St Anthony’s Lighthouse, Cornwall – the real-life Fraggle Rock!
A coal beacon originally burned at St Anthony’s Head to warn ships of Black Rock in the centre of the channel into Falmouth Harbour, and also of the Manacles Rocks offshore. This beacon burned for centuries until it was replaced by the present lighthouse in 1835.
Before the lighthouse was built, the local Killigrew family flew a large red flag from an elm tree to show the direction of the wind, but this was eventually taken down in 1779 to avoid its being used by invading fleets.
The lighthouse was built by the Olver Company of Falmouth, with work starting in May 1834. It was first lit in April 1835 on the headland at the eastern entrance to Falmouth harbour. As part of the works, Trinity House also decided to erect a beacon on the Black Rock. However, this was not finally completed until 1864. This large delay was primarily due to the adverse weather conditions which continually hampered the contractors, and on several occasions removed their cranes.
The light was originally provided by eight Argand oil lamps placed in front of polished reflectors, which were later replaced by a paraffin vapour burner and a Chance Brothers fixed optic.
Following an inspection by the Lighthouse Commissioners in 1881, a decision was made for a fog bell to be erected at the lighthouse. This huge bell was said to be the heaviest in Cornwall, and weighed over 2 tons; it was suspended from a beam projecting from the gallery and sounded four times every minute in poor visibility. It was replaced by a nautophone fog signal in 1954 when the lighthouse was connected to the mains electricity supply. The old bell was destined for Penwerris Church, but insufficient funds were available to erect a new bell tower to house it. After several years lying in the churchyard, the bell was eventually sent to be melted down.
St Anthony’s Lighthouse was automated in 1987. Today the light character is isophase (equal periods of light and darkness) every 15 seconds, with a red sector covering the Manacles Rocks. The lighthouse is monitored from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich in Essex.
Puppeteer Jim Henson is best known for creating The Muppets; but in the early 1980s Henson produced another similar series called Fraggle Rock. This featured another collection of strange characters that lived in a subterranean colony below the Fraggle Rock Lighthouse. The only human star of this show was the late Fulton Mackay, playing the lighthouse keeper, who along with his puppet dog Sprocket, had his life plagued by Fraggles. In the opening credits for the show, the fictional lighthouse was shown, although in reality, it was the St Anthony light.
For more information and details about staying at St Anthony’s Lighthouse, check out Lighthouse Accommodation