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Land’s End is the legendary Cornish destination that has inspired people since ancient Greek times when it was referred to as Belerion – the shining land.
Fascinating discoveries found onsite dating back as far as the Mesolithic Period (10,000-4000 BC) prove the fact that people have been travelling to and living at Land’s End for ten thousand years or more.
The many names for Land’s End are centuries old; the earliest name for the site seems to ‘Penwith Steort’ recorded in 997; Penwith is Cornish for ‘extreme end’ and Steort is Old English for ‘tail’ or ‘end.’
The Middle English name ‘Londeseynde’ appears in 1337 and ‘Penn an Wlas’ – Cornish for ‘end of the land’ –is first recorded in 1500.
Throughout the ages, Land’s End has held a fascination for many people and the place has inspired many stories and works of art.
The mythical ‘Lost Land of Lyonesse’ is said to lie beneath the waves between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly; according to legend, Lyonesse was a rich part of King Arthur’s realm which was drowned by the sea on a cataclysmically stormy night.
There are in fact, over 130 recorded shipwrecks around the Land’s End as well as countless more unrecorded.
In modern times, Longships Lighthouse at Land’s End forms one point of an important protective triangle - Longships Lighthouse, Wolf Rock Lighthouse and the Lizard Lighthouse collectively create one of the best lit waterways in the British Isles.
Undoubtedly the breadth and depth of history at Land’s End has a part to play in the continuing appeal and popularity of this world-famous attraction.
Nowadays, over 400,000 visitors, from all over the globe, travel to Land’s End every year and the site employs between 50-150 local people throughout the season
The Land's End Timeline
The Norman Conquest
In the aftermath of the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror claimed all land as his own and divided the spoils between his countrymen and the nobles who supported his claim to the throne.
Land’s End was given to Robert, Count of Mortain, who was awarded the largest share of land in Cornwall.
The Vingoe Family
Digory Vingoe of Treville purchased some land at Land’s End from Sir John Arundell.
Generations of the Vingoe family owned and worked on the land at Land’s End right up until 1854.
During this time, a cob built furze store, also used by fowlers or by sheep or goats roaming over the headland, was said to have occupied the site where the hotel would be built in the future.
In September 1743, John Wesley, theologian and founder of the Methodist movement, visited the site, preaching to an adoring crowd of followers and he was even inspired enough to compose a verse of one of his famous hymns.
The first Longships Lighthouse was constructed and lit; although standing at only 28ft in height there was a significant decrease in wrecks and fatalities.
Before 1795, there were no lighthouses or navigational aids beyond Land’s End and locals supplemented their income by plundering the numerous ships driven on to the treacherous Cornish rocks.
J. M. W. Turner
The artist J.M.W. Turner visited Land’s End during his Westcountry tour and during his visit Turner made many pencil drawings which he later developed into engravings and atmospheric watercolours.
The name ‘Wolf Rock’ was settled on for the rock formation lying eight miles beyond Land’s End.
Before 1825, Wolf Rock had been variously known as Yulf, Gulf, Gulf Roche, Le Loup and Le Housen de Wolf.
The name ‘Wolf’ is believed to derive from the howling noise produced when compressed air is forced through a fissure in a cavern below the rock surface.
Penzance Railway Station
The West Cornwall Railway brought the first passenger trains to Penzance Railway Station carrying a new crowd of wealthy tourists.
Before Penzance station opened, the journey for visitors to Land’s End had been arduous and involved navigating the narrow muddy lanes of Cornwall.
The first buildings were erected onsite in response to increased visitor numbers arriving from excursions starting to come to Penzance from London, the Midlands and the North.
The Land’s End Hotel was at that time, no more than a mere cottage dwelling and the so-called “Land’s End House” was owned and run by Thomas and Margaret Toman, the landlords of the First and Last Inn.
The Toman family bought the land at Land’s End from their cousins, the Vingoes and relatives of Thomas and Margaret owned and operated businesses at Land’s End for the next five generations until 1980.
The author Wilkie Collins visited Land’s End and famously wrote ‘‘Something like what Jerusalem was to the pilgrim in the Holy Land, the Land’s End is — comparing great things with small — to the tourist in Cornwall…”
Penwith House was built and was opened as a 'Temperance Hotel'; a place for Victorian visitors who extolled the virtues of a life without (or with less) alcohol.
First and Last House
This famous historical building was originally opened by a lady called Grace Thomas who served travellers with welcome refreshments, plus souvenirs of their visit, including lumps of Cornish granite.
The furthest tip of Land’s End is Peal Point which stretches out below the First and Last House.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse
Built on sea rock, just over eight miles from Land’s End, Wolf Rock Lighthouse was completed and first lit in January 1870.
Wolf Rock was a notoriously dangerous lighthouse; the lonely 115ft granite tower faces the full fury of the Atlantic and of all the lighthouses in the region only Bishop Rock lighthouse is more exposed.
End to End Walk
The first recorded End to End walk, from John O’Groats to Land’s End, was undertaken by two brothers, Robert and John Naylor.
