Lewis Morris's view of a lighthouse tower, usually taken to be the Skerries.
From his Plans of Harbours etc 1749

Lewis Morris's ink sketch of the Skerries, from his manuscript Cambria's Coasting Pilot 1739-42.
Anglesey County Archives and Hydrographic Institute Taunton

Rev. G. J. Freeman's drawing of the second Skerries lighthouse of 1804. He visited the islands in 1824

Howell Hughes's view of the second Skerries lighthouse from Beauties of Cambria 1823

Edward Pugh's view of the Skerries from Fydlyn cove on mainland Anglesey,
just before the old coal-fired light was replaced in 1804. From his Cambria Depicta

The C18th stone bridge linking the main north and lighthouse islands

The C18th stone bridge linking the main north and lighthouse islands

The C18th stone bridge linking the main north and lighthouse islands

The original 1716 Skerries lighthouse-keeper's cottage in 1996 prior to its restoration by CADW.
The crow-stepped gables were added by Trinity House after 1840. They are of brick, rendered.

The original 1716 Skerries lighthouse-keeper's cottage in 1996 prior to its restoration by CADW.
The crow-stepped gables were added by Trinity House after 1840. They are of brick, rendered.

A sketch by Mrs Frances Williams of Llanfairynghornwy, of the Cemlyn lifeboat at work off
the Skerries. This is one of the few views confirming the presence of TWO keeper's cottages
prior to Trinity House's 1841 take-over. Sir Kyffin Williams

Douglas B.Hague's view of the inner construction and evolution of the Skerries Tower
From his Lighthouses in Wales by permission RCAHMW

     

The C18th stone well-head, covering the only fresh-water spring on the islands

THE SKERRIES LIGHTHOUSES 1717-1841

The Morris Brothers connection

From the middle of the 18th century the Skerries are mentioned in many topographical and travel works. John Price writes of them in his Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica No X A short account of Holyhead in the Isle of Anglesey as follows:

On an island called Skerries ... there is a lighthouse, erected at first by one French, a merchant of Dublin, by patent; but by an act of parliament passed in 1730, there is a duty of a penny a ton laid on British vessels passing it, or crossing the channel, and two pence on every foreigner. This light may be seen seven or eight leagues off, and is of great use to navigation. In this island, as also at the South Stack near Holyhead, puffins breed in plenty, which come in a surprizing [sic] manner in a flock in the compass of a night, and when their season comes, depart in the same manner.

Later in the same work there are notes communicated by a correspondent who is said to have visited Holyhead in 1770.

From this hill [Holyhead mountain] appears the island of Skerries with a lighthouse. This island is about three leagues N.N.W [sic] of Holyhead, and half a league from the main land. It is called in old British [ie Welsh] MSS Ynit y Moelrhoniad, from the great number of seals seen on it .... the lighthouse on it was erected first by a private gentleman by patent; but after the expiration of the term, an act of parliament passed 1730, subjecting every British vessel to a duty of 1d per ton, and every foreign 2d. The lighthouse may be seen eight or ten leagues off: and is of infinite service to navigation, for before its erection scarce a winter passed without a shipwreck and loss of lives; for the huge sea beats againft it with incredible fury, and often prevents all communication with the lightmen for some weeks. Puffins resort to this place in great plenty, coming and departing in one flock in one night. Here is also plenty of fish, as whitings, pollocks &c. and in summer time blackings or cole fish, which the fishermen frequently take up with baskets as they pass by.

We have commented elsewhere on the errors in Price’s narrative. How did they arise? It appears that his correspondent also contributed information to the Rev. John Thomas of Llandegai when the latter wrote his History of the Island of Anglesey, edited after his death by Rev. Nicholas Owen and published by Dodsley in 1775[1]. Thomas may even have been the correspondent, for his description of the Skerries matches Price’s almost word for word except that he correctly renders Ynit as Ynys. Ignorance of Welsh is understandable, as is mistaking the true name of the original lighthouse builder William Trench, but to wrongly place the islands N.N.W of Holyhead requires more explanation. Whoever the correspondent was, it seems clear that neither he nor Price nor Rev. Thomas were drawing on first hand observation but that, as in so many other areas, these authors were relying upon the authority of Lewis Morris’s description in his Plans of Harbours, Bars, Bays and Roads in St. George’s Channel (1748) where he writes

This Lighthouse lies on the Island of Skerries, about three Leagues N.N.W. of Holyhead Harbour, and about half a League from the Main: It was first erected by a private Gentleman by Patent; but by an Act of Parliament passed in the Year 1730, there is a Duty of one Penny per Tun laid on British vessels passing it, or crossing the Channel, and 2d a Tun on Foreigners. This light may be seen seven or eight Leagues off, and is of great Use to Navigation.

