A house in the sea, standing where one shouldn’t, with a light shining at its summit.
Offshore lighthouses are not like ordinary lighthouses. Over a period spanning four centuries, with Britain’s booming sea trade dogged by shipwrecks and drownings, we undertook to build in the sea itself. Beyond the apparent finality of Britain and Ireland’s coastlines these 170-foot high towers still stand today, raised perilously on underwater reefs and rising mirage-like out of the water. Although no longer inhabited, their chambers still bear signs of the people who once lived in them. But apart from discreet mapping, or the occasional glimpse from a distant ferry, the existence of these isolated sentinels remains unknown to most.
In Seashaken Houses, building conservationist Tom Nancollas takes us to the seven most emblematic of the twenty surviving offshore lighthouses. Pursuing them in books, across sands, seas and sometimes skies, he discovers who designed, built, maintained and lived in them – and how. Ushered upwards by labourers clinging to scaffolds or dangling in harnesses, they are feats of engineering, imagination and bravery, built at great financial and human cost. Waves frequently confiscated tools, dismantled masonry and swept workmen away. Although shaped to resist the sea, these unique buildings share something of its mystery and power, and bear witness to the history of our maritime past. This will be an illustrated talk.