First Person: 'I was one of the last lighthouse keepers'

Gordon Medlicott, 68

In my 32 years as a lighthouse keeper I serviced 22 lighthouses – not as many as some! The industry went though massive changes before we were finally made redundant in 1998 when automation took over. We knew about it from the early 1980s, so it didn't come as a shock. We saw the beginning of the end when they installed the helipads: no longer could bad weather stop boats getting out to fix the light, and that signalled the end of live-in keepers.

It takes three keepers to run a lighthouse. Some were family-run, which meant three families could be living together at one time – but my wife and two daughters only lived with me for four years during the early 1970s, before the girls started school.

In the early days we did two months at a time. It wasn't an easy job. Some of the lighthouses didn't have running water, working toilets or heating. Winters at Needles Rock, on the Isle of Wight, weren't great. We were confined to tiny rooms and often spent hours in the dark. Food wasn't exactly a highlight; we would start with joints of meat but they would soon disappear and usually it was all tinned. I'm sure every keeper has bad memories of corned beef!

My fondest memories are of Farne Island in Northumberland. The wildlife was beautiful and there was plenty of fishing. I loved telling the visiting public the story of our heroine Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper's daughter who famously saved nine people in 1838.

Living in such close confines meant that a good relationship with the other two keepers was important. It was like a marriage – if you fell out, you couldn't go off and sulk for long because they would be cooking your dinner later on! We became experts at cards and board games. Over the years I knitted, did cross stitch and embroidered. I was the centrefold for Cross Stitch magazine a few years ago! We all read a lot and some of us wrote short stories and poems. I always enjoyed writing so was thrilled when the Association of Lighthouse Keepers asked me to write a research document for their archives. On completion it was snapped up by a publisher and turned into a new book called An Illuminating Experience (Whittles Publishing, out tomorrow).

Each year, the powers that be sent out a list of who was next to go. I knew I was going to be OK as it was "First in, last out" and I'd been there since the 1960s. There was lots of help with retraining and seeking alternative work, but by 1998 when I was finally called up, I was 57 and decided to take early retirement.

One myth of retirement is that you get to retire. Ha! I've never been busier. I do after-dinner speeches and talks at schools and Women's Institute meetings. The kids are great and you can never predict their questions, although they always want to hear about how I earned my medal for bravery from the Royal Humane Society.

I was manning the South Stack in Anglesey and two young boys ran to us for help. Their climbing instructor had fallen down a cliff face. I climbed down the 80ft drop and held on to him for 45 minutes while we waited for the rescue team. By the time they came we were up to our chests in water. The helicopter pulled us up one at a time. There is not much you can say to calm a man in that situation, you just try and quiet his screams.

I'm really pleased with the growing interest in lighthouses. New visitor centres open all the time. In fact, I'm going to a wedding on Nash Point in Wales next weekend. Not many people know that it's the only lighthouse you can marry on.

Lighthouses can also be lucrative as holiday lets, which I think is great. I did laugh when I heard they go for £800 a week now. I said to my wife, "I wish they had paid me that much to be there!"

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform