Pendeen Lighthouse epitomises the rise and gradual decline of a technology.
Built in 1900, it represents the 'PC' of lighthouse development. The technology was already well understood and established, and the whole thing could be planned and built as an integrated whole that only needed the occasional internal upgrade. Although, admittedly, the upgrades were rather less frequent than the average PC.
It is interesting to chart the output of the lamp against time.
One can see how with the advent of GPS, sophisticated radio beacons and improvements in radar, lighthouses are beginning to look a distinctly 20th century technology.
I suspect, however, it will be many years before the one at Pendeen joins the many ruined tin mines on the cliffs of the Penwith peninsula.
Looking towards Geevor
As for being an integrated whole, the entire site can be seen as just one huge machine housing both mechanical and human components, dedicated to providing and maintaining the light.
There is the tower itself, with the light at the top and its machinery built into the base. There is an 'E' shaped building split into four 'cottages', three of which housed the three resident keepers, their wives and families; the fourth was used as an office area and sleeping accommodation for the supernumerary keepers.
Behind the cottages are three kitchen gardens (which soon fell into disuse as nothing would grow in such an exposed position) and, a little way off, the fog horn and its accompanying machinery.
Water was originally collected off the flat roof of the accommodation block and stored in an underground tank. So, apart from food and paraffin, they were virtually self sufficient.
At one point during the early 1900s the population of the site rose to four keepers, three wives, ten children, two dogs, three cats, five pigs, three goats, two ponies, about 30 chickens, and three geese. The geese apparently felt they owned the place, and refused to let the visiting local Superintendent (one Lieutenant Harold Reading) get off his horse.
Since 1995 the light has been fully automated, and when we visited in 2003 one of the cottages was still permanently occupied by the last Principal Keeper, Bill Arnold, who retired when the light was automated. The other three cottages are available as self-catering holiday lets.
And what a magnificent place to stay they make. The views are quite stunning, the cottages very well appointed, and the rest of West Cornwall is on your doorstep. Just round the corner, is a pleasant walk down to the sea at Portheras Bay.
Ear plugs are provided, but personally I found the sound of the new fog forn, a fairly tame electric affair, rather reassuring. Best of all where the magnificent sunsets and the St Austell HSD from the North Inn up in the village.