St Bees Head Fog Signal Station

We had a great day last week taking members of the public on a walk through the Colourful Coast to the St Bees Head Fog Signal Station as part of Heritage Open Days.

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The weather was kind which made it a pleasure to show off this stretch of coast.  Some of the people who joined us had travelled a few hours and some others had lived in Whitehaven all their lives but none of them had ever been inside the Fog Signal Station.  After talking to a few people on the walk we thought it would be good to share some of the information we have about this interesting and unusual building.

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The building has a long and interesting history, but fog warnings were set off long before the current building was built.

An explosive fog warning device was in use at the lighthouse from 1913.  This would have given an explosive blast at set intervals to warn shipping of low visibility.  The blast would have come from disposable tonite charges fixed to the pivoted arm, then set off by the lighthouse keepers after they had retreated as far as they could; the blasts are understood to have been extremely and uncomfortably loud.

The exact date of when the use of the explosive charge stopped and the Fog Signal Station came into use is unclear.   A set of drawings from Trinity House’s engineering section dated 1962 show the plans for the current fog signal station on the cliff’s edge, comprised of a bank of electronically-operated horns.  We know from talking to people locally that they remember the building being constructed in 1963 and 1964.

St Bees 058_006 copyright Trinity House

A drawing from 1971 shows the installation of automatic fog detectors, which typically ran calculations on mist density in the air and instigated the signal automatically if the water density in the air went over a certain figure and became a hazard to shipping.

It is unclear how long the electronic fog signal apparatus was in use for at St Bees, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that it was discontinued when the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in 1987.

160526 St Bees Fog Horn Station (c) Sophie Badrick (26)

The fog signal apparatus was a Trinity House-type 3kw 30-unit stack. The ‘character’ of the fog signal itself (i.e. the pattern of sound/silence/sound/silence) was two ‘blasts’ every 45 seconds, being blast 4.0s, silent 2.0s, blast 4.0s, silent 35.0s. This blast had a nominal range of 16 nautical miles!

160526 St Bees Fog Horn Station (c) Ed Jagger (2)

If you have any memories, stories, photos or information about the Fog Signal Station that you’d like to share then please get in touch.  At the moment the building is currently closed to the public, but we’ll be running more guided walks to the Fog Signal Station in future so please keep checking the website for details.

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