In fact this had been a printing error, potentially very embarrassing to Lewis Morris, as his brother William Morris recounts in a letter to their brother Richard.

Sir Thomas Prendergast of Marl found out a most unpardonable error in my brother Lewis’s books (one of which he had with him), in the description of Skerry Lighthouse: page 5 of the letterpress he says the lighthouse lies N.N.W. from Holyhead harbour whereas it lies N.N.E., a monstrous mistake which may occasion the Lord knows what losses, for a stranger steering his course by that direction must inevitably knock his ship in the head. Er mwyn Duw os yw’r brawd yn dre’sgrifennwch linell atto oni welwch ef [for God’s sake if our brother is in town drop him a line or go and see him] , that he may take care to correct as many books as he has by him and advertise as to the rest.[2]

Helen Ramage considered that Lewis Morris’s Plans of Harbours illustration [see opposite, above] was undoubtedly of the Skerries lighthouse, ‘for sixty years the only one on the Welsh Coast north of St Ann’s Point, Milford Haven’. She concluded from this print that the tower could be seen to be thirty or forty feet high, with a flat top enclosed by a parapet, upon which was mounted a grate in the shape of a large bucket; in this a coal fire was kept burning by the light-man. She noted Lewis Morris’s claim that it was visible in clear air for seven or eight leagues, but felt that in heavy winds and torrential rain the visibility would be greatly diminished. However, Douglas Hague was of the opinion that this illustration, although typical of contemporary towers, was actually a design for a projected lighthouse to be erected on Flatholm or Grassholm island in the Bristol Channel [3].

Recently, thanks to the Anglesey County Archives Department and the Cymdeithas Morrisaid Môn (Anglesey Morris Brothers Society) in collaboration with the Hydrographic Institute at Taunton in Somerset, an undoubted but previously unpublished drawing of the first Skerries lighthouse by Lewis Morris has become available for study. In the first of the two manuscript volumes of Cambria’s Coasting Pilot [4], written between 1737 and 1742, a beautiful ink sketch of the tower gleams out complete with hand-coloured Union Jack flying from the summit [see opposite]. By permission of The Anglesey County Archivist and the Hydrographic Office at Taunton, this drawing is reproduced opposite. It confirms the general correctness of the woodcut from Plans of Harbours and in all likelihood if Morris did offer the latter as a model for Grassholm or Flatholm Island it was because it was already an actual fact at the Skerries. The text accompanying this sketch makes it clear that suggestions which have been made from time to time that the first Skerries light was no more than a coal brazier on the 'front rock' where the flagstaff stood later, are wrong and that there was a true lighthouse there from the first.

There are several references to the Skerries in the published letters of the Morris brothers. In April 1740 Lewis Morris, who at the time was serving as Searcher and Coast-waiter in connection with the Customs-houses at Beaumaris and Holyhead, writes[5]

I wrote to Mr. Whormby [of Trinity House - see Robinson's paper p.350] this day about the Skerries business. I wish I could get it. It would be at least twenty pound a year in my way.

Further on in this letter he adds

Mr. Whormby could have got by it, if ye management had been left in the Trinity House.

The Skerries business which Morris hoped to get was probably either the contract to supply coal to the lighthouse, or the collectorship of the dues from passing ships. In Cambria’s Coasting Pilot he comments

There is a small harbour in this island that with no great charge might be made very safe for small vessels of about 30 tons; they now take their opportunity of a slack tide and run in here to discharge coals for the lighthouse. You have within [the lagoon ] 12 feet [3.5 m ] at low water.

