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by Richenda Fairhurst, historyfish.net. September 2008.
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is a pious work to help Christians exposed to the dangers of the sea,
Whilst the hermits of the island, the forest, or the cave, chose their haunts chiefly with a view to solitude, there were others who took up their abode with more regard to the direct service of their fellowmen.
The Church was
the pioneer in
many works of mercy and utility, including the provision and
beacons, bridges, roads, harbours, and even forts.
Tynemouth Priory kept up a lamp on St. Mary’s
The chapel of St. Nicholas on Lantern Hill, about 100 feet above the haven of Ilfracombe, was, and still is, used as a lighthouse. Year by year throughout the winter a beacon burned on the top of this chapel “as if it were a star flashing in the night” : so wrote Bishop Veysey in 1522, when he testified to its usefulness in stormy weather, and invited people to stretch forth a helping hand for the upkeep of the guiding light.2 On the promontory near St. Ives, there was another conspicuous sea-mark. “There is now,” says Leland, “at the very point of Pendinas a chapel of S. Nicolas,
and a pharos for lighte for shippes sailing by night in those quarters.”
frequently to act as
coastguards and light-keepers at these lonely stations.
In the days of Edward III, John Puttock
settled on the seashore near
probable that a leading
light was shown from the chapel at St. Edmund’s Point.
Near the old
other hermitages on
the shores of the
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So that the seid Richard, havyng compassion and pitee of the Cristen poeple that ofte tymes are there perisshed, and also of the Godes and Marchaundise there lost, hath begunne in weye of Charite, in Salvacon of Cristen poeple, Godes and Marchaundises comyng into Humbre, to make a Toure to be uppon day light a redy Bekyn, wheryn shal be light gevyng by nyght, to alle the Vasselx that comyn into the seid Ryver of Humbre.3
enterprising man had begun
his tower, but needed assistance in finishing it. He
accordingly made a petition to Parliament,
setting forth that the tower “may not be made nor brought to an ende
grete cost,” and proposed that a tax should be levied on every ship
frequency of wrecks
is shown by the duty incumbent upon the coastguard-chaplain of Reculver. On that cliff was a chapel “ordeyned for the
sepulture of suche persons as by casualty of storms or other incident
mysaventures were perished”. When the
hermitage was founded is not known ; but it was becoming ruinous in
Thomas Hamond, “hermyte of the chapell of St. Peter, St. James, and
A hermit kept watch at St. Margaret’s-at-cliffe on the South
Nicholas de Legh dwelt in this hermitage of “St. Margaret atte Staire”
“Stair” was probably (like “St. Margaret’s Gate”) a passage from the
Bay to the
cliff. Local tradition declares that the
cell was cut in the chalk cliff, near the modern lighthouses, and that
lantern was hung up there to guide ships at sea. Possibly
the hermitage on the
Down, in the
There stands on
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that no institutions occur in the Sarum registers suggests that this lonely chantry was held by some semi-independent person.
had a hermitage
beside which stood a cross for a sea-mark. The
chapel is described as an old one in 1413. Indulgences
were frequently offered by the
bishop to those who should give alms for its preservation.
In 1511 there was a “hermyt of Seynt
Kateryn”. Leland writes : “Ther is a
righte goodly walke on a hille without the toun by south caullid the How, and a fair chapel of S.
Catarine on it”. Several other
cells were standing in his day. Describing
Branksea (or Brownsea)
There was also
a hermit’s cell in
the cliff6 at
The hermitage had recently been rebuilt (1530) by Joachim de Vaux, the French ambassador, who afterwards declared that the little chapel in the cliff had been restored by himself “in honour of Our Lady and of that holy peace of which their majesties made him the instrument”. Discord, however,
connexion with the
chapel, because it was served by a French chaplain, Jean de Ponte, who
always in trouble with the comptroller of the king’s works at
While the harbours,
fortresses were rising at
By the men of his own day, however, the friar was regarded as a “false French knave”. The comptroller of the works himself begged Cromwell to command the mayor to expel him, because he advertised strangers of all that was done in those parts. It is of interest to notice that it was partly the light shown in the hermitage which provoked ill-feeling. “These persons,” complained Jean de Ponte, “because I have a light in my chapel at night when I go to bed or to my book, say I have a light for the king’s enemies, which is not true.” But the light was soon to be extinguished. At this opportune moment (1537), the authorities determined to extend the harbour works to Arcliff, nor is it surprising that the Sieur de Vaux sought in vain to turn from their purpose those who
intended to destroy the chapel by the construction of a bulwark. For some years, indeed, a fisherman peacefully occupied the cell ; but the place having been undermined by Arcliff fort, it was eventually swept away by a tempestuous sea.
sea-mark on the cliffs
During the sixteenth century many of the old beacons were destroyed or fell into disrepair owing, doubtless, in many cases, to the suppression of religious houses. It was, however, a happy circumstance that the Fraternity of the Blessed Trinity had recently been founded at Deptford. This religious guild was instituted in 1514 for the benefit of mariners. In 1536 a similar guild of the Holy Trinity was founded at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was empowered to erect stone towers at the mouth of the Tyne for “signals, metes, and bounds,” and the two towers were to be “perpetually lighted at night”.11 By an Act of Parliament the erection of sea-marks for the guidance of navigators was afterwards committed to the sole charge of the Trinity House, Deptford. This Act (1566) contains a tribute to the work done by way of charity in bygone days :—
Forasmuch as by the dystroyeng and taking awaye of certaine Steeples Woods and other Markes standing upon the mayne Shores . . . being as Beakons and Markes of auncyent tyme accustomed for seafaring Men to save and kepe them and the Shippes in their Charge from sundry Daungers thereto incident, divers Shyppes . . . have by the lacke of suche Markes of late yeres ben myscaried perished and lost in the Sea, to the great Detryment and Hurte of the Comon Weale, and the perysheng of no smale number of People,”12 etc.
story of the
watchers of our coasts must be sought in the annals of the Trinity
House. The scientifically-equipped
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1. G. B. Hodgson, S.
Shields, 287 ; Pat. 31 Hen. III, m. 6.
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