Lighthouse-builders' operational base on Rosevear


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016175

Date first listed: 25-Sep-1997


Ordnance survey map of Lighthouse-builders' operational base on Rosevear
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Agnes

National Grid Reference: SV 83915 05964


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys.

The lighthouse-builders' operational base on Rosevear provides a rare example of a mid-19th century workshop and workers' lodging complex which survives substantially intact and unaffected by later modification and adaptations. The construction of the Bishop Rock lighthouse, for which this operational base played an essential role, marks an important stage in the developing capacity of Trinity House to tackle the more difficult and serious navigational hazards which faced the nation's shipping. The surviving remains on Rosevear, complemented by the records associated with them, illustrate well the ingenuity, spirit and the hardships involved in overcoming the enormous practical difficulties presented by the need to build a lighthouse on such an exposed, remote and restricted location using mid-19th century technology.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The scheduling includes a mid-19th century lighthouse-builders' operational base on the island of Rosevear in the Western Rocks of the Isles of Scilly; the base served the builders of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse during its initial and abortive construction attempt from 1847-1850 and during its successful construction from 1851-1858. The structures of the base extend across the north east and east of this small rocky island, occupying the only area sufficiently level and high enough to escape the reach of the highest tides. At least four main elements survive. Two buildings, a workers' lodging and mess building and a workshop building, are grouped in the north west of the overall structural complex; a smithing hearth is located between them; the fourth element, a slab-built platform, is situated to their east by the island's east coast. Traces of a third building are also visible further south on the east coast. The operational base was established on Rosevear following the decision by Trinity House in April 1847 to erect a lighthouse on the Bishop Rock, 3.2km WNW of Rosevear, marking the notoriously dangerous reefs and rocks at the south west edge of the Scilly archipelago. Rosevear was chosen for the base as it is the nearest island with any substantial area of flattish dry land; the Bishop Rock is a short distance by boat and clearly visible from the island, enabling work to proceed whenever conditions were seen to be suitable. Under the direction of Nicholas Douglass and his son James, the lighthouse was built to an initial design of an open framework of cast iron columns and wrought iron stays, supporting a lantern and living accommodation. The structure was almost finished by the end of the 1849 season but was completely destroyed in a storm on 5 February 1850. Following a rapid and radical reassessment, the proposed design was changed to a granite tower and work began, again under the direction of the Douglasses, to prepare the rock for the tower in summer 1851; the stonework was completed in 1857 and its light was first displayed in 1858. Rosevear was again chosen as the base for the workforce, though their role was limited to assembling the structure. The stone used for the tower came from the mainland quarries at Carnsew and Lamorna; it was shipped to Scilly for final dressing to shape on St Mary's, and finally transported by tender and barge directly to the Bishop Rock. Records illustrate the living conditions of the workforce on Rosevear, noting that to supplement provisions brought from the main islands, some vegetables were grown in rock crevices, fish were caught and sea-bird eggs varied the diet. The base was frequently cut off by bad weather and on occasion the workers were reduced to eating limpets. Despite the hardships, on one evening the workforce gave a `grand ball', clearing and brightly lighting all of the buildings, which had been decorated with bunting; invitations went out to the rest of Scilly and the visitors danced into the early hours of the following morning, returning by boat in the moonlight.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 15496

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Arlott, J, Island Camera, (1983)
Grigson, G, The Scilly Isles, (1977)
Larn, R, Shipwrecks of the Isles of Scilly, (1993)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
p74, fig 103, Over, L, The Isles of Scilly, (1993)
p75, fig 105; prob 1890's - see ref 6, Over, L, The Isles of Scilly, (1993)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7066, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 80 NW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing