Lizard Lighthouse

IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2020 Nominee

Location: England. Cornwall. near Helston.

Lighthouse Operator: Trinity House

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Source: (photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by Trinity House in 2020)

Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Trinity House in 2020)
Many stories are told of the activities of wreckers around our coasts, most of which are grossly exaggerated, but small communities occasionally and sometimes officially benefited from the spoils of shipwrecks, and petitions for lighthouses were, in certain cases, rejected on the strength of local opinion; this was particularly true in the South West of England.

The distinctive twin towers of the Lizard Lighthouse mark the most southerly point of mainland Britain, the lighthouse is a landfall and coastal mark giving a guide to vessels in passage along the English Channel and warning of the hazardous waters off Lizard Point. The coastline is particularly hazardous, and from early times the need for a beacon was obvious. Sir John Killigrew, a philanthropic Cornishman, applied for a patent. Apparently, because it was thought that a light on Lizard Point would guide enemy vessels and pirates to a safe landing, the patent was granted with the proviso that the light should be extinguished at the approach of the enemy. Killigrew agreed to erect the lighthouse at his own expense, for a rent of “twenty nobles by the year”, for a term of thirty years. Although he was willing to build the tower, he was too poor to bear the cost of maintenance, and intended to fund the project by collecting from ships that passed the point any voluntary contributions that the owners might offer him. In spite of the difficulty of recruiting local labour, the tower was finished by Christmas 1619, and proved a great benefit to mariners. However, the shipowners offered nothing for its upkeep, and the mounting costs of maintenance were bankrupting Killigrew. Thus, in the face of more opposition from Trinity House, James I set a fee of one halfpenny a ton on all vessels passing the light. This caused such an uproar from the shipowners that the patent was withdrawn, the light extinguished and the tower demolished.

Applications were made in ensuing years, but it was not until 1748 that Trinity House supported an attempt by Thomas Fonnereau to erect a lighthouse. The building was completed in 1752 and first lit on 22 August, consisting of two towers with a cottage built between them, in which an overlooker lay on a sort of couch, with a window on either side commanding a view of the lanterns. When the bellows-blowers relaxed their efforts and the fires dimmed, he would remind them of their duties by a blast from a cow horn.

Trinity House assumed responsibility for the lights in 1771, and commenced their wholesale improvement by replacing the coal lights with two oil lights in 1811. In 1845, three new cottages were added. But the most notable change to the site was the construction of the engine room in 1874, which made it possible to have a new fog signal and electric power for the main navigational light, powered by caloric engines and dynamos. More cottages were also added for the extra staff needed to run the now expansive site.

In 1903, a rotating First Order optic with a high-powered carbon arc light source was established in the eastern tower, and the western tower’s lantern was removed; the carbon arc light was replaced with an electric filament lamp in 1936.

The Lizard Lighthouse was automated and the keepers departed in 1998.

On 13 July 2009 HRH The Princess Royal officially opened the Lizard Lighthouse Heritage Centre—made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund—after Trinity House renovated the Engine Room to create a flagship visitor centre. Alongside the historical engine sets, graphical, audio-visual and interactive exhibits describe the history of aids to navigation and the functions of Trinity House.

The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.

1570 Sir John Killigrew of Arwenack petitions to establish coal light, with no success

1619 Sir William Killigrew’s tower built, asking only for voluntary contributions from passing ships

1631 Killigrew’s tower fails to collect payment from passing ships, so is demolished

1721 The Royal Anne galley, an oar-driven warship, is wrecked near the Lizard. Only 3 of the 185 onboard survives

1752 First lighting of the current towers on August 22, showing coal fires. Built by Thomas Fonnereau

1771 Trinity House takes responsibility of ownership of the lighthouse

1807 HMS Anson, a 44-gun warship, is wrecked at the Loe Bar, near the Lizard. 190 of the 330 people onboard drown

1812 Oil lights replace coal fires, and glass lanterns added to both towers

1845-6 The two towers are linked by a corridor and 3 of the present cottages are built

1874-8 Lighthouse is electrified. The current Engine Room is built to house engines to power the light and the new fog signals. 4 more cottages are built

1897 Fog signal trumpet replaced by two new vertical trumpets that are used today

1903 Rotating 2nd Order optic and electric carbon-arc light installed in Eastern tower, Western tower discontinued

1908 Current fog signal equipment and 3 Hornsby oil engines are installed. Hot-air engines and 50 foot chimney are removed

