Position 50° 10’.80 N 04° 15’.90 W
Established 1703 (present tower 1882).
The Eddystone Lighthouse was the first lighthouse to be built on a small group of rocks in the open sea and resulted in a few disasters until the present lighthouse which stands there today. Given the harsh surrounding these early lighthouses where a marvel of ingenuity.
TOWER 1698 - 1703
In 1696 Winstanley commenced work on a wooden structure The work progressed steadily until 1697 when a incident occurred in which a French privateer captured Winstanley and took him to France. England was at war with France at this time. However, when Louis XIV heard of the incident he immediately ordered that Winstanley be released saying that "France was at war with England not which humanity". This proved the international importance of the Eddystone Lighthouse.
The light on the Eddystone was first lit on the 14th of November
1698, and although the lighthouse survived that first winter it was found to
be badly in need of repair. The whole top of the structure was removed
and a 2nd tower was then erected.
Having great confidence in his structure Winstanley expressed a wish to be on the lighthouse during a storm. In November 1703, the greatest storm ever recorded in this country occurred and Winstanley had arrived at the lighthouse the evening before to carry out urgent repairs. The following day there was hardly any of the lighthouse structure to be seen and its occupants had disappeared. The lighthouse had survived only five years.
TOWER 1709 - 1755.
The designer of this lighthouse was John Rudyerd, who was a silk merchant. Rudyerd designed a cone shaped tower instead of Winstanley's octagonal shape. His final wooden tower was lit in 1709 and proved much more serviceable than Winstanley's Lighthouse. This lighthouse had been built by a great amateur and stood for 47 years until the night of 2nd December 1755, when the top of the lantern caught fire.
It was reported that 94 year old Henry Hall was the keeper of the watch that night. He did his best to put out the fire by throwing water upwards from a bucket. While doing so the leaden roof melted and the molten lead ran down over him, burning him badly; his mouth was open whilst looking up and some of the molten lead ran down his throat. He and the other keeper battled continuously against the fire but they could do nothing as the fire was above them all the time, as it burnt downwards it gradually drove them out onto the rock. The fire was observed from the shore by a Mr. Edwards, 'a man of some fortune and more humanity'. The old account says he sent off a boat which arrived at the lighthouse at 10 a.m. after the fire had been burning for 8 hours. The sea was too rough for the boat to approach the rock so they threw ropes and dragged the keepers through the waves to the boat. The lighthouse continued to burn for 5 days and was completely destroyed.
Henry Hall died some 12 days later. Doctor Spry of Plymouth who attended him made a post mortem and found a flat oval piece of lead in his stomach which weighed 7ozs. Dr. Spry wrote an account of his findings in this case to the Royal Society of Fellows. The society where very skeptical, he was very annoyed at this, and for the sake of his reputation carried out experiments on dogs and fowls and proved that they could live after having molten lead poured down their throats. (The piece of lead from Hall's stomach may be seen in the Edinburgh Museum)
TOWER 1759 - 1882.
In 1756 a fourth lighthouse was built by Yorkshireman, John Smeaton, recommended by the Royal Society, travelled to Plymouth on an assignment which was to capture the imagination of the world. He had decided to construct a tower based on the shape of an English oak tree for strength but made of stone rather than wood. For such a task he needed the toughest labourers, of which he found plenty from the Cornish tin mines, however, the problem of press ganging (abducting men to labour on ships) became a regular occurrence and to stop this Trinity House had a metal badge made for each lighthouse labourer and arranged with the Admiralty at Plymouth to exempt them from abduction.
John Smeaton needed a strong rock which he found in the local granite, but further he needed the ingenuity to devise new forms of quick setting cement, a way to make dovetail joints in stone, (this method is still used today), and to lift huge stones from ships at sea to considerable heights. He surmounted all these obstacles and succeeded in building his new Eddystone Lighthouse which as lit by 24 candles on 16th October 1759. Smeaton had become the owner of the formula for quick drying cement.
In the 1870's cracks appeared in the rock on which the lighthouse stood and it was dismantled, (120 years after it was built), and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe as a monument to the builder. Smeaton's Tower was moved stone by stone from the Eddystone rocks to its present site on Plymouth Hoe and has been Plymouth's most famous landmark ever since. The stump of Smeaton's tower still stands on the original rock to this day and can be seen in our pictures.
DOUGLASS’S TOWER - 1882 ONWARDS
By now lighthouse construction was a much more refined business largely due to the efforts of Robert Stevenson, who developed Smeaton's idea and contributed many of his own and the French scientist Fresnel who made enormous progress in the field of lighthouse illumination.
Douglass used larger stones and improved on the oak tree model with the help of Trinity House engineers and in 1882 the present Eddystone Lighthouse was completed.
A feature of the stones in the Douglass tower was that they were dovetailed not only to each other on all sides, but each course was dovetailed to the next, calling for great accuracy from the masons.
Its original oil powered lamps were replaced in 1956 by electrics. A helicopter deck was later constructed above the lantern in 1980 as the first part of a modernisation scheme and the station became automated and unmanned in 1982 and was commissioned in a ceremony by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Eddystone Lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich in Essex.
Eddystone Eel Lures would like to thank Trinity House for all of the information gleaned on the History of the Eddystone Lighthouse which made this account possible.
(Photographs courtesy of Rob Street "Vagabond Charters", Tony Allen "Electric Blue Fishing" & Russ Symons Photo Journalist.
Other images courtesy of the Lighthouse Trust)
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