Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The six Ardglass lighthouses - Nos. 3 and 4

Following on from the speculative Ardglass No.1 and the patriarchal Ardglass No.2, I have decided to dedicate this post to Nos. 3 and 4 together as it would be logistically impossible to separate the two.
We left Ardglass with business booming. A south pier had been constructed with a new lighthouse at the end of it (1817) and the herring was being landed in large amounts. Steam packets were plying their trade between Ardglass and Liverpool and the Isle of Man and dwelling houses for rent were constantly being advertised in the newspapers as the town sought to promote itself as a health spa.

However, there had been criticism in various quarters that the south pier had not gone far enough. Literally. A longer pier would offer more protection and would accommodate a much larger amount of boats. An Act of Parliament in 1830 delivered a method of redress. Harbour commissioners could now borrow money on the strength of future harbour dues and Ardglass's landlord, William Ogilvie, who had built the first pier, borrowed £6,000, placed it with his own £16,000, and began the work of building the extension to the harbour. The old pier was to be extended 300 feet out from the old pier, into 17 feet of water at low tide and would be 20 feet broad. A new lighthouse would be erected at the end of it and the old 1817 light pulled down.
William Ogilvy died early into the project and the work was carried on by his stepson (in some reports, nephew) and inheritor, Major Beauclerk who, according to the Belfast Newsletter in March 1835, was popular with his subjects, (despite his three year absence):

Work continued. According to Samuel Lewis in his wonderful 1837 Topography of Ireland, "A handsome lighthouse is now being erected on the pier, which is connected with the land by a very capacious wharf covering nearly an acre of ground, with a basin of semi-circular form, beyond which are the quays for the colliers." 
Unfortunately, this is the only description of this short-lived lighthouse I have come across. Handsome. Better than nothing, I suppose. Without Wandering Sam, we could only guess at its ugliness or lack of.
A map exists, dating to roughly 1837 / 1838, showing the new pier, evidently under construction.

The lighthouse indicated would have been the old 1817 lighthouse, which had been at the end of the original pier. By this time, it would have been extinguished. The new lighthouse, not yet operational would have been at the end of the pier extension

As the pier was being constructed, a temporary light was established. It would have been mobile and, as construction progressed, it would have moved further and further along the pier. This same sort of procedure also took place when they were building the east and west piers at Dun Laoghaire.
Perversely, we have a description of the temporary light but not the main light! It was "a small temporary wooden lighthouse similar to a pigeon box standing on a 4-legged stool." For anybody counting, I will label the Temporary Light as Lighthouse No.3 and the practically completed (all except the lanthorn) brand spanking new Lighthouse as Lighthouse No.4.
And then disaster struck. On the last week of November 1838, with the future of Ardglass looking decidely rosy, a great storm arose. There had been constant strong winds for a week beforehand and then suddenly, in one twenty-four period, the weather went off the barometer. And, as the Down Recorder reported on December 1st, the hopes and dreams of Ardglass were crushed in one day.
"‘On Tuesday last the wind at south-east had blown a perfect hurricane during the entire day, and bearing upon the harbour of Ardglass with extreme violence, when about the hour of two o’clock in the day, the new lighthouse, at the extremity of the pier, was turned over upon its base, and fell in one compact mass of masonry, and, in a few minutes more, was hurled into the sea as a block of wood, although consisting of four hundred tons of hewn stone, bound together by iron cramps, rendering it firm as one solid rock; but, in this instance, the fury of the elements mocked the skill of man, and laughing at his projects. It is but justice to those engaged in this undertaking, to say, that the lighthouse itself was a specimen of perfect workmanship, cemented with skill, and having all the elements of strength and durability. But the writer of this, who saw it in progress of building two months back, predicted this disaster (yeah, yeah, yeah), unless the pier upon which it was being erected should be made secure before the approaching winter, as it was much injured by the preceding winter. However in the last month workmen were employed, and the repairs commenced; but then the season was too far advanced to permit of such substantial improvements as would fortify the work against the assaults of the sea and now the outlay of many thousands of pounds are washed into the sea.
‘The new lighthouse had been finished, all but the lanthorn, and in the meantime a temporary wooden structure had been erected for giving the requisite light at sea, and it too was swept away on Wednesday night; the materials being washed up on the beach beside the harbour and then drawn into the town of Ardglass under the direction of Captain Saunders, who was unceasing in his attendance on this much to be regretted occasion. It is feared more of the pier will be swept away by the sea if the Government does not commence the repairs as soon as the season permits.'  The Belfast Telegraph on 4th December, estimated the loss of roughly £26,500 spent on the pier and lighthouse.
A bare five weeks later, the infamous Big Wind of 1839 destroyed practically all the vessels in the remnants of the harbour. A Category Three Hurricane, four people were killed in the locality, the cathedral was severely damaged and barely a home in the country was left unscathed.
Things got even worse for Major Beauclerk later on in 1839:

So, what contributed to the downfall of the pier and the two lighthouses? Well, it appears that the whole project was beset by bickering and arguments, particularly about finance and who should pay for what? From 1830 to November 1838, the pier was not completed. Sir John Rennie's advice to the Ballast Board in 1832 was to build the lighthouse on the headland at Phennick Point, marking the approach to the harbour but the Ballast Board overruled him and insisted on the end of the pier. 
More serious were the allegations that inferior materials had been used on the seaward side of the pier in order to cut costs. It appears that this caused the pier to be damaged in the preceding winter. It then took the best part of a year for communications with all parties to be made and committees to be set up, despite warnings that the damage would need to be repaired pronto or the whole pier might go. It was not before September 1838 that a builder was sent to Ardglass to address the pier damage by which time the easterly gale season was practically on them. The repairs effected in the time available were too little too late and the first major storm of the winter saw two lighthouses, thousands of pounds and the economic growth of Ardglass disappear into the cold waters.
It is unclear exactly when the original 1817 lighthouse was dismantled. It may have been when the south pier was being built. One report, albeit fourteen years later, says it came down in 1839, after the other two got washed away.
So. Three lighthouses constructed and demolished in 25 years. Would Lighthouse (and I use the term guardedly) No.5 be any more successful? 

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