The Eddystone Reef
in the English Channel is
where I cut my teeth and learned all about fishing from several friends, notably
David Toy, Spencer Vibart and a reel old salt of the sea Alfie Briggs. Sadly all
of these guys have now passed on. They all used land marks to fish. The
Eddystone Reef is a notorious group of rocks and has seen its fair share of
Latitude: 50° 10’.80 N
04° 15’.90 W
Established 1703 (present tower 1882).
Height of tower 51 meters.
of light above Mean High Water 41 meters.
Range 24 miles.
570,000 candle power.
Light Characteristics-- White Group Flashing twice every
Subsidiary Fixed Red Light-- covers a 17˚degree arc marking a dangerous
reef called the "Hands Deep".
Fog Signal-- Super Tyfon sounding three times every 60 seconds.
Automatic Light--Serviced via Helicopter Platform.
of the world's most famous, if not the most famous lighthouses is the
Eddystone Lighthouse, which stands on
a treacherous group of rocks some
fourteen miles out at sea in the English Channel, bearing 211° from Plymouth Breakwater, in the
South West of the United Kingdom. This group of rocks was a graveyard
for vessels traversing the English Channel.
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
first tower attempt to render the Eddystone Reef of rocks safe
to shipping was by
Henry Winstanley a merchant and we are told an
eccentric. Winstanley invested money in shipping and it was one of these
ships that was wrecked on the Eddystone Reef. It was then that
Winstanley promised to rid the English Channel of such a menace to
shipping. This first lighthouse was a marvel of early engineering.
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
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.
During the following spring Winstanley greatly altered and strengthened
his 2nd tower whilst imparting numerous new features. The lighthouse was
finally finished in 1699.
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
3rd lighthouse was built by a man who managed to get a patent charter
Eddystone Lighthouse. His name was Captain Lovett. He managed to
get a lease on the Eddystone Rocks for a period of 99 years by an Act of
Parliament. As a result he was allowed to charge all ships passing a
toll of 1 penny per ton, both inwards and outward. I am unsure how this
was collected but it must have been interesting.
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
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
experiencing the benefit of a light on the rock for 52 years
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 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
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 picture below.
DOUGLASS’S TOWER - 1882 ONWARDS
No time was wasted in building yet a 5th lighthouse on the rocks.
In 1877 James Douglass, Engineer-in-Chief to Trinity House, announced
the decision to rebuild the lighthouse on a more solid foundation to the
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.
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.
Why are these rocks so treacherous?
They 14 miles offshore? Perhaps this picture tells all?
Lighthouse is now monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations
Control Centre at Harwich in Essex.
ELECTRIC BLUE FISHING would like to thank Trinity House for all of the
information gleaned on the History of the Eddystone Lighthouse which made this
(Photographs courtesy of Rob
Street "Vagabond Charters", Tony Allen "Electric Blue Fishing" & Russ Symons Photo
(Other images courtesy of the Lighthouse Trust)
Above image courtesy of TRINITY LIGHTHOUSE CORPORATION