BNC Text K7E

Oral history project: interview. Sample containing about 4010 words speech recorded in educational context

2 speakers recorded by respondent number C655

PS5PW X m (No name, age unknown, historian, Interviewer) unspecified
PS5PX Ag5 m (George, age 81, retired lighthouse keeper, Interviewee) unspecified

1 recordings

  1. Tape 125301 recorded on 1983-05-30. LocationUnknown () Activity: Interview for oral history project Interview, reminiscences

Undivided text

(PS5PW) [1] Monday thirtieth May nineteen eighty three.
[2] You've forty one years past service in the lighthouse board George.
George (PS5PX) [3] Yes that's correct.
[4] I was forty one years and several months in the lighthouse service.
(PS5PW) [5] Now could you differentiate between the the various types of lighthouses?
George (PS5PX) [6] Well there's a lot of there's the land stations which are near towns or and then there's the isl there were the island stations and then the rock stations.
[7] Island stations the families were on them.
[8] All the families were on for except the three weeks holiday during the year they were marooned on these islands all the time.
[9] And the rock stations of course there were various types of rocks such as Skerrymor and Bass Rock and Bell Rock and and er quite a few rocks stations.
[10] So I think we had twelve twelve rock stations er what we called rock stations.
(PS5PW) [11] Now how many rock stations in your forty one years did you actually serve on?
George (PS5PX) [12] Er well only two er [...] and Skerrymor but I was er three year because it was called a rock station or a relieving station was a big island the island of Rhona seven miles long when the sea wasn't near the tower at all but er [...] and Skerrymor the sea was battering round the towers all the time.
(PS5PW) [13] Now what is the precise location of Skerrymor?
George (PS5PX) [14] Well it's about er twelve miles from Tiree and er about er three hours steaming from Oban where the relief boat was the relief ship.
(PS5PW) [15] And when were you actually stationed on Skerrymor?
George (PS5PX) [16] Er from nineteen er forty eight to nineteen fifty one.
[17] Three years.
(PS5PW) [18] Can you describe the actual lighthouse?
George (PS5PX) [19] Well the tower is er I'm not quite sure about the exact height of it it's I think it's a hundred and over a hundred and fifty feet high er the to the top of the dome I think it's a hundred and fifty three feet high to the top of the dome.
[20] And er the tower is solid for forty feet from the rock.
[21] Er I don't know how deep it is going in the base in the foundation I think it's about twenty feet to the foundation.
[22] And every stone in that building weighs about a ton and it's er each stone is dovetailed into the next stone and right into the centre it's no lot of er solid buildings are just a a circumference of er stone and then grit in between you know but this is solid right right down to the centre to the keystone in the centre.
[23] And that's solid for forty feet up.
[24] Then there's er the door the door at forty feet and there's er a gunmetal ladder going up the forty feet you've got to climb up to get into the door.
(PS5PW) [25] Mm.
[26] I believe the walls at the the foot are somewhere in the region of nineteen feet thick .
George (PS5PX) [27] They're nineteen feet thick at the door.
(PS5PW) [28] Mm.
George (PS5PX) [29] And then there's er the the storm doors which are pulled in er during stormy weather and the the doors are oh about six inches th each plank and it's about six inches thick.
[30] You've got to haul them in with a winch.
[31] And these storm doors are closed when the gale is threatening heavy seas on and there's another door inside that about eight feet inside that another heavy door and then there's another ordinary door inside that.
[32] There's three sets of doors at the at the entrance.
[33] Then the bottom compartment there are two er water tanks.
[34] Er take about two thousand gallons each.
(PS5PW) [35] For fresh water ?
George (PS5PX) [36] Fresh fresh water aye fresh water and er the water it comes ashore with the ship you know and hoisted
(PS5PW) [37] Mm.
George (PS5PX) [38] up in firkins in seven gallon firkins hoisted up by a winch.
[39] Er that was when I was there but now it's pumped ashore with well by hose from the ship you know and er they put water in about once or twice a year.
