Peggy Braithwaite (nee Swarbrick)
Trinity House's lady of the lamp
DANGLING in a bosun's chair or polishing a battery of gleaming glass lenses, Peggy Braithwaite, who has died aged 76, ruled a unique kingdom on the shores of the Irish Sea. As the only woman principal lighthouse-keeper in Britain, from her home on Walney Island she could contemplate a landward vista that ranged from the sands of Morecambe to the Lake District fells.
Only eight of Trinity House's 72 lights still have keepers and she won her position through merit and - she was the first to accept with pride - robust Lancastrian family links. Her father, sister and brother-in-law all kept the light, which guides craft away from the dangerous sands and shallows on the ap-proach to Barrow-in-Furness.
Knitting countless bobble hats in aid of the local lifeboat, and out rabbiting on Walney's dunes with her .22 rifle, she played her part in Barrow's continuing but precarious role as a naval ship-builder. She was born on Piel Island near Barrow's southern bay and spent her life within sight and sound of the Irish Sea, moving to the crooked, sandy finger of Walney as a teenager when her father became the lighthouse's assistant keeper. The family lived in the next-door cottage, bunkered down against Walney's winds, gen-erating their own electricity and sometimes cut off from the mainland when the causeway road to Barrow was submerged. The water supply was a rain catchment tank on the roof. Their isolation was bro-ken by holidaymakers, bird enthusiasts and, during the Second World War, a platoon manning four ack-ack batter-ies. Leaning out to watch the Barrow blitz one night, Peg-gy's father got stuck in one of the narrow windows and was rescued by a joint family-military operation.
She became an assistant keeper - one of a handful of women who have helped hus-bands, fathers or sons in the service - and was promoted to principal in 1975. She was awarded the MBE in 1934,10 years before she retired, aged 74, and moved to a bungalow in Barrow with her husband Ken, a retired garage manager. She had long since given up her favourite pastime of sailing but enjoyed seeing her 50ft yacht, now in new hands, berthed in Barrow basin.
Her lighthouse, which she painted 11 times, twice from her bosun's chair, remains a manned station run by Lan-caster Port Commissioners with Peggy's former assistant, Ian Clark, now in charge. The "Lady of the Lamp's" distinc-tion as the solitary woman principal keeper, in the long and heroic history of light-houses, is unlikely to be broken.
Peggy Braithwaite (nee Swarbrick), lighthouse-keeper, born July 9,1919: died January 12 1996