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Bishop Rock

For the Bishop Rock in the Pacific Ocean, see Cortes Bank.
Bishop Rock
Bishop Rock Lighthouse (2005)
Location Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Coordinates 49°52′24″N 06°26′41″W / 49.87333°N 6.44472°W / 49.87333; -6.44472Coordinates: 49°52′24″N 06°26′41″W / 49.87333°N 6.44472°W / 49.87333; -6.44472

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

Bishop Rock (Cornish: Men Epskop)[1] is a small rock, known for its lighthouse, at the westernmost tip of the Isles of Scilly in Cornwall. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's smallest island with a building on it.[2]

The rock has room for nothing more than the uninhabited 49-metre-tall lighthouse. Building of the original iron lighthouse was begun in 1847, but it was washed away before it could be completed. The present building was completed in 1858 and was first lit on 1 September of that year. Below and inside the lighthouse are 9 floors with spiral staircase to the 2nd floor with a door (made from gun metal (likely bronze) and installed in 1887[3]) 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.

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.[4]

The interior for the light house consists of:[5]

  • 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

From the helipad there is a small opening with a stairs leading below to the lamp.

Bishop Rock is also 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 these ocean liners took when competing for the Transatlantic speed record, awarded the "Blue Riband."

The rock was recorded as Maen Escop in 1284 and Maenenescop in 1302.


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 the westernmost rock (called the Bishop). The plan was considered by the Government and building was expected soon as Mr Rennie, the engineer made an offer to build it.[6] 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.[7] 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.[7] The light was never lit, since on 5 February 1850 a storm washed the tower away.[7]

In the second attempt, James Walker began building a stone structure in 1851.[7] 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.[8] Despite multiple problems, the tower was completed without loss of life, and the lighthouse shone its first light on 1 September 1858.[8] The total cost for the lighthouse was £34,559.[8]

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 (£2,944,839 as of 2014) [9]
  • The third improved lighthouse : ....................£64,889 (£6,109,584 as of 2014) [9]
  • Total cost : ..............................................£111,948

Difficulty reaching the lighthouse by boat led Trinity House to build a helipad atop the lighthouse in 1976.[10] The tower has been fully automated since 15 December 1992.[11]

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.


In 1901 a barque named Falkland struck the rock, her main yard hitting the lighthouse itself.[12] East of Bishop Rock are the Western Rocks and the Gilstone Reef,[13] 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 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.

See also


External links

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

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