It is certain that he did not secure either and we do not know which one he actually wanted. However, H. R. Davies has considered the question in great detail in his paper [which is the best authority regarding the history of the lighthouse] An account of the private lighthouse on the Skerries,[6] where he concludes that it was the latter

There are, it is said, no books at Trinity House to show whether the Corporation ever managed the Lighthouse for the proprietor in these early days. It did play a certain part in connection with the collection of the dues; but this it continued to do long after 1740. It would appear, too, that the collection of the Skerries dues was somewhat of a perquisite of the Collector of Customs at this time. It is true that William Morris, who was the Comptroller of Customs, at Holyhead, includes the collectorship of the Skerry Lights in a long list of offices of which he was performing the duties, in 1741; but the Collector was then absent, and William Morris appears to have been acting as his deputy. It seems clear that Lewis Lloyd, the new Collector of Customs, appointed in 1742, was also the collector of the Skerries dues. Lewis Morris’s letter suggests some change in the management, perhaps the proprietorship, about this time, but nothing has been found to confirm this or otherwise.

F.H.Glazebrook's account

A good account of the founding of the lighthouse on the Skerries is given in F. H. Glazebrook’s book Anglesey and the North Wales Coast.[7]

For more than two hundred years there has been a warning light on Skerries Rock, from the time when a fire of coals burning in a brazier threw its lurid glow over the sea, to the erection of the modern lighthouse with its four million candle-power beam. The founder of the lighthouse on the Skerries was one William Trench, an Irish gentleman, born in 1642. He was a contemporary of the Duke of Ormonde, whose father, Viscount Thurles, and whose future wife’s father, the Earl of Desmond, had both on different occasions lost their lives in shipwrecks near the Skerries. There appears to be no connection between either the Duke or the Earl and William Trench, but it is probable that these two disasters helped to convince him that a light marking this dangerous rock would be of great benefit to mariners. In 1713or 1714 he obtained a ninety-nine years lease of the Skerries from William Robinson of Gwersyllt and Mynachdy at a rent of £10 a year until such beacon was built and thereafter a rent of £20 per annum. In the following year Trench was granted a patent by Queen Anne which empowered him to erect a beacon on the Skerries and to levy dues of ‘one penny per ton upon all shipping benefiting by the light except our ships of war’. In 1716-17 the work was completed and on 4th November 1717 a light was first exhibited on the Skerries. William Robinson, who had leased the rock to William Trench, died in the following year. But in the succeeding years the venture proved an unprofitable one. Trench found that the sum total he was able to collect in light dues was not sufficient to cover the cost of maintenance, and the unhappy man, far from reaping the reward of his enterprise, lost not only all his money but also his only son, who was drowned while bringing a cargo of materials to the Skerries. In 1725 William Trench died, and the lighthouse passed into the possession of his widow’s son-in-law, the Rev. Sutton Morgen. Five years later by Act of Parliament Morgen was given power to enforce a payment of proper dues, but he died before being able to benefit from his new powers. His interests in the Skerries passed to his niece, Rebecca Morgen, the Light dues by this time amounting to the comparatively large sum of £ l100 per annum.
      In 1739 William Robinson, grandson of the William Robinson who had originally leased the Skerries to William Trench, and 12 companions were drowned in a foolhardy attempt to return from the rock to the mainland in a storm. The lighthouse at this time consisted of a round tower about 35 feet high surmounted by an open bucket-shaped grate. In this brazier from 80 to 100 tons of coal were consumed a year. A story is told how one stormy night the light-keeper and his wife, living in a cottage near the light-tower, were frightened half out of their wits by the sudden appearance of a huge negro, who turned out to be the sole survivor of a ship which, unknown to them, had just been wrecked on the island. So much then, for the efficiency of a coal fire beacon on a wet and windy night. One can readily imagine how the glow of the fire would be all but blotted out by driving rain and spray, showing least in the direction it was most needed. After the death of Rebecca Morgen in 1778 the proprietorship of the light passed to her younger sister’s son, Morgen Jones, who in 1804 or 1805 built a new lighthouse, surmounted by a lantern containing an oil lamp with reflectors. William Trench’s lease was now drawing to an end and his heir, this Morgen Jones, made new terms with the heirs of the Robinson family, whereby in 1810 he became the owner of the Skerries. In 1826 Morgen Jones died and the ownership of the rock passed to his nephew, Morgen Jones. By the year 1828 the net income from light dues had risen to £11,800 per annum.
      In 1835 Trinity House approached Morgan Jones with a view to purchasing the Skerries, but their offer was declined. Three years later an offer of £260,000 was refused, and a further offer in 1839 of £300,000 met with the same fate. Trinity House were now buying up all the private lighthouses [8] and in 1840 the lighthouse on the Skerries was the sole survivor. Chiefly owing to the fact that the Port of Liverpool was attracting an enormous amount of overseas trade the light dues were now amounting to the sum of £3,000 per annum.
      About this time Morgan Jones died. In 1841 the question of the ownership of the Skerries was finally decided by a special jury at the Sheriff’s Court at Beaumaris and the sum of £444,984 1ls 2d [£444,984-56p] was awarded. After various mortgages and encumbrances had been deducted the representatives of the late Morgen Jones received two thirds of the purchase money and one third was paid to the descendants of William Robinson, the Skerries becoming the property of Trinity House.
     Thus, the Skerries Rock, from being worth what little seaweed a farmer might carry away in a boat to manure his land, became the leading light of a great sea route valued at close on half a million pounds.

