'Les Casquets Lighthouse'
2002 – My first stamp commission for Guernsey Post and the beginning of the fantastic working relationship I have enjoyed with them since.
The remit was to illustrate the evolution of the lighting systems within the Les Casquets lighthouse. In order to carry out the detailed research this required, I approached Trinity House Museum, Penzance, whose help was invaluable. (NB This museum has now been incorporated into the National Maritime Museum at Falmouth.) The research was a joy as it went hand in hand with my love of the sea! There were gaps in the information available and some things are unknown, so here I had to make an educated guess at what some of the things might look like – The Oil Lamp in particular.
A little History
The group of known as Les Casquets are particularly dangerous for shipping approaching the Channel Islands and the French coast. So many were the wrecks on Les Casquets that it was a group of ship-owners who suggested to Thomas Le Cocq, the owner of the reef, that he build a lighthouse. With a suggested fee of a halfpenny per ton when one of their vessels passed in safety.
Le Cocq applied to Trinity House and on the 3rd of June 1723 was granted a patent to build a lighthouse. The lease was to last for 61 years with an annual rent of £50 to Trinity House.
Les Casquets was an early Lighthouse, it was decided that in order to distinguish it from other lighthouses on the English and French coasts, that it should have three lights in different towers. The original illustration of the Lighthouse shows it with three towers (St Peter, St Thomas and Donjon/Dungeon) and these are still in evidence on the island today.
Pencil Drawings for the Presentation Pack showing how Les Casquets looks today on a dark and stormy night.
Back to the designing process
This being the first work I had carried out for Guernsey Post and they wanted to make sure that I was capable of producing the job to a reasonable standard, so asked for a rough design – working up one of the stamps to a finished visual.
As we were looking at the evolution of the lighting systems used in the lighthouse my designs zoomed into the Lantern Room. I also liked the different designs to the roof of the Lantern Room, so initially incorporated these into the design.
The drawing above shows on the left there is the Coal Brazier in an octagonal Lantern Room with lots of small chimneys in the roof. The middle shows the 1818 Lantern Room & Roof and on the right is the current Lantern Room from 1952 onwards.
I chose to work on the Electrification Stamp and you can see how the design process changed as I worked. We zoomed right into the main element of each of the lights as much as possible and to still be able to see what is what.
Here you can see some basic thoughts on the preliminary stamp designs.
On the left is the finished visual that I sent off for approval. After discussion, the design was changed again to make things more dynamic.
I painted the finished artwork using acrylics sprayed with an airbrush, which was how I used to do this sort of work.
The Stamps in order
1724 - Coal Fire Braziers
The lights shone out on 30 October 1724, lit by three coal-fired braziers burning in each of the towers. However 20 years later HMS Victory struck the rocks and sank with the loss of 1,100 lives. It was thought that the problem may have been that the lights were obscured by high crashing waves, so the decision was made to raise the height of the towers.
1779 - Oil lamps
Oil lamps were being used instead of Coal Fires.
1790 - Argand Lamps
Argand Lamps were fitted on 25th November. French scientist Aime Argand had developed a tube system to make the flame burn brighter in an oil lamp and with the help of a new reflector made these lamps the brightest yet.
1818 - Revolving Apparatus
A clockwork revolving apparatus was added. This needed to be wound up every hour and a half and gave one flash every 15 seconds.
In 1823 a severe storm smashed the lanterns and the three towers were raised by a further 30 feet in 1854.
1954 - Electrification
Electrification took place and a 2,830 kilocandela lamp was installed.
The current light is in the 75 ft North West Tower. 121 ft above sea level and flashes 5 times every 30 seconds, with flashes 3.7 seconds apart. It can be seen for around 24 nautical miles in clear weather. The East Tower was shortened in height in 1954 and contains the foghorn, which is currently no longer used. The old South West Tower has been taken down to ground level to make a helipad.
I revisited Les Casquets for another set of stamps for Alderney – this time for the Sinking of the SS Stella which struck the reef on Maundy Thursday, 30th March 1899.