Digest>Archives> August 2001

Old Perch Rock Lighthouse Learns New Tricks

By Jeremy D'Entremont

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The Black Rock Fort and Lighthouse near ...

England’s Perch Rock Lighthouse, also known as New Brighton Lighthouse or Black Rock Lighthouse, is located near Liverpool in the northwest corner of the Wirral Peninsula in New Brighton, at the mouth of the River Mersey. Perch Rock gets its name from the wooden “perch” that once held the navigational light before the lighthouse. The stone lighthouse, based on John Smeaton’s Eddystone tower, took three years to build and was completed in 1830. The lower part of the 90-foot lighthouse is solid granite, with three stories of living quarters above. The light was automated in 1925 and eventually decommissioned in 1973.

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The destruction of the American emigrant ship ...

The lighthouse is just offshore from Fort Perch Rock, a coastal defense battery built in 1826 to protect the Port of Liverpool. The fort, nicknamed the “Little Gibraltar of the Mersey,” is now privately owned and is the site of a museum that is open all year. The museum houses one of England’s largest collections of World War II aviation relics.

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The Perch Rock Lighthouse in August 2000.
Photo by: James Peel

After its decommissioning, the Perch Rock Lighthouse was bought by Norman Kingham with an agreement that he maintain the building. The tower was actually used for a time as a honeymoon suite. It’s possible to walk to the tower at low tide, but access requires climbing a 25-foot ladder to the doorway.

A restoration of the lighthouse began last year and on October 28, 2000, the lighthouse was relit. The relighting was part of the year-long “River of Light” festival held to mark the new millennium. Unlike most lighthouses, Perch Rock does not have a simple characteristic or flash. Instead, it broadcasts messages in Morse Code. Artist James Peel, a 1998 graduate of the Royal College of Art, installed the lighting system with support from the Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust and New Wallasey Regeneration.

The lighthouse presently emits flashing bursts of light which in Morse Code spell out the names of 176 men, women and children who were lost on board the American emigrant ship Ocean Monarch. The vessel sailed from Liverpool for the United States in 1848. The signal from the lighthouse can only be seen from the inland side, and is visible over a half mile radius during the day and a three mile radius at night.

Beginning this past February, the software that controls the light has been made interactive. By contacting James Peel, you can broadcast your own message of up to fifteen words. You can also select the day, if available, that you would like to see your message sent from the lighthouse. This service is free to use.

The restoration of the lighthouse is progressing and should be finished before the end of this year. The lighthouse management is developing a website, webcam and on-site information board. James Peel is also interested in investigating the possibility of installing a similar lighting system in a lighthouse on the northeast coast of the United States, with the possibility of linking the lighthouses in some way.

The website for the lighthouse is at www.newbrightonlighthouse.com. For more information you can email James Peel at jpeel8000@aol.com

This story appeared in the August 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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