HomeHistoryHY Tyne III History (updated)

HY Tyne III History (updated)

Diagram of light vessel with features of LV50. Note lantern and fog horn as well as whale back. Reproduced with kind permission of the Institution of Civil Engineers

Diagram of light vessel with features of LV50. Note lantern and fog horn as well as whale back. Reproduced with kind permission of the Institution of Civil Engineers

History

Our House Yacht H Y Tyne III, previously Light Vessel No. 50, is now the oldest floating timber light vessel remaining in Great Britain and only one of three still identifiable as a light vessel. In 1908 there were 54 light vessels on station mainly around the East Coast, the Thames Approaches and along the South coast.

She was ordered in 1878 by Trinity House, the Lighthouse and Light Vessel Authority for the British Isles, specifically to serve on Seven Stones reef off the Isles of Scilly, some of the roughest waters around the coast of the United Kingdom.  She was built in 1879 by Fletcher, Son and Fearnall at their Union Dock, London to a design by Bernard Waymouth, Secretary to Lloyds, and one the architects of the “plimsoll line”. His design and sketch plan, of a timber built vessel copper-fastened throughout with a whale back, caloric engines to drive her foghorn, and more efficient flashing lantern driven by a revolving clockwork mechanism, match LV 50 exactly.

The only physical identification mark on her is LV 50 engraved into one of the deck beams in what is now the bar area. Today, National Historic Ships UK register her as being of National Importance, Certificate number 141.

She is 100 ft (30.48 metres) in length; her beam is 21ft (6.4 metres) with a draft of 9 ft (2.74 metres). She weighs a little over 230 tons deadweight and was never fitted with an engine always being towed to station. Her hull construction is very similar to that of the 18th century fighting ship being double planked with 3” teak timbers on 4” oak frames set 2’ apart. This is sheathed with a metal alloy called Muntz to just above the waterline to prevent attack by shipworms. Her design was developed to ensure maximum strength whilst moored in some of the most dangerous waters around the United Kingdom.

LV 50 on Warner station, 2.1935. ALK collection W 144.

She retains her original mast and lifting pulleys for the lantern. Above this lifting gear would have been placed a further timber top-mast to which was hoisted a black ball as a top-mark to denote she was at anchor. Her signal lantern, now removed, was hoisted and lowered to the deck using the lifting pulleys from a winch behind the mast on the main deck. Every morning the lantern was lowered, cleaned and refilled with shale oil. Built by Chance Brothers, the original catoptric light had nine Argand lamps with silver paraboloid reflectors arranged on a turntable rotated by a clockwork mechanism. The lamp flash sequence varied according to the station she was on. For example, on Calshot Spit it was simply a revolving plain flash but on Seven Stones it was a triple group flash. She was never fitted with electric light for signalling.

On her last station Calshot Spit, Southampton water just prior to her decommissioning circa 1952. Note the whaleback confirming this is LV 50.

On her last station Calshot Spit, Southampton water just prior to her decommissioning circa 1952. Note the whaleback confirming this is LV 50.

She was also fitted with a reed fog horn, developed at Souter, driven initially by a pair of 5 HP Brown caloric engines from New York; fuelled by coke these supplied compressed air for the sirens; later she had Hornsby fog engines. The ‘Harfield’ windlass, used to lift the anchor chain, was made in Gateshead and also driven by compressed air. In later years she was fitted with a submarine bell to be lowered into the water which gave a greater signal range.

All this equipment was dismantled by the breakers with the exception of the lantern, which was subsequently removed by RNYC because it was in a poor state of repair as well as to reduce the sway on the vessel when moored to a jetty.

Living conditions on lightships were hard, cramped and noisy. ‘Her crew consisted of 11 men, lamplighters, fog signal drivers, able seamen, Master and a Mate; with a compliment of 7 working on the ship at a time. The Master and Mate rotated 4 weeks on board whereas the ratings served 8 weeks afloat then 4 weeks ashore, where they worked at the local Trinity House depot. Totally self-sufficient they had to remain on station in the wildest of weather to ensure the safety of vessels passing by the hazard.

LV50 was stationed originally on the Seven Stones reef off the Isles of Scilly, considered to be the most dangerous reef in Britain. She was then moved along the South Coast to be stationed at a sandbank known as Shambles off Weymouth, then Warner off the Isle of Wight, Calshot Spit in Southampton water, and finally Outer Gabbard in the Thames Approaches North East of Felixstowe.

