Monday, 11 January 2010

Shedding some light on lighthouses

It's a brand New Year and I am happy to be back cataloguing the lighthouse records. The Chance Brothers Lighthouse Works was set up in 1851 after James Timmins Chance displayed the first Chance Brothers' lens design for lighthouse manufacture at the Great Exhibition. James' work in the field of optics and dioptrics, previously associated exclusively with France, gained the company international recognition and placed Britain at the forefront of lighthouse design and engineering. By 1951, when the Lighthouse Works celebrated its centenary, the company had supplied more than 2,400 lighthouse lenses and hundreds of complete lighthouse structures to nearly 80 countries around the world.

Hyper-radial single flashing light

Chance lighthouse exhibition stand

There is a huge amount of interest in Chance's lighthouse records and we have a large backlog of enquiries about specific lighthouses, which is why these records are the next on my list to catalogue after the employment records. The lighthouse records are made up of financial ledgers and journals; reference material including articles and books about lighthouse manufacture; and the operational and administrative records including registers of drawings and correspondence between James Timmins Chance and various customers and engineers regarding the sale and installation of specific lights. The most voluminous and arguably most interestering records, however, are the sales and marketing records including order books, catalogues, price lists and exhibition material. There are many large books with photographs and illustrations of the lights and apparatus produced and there is a very complete record of lighthouse customer orders from 1850s to 1930s.

Marketing catalogues, plans and illustartion books

I have just started to catalogue and re-package the marketing records and I hope to have all of these records catalogued within the next few weeks so that we can start to answer enquiries and provide visitors with a draft catalogue.


  1. Hello Laura. The does the exhibition stand photo have anymore detail with it? It seems to be from an aeronautical exhibition.

  2. Hi Tony

    The photograph is of a Chance exhibition stand at the International Aero Exhibition in London in 1929

  3. Hi Laura, I believe a relative of mine(could be Collins) worked for Chance bros and was marooned in a lighthouse for sometime during the nineteenthe centuary. he kept a diary of his experiences, which I believe a facsimile copy was made and is kept in the Chance brothers archive. Do you have any information on this, as to where i might be able to examine it?


  4. Hi Ian. I had a quick look through our lists and I haven't come across a copy of this diary. It is possible that Pilkingtons (the company that took over Chances) may have a copy somewhere amongst their files still or it has been lost in the passage of time. Do you have any further details about the diary, such as dates of when he was marooned in the lighthouse and when the facsimilie copy was made and forwarded to the company, or the location/name of the lighthouse he was working on? It sounds like a fascinating record

  5. Hi Laura
    I have a lighthouse concave mirror that has been mounted in a large gold frame. the details on the edge of he glass reads as follows :-
    "24 DIA MIRROR 17 FOCUS CHANCE BROTHERS 1916 NO 345o PATT NO 905". in the centre it says "17 INS FOCUS OPTICAL"
    I wonder does this have any value? it's quite the impressive talking point in the house.
    Declan, Dublin, Ireland

  6. Hi Declan
    That does sound impressive. I do not know how to assess the monetary value of artefacts but you would be best to get in touch with your local auction house or antiques dealer for advice. It is possible that your mirror was manufactured for a specific lighthouse and their may be details about it in the order books of the Chance collection. If you would like the archives service to conduct some research for you, contact them at the following email address:

  7. WOW!

    I brought that CHANCE BROTHERS lighthouse mirror at auction a few weeks back!
    You can see it on my website...

  8. Hi Laura. My great grandfather, Wood, worked on Chances light houses late 19th century early 20th. He died in Oman working on the light house there. We are trying to find out more about him and any others he worked on. Can you help? Fiona

  9. Hi Laura. My great grandfather, Wood, worked on Chances light houses round the world in the late 19th century and early 20th. He died in Oman working on one there. We are trying to find out where else he worked. Can you help? Fiona

  10. Hi Fiona! The archives service at Sandwell Council may be able to help. You can contact them at Hope you manage to find some answers!