The original source for the tragic accident was diarist William Bulkeley of Brynddu near Llanfechell, who recounts [9] how William Robinson, the owner of Mynachdy, Llanfairynghornwy and 12 others were returning through a storm from the Skerries.

… they were heated with liquor ... it blew so high and rained so fast withall, that ye people in ye Island soon lost sight of them ...

and adds how, weeks later

... the Collector of Whitehaven sent to Chester an acct of a Boat come to a check near that place, empty and miserably broke with ye lid of a Butter Box with Wm Thomas’s name upon it ... the Oars and Rudder were lost and all the sails and shrouds of the foremast wch was broke in the middle carryed off ye main mast ... so that of 13 Persons masters of Family and Fathers of small children not one is to be found alive or dead.

Davies concluded in 1924 that the lighthouse was in use before the close of 1716, and Glazebrook followed this date [see above]. However, Davies returned to the subject in 1928 and in a note published that year he wrote

Among ... Treasury papers is a Petition from William Trench, forwarded to the Treasury in April 1723, in which Mr. Trench records that after securing his patent, in 1714, he sent his son....with six seamen to commence the building of the Lighthouse. The vessel was lost with all on board ‘which occasioned ye said work to remain neglected until ye year 1717’. During this latter year, William Trench erected his Lighthouse which is about 150 foot higher than ye sea about it and on ye 4th of Nov, 1717 a fire was kindled therein and ever since supported[10] .

If Trench’s dimensions are accurate, the old tower must have been impressive; Davies recorded the height of the present lighthouse in 1928 as 75 feet [22.9m]; the light is 119 feet [36.3m] above high water level. A statement made by Edward Pugh circa 1805 [see below] casts doubt on the idea of Trench’s tower being so high, as do interpretations of the Lewis Morris print as being of Trench’s tower. Davies describes the running of the lighthouse around 1759.

In the year 1756, Sutton Morgen’s niece, Rebecca, brought her interest in the Skerries into her settlement, on the occasion of her marriage to David Lloyd of Cardigan, who on marriage assumed the name of Morgan. Rebecca Morgen would be about 43 years of age at this time. She appears from a letter received by Mr. Paul Panton, to have become proprietor about 1749. She continued to be so until her death in 1778. Thanks to Panton, it is possible to give a few facts regarding the working of the lighthouse, and Rebecca’s income from it in the year 1759. Such other scanty information as is available regarding the early lighthouse may be conveniently reviewed at the same time ...[11]

Davies next describes Lewis Morris’s drawing, considering that it can safely be taken as representing what the first lighthouse looked like. He continues

It shows a plain round tower 30 or 40 feet [9.14 to 12.2m] high and half as much in diameter. The flat top is surrounded by a parapet and upon it in its centre is a square block of masonry 3 to 4 feet [.9 to 1.22 m] across and about same height, forming a platform upon which the grate is mounted The grate, composed of stout iron bars, has the form of a large bucket, considerably wider at the open top than at its base. It is between 3 and 4 feet high and about the same across the top.

