The Wra
The Wra, or Three Stone Oar, off Pendeen.

Pendeen Watch Coastguard and Lighthouse

The northern shore of Cornwall has been described as a wild, bleak and dangerous coastline. There is little shelter from southerly gales that veering northward turn the entire coastline into a lee shore. Jutting only a little way out from the south-westerly curve of the coast from St. Ives to Cape Cornwall, Pendeen Watch has always been notorious for shipwrecks. Not windjammers and passenger liners but colliers and sailing coasters plying the trade from south Wales to the Continent.

Pendeen Watch
Pendeen Watch

From Cape Cornwall the coast runs NE by E towards the Wra, or Three Stone Oar, off Pendeen. Surrounded by deep water and linked by a maze of sunken ledges. In bad weather, breakers and flying spray all but hide it, while during fog it can be an even greater menace. From here the inhospitable shore continues for a further eight miles or so to the Western entrance of St. Ives Bay, the principal feature here being the Gurnard's Head, on which many ships have come to grief. During the decade 1890-1900, seven steamers were lost, three stranded, and twenty-six sailors died.

Until 1891 maritime safety off Pendeen depended more on activity after a wreck rather than effective prevention, the "Admiralty Sailing Directions" for that year being only able to report a "Coastguard Station where a rocket apparatus is kept". The high cliffs along this sector of coastline prevented passing vessels from catching sight of either Trevose Head to the East or the Longships to the West; and so numbers of them, unable to ascertain their position, were lost, particularly on the groups of sunken and exposed rocks near Pendeen Watch. Trinity House became increasingly concerned about this state of affairs as the nineteenth century drew to its close, and decided to erect a lighthouse and fog signal at Pendeen. Designs for the building were prepared by Sir Thomas Matthews, the Trinity House Engineer, their construction being undertaken by Arthur Carkeek, of Redruth, with Messrs. Chance, of Birmingham supplying the lantern.