Lizard Lighthouse; claiming to be the home of the biggest lighthouse compound in the world, was first built in 1619 by Sir John Killigrew - an accused pirate, known to be storing stolen goods at his home - after applying for a patent which was granted on the understanding that it be extinguished on the approach of pirates or enemy vessels.
The original lighthouse comprised of a single tower with an open fire, which proved to be successful, but he could not afford the maintainence of the light, so King James I set a levy of one halfpenny a ton on all vessels that passed the lighthouse. The new levy was not popular and caused uproar, so quickly Trinity House withdrew the patent and the tower was demolished.
It was 1748 before building a lighthouse on Britain's southernmost headland were attempted a second time. This lighthouse was built by Thomas Fonnereau and was completed in 1751 and consisted of an east and west tower, each of which was rectangular in shape and held an open fire above them. A small cottage was built between these towers, in which an 'overlooker' sat and made sure that the lights did not dim or go out - if they did, he would blow on a horn to remind the bellows-blowers of their duties.
Trinity House assumed responsibility for the two towers in 1771 and over the years they have been extensively redesigned on several occasions.
On October 1st 1903, the western light tower was taken out of service and the two fixed lights of Lizard Point changed to one flashing light, showing once every 5 seconds, exhibited from the eastern tower only. A fixed white sector light was planned to also be shown from lower in the tower around the same time, but this did not happen. In a notice to mariners documenting these changes, the light was described as being "electric and of great brilliancy.", which suggests the lighthouse was electrified nearly 23 years before Trinity House say on their website.
The lighthouse was automated in 1998, nearing the end of the Trinity House automation programme and was later opened to the public as a museum. Today it's light flashes once every 3 seconds, but as of January 23rd 2012, its light is only displayed at night.
The large black fog horns that can be seen in front of the lighthouse were installed at the lizard in 1878 - they were the last compressed air fog signal to be discontinued in britain, in 1998 which means it is intact and still able to be sounded, unlike many of the horns around the British coast. The engine rooms from which the black trumpets protrude, hold displays related to the lighthouse and fog horns history, and is the only example of such an engine room that is still in existance - it is part of the 'Lizard lighthouse heritage centre'.
A fog signal was first installed on the Lizard in 1878 and "During thick and foggy weather, one blast will be sounded every five minutes This was later changed to two blasts (high, low) every two minutes, later altered again on October 8th 1908, the character of the fog signal was altered to a signal of the character: Two blasts (long,blast; short, blast) in succession every minute, the duration of the long blast being 7 seconds, and the short blast two seconds.
The building is best viewed from the coastal path which runs infront of it, as well as visiting the station when it is open.
The siren is still sounded on special occasions, such as New Year, but as an aid to navigation, a modern, high pitched signal has replaced it and is now mounted on the gallery of the working lighthouse - it is operated automatically by a fog detector.