Thursday, September 10, 2020

Newcastle, county Down (lost lighthouse)

Another lost lighthouse and one for which, alas, I have no photographs, oil paintings, daguerreotypes nor sketches but hopefully one might turn up. 
Newcastle is situated in south county Down (ie, south of the entrance to Strangford Lough) at the spot where the long sweep of Dundrum Bay reaches its easternmost point. It lies roughly twenty miles from Ardglass at the top of the bay. It should not be confused - as I did - with the townland of Newcastle in north county Down, where the cottages for the South Rock lightkeepers were built.
I had had no idea that there had ever been a lighthouse at Newcastle until a few weeks ago, when I was idly browsing the Ordnance Survey map Second edition (1846 - 1872) of the area (as you do) and noticed the 'Light Ho.' at the end of the south pier. A quick check showed that the lighthouse was no longer marked on the third edition map, dating from 1906. Nor was it on the First edition map (1819-42)

Detail from O.S. second edition map. The harbour itself is located south of the town. The blue lines indicate the extent of the coastline now, with its extended south pier.

Historical records do not appear to have been collated in any detailed fashion regarding Newcastle, a state of affairs that the "History of Newcastle, county Down" Facebook page is seeking to rectify. The photographs on this blog were, in the main, taken from their site.
It appears that works to build a harbour at Newcastle began in 1808, courtesy of a parliamentary grant. The South pier was begun but, due to one reason or another - probably wrangling over money - was only completed in 1829, thanks to the intervention of Lord Annesley, the local landowner. There was a North pier also - no idea of its date of construction, probably begun in 1808 too. It is showing on the 1829 O.S. map, looking more or less in the same position as today's North pier.
Ten years later in the Big Wind of 1839, the South pier was damaged during strong south-easterly gales (the only wind direction that the harbour here - and at Ardglass - could not handle.) No attempt was made to repair the breach and consequently every winter saw the damage become greater until, by 1845, the complete outer portion of the pier had been washed into the harbour.
By that time, the great fishing tragedy of  January 1843 had occurred. According to the "History of Newcastle county Downon Friday 13th of January 1843 - not an auspicious date, to be sure -  ten fishing boats set sail from Newcastle and six from Annalong; a storm ensued and seventy three fishermen were drowned. Forty six Newcastle fishermen were drowned leaving behind 27 widows, 118 orphans and 21 dependents. An appeal raised enough money to build twelve small cottages at King Street that is still known as Widows' Row. The location of Widow's Row can be seen on the O.S. map above and a picture appears below.
Presumably the lack of a safe harbour was a contributory factor to the tragedy and plans were immediately put in place to rebuild the South pier. The rebuilding, by the Board of Public Works, began in 1846 and was completed around 1849 - 1850.
It appears that Irish lights were requested to supply a light at the end of the South pier and did so.  This was somewhat unusual, for they normally only erected lighthouses for which tolls could be extracted from passing ships or to mark some danger for passing ships. They frequently refused to erect lights that were purely for local use. However, in this case, they may have been mindful of the huge storms that attacked this stretch of coast in 1838, 1839 and 1843, with their huge loss of life. In addition, there was no noticeable harbour of refuge for passing ships between Dublin and Belfast, so they acquiesced. as can be seen in one of their impossibly-long-titled reports of 1859. (Short, snappy titles like "They came at Night" or "Murder in the Orangery" were obviously not in vogue at the time.)

'Small' lighthouse erected in 1849

The accounts of all the lighthouses controlled by the Board are detailed later in the same report. They give the expenditure doled out to maintain the lights, broken down into rent, fuel, wages etc.  for the year ending 1858. Newcastle comes second bottom of the list with a measly £7 19s  3d spent on it, which was for rent only. This would seem to indicate that, whereas Irish lights erected the lighthouse, it was up to the local Harbour Board to maintain it. (Incidentally, the lighthouse on Arranmore Island in county Donegal, was bottom of the expenditure list with only £6 6s coughed up by the Board, again for rent. This may have had something to do with the fact that the lighthouse wasn't lit at this stage!)
It appears that the South pier was breached again within two or three years of its completion in 1850 but it struggled on until December 1868 when, on the 13th of that month, a gale tore two sizable chunks out of it. Newspaper reports that I have been able to find fail to mention the damage to the harbour at the time. It is only through later submissions and reports that it appears this was the date for the end of the South Pier Mark II. The breaches appear to have been at a spot 80 feet inland from the bend of the pier; and, more seriously, a total breach very close to the end of the pier. This latter breach would have left the lighthouse useless and isolated on its own little island and it probably succumbed to the next rough sea. 
It appears that poor construction - lack of cement, poor 'bonding' of the rocks used, timber frames etc - was to blame for this second destruction of the pier, much the same as the first time around, much the same as had happened at Ardglass (though Ardglass had an excuse that the pier was still under construction at the time!)
An 1897 report says that plans were drawn up to repair the inner breach and actually extend the outer arm of the pier for another 130 feet but, again, wrangling and inertia held sway. Nothing was done and, by the late 1870s, the pier was a complete ruin.

Photograph from the 1880s, in the National Library, showing the North pier and the flattened remains of the South pier.

Eventually, by the turn of the century, people got their act together and a new extended, better-built South pier was finally erected in 1905, minus one lighthouse. And it has stood there for the past 115 years. Maybe it has been able to survive because it has no lighthouse weighing down the end of it. Or, more realistically, maybe it was just constructed better.

Newcastle harbour today. I would estimate the lighthouse stood roughly where the outermost  boat is moored along the kink of the pier between the white boat and the steps. The Victorians seemed to use the word 'kant.'  Despite my staid appearance, I have always been more 'kink'-y.

And, what of the lighthouse? Presumably it is long gone, dredged up when the new pier was built. Do we have any further information on it besides the adjective 'small'? Well, no. We don't even have an idea how small 'small' is. Three feet? Twelve feet? In the absence of any visual depiction, I would guess the latter. Anything smaller than that would probably not be listed as a 'Light Ho.' on any map.  
We do have a report from the Downpatrick Recorder of March 1869 detailing the proposed cost of repairing the pier.

So, though it doesn't definitely say it in words, a) the lighthouse appears to have been gone by this date, as otherwise they would simply salvage the old one and b) they would presumably be replacing like for like, implying that the old lighthouse was cast iron. In my head, I am visualising something like the light built at the end of the pier in Bray in the 1890s. Maybe it comes to mind because it also suffered the same fate as the Newcastle light. Of course, the Newcastle light could have been much smaller and green and shaped like Prince Albert.

Bray lighthouse

The rubble of the South pier. Photo pre-1905. (Source: History of Newcastle, county Down FB site)

Widows Row cottages, still standing

Today there is no lighthouse on either pier. There is of course one of the unlovely lights on a pole at the end of the North pier, showing red, white or green, depending on your direction of approach.

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