Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England

Memories of Braunton Lighthouse


In the days before modern navigational aids, the fate of sailors who sailed into the bay was a grim one. Bideford Bar, which impedes entry to the estuary, is notoriously difficult to navigate and countless wrecks have occurred here throughout the centuries.

The First Lighthouse

Braunton lighthouseThe first effort to do something about the situation was made in the early eighteen-hundreds, when a lighthouse was built near Crow Point.

It had a tall, close boarded, octagonal tower, which was painted white with a red stripe and it stood 86 feet tall – the light was visible from 14 miles. In addition to the main lighthouse, which was known as the High Light, about 300 yards further north stood a Low Light and this was also the responsibility of the keepers. It was a close boarded wooden hut with a window light, which was also painted white with a red stripe, but stood only 15 feet tall.

Two Keepers

Braunton lighthouse keeper with familyThe lighthouse was manned by two keepers, who lived in the square living quarters at the base of the tower. They took it in turns to work 4 or 8 hour shifts, which meant that neither keeper could ever travel far from home as it would soon be his turn again and, in any case, they would need to sleep and eat between shifts, leaving little opportunity for much else.

Of the two keepers, one was a single man but the other a man with a wife and young daughter, all of whom lived a lonely existence at the extremity of the dunes.  

Difficult Access

A car was kept at The White House, which stands at the end of the nearest accessible track, but from there the journey to the lighthouse continued on foot, which was difficult and therefore not attempted more than was necessary. Can you imagine picking your way through the dunes, with the sand blowing harshly in your face, clutching your belongings in the falling dark?

The family kept chickens for meat and eggs, but the lack of grass meant that no cows or sheep could be grazed and therefore provisions had to be sought from Braunton or, more likely, from Appledore across the Estuary. Certainly fresh water was supplied by boat, to supplement the rain water which was collected in butts for tending the tomatoes in the garden. 

Visitors

Visitors to the lighthouse were few, but a letter held at Braunton Museum suggests that the vicar of Appledore once took tea at the lighthouse. Another visitor was the lighthouse inspector, who expected to find everything ship-shape and this meant that the brass which adorned the dark walls of the house had to be kept highly polished at all times. 

Entertainment

Entertainment for young inhabitants of the lighthouse was scarce but the keeper, who had trained as a carpenter, made toys including a dolls house for his daughter. Some companionship was provided by Mickey, a black and brown dog who loved to chase the rabbits among the dunes.

The onset of war however brought new excitement and the American soldiers, who were based nearby, created much interest. Mickey the dog though could sense when planes were coming overhead and hated them, hiding under the table unless the family escaped to the air raid shelter. The war led to rationing nationwide but at least by then the luxury of tinned fruit salad was available at the lighthouse – a particular treat.

A Commanding View

The lighthouse, by virtue of its role, had a commanding view of the Estuary mouth and the family were able to witness events such as important ships crossing ‘the Bar’ – the notorious sand bank that poses problems for sailors entering the Estuary. From the lighthouse though it was possible to see the barges that arrived every day to collect gravel from the point. Mr Clarke, from Braunton Parish Council, also arrived every day to collect dues from the barge men. 

Decline and Demolition

The modern-day lighthouse at Crow PointSadly the keepers were withdrawn from the lighthouse in 1945 when the tower and dwellings became unstable. The light became redundant in 1957 and both the high and low light were demolished. All that is visible today are some remains of the main lighthouse. A modern navigational light is now situated about half a mile to the south of the original site, which is operated by Trinity House.

Much more about shipping and the estuary, including Braunton’s lifeboat, is contained in the section about Shipping.


 
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