In his diary entry for 1 January 1870 John Tregerthen Short of St Ives records that the Wolf Rock Light was illuminated for the first time. The Wolf is 18 nautical miles east of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly and eight nautical miles southwest of Lands' End. Wolf Rock stands almost exactly halfway between The Lizard and the Isles of Scilly.
The lighthouse stands 41 metres high on a single rock plug and is the fifth navigational aid to have been built on the site since 1791 when Trinity House gave permission to Lt Henry Smith to build a navigational mark. All the earlier constructions were swept away in storms. The rock on which the lighthouse stands is a mere 17 feet above low water at its highest point.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse 1971 (courtesy of Morrab Library Photo-archive)
The current lighthouse was constructed of 44,500 cubic feet of granite weighing about 3,300 tons. The stone was prepared and shaped in Penzance before being shipped out to the rock. Building began in March 1862 under Trinity House engineer James Walker and was completed in 1869 by William Douglas. It is said that the sand used in the mortar of the building came from the mine dumps at Balleswidden in St Just; it was a particularly hard sand ideal for the conditions. The design of the lighthouse was based on Smeaton's design for the Eddystone which had been completed over 100 years earlier in 1759.
Construction was a slow business; it was recorded that in five years there were only 302 hours or twelve and a half days on which work could be carried out on site. As a result, by the end of 1864, only 37 blocks of the second course of masonry were in place, slightly less than 13 per year!
Wolf Rock is reputed to be so-called because of the howling sound produced by wind passing through fissures but the Wolf has also successfully preyed upon many a ship in its time, an early example being the Gabrielle of Milford Haven, wrecked on the Wolf in 1394.
On the 18th December 1944 German U-Boat U-1209 hit Wolf Rock, an incident witnessed by keeper Charlie Cherrett who reported that the vessel found her way clear of the rock but was badly damaged and sank within the hour. Ten of the crew, including the commander, were killed.
The lighthouse was automated in July 1988 and in 1972 it became the first rock lighthouse in the world to be fitted with a helipad. The helipad made the job of relieving the keepers much easier though the weather still needs to oblige. There are photographs of keepers being lifted from supply boats by the Wolf Rock crane and swung across onto the rock. Now no-one needs to risk their neck getting out to the Wolf to man the light but the light continues to flash as a warning to mariners.
Tregeseal River, Clive Carter in Journal of the Trevithick Society no 22 1995
We are grateful to Lynda White, Charlie Cherrett's granddaughter for providing us with his correct name - Trinity House had him as Jack. Linda has provided further information on Charlie and his time on the Wolf and other lighthouses. Lynda's further information on U-1209 incident will be published on 18th December.