SOUTH Gare Lighthouse – Life at

Accreditation Cleveland Standard 1934  

Watching For The Ships That Pass


          Do you know that every night incoming ships are guided into the Tees-mouth by the light from a “primus” (camping stove equipped with an ordinary gas mantle and worked by a grandfather’s clock?
Probably that is not literally correct, but it is certainly the principle by which the South Gare Lighthouse on the breakwater end at the mouth of the Tees works.
The light, intensely magnified by specially cut glasses and “bulls eyes,” come from a small paraffin vapour burner built on the ordinary camping stove, while the flame is enshrouded in a “common or garden” mantle.
This warning light, visible ten miles away, flashes every twelve seconds with a three seconds’ flash, and the system which causes these regular flashes is that of the old fashioned grandfather’s clock with its weights and pendulum.
The light itself revolves in a trough of mercury and the only gear is that connected with the “grandfather clock.”
This (writes a “Standard” representative) was what I learned on a recent visit to South Gare from one of the lighthouse men, Mr. W. Curtis)
From him I learned that the paraffin which feeds the lamp is forced through the vapouriser at a pressure of 60lbs. per square inch. As soon as the lamp is lit the action of the mantle on the flame- spreader sends so much gas into two Bunsen tubes, one at each side of the vapouriser. This supplies a flame to keep the vapouriser heated while the light is on.
Ships approaching from the direction of Saltburn see a red flash which warns them they are near to the rocks, whereupon they steer out to sea until the white light is visible, when they know that they are in the “fairway” and have a clear course into the mouth of the Tees.
I asked Mr. Curtis about life on the South Gare breakwater as a lighthouse keeper. He has been employed in this capacity for nine years (1925). He and Messrs. J. W. Dearing (leading light keeper) and Mr. I. Wilds work in eight-hour shifts. Mr. Curtis has served the longest.
His main duty is to look after the light and compressors which operate the fog horn, which also worked on the “grandfather clock” principle.
Passing messages to ships and keeping a check on all incoming and outgoing vessels is another of his jobs, while routine duty is to prepare weather reports.
To the laymen the job of lighthouse keeper suggests a life teeming with excitement. That is what I thought until Mr.  Curtis casually remarked that working on the breakwater on a stormy night was no worse than strolling along Redcar promenade in a storm!
“The sea sometimes breaks over the top of the lighthouse,” he said, “but the huge concrete blocks which are thrown over every year break the sea into spray.”
Incidentally, these concrete blocks weigh about 80 tons and over 700 have been arranged round the edge of the breakwater since it was built some 45 years ago. Seven more are being guided into position along slipways this month.
“It has been a very eventful life for me here,” said Mr. Curtis… and that was the most exciting story I could get from him.

More to follow later….










dean March 12, 2010 South Gare