Coastwatch News – August 2015 – Malcolm Craven

Communications Are Essential

coastwatch-lookoutI have been making a serious attempt to find out when our Lookout was built. So far, by looking at old Ordnance Survey maps, I have found that it is not shown on an O.S map dated 1908 though there is a Coastguard Station shown actually in Portscatho opposite what is called Black Rock. At that time this was at the far end of the village when walking towards Pednavaden. In 1946 there is a Land Survey Map which shows the same as the 1908 map.

The first map that I have found to show the Lookout in its existing position is an O.S one in 1960. Subsequent maps in 1961, 1963 and 1971 all show the same. The 1971 map marks Black Rock but where the old Coastguard Station stood there are now houses. From this it would appear that the Lookout was built after the War, though just how reliable that supposition is we cannot be sure. O.S. maps were often re-prints of earlier ones and updated to the date of publication. Presumably there would have been a survey conducted of the area concerned at the time of re-print but just how thorough would they have been? Would they have noticed the tiny hut which had appeared on the Point? There is no actual road leading to it and only a minor one going down to Porthcurnick so maybe no-one noticed the new Lookout.

coastguardcottagesSome early maps show the Coastguard Cottages, though again they are called a Station, actually in the village and in the 1950’s and 60’s the Coastguard actually lived in them. So did they open up a Lookout opposite Black Rock while still living in the Cottages? When the existing Lookout was built there were certainly professional full time Coastguards living in the Cottages. While our existing building is old it does not appear to be ancient and its construction appears to me to be 1930’s or later. The remains of the concrete slab which held the signal mast and the iron rings are still there. This mast would have been used to hoist Gale Warning cones giving warning of high winds and their direction. It’s all very intriguing and if anyone local can throw more light on the subject I would be delighted to hear from them.

All this has been brought about by problems with our telephone. While we have radio for emergency use most of our routine business is done over the telephone. We tell MRCC of any change in our Watch Schedule e.g. closing early, and use it to give them information of possible incidents. We also use the 999 system when necessary but one of our more important uses has been the ‘buddy system’ which we work with the St Agnes Station. We are single handed on a normal watch as is St Agnes. Both stations are isolated and the Watchkeeper is very much alone, particularly on a wet day so it is common sense that some system is in place to keep a check that they are alright. We telephone one another at half past each hour, simply making the phone ring, so each knows all is well with his opposite number. Recently this system fell down because our telephone went out of action.

telephonerepairsOur line is a long one and only serves the Lookout. It runs from the road across the field and, in theory, the break could be anywhere. BT were called – then we hit our first problem. Going back in to history when Coastwatch was first formed locally the old telephone line was re-activated but it was designated a private line, the same as you have in your house. For this type of line BT have several days in which to effect a repair, but this was not good enough as we were an Emergency Service and needed it done immediately. BT were very good though and have allowed us to re-negotiate as a Business Line which meant that we were up and running quickly and it was ‘all systems go’. As a side issue this may prevent another minor irritation. As a domestic line we were subject to all sorts of random calls trying to sell us insurance, solar heating or get us to partake in surveys. Hopefully this will cease – though I must admit I was often seriously tempted to seek a survey for cavity wall insulation or to have our non existent loft lagged!

St Anges
St Anges

All this highlights one of our big problems. The Lookout was built in an era when radio communication was not regarded as a priority and Watch Keepers comforting hot cups of tea were not considered. Thus we have no mains electricity and no running water. We gather rain off the roof to clean windows, wash floors etc and maintain our limited toilet facilities. We use car type batteries to run our radio but it does mean that no watch keeping aids needing serious electric power can be installed and the only refreshment you will get will be what you bring down – but we manage. Everyone mucks in and when things are quiet the floor gets mopped or the windows are cleaned.

I think this is one of the good things about our unit. We may be one of the smallest Lookouts in the country but the spirit between members is great and now we are diversifying duties the load on Management is eased. We have a Treasurer, and Assistant Treasurer, a Fund Raising Team, a Training Team, a Lookout Maintenance expert, a Publicity Officer, someone looking after orders for uniform another doing the Watch Bill and a Health and Safety Manager. So you see there is plenty to do apart from simply watch keeping if that is what you want. No one will push you in to anything, it’s all volunteers. Some people have more time than others. Many are retired, some still working and our system is flexible enough to fit anyone in, male or female. If you are seeking something different to do give us a ring – Bob on -01872-580720 or Robert on 501670.

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