Knott Family

Knott Family

The Knott family of lighthouse keepers is accredited with the longest period of continuous service in the history of manned lighthouses, commencing in 1730 at South Foreland with William Knott and ending in 1906 at Skerries (Anglesey, Wales) with Henry Thomas Knott (son of George Knott - see below) who died in 1910 having retired to Crewe. There are three famous lighthouse-keeping families in England, the other two being the Darling (see: Grace Darling) and the Hall families. The three families are inter-related.

Much of the contribution of the Knott family to lighthouse keeping was made at South Foreland where members oversaw many changes in lighting technology from coal fires to oil burning lights. Two fixed white lights were exhibited as a 'high' and a 'low' light from the South Foreland from 1634. These were simple coal fires until 1793, during the time of William's service from 1730 and Henry's from 1777. In 1793, 53 cm (21-inch) diameter parabolic reflectors were used to magnify the light from burning sperm oil. In 1842/3 the towers of both lighthouses were partly rebuilt and the keepers and their families at both lighthouses benefitted from entirely new accommodation. Henry Thomas and his sons, George and John, were present in the late 1850s when Michael Faraday and Professor Holmes carried out the first experiments with electricity as a light source. Much work on the electrification of the lights continued from 1869.

During Henry Knott's period of service, in 1813, the great Scottish lighthouse engineer, Robert Stevenson paid a visit to the Forelands as part of one of his famous inspection tours. He wrote, "Find the South and North Foreland lights to be fitted up in the modern style with from 12 to 14 plated reflectors in each lightroom which were not thoroughly cleaned and some reflectors were in rather a dirty state. The lightkeepers are comfortably lodged and seem to be well pleased with their situations. The dwelling houses partake of that cleanliness which is general in the cottages of the English."

George Knott was the fourth in the succession. After serving under his father at the South Foreland low lighthouse, he was transferred in 1861 to the Smeaton tower on the Eddystone where he remained for five years as Principal Keeper. From there he moved to the little-known Bideford lighthouse where he remained until 1879 when he became Principal keeper of the newly-opened Bull Point lighthouse. The final appointment of his career was at North Foreland, from where he retired. George was famous for his wonderful models of the lights in which he served. Models of Smeaton's tower, Bull Point and North Foreland still exist. The model of Bull Point is owned by Plymouth Museums. The North Foreland model is in a private collection. He made two models of Smeaton's Eddystone Lighthouse. The models were perfect in every detail, both inside and out. Fortunately, one has been preserved and is on display at the Chatham Historic Dockyard Museum. The other model was for many years on display at Trinity House where it was destroyed in 1941 during the Blitz.

Henry Thomas Knott (b1851) worked through the replacement of colza oil by paraffin and the consequent replacement of old Argand burners with lamps having multiple wicks and then the even brighter incandescent oil burner which converted liquid oil into vapour before combustion. The life of a lighthouse keeper was a dangerous one. Whilst painting the roof of the Skerries lighthouse, Henry slipped on wet paint and almost somersaulted off the roof onto the rocks some 25 metres (80 feet) below. He managed to save himself when his clothing became hooked onto an iron stay. On another occasion, Henry bravely carried out the rescue of the crew of a small vessel, even though his small rowing boat was in constant danger of itself being smashed onto the rocks. Henry served out many appointments, one of which was a three year overseas appointment in the extremely remote lighthouse on Minicoy Island in the Indian Ocean.

South Foreland lighthouse was also the site of experiments in radio communication by Marconi from 1898. This coincided with the service of the final member of the Knott lighthouse keepers, Edmond Horton who was keeper from 1899-1902. In March and April 1899, radio transmissions from South Foreland were of great assistance in the distress of at least two vessels on the Goodwin Sands.

Read more about Knott FamilyThe Knott Family History of Lighthouse Keeping

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Famous quotes containing the words family and/or knott:

    —the dark ajar, the rocks breaking with light,
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    —and looked and looked our infant sight away.
    Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979)

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