Built on sea rock, a mile and half from Land’s End, the current Longships Lighthouse was constructed and first lit in December 1873.
The Land’s End House
By 1881, the Land’s End House had expanded and could offer more facilities and accommodation than the First and Last Inn – full board and a licensed bar.
Benjamin and Annie Trahair
Thomas Toman, the landlord of the Land’s End House and the First and Last Inn, died; his only married daughter Annie, with her husband Benjamin Trahair, continued improvements, extended facilities and installed electric light in the buildings onsite.
A Sea Serpent
The ‘Morgawr’, a giant sea serpent said to measure 12-14 feet long, was reportedly sighted swimming in the waters beyond Land’s End.
The Land’s End State House
By 1912, the Land’s End House was known as ‘The State House’ and the accommodation was characterised by the glitz and the glamour of the pre-war generation.
The hotel offered all the best modern comforts and Benjamin Trahair was known to always welcome his guests in an immaculate white suit.
A Luftwaffe plane, returning from a raid on Cardiff, jettisoned its bombs on the hotel destroying the oldest sections of the building and tearing down the bar.
One man was killed and many other local people and military personnel were injured.
Allied Soldiers stationed in the Land’s End Hotel were deployed to the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Wolf Rock Helipad
In 1973, Wolf Rock became the first rock lighthouse to install a helipad, easing the delivery of food, water and oil and bringing keepers and mechanics to the tower.
In 1974, a helipad was installed at Longships Lighthouse.
Helicopters contributed greatly to the automation of all lighthouses in the British Isles because aerial transport provided ease of access for engineers and advancing technology meant that the light could be controlled without manual input.
In 1980, Charles Neave-Hill sold the site to Welsh property tycoon, David Goldstone, who outbid the National Trust for the sale of the landmark.
Davestone Holdings Ltd, undertook erosion control and refurbished the existing garages, buildings and sheds into gift shops and amusements.
Peter De Savary
Entrepreneur and property developer, Peter de Savary, bought Land’s End from David Goldstone for nearly £7million and over the next four years, de Savary invested £5million restoring the site and upgrading the facilities.
Being an enthusiast for British folklore and Arthurian legend, de Savary erected a large building to house exhibitions and attractions including ‘The Last Labyrinth’ which was filmed at Pinewood Studios.
At this time, the Hotel building was renovated and extended and only one other structure was installed – the Custom House arch – a grand entrance to welcome visitors and end-to-enders to the site, and also to house space for staff offices.
Wolf Rock Automation
In 1987, the automation programme was completed at Wolf Rock lighthouse and the keepers left the light for the last time.
The last Longships lighthouse keepers were taken ashore and henceforth the light was operated by an automated programme.
British botanist and broadcaster, David Bellamy OBE, was commissioned by Peter de Savary to undertake a comprehensive environmental survey of the site.
Bellamy’s report made significant and long-lasting recommendations to ensure the conservation of the natural history of the site.
The report also meticulously catalogued some 220 species of flowering plant, 81 species of lichen, 70 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, and much more besides, inhabiting the Land’s End headland.
Graham Ferguson Lacey
In 1991, Peter de Savary sold Land’s End, for an undisclosed sum to businessman Graham Ferguson Lacey.
The sale was part of a series of property sell-offs by de Savary.
Current owners, Heritage Great Britain PLC purchased Land’s End and the site joined an extensive portfolio of English and Scottish landmarks including John O’Groats, Snowdon Mountain Railway, The Needles, and Lightwater Valley.
Using control systems devised during the 1970s, similar to those used in space exploration, the Wolf Rock Lighthouse began to be monitored by telemetry link with the operations centre at Harwich.
The Wolf Rock light gives out a white flash every 15 seconds.
While transporting 2,200 tonnes of scrap car plastic, RMS Mülheim ran aground in Gamper Bay, between Land’s End and Sennen Cove.
The officer on watch at the time had caught his trousers in the lever of his chair when trying to get up, causing him to fall, rendering him unconscious.
By the time he came to, RMS Mülheim was already bearing down on the shoreline – fortunately the crew were airlifted to safety, and most of the cargo was salvaged.
Doctor Who Exhibition
A Doctor Who Exhibition was installed at Land’s End and proved a very popular and successful attraction until its final closure in January 2011.
London Summer Olympics
The Olympic Torch Relay began at Land’s End and was broadcast on international television channels.
South West Coast Path
The inaugural Great South West Walk was completed at Land’s End and celebrated the 40th anniversary of the South West Coast Path Association.
Land’s End contributed £10k to the renovation and conservation of the South West Coast Path which runs through the 100 acres onsite.
Gary Barlow, Chris Evans, Professor Brian Cox and James May drove the FAB1 pink Rolls Royce from Land’s End to John O'Groats to raise money and awareness for Breast Cancer Care.
A team of Big Heritage archaeologists discovered a plethora of ancient objects and evidence of human activity at Land’s End dating back over 8,000 years.
The Shaun the Sheep Experience
In February 2015, a brand new half a million pound attraction, produced in partnership with Aardman Animations, opened at Land’s End.
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