(PS5PW) [40] Can you recall the layout of the living quarters etcetera?
George (PS5PX) [41] Yeah well er there as I said the first er compartment after at the door is the water tanks.
(PS5PW) [42] Mm.
George (PS5PX) [43] Two water tanks.
[44] The next compartment is where they have ten tons of coal in er bunkers.
[45] And the next er compartment is the is the storeroom where er the food is er kept.
[46] The next compartment is a workshop a lathe and various tools there.
[47] Next is the kitchen or their living room.
[48] The next is a flight of bedr er flat of bedrooms two bedrooms two bunks in each bedroom.
[49] And the next's another the next flat is er also two bedrooms and er next er flat again is the library which was a magnificent room.
[50] Er it was the whole s tower from the from the er the coal cellar.
[51] It was actually lined in oak right up to the to the light room.
[52] Most of the stations are lined in pitched pine but this is lined in beautiful oak and oak panelling and er.
[53] Then after the the well there's er the library as they called it [...] was lined with books leather bound books [...] great big kidney shaped oak table and beautiful chairs there and [...] we used it as the office you know for the principal keeper did his returns and all the rest of it there.
[54] And er then er after that there was the gun room or the magazine where they stored the ammunition for the [...] gun and er then the light room.
[55] And the light room the machine case where the machine for revolving the five the lens which er weighed about five tons and there were this machine revolved the lens and it was machine was solid brass erm just which had to be polished e e every week and er oh beautiful brass polished brass and nobody ever saw these things you know except maybe the commissioners when they came round [laughing] no no visitors there [] .
(PS5PW) [56] You were stationed there in nineteen forty five.
George (PS5PX) [57] Nineteen forty five yes.
(PS5PW) [58] And that was your first posting as a principal .
George (PS5PX) [59] A principal keeper yes that's correct.
(PS5PW) [60] What were your er reminiscences of the station the lighthouse at that time?
George (PS5PX) [61] Well I was after coming off [...] and er I was quite used to the rocks you know that type of er station so.
[62] But er well it's nothing really important about the reminiscences there.
(PS5PW) [63] Mm.
George (PS5PX) [64] Er it was I really don't think of anything outstanding.
(PS5PW) [65] Say on the subject of shipping at that time.
[66] Can you recall the type of vessels?
George (PS5PX) [67] Oh the vessels they were quite well out from us.
[68] Er they er in the days of sailing ships of course they were they were really they were it was really a dangerous place.
[69] Cos if they were beating against the wind and and there were three wild reefs about three miles off.
[70] There was er the [...] who was called after a Frenchman who invented some type of lenses and er the MacKenzie who was one of the engineers did the building of Skerrymor one of the surveyors or something.
[71] And then the er Stevenson which of course the famous light one of the famous lighthouse engineers.
[72] The three reefs oh well they were very very dangerous reefs.
[73] You could just see them at low water and er that was one of the danger points but I've never seen ships coming close to Skerrymor at all.
[74] But when I was there there were once one instant is er er the man on watch in the morning he spotted a floating mine come in right down to close to the rock and er er it anchored just about er er a quarter of a mile or maybe two hundred yards off the rock off the tower and er of well when a mine anchors of course it becomes er alive.
[75] When it was floating of course the the when the an when it holds it pulls the detonator something to do with a mag with er with the mechanism of it er.
[76] So it was swinging back and forth almost coming to the rock and we thought well if that mine goes off that's the end of it.
[77] And of course I er wirelessed the office headquarters in Edinburgh told them about this so they sent a mine sweeper out from Tobermory.
[78] There were some mine sweepers still floating about there.
[79] And er they went into [...] instead of coming to Skerrymor and said there was no mine there and they turned back to Tobermory again.
[80] And we were left with a mine there.
[81] And obvious phoned er radioed to said their ship was we never saw it of course.
[82] Went twelve miles from us to [...] .
