BR17: Lighthouses of the Isle of Man

Lighthouses on the Isle of Man have been the responsibility of the Commissioners for Northern Lights since 1817. This seems to have come about because of inaction on the part of the Corporation of Trinity House and the Duke of Atholl. On December 30th 1771, John Quayle wrote to the Duke and said that a Mr Ludwidge had taken part of Langness and had proposed to the shipping trade of Whitehaven and Workington that he was prepared to build a lighthouse there as a private venture if they would agree to a levy of one penny a ton light money. Many of the ship owners had agreed to this, but the Liverpool owners did not favour Langness at all. They much preferred the Calf of Man because its great height would make a light more visible. The Liverpool traders were also not in favour of a private venture of this kind and thought that trustees should be appointed. This disagreement with the Liverpool traders seemed to result in a stalemate which lasted until 1815.

After years of inaction the Commissioners of Northern Lights had gradually become involved and on May 2nd they wrote to the Duke remarking that their attention had been drawn repeatedly by the trade to the great hazard to which their shipping was exposed for want of lights on the extreme points of the Isle of Man and that they were prepared to apply for power to remedy the defect. It took another two years before at last things started to move in earnest. Finally, on January 15th 1817, Sir William Rae wrote a letter to the Duke on behalf of the Commissioners in which he queried the amount of compensation to be paid for the required ground which was about ten acres. While, under the Act, they could have the rents fixed by a jury, they had never had to resort to that, as until then every proprietor had been most reasonably disposed. They were surprised therefore to find that in addition to paying a ground rent they were expected to pay no less than a further £50 per year because the tenant of the Calf would no longer have the exclusive right to it. The Commissioners were of the opinion that their proposal to erect a harbour would have added greatly to the convenience of the tenant. They would never consider such an unreasonable demand and would if necessary resort to Parliament for powers to take the ground at a fair value. They trusted that this would not be necessary and that His Grace would use his influence with the tenant.

After further delays, the Duke must have at last replied to the Commissioners for on June 7th 1817 they wrote accepting his offer of ten acres of land on the Calf on a yearly quit rent of ten pounds a year, the Duke to satisfy all clams that might be made by the tenant. At last, after no less than forty-seven years during which many vessels were lost and their unfortunate crews drowned, agreement was reached. The Commissioners must have done much preliminary work for it only took a further ten months to complete the job. On the night of February 1st, 1818, the lights were lit on the Calf of Man and the Commissioners have managed the lights on the island ever since.