, events were not able to take place. However, visitors to Leasowe Lighthouse were provided with a code to access a virtual tour (which is particularly helpful to wheelchair users and others who would not be able to climb the 130 stairs inside the lighthouse during the physical tour) via the Internet. There is also a live webcam on the top of the lighthouse providing views of the sandbanks day and night.

1By the 1980s, the metal staircase had deteriorated. A new one was made to the same design as the bottom step. As the lighthouse is narrower at the top than the bottom, some of the bricks had to be cut away to accommodate the larger modern steps. 2The Williams' had eight children, and the youngest had been born in 1892.3A 'training wall' or 'revetment' was installed in the Mersey in 1909/10, creating a larger channel through to Liverpool in a deeper part of the river.

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