1911 The Hansy is shipwrecked off the Lizard, carrying timber from Sweden to Australia. All onboard survive

1926 Carbon-arc light replaced by 3kw electric filament lamp

1940 First telephone connection, for liaising with ship convoys during World War II

1950 Station connected to National Grid electricity supply. Current Gardner diesel engines replace Hornsby engines

1972 Blackwall Optic Drive installed to rotate the optic, replacing the clockwork mechanism

1998 Last Lighthouse Keepers are withdrawn, and station is converted to automatic operation. DGPS antenna is installed

2000 Lizard Lighthouse becomes an AIS Base Station, monitoring vessel movements in and out of the English Channel

2009 HRH The Princess Royal officially opens the Lizard Lighthouse Heritage Centre

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Trinity House in 2020)
Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

While an important light for coastwise movement along the south coast of Cornwall, the Lizard Lighthouse can also be counted among the landfall lights, lights that one might encounter first, or be looking for, after a long voyage, when closing the English coast from the Western Approaches, with the intention of proceeding to Plymouth, or up-Channel. It was therefore always important that it was highly visible, with a long range, and easily identifiable.

Before lights rotated, and individual characteristics could be established through the periodicity of the light, the only way to differentiate lights was by having more than one, either of equal height, or one higher than the other. The great importance of the Lizard is shown by the adoption in the C18 of two lights at this site, as one in a grand design of three coal landfall lights: one light at St Agnes, in the Scillies; two at Lizard; and three at Casquets in the Channel Islands. Initially, the proposal had been for no less than four lights at Lizard (the greatest number of coal lights planned), to differentiate it from St Ann’s (in Pembrokeshire), which by then also had two. As with St Ann’s, the two lights offered a transit, in this case to clear Land’s End.

Later, with the introduction in 1903 of a new rotating optic, still lit by an electric arc lamp, Lizard became for a time the most powerful lighthouse in the world, again emphasising its importance as a landfall light


Prior to redeveloping the whole Lizard Lighthouse site to enhance it as a visitor attraction, Trinity House commissioned a comprehensive suite of research, analysis and recommendations about the station’s conservation and business development, including a conservation plan, an access and audience development plan, a business case and an interpretation plan.

The Conservation Plan was exhaustive, but it may suffice to say that the plan identified five areas around the site which had significant potential for improved interpretation, all of which are of different sizes and original functions. We decided that making the best use of each of these spaces would create a rich and varied visitor experience, as opposed to a prescriptive walkthrough.

Engine Room: The physical heart of the site, used to house the greatest proportion of interpretation on site. As the point at where visitors both arrive and depart, this area is now welcoming, informative and memorable.

Watch Room: Adjacent to the Engine Room, this smaller space was ideal for temporary displays, which were replaced every year and followed a maritime theme.

Smithy: Formerly a workshop for the Keepers, this under-utilised square space between the Engine Room and the East Tower lawn was refurbished to serve as an AV Theatre, suitable for a host of different activities including a CCTV screen showing views from the lantern.

East Tower: The keystone of the visitor experience is the guided tour, conducted by stewards at regular intervals. The Tower needs little supplemental interpretation, given the vocal commentary and the memorable physicality of the tour and the view from the lantern.

Outdoor grassy area, including patio area: The lawn areas had previously been under-utilised, but were easily enhanced with picnic tables and historical buoys to complete the visitor experience, given the views which explicitly tie the lighthouse to the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a major boon during spring and summer.

Public Access and Education

Trinity House began efforts to enhance Lizard Lighthouse in terms of visitor access and education in the early 2000s, but could not begin in earnest without support from the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund circa 2007. This effort required a significant amount of research, analysis, documentation and planning, and resulted in the Lizard Lighthouse Heritage Centre being opened by HRH The Princess Royal in July 2009.

To supplement the physical changes made to the site to enhance the visitor experience, the educational offering comprised a full curriculum-based educational resource focussed on safety at sea, as well as a comprehensive Interpretation Plan that planned a five year schedule of temporary exhibitions on maritime themes.

The Lizard Lighthouse is a magnet for both questing and casual tourists, as one of Britain’s oldest working buildings, an icon at the most southerly point of our mainland. The site forms a natural focal point within a local tapestry comprised of dramatic coastline, a tranquil landscape, flourishing wildlife and rich historical heritage.

The Lighthouse Heritage Centre serves as the ideal site for Trinity House to interface with the public at large, where centuries of quietly diligent working practices can be translated into a celebration of the architecture, the heritage, the science and most importantly the people that have comprised our five hundred years.

Good interpretation, hand-in-hand with improved facilities, good marketing and a sound education plan can bring the site to life, connecting Trinity House and the Lizard Lighthouse to the local community, the stories and the people, and thereby ensure the future of the site for generations to come.