Journal Book, Signal Station, Caistor Norfolk.
[March 14 - September 8, 1807].Caistor, Norfolk: 1807 Stock Code: 131013
A remarkable survival, documentation offering insight into the working of this nineteenth-century early warning system, we have been unable to trace any other examples. "Although during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic War the Royal Navy generally had the mastery of the French, one strategy to which the French resorted caused some concern: commerce raiding in the Channel. With a globe of oceans to watch, the Royal Navy was, at times, dangerously stretched and the Admiralty saw that information was key in combating these fast raiders. This end, in 1794, their lordships built a chain of signal stations along the channel coast from Land's End via Plymouth and Portland to Ballard Down overlooking Poole Harbour intended to 'convey to the Commanding Officers at the ports to H.M. Ships on the coast such as may be discovered of such of the enemies ships as may be discovered for any of the said stations'" (Kitchen, "The Napoleonic War Coast Signal Stations", in The Mariner's Mirror, 76: 4, 1990, p.337). The primary purpose of the stations was to "interrogate passing ships and pass suspicions to the nearest naval base via the intermediate stations. A fast cutter or sloop would then investigate. To identify the location of the suspect ship, the message would include the number of the nearest 'principal station' which also allowed the system to be used as a navigation aid " (p.340). Each station was commanded by a half-pay Naval lieutenant assisted by a petty officer or midshipman, all of them considered to be "unsuitable for ship service" usually for reasons of age, together with two men recruited from the Sea Fencibles.
In the years following further stations were added, in the first instance to improve intervisibility, but in 1798 nineteen more stations were created "not so much to extend the system as to create a second system to cover part of the North Sea coast and link the anchorages at Great Yarmouth and the Nore in the Thames estuary" (p.342). Following the brief hiatus to hostilities brought about by the Peace of Amiens, the nature of the conflict shifted and "the fear changed from that of commerce raiding to invasion". A further campaign of station building extended the system, eventually completing a continuous chain from Land's End to Edinburgh. Caistor was one those added 1803-4, linking the section from Holkham in the north to the key port of Yarmouth. The content of the present manuscript inevitably follows standard Naval journal-keeping practice for the period, a tabulation offering a daily record of weather, wind direction, &c. with the addition of columns noting the origin of any signals raised, when repeated, and when lowered, the reasons for the signal being noted in the remarks column. Typically, on Saturday 9 May at 6 pm the station hoisted its identifying signal No. 28 "to a sloop come through the roads, answered by HMS Blossom", an 18 gun Cormorant class sloop-of-war, Blossom was later employed in Beechey's exploration in the northwest Pacific; again on Wednesday 5 August at 6:45 pm they raised 28 "to a brig from the northward to the roads, and at the same time passed a Convoy out of Hasbro Haisbro' Gap from the northward to the southward under convoy of a Man of War brig", the signal was lowered at 6:50.
A perhaps unique opportunity to observe an under-researched, although crucial, aspect of the naval defence of Britain during this key period. Crudely constructed, and roughly completed, the log is nonetheless highly informative, evocative and possessed of considerable presence,
Folio (405 x 205 mm) 25 bifolia of rough-textured unbleached laid paper sewn into sail cloth wrappers with waxed sisal twine, edges similarly hemmed; the front wrap elaborately titled and decorated in ink with an array of Masonic symbols, the lower with an unfinished image of ?Britannia; 25 pages of tabulated manuscript, brown ink in several variously fairly crude but largely intelligible hands.
The title page has some small sketches of coastal craft and a diagram of a signal station mast with the note:"When the above signal is made at Winterton in a gale of Wind it is for the Life Boat at Cromer is wanted at or near the former place"; journal ta
wrappers a little rubbed and soiled, occasional minor staining, contents slightly creased and with the occasional short split, ink varies in strength but remans legible throughout, very good.
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