In America, we have the Shore Village Museum in Rockland, Maine, and, of course the planned Great Lakes Lighthouse Museum and the planned National Lighthouse Museum, but for those of you who don't know, England also has a first class museum honoring lighthouses.
The Trinity House Lighthouse Museum occupies the old Trinity House buoy store and is built on the exact site where the granite and Portland stone blocks were cut for the Longships and Wolf Rock Lighthouse towers. The buoy store was part of the Penzance Depot, where buoys were repaired and refurbished. A selection of buoys is now on display outside the museum. Buoys were collected from their station by a Trinity House buoy tender, winched ashore onto a railway trolley, and shuttled to the yard. The rail tracks and the remains of the turntable can be seen outside the museum entrance.
After being used as a store for redundant pieces of equipment for many years, an EEC grant helped finance the necessary conversion work and the museum opened to the public in 1990 and was officially opened in 1991. It now hosts about 10,000 visitors a year.
The floor of the museum is still the original 100mm thick rosewood blocks and the much used 5 ton Tangye travelling gantry crane is still in place.
In 1994, the original solid wooden gates were replaced by wrought iron gates and an archway, which was dedicated to the volunteers who have helped to maintain and run the museum.
Within the museum, the four hundred fifty year history of Trinity House's contribution to maritime safety is traced. Using visual displays, video, service equipment and models, the workings of the lighthouse service and the advances in technology over the years is explained.
Few restrictions are placed on visitors, who may touch and operate many of the artifacts. One of the highlights is the reconstructed lighthouse room, where visitors, surrounded by original curved furniture can let their imagination wander and imagine being cut-off from the rest of the world by miles of storm tossed ocean. And, visitors are encouraged to take as many photographs as they want.
Any questions? Just ask the staff of volunteers, many of whom are ex-Trinity House lighthouse personnel. Their knowledge is what the museum describes as the "living link" with times past of the Trinity House Lighthouse Service of Yesteryear.
The museum is open every day from Easter to October and there is a nominal admission charge. They also have a gift shop to take a memory of your visit home.
If you would like to visit the museum, Penzance has a enormous appeal to any tourist. Easily reached by road and rail and with helicopter and ferry links to the Isles of Scilly, the town has many historic buildings to loiter over, particularly the picturesque chapel street, with its antique shops and the gleaming colors of the National Trust owned Egyptian House.
For further information on the museum or a brochure, you can write Commercial Manager, Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre,
Wharf Road, Penzance, Cornwall,
TR18 4BN, Great Britain.
This story appeared in the
December 1998 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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