Wolf Rock Lighthouse

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Wolf Rock Lighthouse
Phare de Wolf Rock - 3.jpg
Wolf Rock Lighthouse
Wolf Rock Lighthouse is located in Cornwall
Wolf Rock Lighthouse
LocationLand's End
Coordinates49°56.72′N 05°48.50′W / 49.94533°N 5.80833°W / 49.94533; -5.80833Coordinates: 49°56.72′N 05°48.50′W / 49.94533°N 5.80833°W / 49.94533; -5.80833
Year first constructed1869
Foundationconcrete base
Constructiongranite tower
Tower shapetapered cylindrical tower with lantern and helipad on the top
Markings / patternunpainted tower, white lantern
Tower height41 m (135 ft)
Focal height34 m (112 ft)
Original lens1st Order catadioptric rotating
Current lens4th Order ( 250mm) catadioptric rotating
Intensity17,100 candela
Range16 nautical miles (30 km; 18 mi)
CharacteristicFl W 15s.
Fog signal1 blast every 30s.
RaconEdit this on Wikidata
Admiralty numberA0030
NGA number0028
ARLHS numberENG 170
Managing agentTrinity House[1] [2]

Wolf Rock Lighthouse is on the Wolf Rock (Cornish: An Welv, meaning the lip)[3], a single rock located 18 nautical miles (33 km; 21 mi) east of St Mary's, Isles of Scilly and 8 nautical miles (15 km; 9.2 mi) southwest of Land's End, in Cornwall, England.[4] The fissures in the rock produce a howling sound in gales, hence the name.[5]

The lighthouse is 41 metres (135 ft) in height and is constructed from Cornish granite prepared at Penzance, on the mainland of Cornwall. It took eight years, from 1861 to 1869, to build due to the treacherous weather conditions that can occur between Cornwall and Scilly.[6] The light can be seen from Land's End by day and night, and is almost exactly halfway between the Lizard and the Isles of Scilly. It has a range of 23 nautical miles (43 km; 26 mi) and was automated in 1988. The lighthouse was the first in the world to be fitted with a helipad.[7]


Situated between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the Wolf Rock is a small plug of phonolitic lava formed during the early part of the Cretaceous period and is unlike any rock exposed on the Cornish mainland.[8]


Engineering drawing showing the structure of Wolf Rock Lighthouse.

The Gabrielle of Milford Haven was wrecked on the Wolf Rock in 1394. Her cargo, worth £1000, was washed ashore in Cornwall and collected as wreck.[9]

In 1791, Lt. Henry Smith obtained permission from Trinity House to build a navigational mark on the rock. He built a 6.1 m (20 ft) high wrought iron daymark, 10 cm (4 in) in diameter and supported by six stays. A metal effigy of a wolf was placed on top. By 1795 the daymark was washed away. In the late 1830s John Thurburn built a beacon, which was completed on 15 July 1840,[10][11] and in November of that year was wrecked by storms when the pole and globe on its top were washed away[12] and not replaced until 1842[13] but they were once more washed away in a storm on 9 October 1844.[14] Trinity House engineer James Walker constructed a 4.3 m (14 ft) high cone-shaped beacon, which took five years to build. Made of iron plates and filled with concrete rubble this was completed in 1848,[15] it can still be seen next to the lighthouse.

In July 1861, engineer James Douglass surveyed the rock and Walker started to build the lighthouse the following March, based on Smeaton's third Eddystone Lighthouse. Walker died in October 1862 and James Douglass was appointed engineer-in-chief to the Trinity House, William Douglass, the younger brother of James became resident engineer.[16]:ch4 In 1869 James Chance of Chance Brothers manufactured a large (first-order) rotating multi-panel optic for installation in the tower. In order to differentiate the light from the nearby St Agnes lighthouse (which displayed a white light) and from Les Hanois Lighthouse (which displayed a red light) it was resolved that the Wolf Rock light should revolve and flash alternately red and white; in order to achieve the required characteristic it was planned to install 'ruby' coloured panes of glass over half the panels on the optic (with the intervening panels left clear).[17] It was known, however, that the intensity of a light was reduced when shone through coloured glass, so Chance conducted experiments to measure the precise difference.[17] It was concluded that the comparative intensity of clear glass to red was 21 to 9 (i.e. more than double); therefore the red-covered panels on the optic were made wider than the others by the same proportion, in order to maintain an even intensity across the colour-change.

Completed on 19 July 1869,[18] the light first shone in January 1870 and flashed red and white as planned.[19] The completed optic (which together with its pedestal stood 20 feet (6.1 m) high) was described by Douglass as "probably the most perfect for the purpose that has yet been constructed".[20] A 7-cwt bell, hung from the lantern gallery, was sounded in fog; driven by a clockwork mechanism, it rang three times every fifteen seconds.[21]

The Wolf Rock was the site of a hake (Merluccius merluccius) fishery in the 1870s, especially by fishermen from St Ives with 400 employed in October 1879.[22]

In 1904 a reed fog signal was installed, replacing the bell; it remained in use until after the Second World War.[21] An electric lamp replaced the oil lantern in the lighthouse in 1955; diesel generators were installed, which powered not only the light but also a new diaphone fog signal.[23] In 1972 Wolf Rock became the first lighthouse in the world to be fitted with a helipad (a smaller optic having replaced the original in the meantime);[24] this greatly eased the challenge of getting keepers to and from the lighthouse in heavy seas. The last keepers left Wolf Rock in July 1988, when the lighthouse became fully automated; [5] an electric emitter replaced the diaphone fog signal at this time.[21]

