On one of pair of small islands laying just off the southern tip of the Lleyn near Abersoch you can find the neat and small St Tudwal Lighthouse. The light was erected in 1877 to mark and protect shipping at the northern end of Cardigan Bay. By lighthouse standard sit’s not that tall at 10.7m (35 ft) high, but its position means it doesn’t have to be, as it covers the inshore area for the local shipping.
St Tudwal’s is one of the ‘inner’ lights along the Welsh coast – the Skerries and Smalls forming the ‘outer’ lights for the vast flow of 18th and 19th century empire trade heading for Liverpool. However, St Tudwal was needed because Bardsey Lighthouse further west could not be seen by ships coming from the west side of Tremadoc Bay. Cargo ships and schooners general cargo and slate from the quarries of North Wales travelling from the ports or Porthmadoc and other Welsh ports remained at the mercy of the winds and rocks as they skirted around the Lleyn.
The need for the lighthouse was recognised as early as 1845 when William Harries, clerk to the Justice of Peace for Pembrokeshire had responded to an enquiry from the clerk of the Parliamentary Lighthouse Committee stating ‘I have had communications with the most influential master mariners and other persons connected with shipping in this vicinity, and their unanimous opinion is that a great loss of life and property annual takes placed for want of some harbour of refuge, and of course, a lighthouse connected with it, on the whole of the Welsh coast from St David’s Head to Bardsey Island’.
Local merchants and mariners continued to petition for a lighthouse to protect lives and trade along the coast. In 1870 a Liverpool schooner, the Kenilworth was wrecked on the rocks of Porth Ceiriad. The crew were saved, but the cargo was lost. In January 1872 the ship Ireland wrecked just off Abersoch, and then in November the schooner Maria of Aberystwyth was driven ashore at Castell March, near Abersoch. Her crew were rescued by the Abersoch Lifeboat Mabel Louisa. Prosperity a little Porthmadog ship was lost in Cardigan Bay with a load of lead from one of the local mines in 1873. Also in 1873 the Jane and Helen of Nefyn, was also lost off Porth Caeriad in 1873. There are many more, all emphasising the dangerous nature of the ship trade.
Eventually action was taken and in 1876 Trinity House purchased the land for £111. The following year the lighthouse was completed. This was a 36ft cylindrical masonry tower, with lantern, gallery and adjacent single-storey keepers’ dwellings. Its mode of operation is noted on an historic chart ‘Light occulting every 10 second, 151 ft, visible 18miles. Lower light flashing red, 135ft, visisble 17 miles.’
It’s not possible to land on the island to have a look around as St Tudwal West is now in private hands, owned by Bear Grills. Oh well…good luck to him and his family. I hope they have fun and make the best of an intriguing island. Though I’m not sure if Tescos delivers out there.