Davies disputes Lewis Morris’s claim that the Skerries light was visible for 7 or 8 leagues [15.51 or 17.72 km]. William Vickers, the Holyhead postmaster, ran the Skerries lighthouse and had the coal supply contract in 1759. According to him, the consumption of coal varied from 80 to 100 tons [84280 to 101600 kg] a year; as other contemporary lights consumed nearer 300 tons [304800 kg] the Skerries must have been comparatively small. Davies notes Paul Panton the Elders’s interest in the lighthouse. He continues

Panton’s interest in the Skerries ... was that he had conceived the idea of erecting another lighthouse, this time on Puffin Island. In the end, Panton did not take the matter further.

The Skerries in early prints and visitor accounts

A beautiful compendium of illustrations of Wales, Edward Pugh’s Cambria Depicta of 1816, contains an important paragraph on the Skerries and a fine view which is reproduced opposite. From internal evidence, Pugh must have written in about 1805 or 1806:

The Skerries has had a lighthouse on it ever since the reign of Queen Anne, and was, until lately, lighted with coals, at the expense of about £150 per year; it was last year considerably raised. The building cost nearing £3000. The expense of lighting it with oil, and other changes, is about £1000 annually, and it now produces an average of £4000 per annum to the proprietor, Morgan [sic] Jones Esq, of Cardigan, South Wales. About eighty years ago it was purchased for £200.

Pugh’s print is puzzling at first sight, as it seems to show cliffs more massive than any found on the islands. However, a moment’s consideration of the apparent distance of the lighthouse makes it clear that this is a view from the mainland. Then anyone familiar with the north-west coast of Anglesey will readily recognise the beach at Ynys y Fydlyn. There is actually some interest attached to the date of the view. From internal evidence in Cambria Depicta it can be convincingly argued that Pugh’s tour occurred during 1802 or 1803. A copy which was once the property of Mr R. T. Pritchard of Bangor, has a marginal note at the end of the preface.

This itinerary took place in 1802 or 1803. Pugh travels through Nant Ffrancon up to Ogwen Lake on the left or north-west side i.e. with the river on his left [pp.104-105]. He refers to the new road being constructed on the North side of the valley [p.109]. This is the turnpike road. The Capel Curig Turnpike Trust was formed in 1802.

If this is correct, then Pugh’s view must show the old coal-fired light at the very end of its career, as work on the second lighthouse only began in 1804-5. Very close examination of the print, which is quite detailed, does indeed seem to show a tower similar to the one depicted by Lewis Morris, even to the form of the windows.

As Glazebrook’s account above mentions, Rebecca Morgan was childless and on her death in 1778 her nephew Morgan Jones became proprietor of the Skerries lighthouse, remaining until his death in 1826. As an indication of the increasing importance and value of the light it may be noted that he was twice High Sheriff of Anglesey. Other than this, Davies has nothing else to record about the Skerries until the early 19th century when Jones decided to rebuild the lighthouse, installing oil lamps and reflectors. This work took place in 1804-1805. A few early illustrations of the second Skerries lighthouse exist. One particularly good print appears in a collection published in 1823 called The Beauties of Cambria consisting of 60 views in North and South Wales, each view accompanied by a page of letter press written by local author Howell Hughes. It is reproduced above, opposite. Hughes appears to have used William Cathrall’s History of North Wales as his source, and Cathrall drew heavily on Pennant. In the University of Wales Bangor’s rare-book collection a copy exists with the original publisher’s catalogue entry let in, which states:-

Catalogue entry 543, 60 beautiful plates printed on india paper, the most delicate and perfect woodcut engravings of landscape scenery ever produced.

