Bishop Rock, Isles of Scilly
The Bishop Rock (Cornish: Men Epskop) is a very small islet in the Atlantic Ocean known for its lighthouse. It is in the westernmost part of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago 45 km (28 mi) off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the world's smallest island with a building on it.
The original iron lighthouse was begun in 1847 but was washed away before it could be completed. The present building was completed in 1858 and was first lit on 1 September that year. Prior to the installation of the helipad, visitors to the lighthouse would rappel from the top (with winches installed at the lamp level and at the base below) to boats waiting away from the lighthouse.
Bishop Rock is also at the eastern end of the North Atlantic shipping route used by ocean liners in the first half of the 20th century; the western end being the entrance to Lower New York Bay. This was the route that ocean liners took when competing for the Transatlantic speed record, known as the Blue Riband.
In the late 13th century, when the Isles of Scilly were under the jurisdiction of John de Allet and his wife Isabella, anyone convicted of felony ″ought to be taken to a certain rock in the sea, with two barley loaves and a pitcher of water and left until the sea swallowed him up″. The rock was recorded as Maen Escop in 1284 and Maenenescop in 1302. In Welsh, Maen Esgob means Bishop Rock. The outer rocks to the west of St Agnes used to be known as the Bishop and Clerk, but exactly how they acquired their names is not known for certain. One explanation is that when a fleet of merchantmen out of Spain were wrecked 200 years ago, only Miles Bishop and John and Henry Clerk survived. Another possible explanation is that the shape of the rock is similar to a bishop's mitre.
East of Bishop Rock are the Western Rocks and the Gilstone Reef, where Admiral Shovell's flagship HMS Association was wrecked in the great naval disaster of 1707. Shovell's remains were repatriated to England by order of Queen Anne shortly after their initial burial in the Isles of Scilly.
The earliest recorded wreck on the rock itself was in 1839, when the brig Theodorick struck in rough misty weather on 4 September. She was out of Mogodore for London carrying a general cargo. In the early hours of 12 October 1842, the 600-tonne paddle steamer Brigand, a packet boat, which was en route from Liverpool to St Petersburg, struck the rock with such force that it stove in two large bow plates. The rocks then acted as a pivot, and she swung round and heeled into the rock port side, crushing the paddle-wheel and box to such an extent that it penetrated the engine room. She drifted over seven miles in two hours, before sinking in 90 m. All the crew were saved. In 1901 a barque named Falkland struck the rock, her main yard hitting the lighthouse itself.
Bishop Rock Lighthouse (2005)
|Location||Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, United Kingdom|
|Year first constructed||1858|
|Year first lit||1887 (rebuilt)|
|Tower shape||tapered cylindrical tower with lantern and helipad on the top|
|Markings / pattern||unpainted tower, white lantern|
|Height||49 metres (161 ft)|
|Focal height||44 metres (144 ft)|
|Current lens||Hyper Radial 1330 mm Rotating|
|Range||24 nautical miles (44 km; 28 mi)|
|Characteristic||Fl (2) W15s.|
|ARLHS number||ENG 010|
|Managing agent||Trinity House|
|Heritage||Grade II listed building|
An 1818 Report by the Surveyor–General of the Duchy of Cornwall on the dangers to shipping in Cornwall proposed that a lighthouse be built, similar to the Eddystone Lighthouse, upon Bishop Rock, given its location as the westernmost rock of the Isles of Scilly. The plan was considered by the Government and building was expected soon, as the engineer John Rennie the Elder made an offer to build it. The Government did not take up the offer, but Trinity House surveyed Bishop Rock in 1843, with a view to building a lighthouse, and work began in 1847. The engineer in chief, James Walker, decided on a 120-foot-tall (37 m) design consisting of accommodation and a light on top of iron legs. The light was never lit, since on 5 February 1850 a storm washed the tower away.
In the second attempt, James Walker began building a stone structure in 1851. The site presented a number of difficulties: the paucity of available land area and the slope of the rock meant that the lowest stone had to be laid below the low water level of the lowest spring tides. The resident engineer was Nicholas Douglass assisted by first James and then WIlliam his sons. Despite multiple problems, the tower was completed without loss of life, and the lighthouse shone its first light on 1 September 1858. The total cost of the lighthouse was £34,559.
In 1881, Sir James Nicholas Douglass inspected the tower and designed a renovation to reinforce the structure and increase its height by 40 feet. The work was begun in 1882 and completed in 1887, under the supervision of Douglass's eldest surviving son, William Tregarthen Douglass.
Bishop Lighthouse is often referred to as "King of the lighthouses" and it is indeed a very impressive structure. With a height of 49 metres (161 ft) the lighthouse is the equal tallest in England, together with Eddystone Lighthouse.
Expenditure on the lighthouses at Bishop Rock, include:
- The first iron lighthouse: £12,500
- The second granite lighthouse: £34,559  (equivalent to £3,192,000 in 2016) 
- The third improved lighthouse: £64,889 (equivalent to £6,622,000 in 2016) 
- Total cost: £111,948 
The interior of the light house consists of the following: Below and inside the lighthouse are 10 floors with spiral staircase to the 2nd floor with a door (made from gun metal (likely bronze) and installed in 1887) that leads down an external metal (likely bronze) ladder to climb down to the large exterior base. From the base another metal ladder provides access to a stone staircase to the water line.
Here is what is in the lighthouse:
- 1st floor – Water tank (providing fresh water for lighthouse keeper)
- 2nd floor – Entrance room with metal door leading to exterior ladder to base below
- 3rd floor – Store room, with window
- 4th floor – First oil room, with oil tanks formerly used to light the lamp
- 5th floor – Second oil room, with window
- 6th floor – Living room for lighthouse keeper, with window
- 7th floor – Bedroom for lighthouse keeper, with window
- 8th floor – Store room
- 9th floor – Service room
- 10th floor – Lamp
The lighthouse was used as a filming location for one of the current BBC One Idents and was also featured in the last segment of the documentary series Three Men in More Than One Boat. The lighthouse was also featured in the 2010 BBC documentary Islands of Britain, hosted by Martin Clunes.
The lighthouse featured in BBC TV children's programme Blue Peter in 1975, when presenter Lesley Judd visited but "looked like she was about to plunge into the murky depths" "disaster nearly struck as she travelled by rope to the lighthouse from a boat. Her harness snapped, leaving Lesley with no support should she lose her grip on the rope."
The lighthouse also features in the novel 'Stone In The Blood' by Colin Jordan and David England.
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- Nicholson, op. cit., p. 126
- Nicholson, op. cit., p. 127
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