Saturday, 21 September 2013

A bit of history first.

I am starting this blog in the hope of finding out some history of an Irish lightship.  My elder son Simon has recently purchased the vessel and because restoration as a lightship is out of the question, he intends to conserve what historical features remain as he converts it into a houseboat (houseship?).
Never having blogged before, it may be that I make mistakes which I hope will be forgiven.

The Cormorant was a Commissioners of Irish Lights light vessel. She was built in 1876/78 by the Victoria Shipbuilding Co., West Passage Cork, Ireland. She was 91 ft long, 21 ft wide and her draft was 11ft. She cost £7.500 to build and served on many Irish stations. Her construction was a composite of teak planking over Iron Frames. I have yet to find any early photos of the vessel.

In 1942 she was sold to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and renamed "Lady Dixon" after the Harbour Masters wife.

Between 1943 and 1959 she was reported to be moored off Carrickfergus as the Belfast "Pilot", but the photo supporting this has features which do not correspond to the ship as she was built or as she is now. More investigation needed.

In March 1961 she was sold to G. A. Lee Ltd, Earl Street Belfast, Northern Ireland.

In October 1961 a Slough, Middlesex, England journalist called John Thompson started a project to organise the first offshore radio station for the UK after hearing of the success of the Scandinavian stations. The station was to commence broadcasts on 1st December 1961.

Arnold Swanson was involved with this project but as Technical Advisor. The Thompson effort did not go forward as quickly as planned and Swanson split from Thompson in January 1962 with backing of £100.000 to start his own station.

Thompson then announced that he had purchased an "84 year old light vessel called Lady Dixon".

Thompson's fellow director was Robert Collier, a wholesale newsagent who registered the company as
The Voice of Slough at 35, Beechwood Gardens, Slough, England. The station had other names such as GBLN (Great Britain, London) Radio Ellen (after Thompsons wife) and Radio Elb.

Swanson now reappeared on the scene. They fitted out a caravan as a mobile studio to use for outside broadcasts and installed studios in Swanson's home at Notley Abbey, Thame (this is said to be the former home of Sir Laurence Oliver).

Programs were to be recorded on land and taken to the ship by speedboat. The Notley Abbey address was also the base of Amalgamated Broadcasting Co., owners of the now called GBOK who also had offices at 151, Fleet Street, London.

Keith Martin and Ed Moreno worked as DJ's.

The proposed name for the ship was "Buccaneer" and was to broadcast on 388 Mtrs for 24 hours a day at 8 kW from a position close to the Nore station in the Thames Estuary.

The ship was taken to Pitsea, Essex to be fitted out. Unfortunately she got stuck in the mud there and two tugs were used in an attempt to pull her out but without success.

On March 9th she was freed from the mud and awaited a tow to Sheerness for fitting out. The dates for opening the station now started to slip. On 18th May 1962 it was reported that was ready and just needed a tow to the Nore.

It is believed that the ship was raided in July 1962 by the Post Office and their equipment confiscated.

Swanson had now spent £15,000 on the project and after the raid decided that the old light vessel was unseaworthy. He then went on to start another project using 220 ton Tank Landing craft but nothing was ever heard again about the project.

This photograph is believed to have been taken when Lady Dixon was in Pitsea (not confirmed).  The stern is nearest the camera.

  [Research by John S. Platt]

Enough for my first blog. Tomorrow I will relate what is going on now.