Worldwide Lighthouses

Wolf Rock Lighthouse

Wolf Rock

General Information


Established: 1795

Current Lighthouse Built: 1861

Height: 41 Metres (134.51 Feet)

Automated: 1988

Electrified: 1955

Operator: Trinity House

Designer: James Walker

Light Information


White: 23 Nautical Miles Between (0°) and (365°)

Wolf rock is a very treacherous rock that is located roughly 10 miles from the Isles of Scilly and just 4 from lands end.

It is said that is is named wolf rock due to the howling sound made by the wind when it blows through the crevasses and gulleys in it or because the rock might be in the shape of a wolf's head.

The first beacon of any kind was built in 1795, after Trinity House gave a patent to Mr Henry Smith to build a lighthouse - Taking into account that only 36 years earlier John Smeaton had built the first successful rock lighthouse, on the Eddystone rocks, near Plymouth, this proved to be too difficult a task, so only a simple metal beacon was built, consisting of a simple 6 metre metal pole - this was soon swept away and destroyed, so needed to be replaced.

Between 1836 and 1840, work was under-way to build another beacon, to the design of James Walker, who was the chief engineer to Trinity House at the time.

By this point Trinity House had regained the patent and oversaw the construction of the structure. This new tower was triangular in shape and was 4.8 metres in diameter as well as 4.8 metres in height - this beacon survives to this day, on the landing stage that leads up to the lighthouse, alongside the remnants of the crane that winched keepers and supplies onto the station.

Later on, designs for lighthouses were drawn up by both Robert Stevenson, a well respected Lighthouse Builder of the time, known for being the first person to build a lighthouse on the Bell Rock, and being the cheif engineer for the NLB, who suggested a similar wave-washed tower to the final design, but with a wider base and thicker walls.

Captain Sir Samuel Brown, who was notable for suspension bridge design and being an early pioneer of chain design, drew up plans for a hollow bronze tower with parabolic reflectors instead of a fresnel lens - neither of these were built.

In 1861, construction started on the granite tower seen today. All of the stone was cut at the Trinity House depot in Penzance and was pieced together piece by piece in various stages on the mainland, before being shipped out to the rock to be assembled.

In 1870, on the first day of January, the lighthouse was lit for the first time.

A large revolving fresnel lens was installed - this new light gave a red and white light of equal intensity, each separated by 30 seconds, however, on July 25th 1906 the character of the light was altered to a group flashing light every 30 seconds. The new character was: one white flash of a duration of two and one-tenth seconds, followed by an eclipse of a duration of twelve and nine-tenth seconds, followed by a red flash of one-tenth seconds, followed by another twelve and nine-tenth second eclipse. Both of these lights were visible for 16 nautical miles, suggesting that both characters of light used the 1870's lens. A fog bell, which was struck in low visibility was installed shortly after the lighthouse entered service.

The total cost of the finished lighthouse was £62,726

From the base to the gallery, the granite tower, consisting of 1,078 blocks of granite is 35 metres in height - with its original lantern, intact with roof, the total height of the tower would have been 41 metres. This height is now slightly taller with the addition of a Helipad structure.

In 1955 the light was converted to electric operation, but the clockwork lens still required winding by hand.

When the helipad was first constructed above the light in 1972, relief of keepers was made easier and getting them on and off of the rock was more likely - only waves that went over the tower would stop a relief. The new addition to the tower was well publicised as it was the first rock lighthouse in the world to have a helipad constructed above its lantern in such a way and this later proved to be a successful design that was rolled out to all English lighthouses. This unusual metal structure was build at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London and was then disassembled to be shipped to the tower, where it was re-assembled piece by piece.

The clever design of the helipad structure, implementing triangle and diamond shapes to fit the Lantern (most of which was retained) meant that it did not interfere with the light.

In 1988 the light was fully automated and the keepers of the lighthouse left for the last time, by helicopter.

Today, the light gives one white flash every 15 seconds, but a considerably smaller lens than the original is used. The electronic fog signal that is mounted on the helideck structure is operated automatically when the fog detector is triggered. All of the lighthouses main functions are monitored from Trinity House's head quarters in Harwich, Essex.