Lizard Lighthouse stands on the most southerly headland of mainland Britain. Built in 1752 it is the second oldest working lighthouse in the UK. It is also a landfall and coastal mark guiding vessels traversing along the English Channel. At one time it was a headland much frequented by smugglers and wreckers.
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In the early 17th century, the Lizard was owned by Sir John Killigrew of Arwenack House, Falmouth. Killigrew, with his cousin Lord Dorchester, proposed the construction of a lighthouse to Trinity House. He hoped this would discourage the local people from showing false lights. Trinity House argued that a lighthouse would expose the coast and guide enemy vessels and pirates to a safe landing.
So Killigrew obtained a patent directly from the Lord High Admiral, the Duke of Buckingham and agreed to erect the lighthouse at his own expense. But he could not afford to bear the cost of maintenance and planned to collect voluntary contributions from passing vessels.
Once completed, the lighthouse was greatly beneficial to mariners. However, the shipowners offered nothing for its upkeep. As a result, the mounting costs of maintenance were bankrupting Killigrew. James I set a levy of one halfpenny per ton on all vessels passing the light in the face of more opposition from Trinity House. This caused such an uproar from the shipowners that the patent was withdrawn.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 were built for identification purposes so as not to confuse them with other lights on the western approaches to the Channel. These towers with coal braziers were first lit in August 1752. A cottage was built between the two towers, in which an overlooker could keep a watch on both fires. When the bellow-blowers relaxed their efforts, and the fires dimmed, he would blast a cow horn to remind them of their duties!
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, and when in line, they warned of the Manacles Reef on the east side of the Lizard. An early form of electric lighting was installed in 1883. Each tower now had a fixed electric light.
In 1903 the western tower was discontinued, and the lantern was dismantled. A revolving light showing one white flash was then displayed every 3 seconds from the eastern tower.
Lizard Lighthouse was automated in 1998.
The fog signal is still operational.
Some of the lighthouse cottages are dog friendly.