The accompanying page of letter-press reads:-

The Skerries, called in Welsh Ynys Moelrhoniad or the Isle of seals, is distant from the northern extremity of the isle of Anglesey about three miles, and nine miles from Holyhead. The length of the islands is about a quarter of a mile; it is greatly indented at the sides, and at high water is even divided into a number of small insular rocks. In fine weather it has a most dreary appearance and in high winds, the breaking of the sea against its rugged base, and the immense clouds of foam which darken the air, render the scene inexpressibly awful and terrific. A light was first placed here about the year 1730, by an ancestor of the present possessor, Morgen Jones, Esq of Cilwendeg in Cardiganshire. The present lighthouse was erected, and the first oil‑light exhibited, in 1804. Before that time coals were used, of which a great fire was kept burning in the conical grate, which appears on the summit of the front peak of the rock. Fish sport about the sides of this island in amazing multitudes. They are chiefly the colefish, the whiting pollacks, and the cod-fish. The beautiful wrasses &c are also caught here.

After re-telling the story of Bishop Dean and the fishing disputes, it adds

A successor of his was not so tenacious, but alienated the isle to one of his sons. The last male descendant, William Robinson Esq. of Monachdy, about ninety years ago, perished in a storm, on his return from this desolate spot, with about a dozen others, who had unfortunately attended him. Their boat was afterwards found near Whitehaven, containing the oars and sea store, but not a vestige of the company.

If Edward Pugh’s statement about the raising of the lighthouse is correct then we might infer that much of the earlier tower was incorporated in the new lighthouse. H. R. Davies has pointed out that Pugh is not totally reliable, however, as his mention of the sale of the Skerries for £200 seems not to be correct.

The only foundation for this remark, which would appear to have been possible, would have been the disposal of some life interest in the Skerries, during the years following soon after 1730. Nothing, however, has been met with, indicating that anything of the kind took place.

Although he considers the rest of Pugh’s comments ‘most accurate’, Davies goes on

There is an old cottage on the Skerries, now used as a rough storehouse, which is reputed to have been the old abode of the light-keepers; there are traces of rough steps, leading up the rock, and now ending blankly against the walls of the modem buildings with which the present lighthouse is surrounded. Further than this, there is nothing on the Skerries today which can be associated with the old lighthouse.

This apparently discounts the possibility of the earlier tower being incorporated in the present lighthouse. More recently, however, Douglas Hague[12] has concluded that the core of the present lighthouse tower is indeed of 18th century construction, though he ascribes to it a date of around 1760, considering that a reconstruction took place at that time involving the use of dressed limestone. His views on the phases of construction are shown opposite, reproduced with RCAHMW permission from Lighthouses of Wales. Park suggests that this involved total demolition of the original Trench tower but there seems little explicit evidence of this; the work may have been more of a reinforcement and facing than a rebuild of what must have been seen as a sturdy edifice after nearly fifty years.

Hague and Christie[13] assume an early 18th century date for the old cottage, basing their opinion on its stepped gables and flat purlins. They give its dimensions as 10m by 5.2m. They considered it to be probably the earliest separate dwelling still standing in association with any lighthouse on the British coast. The late Mr Vernon Hughes, however, was of the opinion that stepped gabling is more appropriately ascribed either to the 16th or mid-19th centuries than to the early 18th[14], and that it was possible that the cottage was modified at the time the lighthouse was remodelled (and greatly extended) by Trinity House. The stepped gabling certainly harmonises with the castellated theme adopted by architect James Walker when reconstructing the lighthouse at that time and there is no hint of stepped gables in the Howell Hughes print, though much other comparable detail is present. Vernon’s insight was apparently verified in 2004 when the cottage was re-roofed under CADW supervision (see below); the crow-steps were found to be brick-built additions.

Hague and Christie also make another interesting comment;

The Skerries has a most unusual well-head building, and it is tempting to consider that the rock-cut well with its stone steps might be associated with an earlier occupation of the islet.

Presumably the well is not earlier than the late 17th century, for the survivors of the yacht Mary lacked fresh water.

