The 4th, current lighthouse and stub from the third. Image from Wikipedia
Eddystone is probably the most famous of all the UK's lighthouses and was the first in many ways.
Eddystone Lighthouse is on the treacherous Eddystone Rocks, 9 statute miles (14 kilometres) south west of Rame Head, 13 miles south west of Plymouth. While Rame Head is in Cornwall, the rocks are in Devon and composed of Precambrian Gneiss.
The current structure is the fourth lighthouse to be built on the site. The first and second were destroyed. The third, also known as Smeaton's Tower, is the best known because of its influence on lighthouse design and its importance in the development of concrete for building. Its upper portions have been re-erected in Plymouth as a monument, and is open to the public.
The fourth and largest of the Eddystone lighthouses was completed in May 1882 amidst a blaze of publicity and, as we see, still survives today.
It was founded on the actual body of the Eddystone reef some 40 yards to the south-east of Smeaton’s site and was completed in three and a half years. It was designed and built by James Douglass, Engineer-in-Chief of Trinity House and stands at 40 metres high.
Over the last 60 to 70 years a number of changes have been introduced to the tower. Electric power was introduced in 1959 and a helicopter landing pad was built on the top in 1980 to enable maintenance personnel to land and carry out inspections.
In 1982 the lighthouse became fully automatic, bringing an end to 284 years of Keepers of the Eddystone Light. It is now controlled from Penlee Point Signal Station, near Cawsand, Cornwall.
Most recently, in August 1999, the electric light in the lantern began to be generated by solar panels. Today, the beam can be seen up to 17 miles away.
The current Eddystone Lighthouse - Aerial photo by Marinas.com (more images are available)
On the left is the stub of the third lighthouse (Smeaton Tower) which was pulled down and moved.
The History of Lighthouses on this site
Winstanley’s Tower 1698 - 1703
The first attempt to maker the Eddystone safe to shipping was by Henry Winstanley. He was an engraver, merchant ship owner and designer of mechanical waterworks. As a showman he had established "Winstanley's Waterworks" near Hyde Park which remained one of London's foremost popular attractions for decades. As a merchant he had invested money in 5 ships and when for the second time one of his ships, the ‘Constant’, was wrecked on the rocks in 1695, Winstanley promised to rid shipping of this menace.
Just two days after the tragedy the tobacco ship, ‘Winchelsea’, was wrecked on the reef but it would be another three years before someone was appointed to design a new lighthouse for the place where Winstanley’s once stood.
Although considered to be
one lighthouse there was some
Old postcard (date unknown)
Rudyerd’s Tower 1709 - 1755
Captain Lovett acquired the lease of the rock for 99 years, and by an Act of Parliament (patent charter) was allowed to charge, all ships passing, a toll of 1d per ton, both inward and outward. His designer was John Rudyerd, a Ludgate Hill, London, based silk merchant with West Country roots, who he engaged to design and build a new lighthouse for the Eddystone reef in 1706.
Smeaton’s Tower 1759 - 1882
Smeaton's Lighthouse, the third lighthouse, marked a major step forward in the design of such structures, and for the first time on this site was the work of a leader in the civil engineering profession of his time. This is also where Trinity House became involved.
After experiencing the benefit of a light for 52 years, mariners were anxious to have it replaced as soon as possible. Trinity House placed a light vessel to guard the position until a permanent light could be built. In 1756 a Yorkshireman and civil engineer John Smeaton, who had been recommended by the Royal Society, travelled to Plymouth to take on this task He had decided to construct a tower based on the shape of an English Oak tree for strength but made of granite blocks rather than wood.
The top half of the tower was dismantled and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe, on a new granite base, as a monument to the builder. The remaining stump, the foundations, proved too strong to be dismantled easily, so the Victorians left them where they stood and they still stand on the Eddystone Rock.
The British pre-decimal One Penny Coin, obverse side, features Smeaton's Lighthouse.
See also Smeaton's Tower.
Postcard photo of painting showing Smeaton's tower left and Douglass' right standing together
Douglass’s Tower - 1882 Onwards
A replacement lighthouse was able to be planned and replacement could occur quickly. The new larger tower, 49 metres (161ft) high, was designed by James Douglass, at the time Engineer-in-Chief of Trinity House. It was founded on the actual body of the Eddystone reef some 40 yards to the south-east of Smeaton’s site. He used Robert Stevenson's developments of Smeaton's techniques. Douglass used larger stones, dovetailed not only to each other on all sides but also to the courses above and below. It was completed in three and a half years, and in 1882 the present Eddystone Lighthouse was opened amidst a blaze of publicity, by the Duke of Edinburgh, who laid the final stone of the tower.
Photochrome postcard of the Douglass tower and case from Smeaton's, probably taken 1920's
This was the first Trinity House rock lighthouse to be converted to automatic operation on 18 May 1982, 100 years to the day since the opening of Douglass's tower by the Duke of Edinburgh, bringing an end the 284 years of Keepers of the Eddystone Light.
During the last 60-70 years a number of other changes have been introduced to the tower. Electric power was introduced in 1959 and a helicopter landing pad was built on the top in 1980 to enable maintenance personnel to land and carry out inspections. Most recently, in August 1999, the electric light in the lantern began to be generated by solar panels. Today, the beam can be seen up to 17 miles away.
Eddystone Lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich in Essex.
There are many paintings of this series of lighthouses and many of these together with a longer six page history can be found by clicking here.
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