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Wolf Rock Lighthouse

Sea off Cornwall

Location Guide

Photo from Wikipedia

Wolf Rock is a treacherous single rock, 4 NM southwest of Land's End,  Cornwall. Its 9 nautical miles east of St Mary's on the Scilly Isles, and is almost exactly halfway between the Lizard and the Scilly Isles.

It got its name due to the howl heard when the wind filled the fissures of the rock, although some said they say in the shape of the rock wolfs head.

On this now sits the 41 metres high Wolf Rock Lighthouse, which was the first in the world to be fitted with a helipad in 1972.

The History

In 1791 Trinity House leased to Mr Henry Smith, the right to mark this marine hazard. It was his intention to build a Lighthouse, but the conditions were too tough and instead he capitalised on the reputation of the rock and marked it by building a a wrought iron mast 6 metres high and 10 centimetres in diameter, supported by six stays. On the top was a metal model of a wolf on the rock. There was no fire or beacon so this was just a daymark. In 1795 it was washed away.

Between 1836 and 1840 John Thurburn built another beacon here, but in the 5 years building time, only 302 hours were actually worked. It was completed in the summer of 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.

Next an iron beacon was placed on the rock, designed by the lighthouse builder James Walker. The design was based on iron plates, filled with cement rubble, and in the shape of a cone. It was 4.8 metres high and in diameter. This beacon was completed at a cost of 12,000. This is still in existence and forms part of the present landing stage.

James Douglass surveyed the rock in July 1861 and started building in March 1862. The workers could only manage 22 landings on the rock that year, because of the swell. The rock is surrounded by deep water, and a swell covers it even in good weather, so construction of a lighthouse was difficult. The first part was the most difficult. Establishing a foothold to build good foundations was most dangerous. 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.

The tower was designed by James Walker and made of granite. This was based on  Smeaton's Eddystone Lighthouse, but to withstand the conditions on the Wolf Rock the design was adapted.

This adaptation was the joints on the lower courses, in order to prevent the action of the waves from breaking up the cement in the exposed joints and setting up disintegration, the upper surface of each stone was given a wide rebate and the stone above fitted into the recess so that the horizontal joint between the two was covered by the outer fillet. This protected it completely. This was done with all the courses to a height of 11.8 metres, and the lighthouse is solid up to this level.

From this point up it starts 2.4 metres thick and  tapering to 0.7 metres in thickness towards the top. The height of the tower from foundation to gallery is 35 metres, the diameter at the base is 12.7 metres taping to 5.2 metres at the top.

In total 3,297 tons of Cornish granite were used in constructing the tower, plus a further 1,078 tons  for the landing platform. The cost of construction was  62,726.

Progress was slow to start, owing to the abnormal conditions, by the end of 1864 only thirty seven stones in the second course of masonry were laid.  However, the landing stage had been nearly completed and a crane erected to allow blocks for the tower to be transferred to the rock. The stone blocks were cut, shaped and trial fitted together in Penzance, before being taken out to the site.

The tower was completed on 19th July 1869 and the light was brought into service in January 1870.

Initially it was lit with oil. In 1955 it switched to electricity with its own generator.

In July 1988 it was automated and is now  monitored from the Trinity House Centre at Harwich in Essex.

It can be seen from Lands End at day and night.

The small old photos above right show the supply and exchange of keepers.  In the lower one you can see a light keeper being swung in on the crane. You an also see the metal cone that is a part of the landing stage and remains from the 1950's beacon designed by James Walker, who also later designed the lighthouse.

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Lighthouse information Grid


Wolf Rock Lighthouse

Current status:

Currently in use

Geographic Position:

49 56'.72 N 05 48'.50 W

9 miles/14 km SW of Lands End

Grid Reference:


Ceremonial County:



Tower is unpainted grey stone (granite), lantern with helipad on top

Map Link:

Get-a-map zoom back until it shows (not on Multimap)

Aerial photo:

photo     Photo

Other photos:


Originally built:


Current lighthouse built:


Height of Tower:

41m    135ft

Height of light above mean sea level:

34m    112ft

Character of light:

White Flash Every 15 Seconds

Character of fog signal:

1 Blast Every 30 Seconds

Range of light:

23 nautical miles

Owned / run by:

Trinity House

Getting there:






Other Useful Websites:


Other Relevant pages:

For more articles, lists and other information see the Lighthouses Section

Lighthouse Map of England and Wales

Featured List of Lighthouses - England and Wales  

List of Minor Lighthouses and Lights - England and Wales



Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Grid or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park   Section:  Lighthouses Section Key:
Page Ref: Wolf_Rock_Lighthouse Topic: Lighthouses Last Updated: 06/2010


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