My 12 in 12 Challenge – October – History – Book 1

The first book I have read in October’s 12 in 12 Challenge is Seashaken Houses by Tom Nancollas. It is a history of the rock lighthouses built around the UK and Ireland. A rock lighthouse is one that is sited offshore, often on a small islet or reef. With one exception which is covered in the book all these lighthouses were inaccessible from land and lighthouse keepers were often isolated for months.

The author tells the history of the rock lighthouses by examining a few, notable examples which show changes in the way that they were built and how they were regarded. Not all the lighthouses remain but he visits those he can, stays in a couple, talks to people who lived in them and seeks out contemporary documents to make the history more interesting.

And this is an interesting book. I wasn’t aware of all the difficulties in building the lighthouses and of how many were swept away or badly damaged in storms. I had no idea of the technology used for the lights and am very glad that this book explained it simply. I also didn’t know anything of the riches of architecture that many of the lighthouses contain and how so much of it was butchered when automation came in. All these lighthouses are automated now but some use solar power and some still use generators. Most of them now have LED lights. Some brave souls still visit the lighthouses to carry our maintenance tasks but no one lives there now.

This is a comparatively short book but it is an interesting read especially as it is split into short chapters, one for each location he discusses. There is also a good map (I was reading a paper copy of this book) but I thought that the photos were disappointing. I would have liked more pictures and drawings, especially when specific architectural features are discussed.