The story of an aid to navigation to mark the Wolf Rock originated with Henry Smith’s intention to build a lighthouse in 1791; Smith found the task too daunting and finally constructed a wrought iron mast six metres high and ten centimetres in diameter, complete with six stays and surmounted by a metal model of a wolf on the rock. This unlighted daymark was erected in 1795 and was less substantial than had been specified; the Atlantic soon carried it away.
During the years 1836-40 an iron beacon was located on the rock. It was designed by James Walker, the famous lighthouse builder, in the form of a cone constructed of iron plates and filled with cement rubble, having a base 4.8 metres in diameter and of equal height. The difficulties of erecting a beacon were enormous; as an instance of this it was recorded that in five years there were only 302 hours during which work could be carried out. The beacon was completed successfully and it remains part of the present landing.
In 1861 work commenced on a granite tower, also designed by Trinity House consultant engineer James Walker, which followed the lines of Smeaton’s Eddystone tower.
Work proceeded so slowly in the early stages—owing to the difficult conditions—that by the end of 1864 only 37 stones in the second course of masonry could be laid. In the meantime, however, the landing stage had been practically completed and the erection of the crane enabled blocks for the tower to be transferred to the rock with the greater ease and rapidity. The tower was completed on 19 July 1869 and the light was brought into service early in the following year.
The lighthouse achieved worldwide publicity in 1972 as the first rock lighthouse to have a helideck constructed on top of the lantern housing.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse was automated and demanned in July 1988. The lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from Trinity House’s Planning Centre in Harwich, Essex.