The Rev. G. J. Freeman visited the Skerries in 1824, and two years later published an account of the visit in his book Sketches in Wales. The excellent print accompanying his description is reproduced above, opposite and is probably as good a view of the second lighthouse as could be asked for. It complements Hughes’s view, as it is taken from the other end of the island. The detail shown of the actual tower is much superior but Hughes has recorded the cottage and possibly a hoist, both of which are concealed by Freeman’s angle of view. Freeman’s description reads

We determined on a water excursion to the Skerries. We hailed some sailors, who were loitering on the space in front of the house [Moran’s in Holyhead] and agreed with four of them to take us in a stout sailing boat, wherever we pleased for the day, at the moderate rate of two shillings a head and some ale. We were not long in getting a boat. The morning was delightful, and the water pleasant. What wind there was, was much against us, but there was hardly enough to fill a handkerchief. We stood out of harbour, full west for some distance, and got clear of land as much as we could, in order to catch a breeze; but though we hoisted a mainsail and a mizen, which was all the canvas we had, we made little way with that alone, so we kept the oars alive and arrived safe at the Skerries amid many a dismal tale of shipwreck and ill luck, with which our mariners entertained us. The maps lay down the Skerries much too near to the shore of Anglesea, from which it is distant two miles and a half by government measure; the nearest point in Anglesea being Carnel’s Point, in the parish of Llanrhwydrus. The Welch call it Ynys y moelrhoniad or the Isle of Seals, an animal which is often seen here and at Bardsey. An island it is not, but rather a collection of islet rocks, eight or ten in number, entertaining a few poor sheep, plenty of rabbits, and two families who take care, by turns, of the lighthouse. This stands on a high rock, and is a circular white-washed clumsy building, useful no doubt, but certainly not ornamental. Yet who would look for ornament on shores so remote and barren? It was built in 1730 [sic] for the purpose of shipping passing between the port of Liverpool and those of Ireland. The property of these rocks is vested in the Bishop of Bangor. The families who attend the lights, receive 52 pounds a year and thirty chaldron of coals. We heard they were not on good terms. When will men understand how to live peaceably ? We amused ourselves in scrambling over the Skerries for two hours, pursued by the seabirds, who seemed intent on watching our movements. I observed one or two beautiful veins of white quartz, much crystallized, and several inches in thickness. The rocks were covered with a small greenish hoary moss, I saw no marble here, though the opposite shores of Anglesea are said to contain rich quarries of marble, having asbestos in narrow veins. During the time we loitered on the island the breeze had greatly freshened and the tide was fast subsiding from the black and limpet-covered shore, and ebbing rapidly out of every secret cave. Our boat had been moored in a little land-locked pool which, when we quitted it, was as smooth as a mirror. It was now a troublous cauldron and from its double outlet the currents ran with amazing swiftness. We were accordingly carried out on the top of the wave.

This charming account contains various interesting observations and two errors. The date of construction is wrong - the first tower dates, as noted above, from 1714. Moreover, the Skerries had passed out of the possession of the Bishops of Bangor in the 16th century. However, there is just a possibility that, like Pugh (perhaps even guided by his book), Freeman may have suspected that the second lighthouse embodied some of the older tower in its lower part. If so, his early date for the lighthouse which he saw is understandable. The date of 1730 is of course a common mistake and reflects the almost total obscurity into which Trench’s name had sunk at that time.

The mention of sheep might seem strange in view of the limited grazing, though the rabbit population still survives at the present time. Perhaps the sheep were of the variety found in the Scottish Isles, able to subsist on seaweed[15].

The old conical grate from the original tower survived on the island, for as mentioned above, William Cathrall says in History of North Wales (1826)

Before that time [1804] coals were used of which a great fire was kept burning in the conical grate which appears upon the summit of the front peak of the rock.

Davies comments on this statement as follows.

Approaching the Skerries from Holyhead, what is now known as the flagstaff rock might quite well be described as the front peak. On this flagstaff rock, though not quite on its summit, there is today a very rudely constructed platform, 5 or 6 feet [1.5 -1.8m] square, the origin or purpose of which is unknown. It may well have been that, at some time after the erection of the new lighthouse, an old coal grate was mounted upon this platform as a memento. There have been several conjectures as to the significance of this platform. It could hardly, as has been suggested have served even temporarily for the coal fire, as a fire on it would have been obscured in a most important quarter between N. and N.E by the lighthouse rock itself. The coal grate was not there at the time of Freeman’s visit [in 1824] as he spent 2 hours scrambling over the rocks but does not mention it. Possibly Morgen Jones’s son [also called Morgen] placed it in position in 1826.

