Milford Haven has long been considered one of the best deep water harbours in the UK, and is today host to trawlers and oil tankers. However, the approach into Milford Haven can be tricky because there are two groups of reef almost mid channel. The greatest danger is Crow Rock and Toes which lays about 7 miles south-east of St Ann’s Head. This reef has been the cause of more ship wrecks than the reefs within the harbour itself.
Just outside the village of Dale, and on the tip of the Dale Peninsula jutting out into the entrance to Milford Haven stands St Ann’s Head Lighthouse. In 1485, when Henry Tudor landed here on his way to Bosworth Field, there is a tradition that after he was crowned he erected a chapel to commemorate the landing. The chapel has since disappeared but George Owen in the late sixteenth century, giving details of making a landfall, stressed the importance of the tower of St Ann’s Chapel as a landmark. He described the chapel as being `decayed’ with a round tower about 20ft (6.1m) high resembling a windmill or pigeon house, but he makes no mention of a light.
In 1662 Trinity House approved the building of a coal fired tower to guide shipping safely into the haven. This was the first lighthouse on the Welsh Coast. Payment for the tower and it’s maintenance was paid for by voluntary contribution from the ships passing into the Haven, however, the owners were extracting payment illegally and the tower was closed by order of Parliament in 1668. Maybe not the best decision as it left the ships in danger on the approach into harbour. Following a great deal of active petitioning it wasn’t until another 40 years had passed before another lighthouse of built. Trinity House granted a patent for a new lighthouse on 15th March 1717. The lease for the new lighthouse was leased to the land owner, Joseph Allen, for an annual rent of £10 for 99 years.
The terms of the lease required Allen to build two lighthouses on St Ann’s Head near to the site of the original discontinued lighthouse. To pay for the building and upkeep he was allowed to collect dues from the shipmasters at Milford Haven. British ships paid 1 penny per ton of cargo, and foreign vessels 2 pence per ton. The two lights were lit by coal fire, and became operational on the 24th June 1714. It turns out that the lights were lit before the lease was signed, which suggests that the need for the lights was urgent.
But why 2 lights, when everywhere else has only 1 light? The Isles of Scilly light house has only 1 light and it was necessary to ensure that ships were able to distinguish between the two. Sensible in an age when navigation technology was much more limited than today. The high light, with its original height of 75 feet, could be seen from a distance of 22 miles. The lower light at 42 foot was built in front nearer the cliff edge, and has a range of 18 nautical miles.. But the lower light had to be rebuilt in 1841 when it was put at risk by cliff erosion. The rear light continued in operation until 1910, leaving St Ann’e Head with a single light. The lantern was dismantled during the Second World War and rebuilt as an observation post. It is now a holiday cottage, and so are the keepers cottages.
The lower light continued to be manned and serviced by four keepers. It also provided support for helicopter operations for the outlying lighthouses at South Bishop, The Smalls and Skokholm. Eventually in 1998 the lower light house was automated, and is now monitored by the Trinity House control room in the South East of England.
Coflein https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/34347/details/st-anns-head-lighthouse. Accessed 08/07/2019. Trinity House. https://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouses-and-lightvessels/st-anns-head-lighthouse. Accessed 07/07/2019.
4th July 2019