[83] Er some navi navigators aboard that boat. [laugh]
(PS5PW) [laugh]
George (PS5PX) [84] So then er er one morning the there was a very heavy swell on and the anchor must have given way and it w we saw the mine floating away towards Tiree so where it went after that we never heard.
(PS5PW) [85] Thank goodness for that.
George (PS5PX) [86] Aye.
(PS5PW) [87] How many keepers George were stationed at Skerrymor in your day?
George (PS5PX) [88] Er four four keepers.
[89] There were three men on the rock and one man ashore.
[90] And every second month they the occasional keeper the relieving keeper came out local man he came out to make up the two men then went ashore to cover the cover the the reliefs like that.
(PS5PW) [91] Mm.
[92] And where was the actual relief station?
George (PS5PX) [93] The relief station was at Eredine.
[94] But originally it was er for Skerrymor was in Hynish and when er [...] was built they they changed the they took the keepers from Skerrymor to Ered
(PS5PW) [95] Mm.
George (PS5PX) [96] so there's two the keepers from the both rocks were in stationed in ashore at Ered.
(PS5PW) [97] And [...] is another lighthouse out from Collessie?
George (PS5PX) [98] Out from Collessie it's about twelve miles from Iona.
(PS5PW) [99] Mm.
[100] Now one commentator I believe it was the the foreman mason involved in the building of Skerrymor described the landing on the rock as being like climbing up the side of a bottle.
George (PS5PX) [101] Yes I I heard of that but I er I think it was Sir Walter Scott actually that said that.
[102] But er yes it was it could be and there was a blow hole there as well.
[103] They they sent a fountain of er water right up into the air.
[104] Now of course they were drenched with this water sump water coming from this blow hole.
[105] But that was er they put a charge in that and years afterwards and of course.
[106] The blow hole was still there when I was there and you see fountains of water coming out of it.
[107] But nothing like what was originally when they were building the tower.
(PS5PW) [108] Can you describe the actual landing process for supplies and men?
George (PS5PX) [109] Well there was a grating er which was about er oh about er thirty five yards long out to a reef.
[110] And there were pillars going out from it to the rocks er grouted into the rocks.
(PS5PW) [111] This is a form of jetty?
George (PS5PX) [112] Just a form of jetty just a grating which is a form of jetty and we put a a derrick up on the end of it.
[113] And when the sh when the relief came in the ship lay about a mile off the never came near the rock at all because it was just a mass of reefs you know and the ship lay about a mile off and then the launch came in with a crew of about half a dozen men and the officer the second mate usually in charge.
[114] And then about quarter of a mile off the grating they drop their kedge their anchor and they came in then and then there were two ropes er thrown to them then.
[115] The the anchor rope was and the and the breast called the breast rope and then there's a rope from us on each er the bow and the stern.
[116] And it was very very poor holding ground and there was a man on the anchor rope or there was a man on the three ropes on the crews on the three ropes.
[117] And er when the anchor man always had his hand on the rope you know and you'd hear him saying, Anchor coming home sir anchor coming home sir.
[118] And the engine man he was on his knees beside the engine the engine was sticking over and the officer was in charge watching when we was watching the boat coming towards the grating you know.
[119] Then you'd hear him shouting, Let go and the two men let go of the two ropes on the grating and the engine man was shot out and went back and picked up the anchor and reset it and sometimes reset two or three times during the relief.
(PS5PW) [120] Is there not something of a permanent swell running in that vicinity?
George (PS5PX) [121] Yes on the west side of the rock there's a permanent swell running there.
[122] There's one small landing you can er you can do in the in the west landing they called it.
[123] Er they you can very fine day you can make a relief there.
[124] If there was a swell on the east side where the the grating but there was also a gully landing which you get into the gully but it had to be a very fine day to get into the gully and there was a derrick there er you could a crane there that you could take everything out of the boat but it had to be a very fine day to get into the gully.
(PS5PW) [125] Tell us something about the provisions in your day.
George (PS5PX) [126] In my day well every man had an allowance er and we bought our own provisions but every man er they were supposed to be [...] by the commissioners but you got I think seven and six pence a day each man got seven and six pence and we clubbed that money together and bought our provisions er like that.
