Longships Lighthouse is about a mile offshore from Lands End and is the second to be built on the reef. The lighthouse stands on a rocky reef, much of which is submerged.
The headland is on the southwestern extremity of Cornwall and is a treacherous turning point for vessels. Numerous vessels have been wrecked on this part of the coast over the years.
Engineer John Smeaton surveyed the area around 1790 and proposed a lighthouse to be built either on Wolf Rock or Longships. Shortly afterwards Trinity House granted a patent to Lieutenant Henry Smith to build a lighthouse on Longships.
A number of beacons were erected on the Longships reef but were quickly destroyed by the sea. Smith then commissioned Samuel Wyatt to design a tower.
The site chosen for the lighthouse was Carn Bras, the highest point on the reef. The lighthouse was completed in 1795 and first lit on 29th September of that year. The tower was 28 feet high with three floors and its lantern housed eighteen parabolic reflectors and Argand oil lamps.
Shortly after the tower was completed Smith was declared bankrupt. and Trinity House took over its operation and management. The Corporation continued to pay Smith and later his family the light dues collected until they bought the remaining nine years of the lease in 1836.
The tower was often obscured by heavy seas, and shipowners petitioned for a more effective lighthouse. A new, much taller tower was built alongside the original tower in 1873, under the direction of Sir James Douglass. Shortly after its completion, the original tower collapsed.
The Douglass tower was first lit on 3rd December 1875 using a first-order optic. A red sector shone over the Runnelstone Rock.
A fog bell was installed for use during poor visibility. This was later replaced by a rocket apparatus in the 1890s, and a new system replaced this in 1904.
In 1967 diesel generators were installed and in 1974 the roof of the lantern was replaced with a helipad, replacing boat reliefs.
Longships Lighthouse was automated in 1998 and converted to solar power operation in 2005.
The shore station for Longships Lighthouse was located at Sennen Cove. The lighthouse keepers’ families lived in the row of cottages, and the wives could signal to their husbands using semaphore flags. The lighthouse was clearly visible from the cottages. Following automation, the cottages were sold off privately.
Longships Lighthouse is clearly visible from Land’s End.