South Stack is one of Wales’ most visited and spectacular lighthouses.
It is located about 2-3 miles west of Holyhead, on a tiny islet just off Holy Island on the North West tip of Anglesey.
It has been a warning beacon for passing ships since it’s construction over 200 years ago, cautioning them of the deadly rocks below.
The lighthouse helps guide shipping in the busy channel into the Mersey and is a waymark for local seafarers, but also for coastal traffic crossing the Irish Sea too and from the ports of Holyhead, Dublin and Dun Laoghaire.
Situated off the island of Anglesey, near the north west tip of Wales, the tiny islet known as South Stack Rock lies separated from Holyhead Island by 30 metres of turbulent sea. The coastline around the south western shore is made of large granite cliffs rising sheer from the sea to 60 metres.
South Stack Lighthouse was first envisaged in 1665 when a petition for a patent to erect the lighthouse was presented to Charles II, but the patent was not granted.
The first light appeared to mark the rock years
later, on the 9th February 1809, to provide a beacon to the east bound shipping on the dangerous sea passage between Dublin, Holyhead and Liverpool.
Not until 1828, eight years after the lighthouse was finished, was a bridge added. Before it was added, the only means of crossing the deep-water channel to the island was via a wicker basket, suspended on a hempen cable. Yes, people had to brave the swirling seas below them in nothing more than a hamper-like container on a rope!
The building stands 28 metres tall, and can be seen for about twenty-eight miles, depending on the height of the observer above sea level on the vessel. Around 1840 a railway was installed by means of which a lantern with a subsidiary light could be lowered down the cliff to sea level, when fog obscured the main light.
In 1928 a thirty metre iron suspension bridge was erected so that the deep water channel to the lighthouse could be crossed safely.
The current bridge to the lighthouse is a new aluminium structure, but there are still around 400 steps for the thousands of annual visitors to descend and then ascend again on the way back.
On 12th September 1984, the lighthouse was automated and the keepers withdrawn. The light and fog signal are now remotely controlled and monitored from the Trinity House Centre in Harwich, Essex, a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers. Its corporation has a long and illustrious history in the service of mariners, and they have a statutory duty, as a General Lighthouse Authority, “to deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigational services for the benefit and safety of all mariners”.
The safety of shipping and the wellbeing of seafarers have been the prime concerns of Trinity House since being incorporated by Henry VIII on the 20th of May, 1514.
It is said that on the 25th and 26th of October 1859 an extraordinary storm, the most severe of that century, (known as the “Royal Charter Storm” after the famous steam clipper that was lost that day on the coast of Anglesey with over 450 souls onboard) smashed the western coast of Britain, sinking 133 ships and badly damaging a further 90 (at least, according to the Board of Trades records).
The assistant lighthouse keeper at South Stack at that time was John ‘Jack’ Jones, and on his way to the lighthouse on the 25th of October he was struck on the head by a falling rock from the cliff face just as he reached the suspension bridge.
Jack was critically hurt, but he managed to get across the bridge in the gale force 12 storm, climb the path and reach the lighthouse. Regrettably his cries for help were drowned out by the storm, and he wasn’t found until the next day by his fellow keeper Henry Bowen, lying outside the door to the lighthouse, groaning and unable to move, his hair matted with blood.
He died three weeks later of a compound fracture of the skull.
It is said that heavy footsteps can be heard along with strange screams, and that rattling of doors and the rapping on windows is said to be the ghost of the lighthouse keeper in search of shelter from the storm.