Casquets: Wikis


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Location map of Les Casquets
Channel Island map, showing location of Casquets

Les Casquets or The Casquets (49°43.′4″N 2°22.′7″W / 49.71778°N 2.36861°W / 49.71778; -2.36861) are a group of rocks 13 km northwest of Alderney and are part of an underwater sandstone ridge. Other parts which emerge above the water are the islets of Burhou and Ortac. Little vegetation grows on them. The "t" is pronounced in English, with the stress on the second syllable (/kæsˈkɛts/, kas-KETS).


Origin of name

Theories as to the origin of the name include:

  • derivation from the French 'cascade', which alludes to the tidal surges which flow around them;
  • derivation from 'casque', referring to the helmet-like shape of the rocks;
  • derivation from 'cas' (broken) and 'quet' (rock).

A map (Leyland map) dated from around 1640 gives a Latin name Casus Rupes (broken rocks), which would seem to confirm the third theory above.[1], but which may be a folk etymology.




There have been numerous wrecks on the islets; fierce tides reaching 6-7 knots on springs and a lack of landmarks account for many wrecks in the area. The most famous include SS Stella, wrecked in 1899. The largest wreck was the 8000 tonne water tanker Constantia S.

It was believed for centuries that the loss of HMS Victory in 1744 was attributable to wrecking on the Casquets, the lightkeeper of Alderney even being court-martialled for failure to keep the light on at the time of the ship's loss. However, when the wreck of that ship was found in 2008, it was over 60 nautical miles (110 km) from the Casquets.[2]

Casquets lighthouses

The Casquets from the air, showing the lighthouse on the centre island

The first lighthouses started operation on 30 October 1724, and were three towers lit by coal fires called St Peter, St Thomas and the Dungeon. Three stone towers were built to give the lights a distinctive appearance which would not be confused with lighthouses in nearby France.

They were built by Thomas Le Cocq, owner of the rocks, under licence from Trinity House and who was paid a halfpenny per ton of ship when vessels passed the rocks and in turn he paid Trinity House 50 pounds per year for the right to run the lighthouses. The lighthouses reverted back to Trinity House in 1785.

They were converted to oil lamps with metal reflectors which were first used on 25 November 1790; and upgraded again with apparatus to rotate a beam of light in 1818. This had a clockwork mechanism which was wound up every hour and a half and gave one flash every 15 seconds.

The lighthouses were badly damaged and the lanterns smashed in a severe storm on 31 October 1823. The towers were raised by a further 30 feet (10 m) in 1854, and equipped with 184 kilocandela lamps which gave three slow flashes every half minute. In 1877 the North West Tower was raised again and the lights in the other two towers discontinued.

British commandos of the Small Scale Raiding Force made two raids during the Second World War on the lighthouse, following the German occupation of the Channel Islands in 1940. The first raid, Operation Dryad, took place on 2 September–3 September 1942 and the seven keepers were taken back to England as prisoners of war.

Conversion to electric light took place in 1954, with the installation of a 2,830 kilocandela lamp. The lamp is unusual in that it rotates counter-clockwise. At the same time, the other two towers were reduced in height.

The current light in the 23 metre North West Tower is 37 metres above mean sea level and flashes five times every 30 seconds and with flashes 3.7 seconds apart. It can be seen for around 24 nautical miles (44 km) in clear weather. The East Tower contains the foghorn, which produces two blasts every 60 seconds and this has a nominal range of three nautical miles (6 km). The South West Tower is topped with a helipad and there is another helipad on a flat section of the rock. The rocks are also marked using racon with a Morse letter T on radar displays. The lighthouse complex was automated in 1990 and is monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre in Harwich.

The Casquets in literature

Swinburne's Les Casquets

A.C. Swinburne's poem, Les Casquets is based on the Houguez family who actually lived on the island for 18 years. The Houguez were originally from Alderney, and the poem describes their life on Les Casquets. The daughter falls in love with a carpenter from Alderney, but moving to his island, finds life there too busy. She finds the "small bright streets of serene St Anne" and "the sight of the works of men" too much, and returns to Les Casquets.

Victor Hugo's L'Homme qui Rit

Victor Hugo, who lived on Guernsey, and who wrote much about the Channel Islands says in his novel, The Laughing Man (L'Homme qui Rit):

"To be wrecked on the Casquets is to be cut into ribbons; to strike on the Ortac is to be crushed into powder... On a straight frontage, such of that of the Ortac, neither the wave nor the cannon ball can ricochet... if the wave carries the vessel on the rock she breaks on it, and is lost..."

Rigby Graham

Rigby Graham's "The Casquets...the most dangerous Channel Islands"

Published in 1972 in an edition of just 30 signed copies. Described by Alan Tucker as "The undoubted masterpiece of the press...with linocuts that challenge comparison with Picasso's in inventive exuberance. The cuts in the surface of the lino re-enact the processes which create the landscapes and seascapes they depict" (Tucker, 2001: vi).


  1. ^ Alderney Place Names, Royston Raymond, 1999 Alderney ISBN 0-9537127-0-2
  2. ^ Wreck of Warship Is Found in English Channel 02 February 2009

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