Wolf Rock Lighthouse, Cornwall

Wolf Rock Lighthouse, Cornwall

Wolf Rock lighthouse is 8 miles off Land's End in Cornwall, on a rock that was a constant danger to shipping. A number of attempts to put a beacon on the rock were made between 1795 and 1850, finally a lighthouse was built on it between 1862 and 1870.

The Wolf Rock is less well known than its more famous neighbour, the Longships Lighthouse. The Wolf Rock is a large single mass of rock, called a steeple rock. The name "Wolf" comes from the saxon word "Yulf" which over the years gradually into Gulf, Gulph, Gulfe and Wolf. The French called it "Le Loup" or "Gulf Roche". The name"Wolf" has been used only from about 1800 onwards.

The first beacon, put here in 1795, was a bare wrought iron pole, about 10 cm in diameter, fixed with molten lead into a hole drilled in the rock. The beacon on the Wolf was about 6 m high, and was strengthened by six wrought-iron stays. The sea soon removed this beacon.

John Thurburn built another beacon here between 1836-40. But in the 5 years building time, only 302 hours were actually worked. It was completed in summer 1840, but the winter gales had swept it away by November 1840. Another attempt was made with erecting a cast iron beacon in 1844, but that too was soon swept way, as was another one in 1850.

The rock is surrounded by deep water, and a swell covers it even in good weather, so construction of a lighthouse would have been difficult. James Douglass surveyed the rock in July 1861 to survey it, and work started on building in March 1862. The workers could only manage 22 landings on the rock that year, because of the swell.

As is the case in such lighthouse work, the first part was the most difficult. Establishing a foothold to build good foundations would always be a very dangerouss business. Just getting on and off the rock was difficult. Douglass and his men were frequently dragged through the surf from the rock to the waiting boat because it was impossible for the boat to come alongside the working area.

When built, the tower would contain 44,506 cubic feet of granite, weighing some 3,296 3/4 tons and with a centre of gravity 36 feet 2 1/4 inches above the base.

The stone blocks were cut, shaped and trial fitted together in Penzance. Just over 1000 tons of rock was needed for the base, and 3300 tons of granite used for the  tower.

The first 39 feet of the tower is solid, the a 7 ft 9 inch wall starts that tapers to 2 ft 3 inches by the time it reaches the top of the tower, some 116 feet above the rock

The final stone was put in place in July 1869, and the light first shone in January 1870. The oil powered light was replaced by a generator powered electric light in 1955

With a range of 23 miles, the signal is one white flash every 15 seconds, and there is a fog signal belting out every 30 seconds.

The helicopter pad on this lighthouse was the first on any lighthouse in the world and was built in 1972.

Wolf Rock Lighthouse

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