Reviewed by the Editor No More Paraffin-Oilers
-by Ian Cassells
(Whittles Publishing Services, Roseleigh House, Harbour Road, Latheronwheel, Caithness, KW5 6DW, Scotland);
paperback, 106 pages, 67 photos and illustrations (all monochrome);
£13.95 Stg in UK
PARAFFIN-OILER, we are told in this book, was the name given in Scotland to a man born into a lightkeeping family who followed his father's and, probably, his grandfather's footsteps to become a lightkeeper himself. By the time Ian Cassells joined the Northern Lighthouse Board as a lightkeeper in 1979, however, there were only a few paraffin stations left, and the Scottish Lighthouse Service, like our own Service, was well on the way to total automation.
Ian Cassells gives us a brief description of the administrative structure of the Northern Lighthouse Board, and of the work and lifestyle of lightkeepers prior to automation. He then brings us on a tour of the lighthouses of Scotland which echoes an actual charity walking tour he did after leaving Northern Lights on redundancy due to automation.
Along the way, he describes the land and sea scapes surrounding the lighthouses he visits, and relates his experiences of those at which he was stationed. He writes about lightkeepers and other characters he served with, and retells stories handed down by older keepers. Tragedy and comedy are intertwined in the lives of the Keepers and their families. Many of the incidents described will seem similar to people who worked in other lighthouse services.
In the mid-nineteenth century Northern Lights appears to have had a similar triangular relationship with Trinity House and the Board of Trade as did Irish Lights, with endless argument about policy and finance while lighthouse construction was delayed and the loss of lives through shipwreck continued.
The author deals at some length with the 1900 tragedy at the Flannan Islands Lighthouse, when the three keepers on duty disappeared. Ian Cassells gives his own opinion of what happened, based on his experience as a lightkeeper-an assessment that is a good deal more realistic than some of the more far-fetched, not to say offensive, explanations in circulation.
If I have a criticism of this book, it is that it is uneven. The author has little to say about some stations at which he never served, other than the date of establishment, date of automation, and character of the light. The repetition of these facts becomes rather tedious. Few technical details are given about any of the stations.
The value of the book is that is was written by a lightkeeper and therefore gives a lightkeeper's view of the Northern Lights Service, though in the closing years of the occupation of lightkeeper. The original edition of the book, which was published in 1994, received a warm welcome from lighthouse enthusiasts. This new edition has many additional photographs to enhance the text.
The Kentish Lights
Reviewed by Frank Pelly
The Kentish Lights
-by Alan Major
(S. B. Publications, c/o 19 Grove Road, Seafort, East Sussex, BN25 1TP, England)
isbn 1-85770-199-2; paperback,
87 pages; Stg £5.99 in UK.
The Kentish Lights encompasses the history of the North Foreland, South Foreland, and Dungeness Light-houses. Also included is the history of the lightship stations established to mark the Goodwin Sands. What the publication lacks in physical volume is amply compensated for in the variety of events and detail recorded. In addition to the history of the lighthouses and other aids to navigation established along the Kent coast, this publication includes local history, the region's topography, and the establishment of a railway.
Lighthouse association with the Kentish coast dates from the first century ad. In the intervening period they have been associated with pharology development, experimentation, and testing-simple brazier, to brazier on an elevated structure; early lantern lighting, to advanced optic technology; oil, gas, and electric light testing; fog signal sound-producing instruments, and the assessment of the effects of climatic conditions; and the introduction of wireless telegraphy technology. In 1998 the North Foreland Lighthouse was automated and thus became the last Trinity House station to have lightkeepers.
Alan Major is to be commended on the level of his research and the ease of his writing style. However, there are inconsistencies in his descriptions of the dimensions of the buildings, which more careful editing should have corrected. Notwithstanding this deficiency, the publication is suitable for both the casual and serious reader of lighthouse publications.
The publication is enhanced by the inclusion of a bibliography, 23 photographs, 10 illustrations, and 4 site/location maps.