Lizard Point: lifeboats and lighthouses
Lizard Point, from the Cornish Lys Ardh meaning High Court, has a rich history including an abundance of maritime heritage. Famed as being the first location that the Spanish Armada was observed from mainland Britain in 1588, more recent history tells tales of shipwrecks and feats of bravery by the lifeboats established in 1859.
Lizard Point is now visited by tens of thousands of holidaymakers each year who come to take in the landscape, wildlife and local history. This tourism alongside the older practices of farming and fishing continues to shape the Point today.
Before the lifeboat station was moved to Kilcobben Cove, near Church Cove on the eastern coast of the Lizard, in 1961 the Lizard Lifeboat Station was located at Polpeor. Polpeor lifeboat station opened in 1859 in response to the wrecking of a transport ship off Bass Point, just east of Lizard Point. The Anne Marie became the first lifeboat to operate from the station. In the 102 years that the old lifeboat station was in operation over 40 rescues were undertaken in which lives were saved. A famous example is the SS Suevic which hit a reef in 1907. 456 lives were saved over a 16 hour period by the crew rowing from the Lizard. The current station at Kilcobben welcomes visitors to take a look around the station.
External hyperlink: http://www.thelizardlifeboat.org.uk/history.htm
You only have to stand at the most southerly point and look towards sea at low tide to appreciate how dangerous the waters around Lizard Point are to ships. The expanse of rocky reefs is extremely treacherous for the ships in this busy shipping lane. In the past when navigational aids were not as advanced as they are today many a ship ran foundered on the rocks.
An infamous example of a shipwreck near Lizard Point occurred in 1791 when the Royal Anne ran aground and her 207 crewmates lost their lives. The bodies of the victims are thought to have been buried in Pistil Meadow just a short walk west of Lizard Point. As recently as 2013 boats have run into trouble off the Lizard.
Find out more about land-use and archaeology http://www.the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/593-the-landscape-history-and-archaeology-of-the-lizard-s-downs-and-moors on The Lizard.
Lighthouse and YHA
A beacon was first constructed at Lizard Point in 1619 by the Killigrew family who recognised the dangers off the Point. The lighthouse as it is seen today was constructed over a century later and was opened in 1751. In 1771 Trinity House assumed responsibility for the lighthouse and have run it ever since. The original coal lights were replaced in 1811 with oil lights. Over the next century the lighthouse was expanded and an engine room constructed. A carbon arc was fitted in 1903 and replaced with an electric filament lamp in 1936. The last lighthouse keepers left in 1998 once the entire process was automated. A heritage centre was opened, adjacent the lighthouse, in 2009 and can be explored in the summer months. For opening times and more information visit the Trinity House pages https://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouse-visitor-centres/lizard-lighthouse-visitor-centre.
Just beneath the lighthouse is a youth hostel run by the YHA and owned by The National Trust. The building was originally a Victorian hotel. Visit the YHA website http://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/lizard for more information on staying at the YHA at Lizard Point.
Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Station
Guglielmo Marconi was a Nobel Prize winning engineer who, in December 1901, successfully achieved the first ever transatlantic wireless transmission by sending a signal from Poldhu on the west coast of the Lizard to Newfoundland in Canada. Earlier in 1901 it was at his Lizard Wireless Station (near Lizard Point) that Marconi received a wireless radio message from over the horizon, an unprecedented feat. The message was picked up from St Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, 186 miles away.
In 2001 the National Trust restored the small building which once housed Marconi’s experiments into a museum. More details on the Lizard Wireless Station, its opening times and the nearby Poldhu Marconi Centre are available on The National Trust’s website https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/marconi-on-the-lizard