The Lizard Lighthouse

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Lizard Lighthouse
Lizard Lighthouse

The waters around the Lizard, the most southerly point in Britain, have always been a hazardous shipping zone and, long before the first tower was built here, there had been demands for a lighthouse to guide and warn approaching vessels. Legend suggests that protests from local villagers actively caught up in wrecking and looting prevented this from happening until 1619, when Sir John Killigrew started the process. However, lack of financial backing would seem a more logical explanation, since Killigrew paid for the construction himself. His attempts to recuperate his investment by collecting from passing ships he presumed would be grateful for the guiding lights failed and so, only four years after its erection, the first Lizard lighthouse was demolished in 1623 and Killigrew was declared bankrupt.

Over 100 years passed before another lighthouse was built on this spot 70 metres above high tide level, this time by a Thomas Fonnereau in 1751. This was a twin-towered construction, joined in the middle by a row of keepers’ cottages. Long before the electric light bulb, or even the oil lamp, the important part of a lighthouse at the time was, in fact, a coal-fired beacon on the top of the tower. People were employed to keep it ablaze and, so, at the Lizard lighthouse the keeper would sit in a centrally placed building from where he could keep a vigil over his workers on either side through specifically positioned windows.

Later that century Trinity House took charge of the affair and in the 19th century the coal fires changed to oil lamps and eventually to electricity in 1878. The two beacons continued until the early 20th century, when one was made redundant though both towers still stand and the now automatic Lizard lighthouse is a popular visitor centre.