[127] But there was three months er commissioners put three months supply of what they called iron rations onto the rock.
[128] Er a bowl of flour and er and er so many kists of bully beef and er I think that was about all they they supplied er which wasn't taken.
[129] But we if we used a tin of bully beef we had to supply that tin of bully beef out of our own seven and six pence.
[130] We used the flour because the flour would go bad then we we had to supply that the commissioners put it in originally but we had to keep it going out of our seven and a tanner.
[131] And er then but oh we kept er quite a good food to ourselves.
(PS5PW) [132] Did the keepers receive an additional sum resembling danger money?
George (PS5PX) [133] Oh yes you got er I think it was about er about twenty pounds a year we got er for for er r rock allowance they called it.
[134] Over and above the seven and six pence a day.
(PS5PW) [135] Can you recall in the past years the keepers ever receiving beer or whisky allowance .
George (PS5PX) [136] Oh no they got no whisky but they got er Eversons be when the rocks were started first when the commissioners started the rocks first the Bell rock was the first.
[137] And er then [...] Skerrymor and then you had there was erm a supply of beer er er allowed to each rock.
[138] Each man got a quart of b was allowed a quart of beer a day.
[139] And there then this was discontinued in they gave this beer to keep for lack of exercise keep them regular.
[140] And er then in nineteen sixteen er beer was getting dearer and dearer of course and commissioners decided to stop the beer and stop the beer and er increase the epsom salts in the medicine chest double the epsom salts in the medicine chest [laugh] .
(PS5PW) [141] And did you ever hear of tensions building up amongst the men?
George (PS5PX) [142] Oh yes very often tensions building up among the men.
[143] And I never had any problem at all when I was there but some of the keepers had.
[144] Er I remember one fellow er I think I can safely mention them now but they're both dead anyway.
[145] Two first cousins from the Caithness area and er their their grandfather left a croft to the youngest son and these two first cousins were on the rock on Skerrymor and er the principal keeper he was an Orkney man.
[146] He wakened sometime during the night and he heard this scrummage up in the in the light room.
[147] He went up and here there's two first cousins were fighting about the croft and that was left about fifty years before then started fighting about it and one had got transferred to [...] and that kept it quiet.
(PS5PW) [148] Doubtless there were many occasions night and day when a tempest was raging outside.
[149] Now what was it like to be actually in the tower itself?
George (PS5PX) [150] You never thought anything about it at all.
[151] You knew the seas were hitting the tower but you you had great faith in the stability of the tower.
[152] You never gave it a slightest thought.
(PS5PW) [153] Was there a problem with communications to one another?
George (PS5PX) [154] Not when I was there of course it was er it was er er radio was there you know and we we called up the shore station at Ered at nine o'clock one o'clock and five o'clock every day unless there was er a fault in the radio which we were usually able to overcome.
(PS5PW) [155] And the noise of the sea itself how was that affected ?
George (PS5PX) [156] Oh it could could be never bothered er.
[157] Well I've seen er the it's receiving er message and suddenly the message cutting out the sea going right over the aerial.
[158] And er the aerial was out the window and up the side of the tower.
[159] The sea hitting that was about fifty sixty feet up.
[160] And the sea hitting it there and cutting out you know and then of course when the sea went off you established communication again.
(PS5PW) [161] What pressure of er water might be hitting the base of the tower?
George (PS5PX) [162] Well er er they er took tests both there and at [...] and the er the in summer gales the pressure was three tons to a square foot and in winter gales six tons to a square foot.
[163] So that is pretty hefty you know when but of course it was dispersed round the tower you know it didn't hit in one lump you know.
(PS5PW) [164] Was there an actual sway in the tower itself?
George (PS5PX) [165] Oh yes there was an actual sway in the tower.
[166] You could you couldn't feel it if you're standing on the middle of the floor but when you went up to the grating with your chest on the grating you could feel the tower swinging away back from you I don't know what er distance probably maybe twelve inches maybe more I don't know.
