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Bishop Rock, Isles of Scilly

Bishop Rock
Bishop Rock Lighthouse (2005)
Bishop Rock, Isles of Scilly is located in the United Kingdom
Location Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Year first constructed 1851
Year first lit 1858
Automated 1992
Height 49m (167 ft)
Current lens Hyper Radial 1330 mm Rotating
Intensity 600,000 Candela
Range 24 miles
Characteristic 2 White Group Flashes Every 15 Seconds
ARLHS number ENG 010

The Bishop Rock (Cornish: Men Epskop)[1] is a small rock in the Atlantic Ocean known for its lighthouse. It is in the westernmost part of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago 45 km (28 mi) off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the world's smallest island with a building on it.[2]

The original iron lighthouse was begun in 1847 but was washed away before it could be completed. The present building was completed in 1858 and was first lit on 1 September, in the same year. Prior to the installation of the helipad, visitors to the lighthouse would rappel from the top (with winches installed at the lamp level and at the base below) to boats waiting away from the lighthouse.[3]

Bishop Rock is also at the eastern end of the North Atlantic shipping route used by ocean liners in the first half of the 20th century; the western end being the entrance to Lower New York Bay. This was the route that ocean liners took when competing for the Transatlantic speed record, known as the Blue Riband.


  • History 1
  • Lighthouse 2
  • Culture 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


In the late 13th century, when the Isles of Scilly was under the jurisdiction of John de Allet and his wife Isabella, anyone convicted of felony ″ought to be taken to a certain rock in the sea, with two barley loaves and a pitcher of water and left until the sea swallowed him up″.[4] The rock was recorded as Maen Escop in 1284 and Maenenescop in 1302. In Welsh (similar to Cornish) Maen Escob means Bishop Rock. The outer rocks to the west of St Agnes, used to be known as the Bishop and Clerk, and exactly how they acquired their names is not known for certain. One explanation is that when a fleet of merchantmen out of Spain were wrecked 200 years ago, only Miles Bishop and John and Henry Clerk survived.[4] Another possible explanation is the shape of the rock is similar to a bishop's mitre.[5]

East of Bishop Rock are the Western Rocks and the Gilstone Reef,[6] where Admiral Shovell's flagship HMS Association was wrecked in the great naval disaster of 1707. Shovell's remains were repatriated to England by order of Queen Anne shortly after their initial burial in the Isles of Scilly.

The earliest recorded wreck on the rock itself was in 1839 when the brig Theodorick struck in rough misty weather on 4 September. She was out of Mogodore for London carrying a general cargo. In the early hours of 12 October, 1842, the 600-tonne paddle steamer Brigand, a packet boat, which was en route from Liverpool to St Petersburg, struck the rock with such force that it stove in two large bow plates. The rocks then acted as a pivot, and she swung round and heeled into the rock portside, crushing the paddle-wheel and box to such an extent that it penetrated the engine room. She drifted over seven miles in two hours, before sinking in 90m. All the crew were saved.[5] In 1901 a barque named Falkland struck the rock, her main yard hitting the lighthouse itself.[7]


An 1818 Report by the Surveyor–General of the Duchy of Cornwall on the dangers to shipping in Cornwall proposed to build a lighthouse, similar to the one on the Eddystone, upon Bishop Rock, given its location as the westernmost rock of the Isles of Scilly. The plan was considered by the Government and building was expected soon as Mr Rennie, the engineer made an offer to build it.[8] The Government did not take up the offer and Trinity House surveyed Bishop Rock, in 1843, with a view to building a lighthouse, and work began in 1847.[9] The engineer in chief, James Walker, decided on a 120-foot-tall (37 m) design consisting of accommodation, and a light on top of iron legs.[9] The light was never lit, since on 5 February 1850 a storm washed the tower away.[9]

In the second attempt, James Walker began building a stone structure in 1851.[9] The site presented a number of difficulties; the paucity of available land area, and the slope of the rock meant that the lowest stone had to be laid below the water level of the lowest spring tides.[10] Despite multiple problems, the tower was completed without loss of life, and the lighthouse shone its first light on 1 September 1858.[10] The total cost for the lighthouse was £34,559.[10]

In 1881, Sir James Nicholas Douglass inspected the tower, and designed renovation to reinforce the structure. The work was begun in 1882 and completed in 1887, under the supervision of Douglass's eldest surviving son, William Tregarthen Douglass.

Bishop Lighthouse is often referred to as "King of the lighthouses" and it is indeed a very impressive structure. It is the second tallest in Britain, second only to the Eddystone Lighthouse and altogether the money spent on reaching this lighthouse we have today has been:

  • The first iron lighthouse: £12,500
  • The second granite lighthouse: £34,559 (£3,106,241 in 2016) [11]
  • The third improved lighthouse: £64,889 (£6,444,440 in 2016) [11]
  • Total cost: £111,948

The interior for the light house consists of:[12] Below and inside the lighthouse are 10 floors[13] with spiral staircase to the 2nd floor with a door (made from gun metal (likely bronze) and installed in 1887[14]) that leads down an external metal (likely bronze) ladder to climb down to the large exterior base. From the base another metal ladder provides access to stone staircase to the water line.

  • 1st floor – water tank (providing fresh water for lighthouse keeper)
  • 2nd floor – entrance room with metal door leading to exterior ladder to base below
  • 3rd floor – store room with window
  • 4th floor – 1st oil room with oil tanks formerly used to light the lamp
  • 5th floor – 2nd oil room with window
  • 6th floor – Living room for lighthouse keeper with window
  • 7th floor – Bedroom for lighthouse keeper with window
  • 8th floor – Store room
  • 9th floor – Service room
  • 10th floor – lamp

Difficulty reaching the lighthouse by boat led Trinity House to build a helipad atop the lighthouse in 1976.[15] The tower has been fully automated since 15 December 1992.[16]


The rock is the subject of a short orchestral descriptive work by the late Doreen Carwithen (Mary Alwyn) and has been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Richard Hickox.

The lighthouse was used as a filming location for one of the current BBC One Idents and was also featured in the last segment of the documentary series Three Men in More Than One Boat. The lighthouse was also featured in the 2010 BBC documentary Islands of Britain, hosted by Martin Clunes.

See also


  1. ^ "Cornish Language Partnership: Place names in the SWF". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  2. ^ "World's 7 most dangerous and remote islands". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  3. ^ "Bishop Rock lighthouse relief, 1970 | Flickr – Condivisione di foto!". 2012-09-06. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  4. ^ a b Larn, Richard (1992). Shipwrecks of the Isles of Scilly. Nairn: Thomas & Lochar. 
  5. ^ a b Maginnis, Clem. "Around the Rugged Rock". Divernet. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "Photograph of Gilstone Reef". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  7. ^ "BRITISH BARK WRECKED; Founders Off Scilly Isles - Part of Her Crew Probably Drowned". New York Times. 23 June 1901. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  8. ^ "The Scilly Isles". The New Monthly Mazazine. December 1818. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d Nicholson, Christopher (1995). Rock lighthouses of Britain The end of an era?. Whittles Publishing. pp. 114–115.  
  10. ^ a b c Nicholson, op. cit., p. 116
  11. ^ a b UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  12. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume XVI Slice VI - Lightfoot, Joseph to Liquidation". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  13. ^ "Bishop Rock: The Smallest Island in the World". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  14. ^ "Bishops Rock lighthouse - Bing Afbeeldingen". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  15. ^ Nicholson, op. cit., p. 126
  16. ^ Nicholson, op. cit., p. 127

External links

  • Trinity House – Bishop Rock
  • A description of Bishop Rock and the lighthouse
  • OS map image
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