Lizard lighthouse marks the most southerly point of mainland Britain. Established in 1752 it is the second oldest working lighthouse in the UK.
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In the early 17th century, the Lizard was owned by Sir John Killigrew of Arwenack House, Falmouth. In partnership with his cousin, Lord Dorchester, Killigrew proposed constructing a lighthouse to Trinity House to discourage the local people from showing false lights. Trinity House disagreed, arguing that a lighthouse would expose the coast and guide enemy vessels and pirates to a safe landing.
However, Killigrew obtained a patent directly from the Lord High Admiral, the Duke of Buckingham and agreed to erect the lighthouse at his own expense. However, he could not afford to bear the cost of maintenance and intended to fund the project by collecting voluntary contributions from passing ships.
Once completed, the lighthouse was of great benefit to mariners, but the shipowners offered nothing for its upkeep, and the mounting costs of maintenance were bankrupting Killigrew. Trinity House eagerly supported all complaints about its inefficiency, maintaining that an improperly kept light was worse than no light at all. In the face of more opposition from Trinity House, James I set a levy of one halfpenny per ton on all vessels passing the light.
This caused such an uproar from the shipowners that the patent was withdrawn. Eventually, Killigrew ran out of money, the light was extinguished, and fell into dereliction.
It was to be another 100 years before a further light was established on the Lizard. In 1745 Captain Richard Farish put forward a proposal to build four towers on the headland.
Unfortunately, during his application, he died, so Thomas Fonnereau took up the challenge. Trinity House drew up a patent in 1751 and leased the rights to Fonnereau for 61 years. Two towers with coal braziers were built and first lit in August 1752.
A cottage was built between the two towers for an overlooker to keep a watch on both fires. When the fires dimmed, the overlooking would remind them of their duties by a blast from a cow horn!
Two towers were built for identification purposes to avoid confusing them with other lights on the western approaches to the Channel.
When the lease ran out in 1812, Trinity House spent £15,000 on renovating the two light towers and installing new oil lamps and reflectors. The two lights were retained. When in line, they provided an important warning of the Manacles Reef on Lizard’s east side.
An early form of electric lighting was installed in 1883. Each tower now had a fixed electric light.
In 1903 it was decided to discontinue the western tower, and the lantern was dismantled. The lighthouse was now changed to a revolving light showing one white flash every 3 seconds from the eastern tower.
Automated in 1998 the lighthouse is now monitored from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich in Essex.
The Lizard Heritage Centre is open to the public, and you can book a guided tour of the tower.
The fog signal is still operational.
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