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Bidston Lighthouse
Bidston Lighthouse

Until 1769 there had been two lighthouses at Leasowe, Wirral to assist shipping approaching the
River Mersey. When the lighthouses appeared aligned from the ships approaching the Mersey, the
captains knew that they were approaching the correct channel. However, in 1769 one of the
lighthouses, which had been situated a quarter of a mile off-shore at Leasowe , was washed away in
a severe storm. It was decided therefore to replace it with one in a prominent and safer position
further inland, and Bidston Hill, on the northernmost point of the sandstone ridge that forms the
backbone of Wirral was chosen.

On June 5th. 1771 the Dock Trustees were directed " to treat with Mr. Vyner about the site and the
erection of a Lighthouse on Bidston Hill", and in the same year the work commenced. It was built of
dressed stone, octagonal in shape, 55 feet/18 metres high and situated a few yards south of the
present lighthouse. The building had five floors, the top one being the lantern room 16 feet 6 inches /
5 metres high where there was an access door on to a gallery , supported on heavy stone brackets,
with a cast-iron railing running all round the outside. The walls of the building were battered back by
4 inches at each floor, and each floor level had a single window facing the town of Birkenhead.

Capt. William Hutchinson was appointed in 1759 as one of its Liverpool Dock masters. Born in
Newcastle on Tyne, he was a no nonsense privateer, author of two nautical publications, developer
of oil lights and the worlds first parabolic reflector for use in lighthouses. William Hutchinson had also
gathered observations of winds and tides that led to the well-known Holden's Tide tables, which only
ceased publication in the 1970s when they were replaced by Laver's. Whilst it is assumed that the
first Wirral lighthouses may have burnt coal as an illuminant, it is more definite that the first Bidston
Lighthouse of 1771 used oil. Hutchinson was experimenting with reflectors as early as 1763 and
there is a reference in the Liverpool Council meetings that a reflecting mirror was erected at in that
year at the Bidston signal station. The station had been erected in 1763 from wood, to a design of
Mr. Lightholler. Hutchinson's original reflectors are preserved at Trinity House, London.

In 1801 Mr. Robert Stevenson the celebrated lighthouse engineer, referred to Bidston and said "the
light is from oil, with one reflector of silvered glass 13 feet and 6 inches in diameter with a four foot
focus. The immense reflector is lit by one large cotton wick which consumes one gallon of oil every
four hours". The light was a fixed white light, the same as at Leasowe lighthouse, and it could be
seen 21 miles. A cowl fixed to the lead roof and a copper flue pipe extracted the fumes from the oil
light and ventilated the lantern room.

It was taken over by the trustees of the Liverpool Docks in 1815 and then by the Mersey Docks and
Harbour Board in 1858. This was also the year in which the telegraph service, which was also on the
top of Bidston Hill, and the lighthouse service were amalgamated.

The first Bidston Lighthouse was constructed of local sandstone, octagonal in shape and 55 feet high.
There were five floors, the top one of which was the lantern room which had access to a railed
external gallery. In the lantern room was an oil light said to consume one gallon of oil every four
hours, and a single reflector thirteen and a half feet in diameter. Both of these were invented by
William Hutchinson . Fumes from the oil were extracted by a flue through a cowl on the roof. The fixed
white light, similar to that at Leasowe lighthouse, could be seen for twenty one miles.

The original Bidston Lighthouse was demolished by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1872. It
was replaced by a more modern structure, , with the most powerful diotropic light of the day the
building was completed in 1873 and during construction a temporary light was shown on the roof of
the Telegraph office.

The second lighthouse which still exists today, is circular in design, and is again constructed from local
sandstone, with a green conical roof. There are four floors connected by a spiral stone staircase to
the third level, from where there is a steep wooden staircase to the lamp room. Here there is a very
large window and access to an external railed gallery. The light was provided by a single lamp with
an illuminatory power equivalent to 400 standard candles.  Built in stone blocks with a " rock face "
finish, it has four floors connected by a spiral stone staircase to the third level and thereafter by a
steep wooden staircase to the lamp room. This lamp room has an enormous window, in line with
Leasowe lighthouse, and there is access to an external gallery with a cast-iron railing all round the
upper structure.

The lighthouse service was discontinued in 1913, due to the installation of buoys indicating the
channel into Liverpool, and also the advances in marine navigation. In 2000, structural work was
carried out by Wirral Borough Council, with the aid of lottery funding, New Opportunities Wirral,
COPUS and NERC. Exhibits were created by staff from The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory and
the lighthouse was opened to the public during the Open Days of June and July 2000 and for several
days since.
Above: The date stone above the main  
entrance to the building.

Below: An External view of present
day Bidston Lighthouse.

Below: The entrance to the present
lighthouse with date stone above the door