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Bishop Rock Lighthouse

Bishop Rock Lighthouse is located in the westernmost part of the Isles of Scilly, in the Atlantic Ocean, about 28 miles off the south west coast of Cornwall.

The rock is fully submerged at high water, and it was thought almost impossible to build a lighthouse here.

The first lighthouse was a cast iron screw pile construction designed by Trinity House Engineer in Chief James Walker. The legs were drilled into the rock.

Work began in 1847, but the tower was washed away in February 1850 before it could be completed.

Walker started again and work began building a new tower in 1851. Work was extremely difficult due to the slope of the rock, and the lowest rock was below the low water level. The new lighthouse was first exhibited on 1st September 1858.

Rosevear Island
Evidence of the buildings on Rosevear

The nearby island of Rosevear was used as a base for the workmen. Accommodation and workshops were built here, as the island was relatively flat. Evidence of some of the buildings remain.

The full force of the Atlantic often caused the tower to shake, and a fog bell had been washed away during a storm. So in 1881 Sir James Nicholas Douglass decided to reinforce the tower with large granite blocks.

The height of the tower was increased by 40 feet. Work began in 1882 and was completed in 1887 under the supervision of William Tregarthen Douglass.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse 1966
Bishop Rock Lighthouse in 1966
Photo © David Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0)

A new hyper radial biform optic was installed with two lamps and lens arrays one above the other. A hyper radial being the largest size of optic.

Here is a video showing the relief of Lighthouse Keepers in 1970 before helicopter reliefs were introduced:

Electricity was installed in 1973 replacing the paraffin lamps, and a helipad was added in 1976, allowing boat reliefs to be replaced by helicopter.

In 1975 Bishop Rock Lighthouse was featured on Blue Peter. Presenter Lesley Judd visited and almost lost her harness as she was hoisted across! (The end of the video shows keepers signalling to their wives from Longships Lighthouse to the Sennen Shore Station).

The lighthouse was automated on 15th December 1992 when the keepers were removed.

The lower section of the biform lens was removed and taken to the Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth for display. On 5th February 1994 the tower doors towers were damaged by a storm and were also taken to the museum for exhibition.

Bishop Rock optic
Lower section of the biform optic on display at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall
By Nilfanion – Wikimedia UK, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The former shore station for the keepers’ families is located near Porthcressa Beach, St Mary’s.

Boat trips to the lighthouse are possible from St Mary’s.

Bishop Rock Lantern
  • Built: 1858
  • Height of Tower: 49 m
  • Elevation: 44 metres
  • Automated: 1992
  • Character: Fl (2) 15s
  • Range of light: 20 miles