Godrevy Lighthouse

Godrevy Lighthouse was built by Trinity House in 1859 marking a dangerous reef off St. Ives called the Stones; the light was moved to an adjacent steel structure in 2012

The headland at Godrevy has a bedrock of slate; stretching north-westward into the Atlantic are the remains of a reef composed of harder rock, pyritic sandstone. Godrevy Island, actually two barely separated rock masses, is situated 3½ miles across St. Ives Bay, stands nearest the headland and beyond it lie the Stones.

Godrevy—a Cornish word meaning ‘little huts, little homesteads’ (plural of go-dref)—is the name of the farm and headland, extended to the island; the naturalist John Ray described it in 1622 as “Godreve Island, which is nothing but a rock, upon which, in time of year, build great store of birds.” Gulls, oyster-catchers and pipits make their homes on the island, which is partly covered with grass, as it slopes down to the sea.

The Stones is the usual name for the reef, but Francis Kilvert in 1870 encountered another; “the breakers were singing and surging over the rocks of Godrevy called the Nine Maidens.” Each of the Stones has its own name: the furthest north-west appears on charts as Heva but its real form, preserved by St. Ives fishermen, seems to be Harva. Then come Deeper, Middle, and Shoaler (shoaler is a 17th century word meaning ‘shallower’). Nearest to the land is Tide Rock or Quarter-Tide Rock, and the half-mile passage between this and Godrevy island is the Sound, or Godrevy Sound. Just outside the island on the west and north-west lies a submerged reef of broken stone over which the waves run and drain. It has several names: Shore Lanner, Maen Launder and even Plenty-to-come-yet, an old term used by fishermen because it was so abundant in lobsters.

During the first half of the 19th century an increase in the coastal passenger and commercial trade brought many ships along the north coast of Cornwall. St Ives flourished as a fishing station but the Stones, lying jaggedly across the natural path of this traffic, claimed many victims. Stories persist that crowds rapidly gathered to those unfortunate vessels to plunder or wreck what was left. It took the combined efforts of the customs, preventive and coastguard services, even on occasions the local armed Yeomanry, to ward off the wreckers.

On 30 November 1854, the iron screw steamer Nile was wrecked with the loss of all passengers and crew; Trinity House decided to provide an aid to navigation to mark the hazard, erecting a lighthouse in 1859 to the design of consultant engineer James Walker. Its light was exhibited from 1 March. The white octagonal tower, 26 metres high, is made from rubble stone bedded in mortar, and is sited together with its adjoining keepers' cottages almost in the centre of the largest of the rocks.

The establishment was fixed at a senior or principal keeper and two other keepers, with an allowance for victualling, a suit of clothes annually, and coal, oil and furniture. Two keepers were to be on station at all times, serving two months on and one month off. Boats from St. Ives would ferry the supplies and deal with the reliefs.

The lighthouse was altered in 1934, when a new Second Order fixed catadioptric lens was installed, together with an acetylene burner. The fog bell was also removed, the keepers withdrawn and the lighthouse made automatic.

Godrevy Lighthouse was modernised in 1995 when it was converted to solar powered operation. The light was moved from the lighthouse tower to a new steel structure on the adjacent rock in 2012.

The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.