At the base of the Roseland Peninsula on the southeast coast of England, St. Anthony Head is a quite remarkable location with both geographical and historical significance. It overlooks the wide estuary of the River Fal, which is one of the widest natural harbors in the world. This natural opening of water allowed this area of Cornwall to thrive as a place of anchorage for ships arriving from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans.
As well as being a favorable trade and docking location, the wide estuary has also been a place where resources have historically been directed toward protecting Cornwall from enemy attack. It was during Henry VIII’s reign, at the time under threat of military invasion from Catholic France and Spain, that he decided to build St. Mawes Castle and Pendennis Castle to strengthen England’s defense against such attacks. Both these castles still exist today.
At St. Anthony Head, a battery was built between 1895 and 1897 in response to a growing naval threat from overseas. It held two large naval guns which were upgraded over time to protect the coastline. The site was used as an active gun battery in both the First and Second World Wars. On the surrounding site, also situated was an underground magazine, a guard room, officers’ quarters with surrounding ramparts, a deep ditch, and a large fence. In 1956, the gun placements were filled in with rubble due to the dissolution of coastal defense in the United Kingdom. In 1959, the site was bought by the National Trust, which oversaw excavation and restoration.
St. Anthony’s Lighthouse was built in 1835 and designed by the Scottish civil engineer James Walker. It was built to aid sailors trying to navigate the tricky conditions offshore, including a set of treacherous rocks known as the Manacles. The fog warnings were fairly basic until 1954, when electricity was connected to the lighthouse. Around that time, both a modern horn system and an electric light were introduced. The large fog bell, which was situated at the front of the tower was decommissioned and donated to Penwerris Church. In 1987, the lighthouse became fully automatic after the keeper retired.
The lighthouse was used in the opening credits of 1980s children’s comedy show Fraggle Rock and can be found in many of the episodes.
Know Before You Go
Those who fancy staying overnight in this historic site can now stay in converted accommodation in the lighthouse or in the old officer's quarters at St. Anthony head. The site is maintained by National Trust and is clearly signposted. There is a car park at the headland. The site lies on part of the South West Coast Path and keen walkers may use take on a longer walk by following this path.