Digest>Archives> October 2002

England’s Bidston Lighthouse Shines Again

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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The recent history of the Bidston Lighthouse, on the Wirral Peninsula in northwest England, illustrates what a determined community can do for a historic property. The lighthouse was relighted in October 2000 after 93 years in darkness.

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There’s a very long history of lighthouses in the Wirral area. It’s believed that local monks may have tended a light as far back as 1230. Bidston Hill’s first lighthouse, a 55-foot sandstone tower, was erected in 1771, replacing one of the two lighthouses offshore at Leasowe after it had been destroyed by a storm. In 1873 the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board completed the present sandstone lighthouse to aid mariners navigating the dangerous mouth of the River Mersey. After the shipping channels were changed in the early 1900s, the lighthouse was deactivated and fell into disrepair. It stands on the grounds of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, near a historic windmill (established around 1596) and the Bidston Observatory.

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The lighthouse has remained an important landmark in the community. Former local resident Wayne Lewis says, “I was born in Birkenhead, down the hill past the farms, not far from the lighthouse, observatory, and windmill. I have nothing but the best childhood memories of looking out my bedroom window at night and looking at the beam of light coming out of the observatory, actually seeing lightning hit the windmill one stormy night, setting the sails spinning on fire, and summer holidays playing around the lighthouse... It is a beautiful lighthouse with a big wall around it, and lots of clinging ivy.”

The Metropolitan Borough of Wirral Special Initiatives Team started the move to restore the lighthouse. Extensive renovation of the tower was funded by lottery funds as part of the National Millennium Festival Celebration and the New Opportunities on Wirral, aided by grants. Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory staff worked weekends and evenings to transform the old lighthouse into a unique museum, with exhibits created by laboratory staff. The lighthouse is now opened to the general public for parts of each summer.

A competition led to an unusual way of providing power to the light. Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory engineers took the winning design of the Hilbre Secondary School and turned it into a full sized working model, with a wind-generated light. As the Laboratory states on their website, “The true power of the light will be measured... in the strengthening of the community that made it possible.”

For more information you can contact the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory/Bidston Observatory, Birkenhead CH43 7RA United Kingdom Website: www.pol.ac.uk

Photographs courtesy of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

This story appeared in the October 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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