Not counting the Channel Islands, Lizard Point, Cornwall, is the  most southerly point of the British IslesLand’s End, the most westerly point of Cornwall and England is 40 miles to the south-west.

I was surprised to find that in the eighteenth century my Fonnereau forebears had owned Lizard Point and my that 7th great uncle Thomas Fonnereau (1699 – 1779) had built the lighthouse there.

Thomas Fonnereau was the brother of my 6th great grandmother Anne Champion de Crespigny nee Fonnereau (1704 – 1782). They were the children of Huguenot refugees, Claude Fonnereau (1677 – 1740) and Elizabeth Fonnereau nee Bureau (1670 – 1735). Both Claude and Elizabeth were born in La Rochelle and came to England as children; they married in London in 1698. Claude Fonnereau was a Hamburg merchant who made his fortune in the linen trade. He left large landed estates to Thomas, and considerable monetary legacies to him and the other children.

Fonnereau was a member of Parliament for the constituency of Sudbury, Suffolk, from 1741 to 1768 and for Aldeburgh, Suffolk, from 1773 to 1779. He had inherited the estate of Christchurch, Ipswich, Suffolk from his father.

A lighthouse was first built on Lizard Point in 1619. Sir John Killigrew of Arwenack obtained a patent from James I and built it the same year. Local people objected : “The inabytants neer by,” wrote Killigrew, “think they suffer by this erection. They affirme I take away God’s grace from them. Their English meaning is that now they shall receve no more benefitt by shipwreck, for this will prevent yt. They have been so long used to repe profitt by the calamyties of the ruin of shipping that they clayme it heredytarye, and heavely complayne on me.” Trinity House, which at that time was enabled to set up sea marks but did not have a monopoly on maintaining lighthouses, is said to have strenuously opposed the lighthouse, alleging it was both useless and objectionable. Trinity House’s concerns apparently included that “the light will be a Pilot to a forrayne enymie to carrye them to a place of safe landynge”. It may also be relevant that Killegrew had been accused of piracy.

The light was maintained by Sir John for a number of years with the assistance of some voluntary contributions. It appears his patent was not entered in the rolls and in 1623 the patent was questioned in the Star Chamber and probably failed. By 1631 the light had gone.

There were several petitions to erect lights on the Lizard in the 1660s. One, in 1664 by Sir John Coryton, was to erect lighthouses at the Isle of Wight, Portland Road, Rame Head, and the Lizard Point. Sir John was to “receive 6d. Per ton on all strangers’ vessels anchoring between the Isle of Wight and Mounts Bay.” His petition, as with many others, did not succeed.

Thomas Fonnereau was successful in being granted a patent to build a lighthouse at the Lizard. The patent is dated 22 May 1751 and the light was first shown on 22 August 1752.

Fonnereau erected the lighthouse and paid an annual lease. In return he received dues from shipping that benefitted from the lighthouse. The patent gave permission for the building of the lighthouse, set the lease and authorised the collection and remittance of dues. In this period, the erection of a lighthouse was purely a business proposition, not a generous gesture of disinterested help to passing vessels.

In his 1838 Parochial History of Cornwall Gilbert Davies wrote of Thomas Fonnereau: “Mr Fonnereau came into Cornwall as an adventurer chiefly for the purpose of constructing Lighthouses on the Lizard Point, under one of the improvident grants which were frequently made in those times.”

Fonnereau’s initial lease was for 61 years but Trinity House took over responsibility for the lighthouse in 1771.

To distinguish it from the Scilly light which had one tower  and later the Guernsey lighthouses which had three towers, the Lizard light had two towers These are 61 feet high, with bases 168 feet above sea level. In 1870 the lights could be seen at a distance of 21 miles.

Lizard Light House 1772 - 1827 by T Rowlandson

Lizard Light House 1772 – 1827 by Thomas Rowlandson. Watercolour in the collection of the British Museum retrieved from


Until 1813, the Lizard lights were coal fired. An overlooker from a vantage point between the two towers would supervise the brightness of the fires. His contribution was to remind the bellows workers of their duties by sounding a cow horn if the fires dimmed.

In 1813 oil replaced coal, and in 1878 coal in turn was replaced by electricity. Around 1902 the lights were reduced to one powerful revolving electric beam, said to be the strongest in the world, which was visible for twenty-three miles. It showed once in every three seconds. It is aided in foggy weather by foghorns, said to have a very dismal call. The Lizard lighthouse was automated in 1998 and now displays a flashing white light visible for 26 miles.