Popular culture[edit]

The Wolf Rock Lighthouse features prominently in the 1925 Dr Thorndyke detective novel, The Shadow of the Wolf, by R. Austin Freeman.[25]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wolf Rock The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 24 April 2016
  2. ^ Wolf Rock Lighthouse Trinity House. Retrieved 24 April 2016
  3. ^ "Cornish Language Partnership: Place names". cornwall.gov.uk. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  4. ^ Admiralty Chart 1148: Isles of Scilly to Lands End.
  5. ^ a b Jones, Robin (2011). Lighthouses of the South West. Wellington, Somerset: Halsgrove. ISBN 978 0 85704 107 4.
  6. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of Southwest England (Devon and Cornwall)". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  7. ^ "Trinity House Wolf Rock". www.trinityhouse.co.uk. Corporation of Trinity House. 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  8. ^ Hall, Anthony (1994). J T Greensmith (ed.). West Cornwall. Geologists' Association Guide No. 19 (Second ed.). The Geologists' Association. ISBN 0 900717 57 2.
  9. ^ St Levan Local History Group (2004). The Book of St Levan. Tiverton: Halsgrove. ISBN 1 84114 328 6.
  10. ^ "Ship News", London Evening Standard, p. 3, 18 July 1840, PENZANCE, July 16.— The beacon on the Wolf Rock was completed yesterday; it is a cone of 18 feet at the base, and is surmounted by a lantern of six feet in diameter; the total elevation above the surface of the rock Is 46 feet.
  11. ^ "Penzance", Royal Cornwall Gazette, p. 2, 24 July 1840, At the close of the proceedings, the Commission having been informed by Mr. Pearce, agent to Lloyds that the exertions of the Trinity Board at the Wolf Rock had been crowned with success in the erection of a cast iron beacon, which had been completed only the preceding night, embarked on board the steamer accompanied by Mr. Pearce, to inspect it, when they expressed their decided approbation of the manner in which the work had been accomplished. The rock was at half tide; and the base of the beacon, which 18 feet in diameter, is about 7 feet above low water, spring tide. It is a cone composed of 10 courses of 2 feet 2 inches and an eleventh coarse of 3 feet, giving about 23 feet perpendicular height - This is surmounted by a strong oak mast of 34 feet, 11 of which are imbedded in the cone A ball of copper hoops, of 6 feet diameter, crowns the whole, giving a total elevation of 53 feet above low water and about 35 feet above high water at spring tides; and although nearly three leagues off, it is distinctly visible from the western land. The Beacon is painted read and white, in horizontal stripes.
  12. ^ "The Wolfe-Rock", Royal Cornwall Gazette, p. 2, 27 November 1840, The pole and globe of the beacon on this most dangerous rock, were carried away in the late storms. The conical part of the beacon remains visible above the level of high-water spring-tides; and is supposed to be uninjured.
  13. ^ "Notice to Mariners", Caledonian Mercury, p. 4, 5 August 1842, Wolf Rock Beacon - The Pole and Globe of the beacon which were carried away from the beacon upon the Wolf Rock, off the Land's End of Cornwall during the storm in November 1840, have been reinstated
  14. ^ "NOTICE TO MARINERS.- WOLF ROCK and RUNDLESTONE BEACONS.", Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, p. 4, 28 October 1844, TRINITY-HOUSE, London, October 25, 1844. INFORMATION has been received, that in the Storm on the 9th instant the BALLS and upper parts of the wrought IRON MASTS of the WOLF ROCK and RUNDLESTONE BEACONS were BROKEN AWAY. By Order, J. HERBERT, Secretary.
  15. ^ "THE WOLF-ROCK LIGHTHOUSE", Royal Cornwall Gazette, p. 6, 11 April 1862, In 1848 this stone beacon was cased outside with thick iron plates (perforated), and a new iron mast and globe erected, with the centre ten feet higher than the former one
  16. ^ "LIFE OF WILLIAM DOUGLASS M.INST.C.E." (PDF). uslhs.org.
  17. ^ a b Chance, James Frederick (1902). The Lighthouse Work of Sir James Chance, Baronet (PDF). London: Smith, Elder & co. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  18. ^ "THE GREAT WOLF ROCK", Liverpool Mercury, p. 4, 23 July 1869, On Monday last the last stone of the lighthouse which now surmounts the Wolf Rock was laid by Sir F. Arrow, the deputy master of the Trinity House
  19. ^ "Wreck of a French Brig. A Resolute and Stubborn Frenchman". The Cornishman (45). 22 May 1879. p. 4.
  20. ^ "The Wolf Rock Lighthouse". Lighthouses of England. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  21. ^ a b c Renton, Alan (2001). Lost Sounds: The Story of Coast Fog Signals. Caithness, Scotland: Whittles.
  22. ^ "St Ives". The Cornishman (65). 9 October 1879. p. 5.
  23. ^ Woodman, Richard; Wilson, Jane (2002). The Lighthouses of Trinity House. Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts.: Thomas Reed. pp. 183–186.
  24. ^ "Photograph". Flash (20): 9. Winter 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  25. ^ Work available at Project Gutenberg Australia (retrieved 12/03/2014)

External links[edit]