• Why there were always three lighthouse keepers

Why there were always three lighthouse keepers

Recently we had the opportunity to watch the film “The Lighthouse” which is the true story of Smalls Lighthouse 25 miles off the coast of Wales, and the tragedy that befell the lighthouse keepers there.

The original Smalls Lighthouse was built of wood and was on stilts made of sturdy oak, to allow the waves to pass through under the lighthouse itself. The lighthouse was manned by two keepers who would stay in a small room below the light for two months at a time before being relieved by the next crew.

In 1801 two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Griffith and Thomas Howell, arrived for their shift. Part way through their posting, Thomas Griffith became ill and sadly died. Concerned that there were no witnesses and that he might be accused of murder, Thomas Howell kept Griffith’s body in the same room intending for it to be taken back on the  next supply ship.

However a huge storm blew up and the supply ship was unable to land. As the body was starting to decompose, Howell built a makeshift coffin and with a huge effort managed to get the body into it and suspend it by a rope from the lighthouse balcony. Unfortunately the fierce storm battered the coffin so badly that it disintegrated, leaving Griffith’s body hanging from the rope at the same level as the window of the keepers quarters. Each time the wind blew, it swung the body against the window, giving the illusion that the deceased was tapping on the window and trying to get in.

The supply ship was not able to land for four months and during this time Howell went slowly mad. He was eventually rescued but never recovered from his ordeal.

The original Smalls Lighthouse was demolished and rebuilt in stone, and after this all lighthouses were manned by a minimum of three keepers so that no-one would ever have to endure the same fate again.

About the Author

Rua Reidh Lighthouse; gloriously remote and isolated guest accommodation on the spectacular North West coast of Scotland.

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