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Lloyd's Signal Station
Bass Point, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, UK
associated engineer
Not known
date  1st April 1872
era  Victorian  |  category  Telecommmunications  |  reference  SW714120
The signal station is situated 1.2km east of Lizard Lighthouse on Bass Point at the eastern end of Housel Bay. In the early 19th century most ships would have had no means of communication with the shore, possibly for months at a time, until they were near enough to the land to send semaphore messages that could be relayed to their destination ports by a signal station such as this one.
The whitewashed two-storey masonry building has a five-sided full-height bay on its south wall, and a flat roof surrounded by a castellated parapet. It is 9.1m high and has a lookout structure with a stout mast for flag signals on its roof.
The overland electric telegraph, which transformed the exchange of information, had reached Falmouth by 1857. G.C. Fox & Company, a group of ship owners and agents from Falmouth, realised the importance that advance knowledge of ship movements would have on maritime trade. They built the signal station with an access road to Lizard village and intended to lay their own telegraph cable from Falmouth, but the Post Office intervened.
The station went operational on 1st April 1872, and in fine weather messages were transmitted using recognised arrays of flags. Messages were then sent by post or horse rider to the nearest telegraph office at Helston, until the telegraph cable reached the station on 2nd June 1872 and the Post Office established an office there. In November 1872, G.C. Fox began night-time signalling using steam whistles, guns, rockets and arrays of coloured lights but it was not very effective in fog.
Competition for business was intense and a rival Falmouth company, William Broad & Sons, set up a signal office next-door to the Fox station with predictable confusion for shipping. In 1875, the companies united their operations and the Broad office was demolished. By 1877 more than 1000 vessels were using the station each month.
In December 1882, Lloyd's of London circulated a document stating their intention to set up 27 signalling stations around the UK coast, one of which was to be at Lizard. This could have resulted in competing operations again, but G.C. Fox agreed that Lloyd's would lease part of the building and undertake the signalling and reporting services, although the telegraph was operated by the Post Office. Lloyd's took over on 1st January 1883, and the large black lettering on the building's west wall was changed from "V R Telegraph Office" to "Lloyd's Signal Station".
Some time before 1939, two low-level buildings were constructed seaward of the station to enable better lamp signalling without light interference from the nearby lighthouse. They were known as night boxes. The station was operated by Lloyd's until 1951, and thereafter by the Coastguard Service. Since 1994 the Coastguard Service has operated from a lookout seaward of the night boxes.
The Grade II listed building is now owned by the National Trust, who restored its exterior and converted the interior to living accommodation in 1993. The night boxes have also been remodelled as living accommodation. They are all leased as private homes. The station is such a local landmark that it is often used as one end of the finish line for yacht races.
Just to the west of the signal station, also run by the National Trust, are the two unassuming timber buildings of Marcon's Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, the oldest existing purpose-built wireless communications station in the world.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Marconi at The Lizard The story of communication systems at Housel Bay"
by Courtney Rowe, Trevithick Society, 2000
www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Location

Lloyd's Signal Station