Walker shrugged off the news and did a U-turn. What was required, he thought,
was a granite tower based upon Smeaton's Eddystone.
The concept of building such a complex and heavy structure
in such a terrifying place really does stretch the imagination. It took us an
hour to reach Bishop Rock in a modern launch – how would men a century and a
half ago be expected to commute the four most dangerous miles in Britain?
The answer was to be found on the tiny isle of Rosevear – a
chunk of rock just big enough to have its own tiny hinterland. John Peacock
took us to this lonesome place on our journey out to the Bishop and, passing
through the narrow and hazardous gap that exists between it and the islet of
Rosevean, we were able to see the remains of the one or two stone cottages that
were built out here to house those brave builders.
The gable ends that stand just above the boulders of the
beach are all that remain of the most southwesterly homes ever to have existed
The men commuted to and from the light whenever the weather
permitted, which wasn’t often. The raw granite was brought over from the
mainland to the island where it was shaped and numbered before being sent on to
the most exposed building site in history.
The 35 metre high tower contained 2,500 tons of granite and
cost £34,560. It took seven years to complete the tower and the light was
finally lit on the 1st September 1858.
Just over 20 years later Sir James Douglass made an
inspection of the tower and reported widespread damage and general weakness in
the structure and it was decided to strengthen the tower and to increase its
height by 12 metres.
Much of this new work was centred on a huge cylindrical base
designed to create a kind of buffer upon which the power of the giant waves
would be dissipated before they could hit the tower itself. The plan obviously
worked - the work was completed in October 1887 at a cost of £66,000 and the
Bishop Rock Lighthouse has been standing loud and proud ever since.
Not quite as proud as it once was, mind. The light was
converted to automatic operation in 1991 and the last keepers quit the place on
21 December 1992. Helicopters now convey Trinity House engineers out to service
the light and they obtain access from the roof.
Nothing lives or stirs in the great granite cylinder below.
Where men once lived, now only the ghosts of drowned mariners moan in a wind
that never, ever, ceases out here at the real Land’s End. The empty tower is as
spooky a place as I’ve ever seen which, in a way, resonates well with the vast
emptiness of ocean that lies beyond.