A lighthouse was first proposed for this area of the North Cornwall coast as early as 1809 there being no light at that time to guide ships trading in the Bristol Channel other than Longships Lighthouse to the south and the old Lundy Lighthouse to the north.
The position was further considered by Trinity House in 1813 and again in 1832, but it was not until 1 December 1847 that a light was exhibited at Trevose Head.
The lighthouse is situated on the north west extremity of the head, with gigantic cliffs of grey granite rising sheer from the sea to a height of 150 feet or more.
The area—like so much of the Devon and Cornwall coastline—is constantly obscured by sea mists.
Originally a pair of leading lights—only the high light remains today—the low light was discontinued in 1882, at the same time that an oil-burning occulting light was installed in the remaining lighthouse. A visit from the District Superintendent and the Engineer-in-Chief Sir James Douglass was recorded with the following entry in the lighthouse’s Order Book:
“The light is now exhibited (7pm) and the machinery is keeping perfect time, everything connected with the change is quite satisfactory - as the night is foggy I have given instructions to light the six wicks.”
In the autumn of 1911 the dwellings underwent extensive alterations and work to install a fog signal and improve the light commenced; the new fog horn—developed by Lord Rayleigh, Scientific Adviser to Trinity House—took the form of an enormous trumpet, rectangular in shape and 36 feet long. The unusual fog horn remained until it was replaced in 1963.
During the 1912-13 modernisation, the First Order (920mm focal length) catadioptric optic was installed; a few years later, around 1920, a Hood vapour burner was installed as the light source. Newly-developed, the Hood high-power vaporised oil burner was a great improvement; the autoform mantle formed an incandescent sphere and produced a 198,000 candela red flash of 0.3 second duration every five seconds with a nominal range of 25 miles. The 3.6 ton optic was rotated by a weight-driven clockwork mechanism.
Trevose Head Lighthouse was automated in 1995 and the keepers were withdrawn on 20 December. The existing optic was retained but the rotation speed was slowed to alter the character to one flash every 7.5 seconds; the red screens were removed to give a white light.
The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.