It was Peter Hesketh’s vision to create along an empty, wind swept shore the town of Fleetwood. It was to be a brand new Victorian holiday resort and seaport. He commissioned Captain Henry Mangles Denham of the Royal Navy and the scientific Royal Society to design the port and place lighthouses to guide ships safely into it. Denham created a system of three lighthouses, unique for any town in Britain. The incoming ships would sail to the Wyre Light, two miles out at sea on the North Wharf Sandbank where the River Wyre meets the Lune Deep. At this point the navigator would look to line up the lights from the Lower and Upper Lighthouses, one above the other, to be guided into port.
The Wyre Light was the most innovative construction. It was designed in Belfast by Alexander Mitchell, a blind engineer. Built as a metal frame with piles driven into a sand bank, on top it had a wooden hexagonal building where the lighthouse keepers would work and sleep. The lamp they tended could be seen for 10 miles out at sea. In the early days tourist trips would be taken out to it and visitors would climb up a ladder to reach the top or be hauled up in a basket. In 1948 a fire broke out and the Fleetwood lifeboat was launched to rescue the keepers. The structure was left badly damaged and but the light was made automatic and continued in use up until 1979 when a lighted buoy replaced it. It is now in a ruinous state, with no authority taking responsibility for its up keep.
The other two lighthouses have fared much better and are still in use today. Both were designed by Decimus Burton the Fleetwood town architect, with the help of Captain Denham. On 1st December 1840 a steamer carrying Peter Hesketh and his invited guests launched a rocket to signal for the lighthouses to be switched on for the first time, to the cheers of a local crowd.
The Lower Lighthouse is built of white sandstone. Standing on the sea front its light can be seen for 9 miles. It was originally gas powered but was later converted to electricity. The building has two platforms, the lower larger one is supported by impressive stone columns and forms a roof over the seating area below. A pebble compass in the pavement by the side of it is a recreation of an original Victorian feature. On the beach in front of the lighthouse is a stone with the inscription ‘LQ’ which marked the end of the legal quay of the Fleetwood port.
The Upper Lighthouse it is built of Runcorn red sandstone and is much taller and of a traditional cylindrical design. It is set further back from the seafront and stands in Pharos Square. Its light can be seen from 13 miles away. Again this was originally gas lit, but now is an automatic electric one. Both lighthouses were restored in the 1960s when their white, black and red paint were stripped off to reveal the marvelous stonework beneath.
Access The Lower and Upper Lighthouses are just a short walk away from each other and the are open access to view as they stand in the streets of Fleetwood. On Heritage Days in September the Lower Lighthouse is unlocked and visitors can enter and climb up to see the light. There is currently no access inside the Upper Lighthouse.
The four foot tall Wyre Light lantern is on display at the recently reopened Fleetwood Museum (see their website here and a short Lancashire Past blog post on the reopening here). For more on the Wyre Light see a really interesting webpage at the independent Visit Fleetwood website here. There are good aerial pictures of it on this YouTube video here.
Sites visited by A. and S. Bowden 2017
Nearby, just a very short walk away Mount Pavilion, Fleetwood
Just a short drive away, Marsh Mill, the only working windmill in the north west
Fleetwood’s Three Lighthouses, Joan Radcliffe, Fleetwood Civic Society (undated leaflet) currently available from Fleetwood Civic Society
Fleetwood Historic Town Trail, Fleetwood Museum Trust (undated booklet) available from the Fleetwood Maritime Museum
Burton’s Fleetwood, Fleetwood Civic Society (undated leaflet) currently available from Fleetwood Civic Society
http://www.pastscape.org.uk Wyre Light entry (accessed 15/10/17)