The Lizard is a peninsula of Cornwall, and contains the most southerly point of mainland Cornwall and of the island Great Britain, Lizard Point. The peninsula measures approximately 14 by . Historically a particularly hazardous stretch of coastline, it was also known as the "Graveyard of Ships". The name 'Lizard' is most probably a corruption of the Cornish name 'Lys Ardh', meaning 'high court'; it is purely coincidental that much of the peninsula is composed of a rock called serpentine. The Lizard is important from a geological point of view as it is Britain's only example of an ophiolite. The Lizard peninsula's original name may have been the Celtic name 'Predannack' ("British one") as during the Iron Age (Pytheas c. 325 BC) and Roman period, Britain was known as Pretannike and as Albion (and Britons the 'Pretani'). Greek and Roman scribes were responsible for changing the initial P into B, but the original P remains in the Welsh word Prydein and the Cornish place-name Predannack.
Helston once headed the River Cober, before it was cut off from the sea by Loe Bar in the 13th century. It was a small port which exported tin and copper. Helston was certainly in existence in the sixth century when it was inhabited by Saxons. The name comes from the Cornish 'hen lis' or 'old court' and 'ton' denoting that it was a Saxon manor; the Domesday Book refers to it as Henliston. It was granted its charter by King John in 1201. It was here that tin ingots were weighed to determine the duty due to the Duke of Cornwall.
By the 14th century, a hamlet of fishermen's dwellings had established itself around the cove at Porthleven, named from the old Cornish porth (harbour) and leven (level or smooth). It grew with miners and farmworkers; and building of a harbour began in 1811. In 1855 the harbour was deepened, and a boatbuilding industry began, lasting until recently. The port imported coal, limestone and timber, and exported tin, copper and china clay. The harbour also heralded the start of Porthleven's golden days of pilchard fishing.
Mullion holds the 15th century church of St Mellanus, and the Old Inn from the 16th century. The harbour was completed in 1895 and financed by Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock as a recompense to the fishermen for several disastrous pilchard seasons.
The small church of St Peter in Coverack, built in 1885 for £500, has a serpentine pulpit, a rock unique to The Lizard.
The Great Western Railway operated a road motor service to The Lizard from Helston railway station. Commencing on 17 August 1903, it was the first successful British railway-run bus service and was initially provided as a cheaper alternative to a proposed light railway.
In 1999, the Solar eclipse of August 11, 1999 departed the UK mainland from the Lizard.
At Lizard Point stands the Lizard Lighthouse. In fact the light was erected by Sir John Killigrew by his own expense, it was built at the cost of '20 nobles a year' for 30 years, but it caused an uproar over the following years as King James the 1st considered charging vessels to pass. This caused so many problems that the lighthouse was demolished, but was successfully re-built in 1751 by order of Thomas Fonnereau and remains almost unchanged today.
Further east lie The Manacles, near Porthoustock; one and a half square miles of jagged rocks just beneath the waves.
In 1721 the Royal Anne Galley, an oared frigate, was wrecked at Lizard Point. Of a crew of 185 only 3 survived; lost was Lord Belhaven who was en voyage to take up the Governorship of Barbados.
A 44 gun frigate, HMS Anson, was wrecked at Loe Bar in 1807. Although close to shore many lost their lives in the storm. This inspired Henry Trengrouse to invent the rocket fired line, later to become the Breeches Buoy.
The transport ship Dispatch ran aground on the Manacles in 1809 on its return from the Peninsular War, losing 104 men from the 7th Hussars. The following day, with local villagers still attempting a rescue, HMS Brig Primrose hit the northern end of these rocks, with 120 officers and men, the only survivor being a drummer boy.
The SS Mohegan, a 7,000 tonne passenger liner, also hit the Manacles in 1898 with the loss of 106 lives.
The American passenger liner, the Paris, was stranded on the Manacles in 1899, with no loss of life.
Smuggling was a regular, and often necessary, way of life in these parts, despite the efforts of coastguards or 'Preventive men'.
In 1801, the King's Pardon was offered to any smuggler giving information on the Mullion musket men involved in a gunfight with the crew of HM Gun Vessel Hecate.
The biggest rescue in the RNLI's history was 17 March 1907 when the 12,000 tonne liner SS Suevic hit the Maenheere Reef near Lizard Point in Cornwall. In a strong gale and dense fog RNLI lifeboat volunteers rescued 456 passengers, including 70 babies. Crews from the Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven rowed out repeatedly for 16 hours to rescue all of the people on board. Six silver RNLI medals were later awarded, two to Suevic crew members.
RAF Predannack (see RNAS Predannack) was a Second World War airbase, from which Coastal Command squadrons flew anti-submarine sorties into the Bay of Biscay as well as convoy support in the western English Channel. The runways still exist and the site is used by a local glider flying club and as an emergency/relief base for RNAS Culdrose (HMS Seahawk). This is Europe's largest helicopter base, and currently hosts the Training and Occupational Conversion Unit operating the EH101 "Merlin" helicopter. It is also the home base for Merlin Squadrons embarked upon Royal Navy warships, the Westland Sea King AEW variant helicopter, a Search And Rescue (Sea King, again) helicopter flight, and some BAe Hawk T.1 trainer jets used for training purposes by the Royal Navy. The base also operates some other types of fixed wing aircraft for calibration and other training purposes. As befits the base's name, a non-flying example of a Hawker Sea Hawk forms the main gate guardian static display.
RNAS Culdrose is a major contributor to the economy of The Lizard area.
The Lizard Wireless Station is the oldest Marconi station to survive in its original state in the world and is located to the west of the Lloyds Signal Station in what appears to be a wooden hut.
In 1869, John Pender formed the Falmouth Gibraltar and Malta Telegraph company, intending to connect India to England with an undersea cable. Although intended to land at Falmouth, the final landing point was Porthcurno near Land's End.
A radar station called RAF Drytree was built during World War II. The site was later chosen for the Telstar project in 1962; its rocky foundations, clear atmosphere and closeness to the equator being uniquely suitable. This became the Goonhilly satellite earth station, now owned by BT Group plc. Some important developments in TV satellite transmission were made at Goonhilly station.
A wind farm exists near to the Goonhilly station site.
The Lizard contains some of the most specialised flora of any area in Britain, including many Red Data Book plant species. Of particular note is the Cornish heath, Erica vagans, that occurs in abundance here, but which is found nowhere else in Britain. It is also one of the few places where the rare formicine ant, Formica exsecta, (the narrow-headed ant), can be found.