It would seem that this platform, if not the grate, is visible just to the right of the tower in Howell Hughes's print of circa 1823, see above opposite. H.R.Davies spent much time pursuing this question with local historians and the Trinity House Supervisor at the Holyhead depot. Some typical correspondence is shown here.

What must have been the first aerial view of the second Skerries lighthouse was obtained by Mr James Sadler, a pioneer balloonist, early in October 1812. Ascending from Belvedere House, Dublin at 1 pm, he was conveyed by a S.W. wind towards the coast of Wales, sighting the mountains of Snowdonia with 35 minutes. However, the wind turned southerly and by around 3 pm he was nearly over the Isle of Man. Fortunately or otherwise, the wind then veered around to the north and by 4 pm he was in sight of Anglesey, with the Skerries looking his first likely landfall. However, the wind veered yet again, this time to the east, forcing him back out over the Irish Sea. Sighting some ships, Sadler at once decided to jettison ballast and ditch, managing to do so near enough to one ship to be able to urge the sailors to impale the balloon on their vessel’s bowsprit, to prevent it scudding off over the sea dragging its basket and Sadler with it. He was conveyed to Liverpool none the worse for his adventure [16].

1 A History of the Island of Anglesey from its first invasion by the Romans until finally acceded to the Crown of England etc. etc. pub. J. Dodsley London 1775. For many years, the author of this work was not known for certain. It was widely thought that the well-known author Nicholas Owen was responsible, as he referred to the work as if it were his own in correspondence. Prof. Sir J. E. Lloyd of Bangor finally traced its true author, the Rev. John Thomas of Llandegai (1736-69), from a marginal note in a copy of the History in the College Library, in the hand of its original owner, Rev. John Lloyd of Caerwys, better known as the father of Angharad Llwyd of Rhyl. The note castigates Owen roundly:- ‘This History of Anglesey was composed by my old friend Mr John Thomas, late schoolmaster of Beaumaris, I had the perusal of it in his own handwriting. It was published after his death without acknowledging him for its author’. If a curious note in Arch. Camb. 1846 p. 85 is to be believed, the original MS later came up for sale at Rodd’s in London and was conveyed to Anglesey to be kept with the MS of Henry Rowlands Mona Antiqua, which it was written to supplement. Owing to the carelessness of a servant, the MS was lost on the road near Beaumaris and never heard of again, despite a reward being offered. It was said to be bound quarto and written in a good legible hand.
2 J. H. Davies The Letters of Lewis, Richard, William and John Morris of Anglesey 2 vols. Aberystwyth 1907-9 pp.140-141
3 Douglas B. Hague Lighthouses of Wales Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 1994 p.21
4 A facsimile copy of the MS is held at the Anglesey County Archives in Llangefni. The original is at the Hydrographic Institute at Taunton. The cost of procuring this valuable copy was born jointly by the County and the Cymdeithas Morrisiad Môn Anglesey Morris Brothers Society.
5 J. H. Davies op. cit vol.1 p.22
6 H. R. Davies Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society 1924 pp.64-76
7 F. H. Glazebrook Anglesey and the North Wales Coast Bookland & Co., Bangor 1964 pp.81-82
8 There were ten in all, the others being at Dungeness, Harwich, Winterton Ness, Hunstanton Cliff, Orfordness, Spurns, Tynemouth Castle, Smalls and Longships.
9 In his diary entry for August 15th 1739. Bulkeley’s story of the misadventure which led to William Robinson’s death has been often retold, notably by the late Helen Ramage Portraits of an Island Anglesey Antiquarian Society 1987 p.310-11
10 H. R. Davies T.A.A.S. 1928 p.91
11 H. R. Davies T.A.A.S. 1924 pp.64-76
12 Hague op. cit p.50
13 Douglas Hague and Rosemary Christie Lighthouses Gomer Press 4th imp.1995 p.108
14 Vernon Hughes pers. comm. to the author, 1998
15 It was common for other animals, such as Shetland ponies, also to supplement their winter diet with seaweed. This resulted in a greatly reduced and modified stomach. See Correspondence of Charles Darwin Vol.9 (1861) p.16, letter to Darwin from William D. Crotch detailing this fact.
16 Bye-gones August 1878 p.82