Eddystone Lighthouse – A Short History
The Eddystone Lighthouse is located on the Eddystone Rocks, around 14 miles southwest of Plymouth in Devon. Over the years, there have been five lighthouses protecting the Eddystone Rocks. From land, the most recent incarnation of the Eddystone Lighthouse can only be seen on a clear night. The cliffs around Polperro, Talland and Looe offer the best chances of catching a glimpse.
What has now become Devonport Naval Dockyard was established in 1690. Upon recognising the danger posed by the Eddystone Rocks, King William III commissioned Henry Winstanley to design and build a lighthouse. Construction started in July 1696, however, it was not until 14 November 1698 that its first light was lit, when it became the first offshore lighthouse in the world.
As this early lighthouse was constructed from wood, it did not fare well over the winter months and had to be virtually rebuilt the following year. The second incarnation was a strengthened and enlarged version of the first and stood until 1703, when a hurricane hit, sweeping away not only the lighthouse and its keepers but also Henry Winstanley, who was working on the building at the time.
In 1908, John Rudyerd began construction of a third lighthouse. Compared to its predecessors, it was much more streamlined, being narrow to lower resistance and ballasted at the base with stones. It lasted 47 years, until one night in December 1755, the candles in the lantern set light to the roof. The three keepers at the time were rescued the next day, however, one died 12 days later having swallowed molten lead from the burning roof.
Construction of John Smeaton’s take on the Eddystone Lighthouse began in 1756, taking three years to build. It was constructed from granite blocks with dovetail joints, using quick-drying cement to hold it together. This was extremely effective, and soon became the standard way of building lighthouses across the world. It was so effective that it had to be deconstructed 127 years later due to the rock it was sitting on showing signs of stress. It was moved and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe, thanks to funds raised by the people of Plymouth.
The fifth Eddystone Lighthouse was designed by James Douglas, with construction completed in 1882. It has had several updates over the years, being changed from oil burning to electric in 1956, having a helideck added in 1980, and being converted to automatic operation in 1982.