Wolf Rock Lighthouse

Wolf Rock Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Wolf Rock Lighthouse is located around ten miles off the southwest coast of Lands End.

The reef is said to be named after the sound the waves made as they were forced through a fissure in the rock.  Wreckers are said to have filled the gap with stones to stop the warning sound.

A bell buoy was proposed near the rock in 1750 but it was not until 1791 that a lighthouse was proposed on Wolf Rock. 

Lieutenant Henry Smith, who built Longships Lighthouse thought it would be too costly and difficult.  So a 20 feet high wrought iron mast with six stays was erected on the rock with a model of a wolf in 1795.  The waves soon washed it away.

Between 1836 to 1840 an iron cone-shaped beacon was erected on the rock, under the supervision of James Walker.  The beacon was filled with rubble. It was extremely difficult to land as the rock was submerged for so much time and work constructing the beacon was slow.  The conical beacon remains today.  However, it was only useful as a daymark.  A light on the rock was really needed.

Wolf Beacon
The conical beacon on Wolf Rock
Photo: Patrick Tubby

In 1861 James Walker began work on a granite tower 115 feet high.  The blocks of stone were prepared at Penzance before being shipped out to the rock.  Before work could start, a landing stage had to be built into the reef.  A crane was added to load the granite blocks.  The completed tower had a base of 42 feet in diameter and tapered to 18 feet at the top.

Work was so difficult it was not until 19th July 1869 that the lighthouse was completed.  Wolf Rock Lighthouse was finally lit the following year.

The paraffin vapour burners were replaced in 1955 when diesel generators were installed in the tower.

Wolf Rock
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Wolf Rock Lighthouse was a notoriously unpopular lighthouse with keepers, and boat reliefs were often overdue. In January 1948 heavy storms lashed the south coast making relief impossible. The keepers were 22 days overdue and managed to signal to the passing vessel Scillonian that supplies were urgently needed.

On 5th February, a helicopter finally managed to deliver supplies, but it was to be a further ten days before the keepers could be relieved.

On 18th December 1969 tragedy struck when a keeper had been fishing and was washed from the set-off – the platform around the base of the tower.  His body was never found.

Wolf Helipad
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Wolf Rock Lighthouse became the first lighthouse in Britain to be equipped with a helipad.  This made often overdue reliefs more reliable.  The lighthouse was automated in 1988.

Established: 1869
Engineer: James Walker
Tower Height: 41 metres
Light Character: Fl W 15s
Light Range: 16 miles
Elevation: 34 metres
Automated: 1988