These vessels were normally on station for up to three years before being towed to a depot for service and repair. At this point they were often re-chained and if going to a new station anchors changed to account for the new station sea bed. Normally in sand or silt an inverted mushroom anchor was used and in the case of reefs a Martin anchor was utilized.

After 73 years of hard service, repairs and refits the old lady was finally decommissioned and removed to a breakers yard in Harwich. It was here in 1952 that she was rescued by RNYC and towed to Blyth to become the third vessel to serve as the club’s house yacht.

An early view 10 years after her arrival circa 1962. Note the lantern still in situ, which was later removed for safety reasons. (Photograph courtesy Peter Fairbairn)

An early view 10 years after her arrival circa 1962. Note the lantern still in situ, which was later removed for safety reasons. (Photograph courtesy Peter Fairbairn)

Today she is our much loved House Yacht and has been transformed inside to provide, a bar, a saloon and associated galley able to serve an a la-carte menu to members who enjoy many functions on board her during the year. The upper deck has been fitted with a race office as well as toilets and showers installed by the Club for the use of the members. Previously in this area had been located a deck-house, skylight to the lower deck and the exhaust pipe for the crew’s cooking stove. Forward of this modified deck-house area were located the towing bits and anchor windlass with chain exiting through hawse pipes to the anchors resting against the stem cheeks.

A small reception area now leads down to the lower deck, where the saloon in the forward part of the vessel has been split into two areas; the upper area was where the crew slept in hammocks while the lower area contained their mess table and cooking range.  The anchor chains dropped through here from the main deck and were stored in the bilge below the crew sleeping area with the exposed chain shackled to deck support stanchions of which there were 4 in this sleeping area.

The main-mast is also seen at the rear of the saloon and this is taken right through onto the keel to provide strength. Behind the mast are the remains of the clockwork mechanism used to drive the rotation of the lantern which when hoisted allowed other vessel to observe a flashing sequence of lights.

At various times during the year, for example Heritage Open Days, RNYC kindly opens her to the public; these and other events are hosted by the Friends of LV50, who also researched and compiled much of the information on her history.

HY Tyne III at her mooring on the dolphin in South Harbour, Blyth

HY Tyne III at her mooring on the dolphin in South Harbour, Blyth in 1996

Key dates

  • 1879 Built by Fletcher, Son and Fearnall, Union Dock, London to a design by Bernard Waymouth
  • 1879 Initial Station was Seven Stones, Scilly Isles
  • 1883 Removed to London for repairs and overhaul and placed back on Seven Stones
  • 1886 Following severe storm damage she was towed to London
  • 1887 Back in for repairs and then becomes London Spare
  • 1891 Stationed at Shambles, Weymouth
  • 1893 Brought in for repairs and overhaul and placed back on Shambles
  • 1900 Brought in for repairs (and probably paced back on Shambles)
  • 1909 Stationed at Outer Gabbard, off Felixstowe
  • 1912 Brought in for repairs (not known if she then went back to outer Gabbard or was placed on Nore)
  • 1916 At Nore, and damaged by HM Torpedo boat
  • 1919 Damaged by SS “Zeeland” and taken off Nore
  • 1920 LV50 being prepared to go to East Goodwin (No information of LV50 at East Goodwin)
  • 1924 At Outer Gabbard
  • 1925 Brought in for repairs and overhaul
  • 1926 Became Spare at Harwich
  • 1929 At Galloper
  • 1940 At Warner (not known when placed there)
  • 1943 At Calshot Spit after fit with deck house protection
    Damaged by “Duke of Wellington”
  • 1944 Damaged by 2 HM Invasion Craft
  • 1945 Damaged by a HM Landing Craft and brought in for repairs
    Placed back on Calshot Spit
  • 1951 Damaged by tug “Resnova” and brought in for repairs
    Trinity House decided to decommission LV50
  • 1952 RNYC rescued LV50 from breakers yard to become their club ship
    LV50 was on station during both WWI and WW2

Bibliography

  • Leading Lights Light Vessel Directory (1995)
  • The Northumbrian A Lightship to the rescue (1998)
  • Lighthouse and Lightship, G W. Phillips
  • Lost Sounds, A Renton (2001)
  • “The Seven Stones Light Vessel” The Institute of Civil Engineering (1879)
  • The Cornishman archive (25 Sep 1879)

Read about important discoveries made in May 2016 by The Friends of LV 50 regarding our House Yacht Tyne III.