[167] But you could feel the sway of the tower when in a in a heavy gale of wind.
[168] Not the seas not from the seas.
[169] When the sea struck it it was terrific you know the whole tower trembled and you'd think a giant got a hold of her and shook the whole thing up.
[170] But when there was a strong gale of wind er the er tower swayed a lot.
(PS5PW) [171] I recall reading that I think it possibly was Skerrymor or Cape Wrath but it was stated that the pendulum clock actually stopped.
George (PS5PX) [172] Yes that was on Skerrymor on Skerrymor. [...] that was a swing.
(PS5PW) [173] Is that a fairly common phenomenon ?
George (PS5PX) [174] Oh yes quite common the pendulum clock stops quite often used to stop quite often with the wind.
[175] And they're no pendulum clocks there now but they were there when I was there.
[176] Oh I've often seen the clock stopping.
(PS5PW) [177] And were there things coming of the walls for instance?
George (PS5PX) [178] No no never never.
(PS5PW) [179] Mm.
George (PS5PX) [180] We never had anything on the walls anyway [laugh] .
(PS5PW) [181] I see.
[182] Now we haven't mentioned the affect of fog.
[183] In your days on Skerrymor in the mid-forties there would not be a foghorn.
George (PS5PX) [184] No foghorn but it was an explosive form of signal station.
[185] Er we had er [...] cartridges a quarter of a pound in each cartridge and er there was a tubular what we called the gun going right up.
[186] It was geared on the top of the dome and er it was really er a gal gal galvanized tubes you know.
[187] And they were then there was an electric cable coming from the top with two clips in the top and this cable came right down into the into the balcony door.
[188] And you attached this quarter pound of [...] to it then you hoisted it back up and there was a clock in the light room which struck every five minutes and every time the clock struck you fired the charge.
[189] And that er explosive charge could be heard sometimes at [...] thirty miles away.
[190] And some times the ship would be come in quite close to us and couldn't hear anything.
[191] Of course it's the same thing with the foghorns.
[192] Er sound is very difficult you know like that to your never quite sure the way it goes.
(PS5PW) [193] Was this not something of a fire hazard?
George (PS5PX) [194] No no no the I don't think so.
(PS5PW) [195] But have you ever heard of towering inferno style lighthouse f fires?
George (PS5PX) [196] Well er er the Skerrymor went on fire after I left it.
[197] Er about er what would it be about six or seven years after I left Skerrymor it went on fire.
[198] They but they don't know what caused that fire er they reckon it was an electrical fault from the generator that er supplied the it was a s a fifty watt bulb in each room and there was mainly for the radio.
[199] A little Stewart Turner engine er two or three about five horse power or something.
[200] And it was on the balcony in a in a porch on the balcony to prevent fire so it wouldn't go on fire.
[201] Petrol engine and it er what caused that fire this night in Skerrymor they don't know.
[202] The man wasn't watching the light room he saw smoke coming up under the so he went away down and there was a fire in a in the er in the library.
[203] And er of course he alerted the other two fellows and there were no fighting there was only about two little fire extinguishers on the tower.
[204] And er there were well they had to get water up from the from the bottom t ladder in pails and three men er with pails trying to and of course they couldn't fight it.
[205] And they fought the fire until they were finally er had to go out of the tower altogether.
[206] And they were very fortunate it was a fine night and they were able to take refuge down among the reefs and the hole.
[207] Then there there was about a thousand rounds of tonnite in the gun room in the magazine.
[208] That er exploded the detonators there and exploded the whole thing.
[209] And er the explosion went right out through the through the trap ladder into the light room and blew the lantern out.
[210] And er it also did a rent about I don't know what about fifteen twenty feet deep that's all it did in the wall.
[211] And er but of course the whole force of the explosion went right up in the light room.
[212] And the whole thing was wrecked the whole the the erm the floors in each er flat was one big circle of stone er about er it would've been about twelve [recording ends]