Remembering the days Wales’s iconic Porthcawl Lighthouse was kept lit by coins fed into a meter

When he saw our pictures of the inside of Porthcawl’s iconic lighthouse retired gas engineer Alun Salisbury got in touch with memories of how he converted it to North Sea gas more than 40 years ago as part of the nationwide switch to natural gas.

When he turned up at the lighthouse in 1974, the last in the UK to be gas powered, Alun was shocked to find it burned 24-hours a day, not just in the dark.

The gas fired lamp at Porthcawl Lighthouse that Alun Salisbury converted to North Sea gas in 1974. The lighthouse has since being converted to electricity

Because there was no automatic switch the light was left permanently burning. Before that the lighthouse, built in 1860, had run on a meter placed at the bottom of the tower.

For decades Porthcawl’s Harbour Master and others braved the elements to feed in coins to keep the light burning and shipping safe.

Meter fed with pennies to keep seas safe

“It was one of the most interesting jobs I had converting the last gas lit lighthouse in the UK to North Sea gas,” said Alun, 77, who now lives in Llandaff .

“I was told that in the early 20th century the meter was fed with penny coins and the Harbour Master, Arthur Rees, told me they had to make sure there were enough coins in to keep it burning all night. Later they fed it with shillings.”

The story that sparked Alun’s memorie s:
It’s become an iconic image of storm battered Wales. Now take a look inside Porthcawl Lighthouse

A 1974 report from the South Wales Echo explaining how Porthcawl lighthouse was converted to North Sea gas as part of a national conversion from manufactured gas

The retired engineer often visits the 30ft high lighthouse, which has become a global image o f storm battered Wale s, and says he’s proud to be part of its history.

“I was employed by Wales Gas as a gas conversion technician and in 1974 converted the light to burn natural gas as opposed to manufactured gas.



Inside the Porthcawl light tower



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“When I arrived I asked the Harbour Master Arthur Rees who lit the mantle and he told me no one did, it was left burning 24 hours a day.

“During daylight hours the light wasn’t strong enough to show, but with dusk approaching it would gradually become visible.”

Alun Salisbury

Going up the ladder to the lamp Alun was relieved to see it was like a household gas light, only bigger, so it was relatively straightforward to convert to North Sea gas.



Porthcawl lighthouse takes a battering



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But as he came down, the engineer realised keeping the lighthouse lit hadn’t always been so easy.

“Descending the ladder, I saw the credit gas meter installed just inside the doorway.

Beacon of safety for more than a century

“Mr Rees told me when there was a coin meter and they had to feed it with sufficient pennies to last the 24-hour period, which, during stormy weather, with seas crashing over the Mole, was a particularly hazardous task.

“Later the meter was changed to shillings and by the time I got there it was no longer being used.”

Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Porthcawl pier and lighthouse during Storm Desmond in December 2015. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The lamp he worked on was built in 1911 after the original was washed away during a mountainous storm in 1902.

Eventually the lighthouse went electric in 1997 and after a £70,000 renovation in 2013, was fitted with its new £12,000 automatic, low energy, LED lamp, which can be seen 10 nautical mi1es away, the same distance the old gas lamp shone.

MORE: The beautiful lighthouses around Wales

“When I see photos of the lighthouse in stormy seas it brings back memories,” said Alun.

“I go to Porthcawl quite often for days out and always look at the lighthouse, it was the first and last lighthouse I ever worked on in my career as a gas engineer and one of my most interesting jobs.”

The gas mantle which was fitted in the Porthcawl lighthouse by Alun Salisbury in 1974

By the end of 1974 Britain had entirely converted to North Sea Gas, which was safer than the old, manufactured gas

The last place to be converted in Wales was the village of Nantymoel.

Article source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/remembering-days-waless-iconic-porthcawl-11007904