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Friday, November 13, 1998 Published at 21:46 GMT


Eddystone lights candles on 300th birthday

Lighting the way: Winstanley, Rudyerd and Smeaton's Eddystone lighthouses

Britain's most famous lighthouse, the Eddystone, is celebrating its 300th birthday.

[ image:  ]
It was the first lighthouse to be automated and lose its keepers, as part of a cost-saving programme in 1982.

Just up the coast, at North Foreland, the UK's last lighthouse keepers hang up their hats on 26 November.

Throughout its extraordinary life, the Eddystone lighthouse has been a beacon to changes in UK lighthouses.

It has undergone four incarnations, had disaster and tragedy thrown at its door.

[ image: The Douglass tower: Still standing]
The Douglass tower: Still standing
The first face of Eddystone was an eccentric wooden tower built by showman Henry Winstanley in 1968.

During his labours he was kidnapped by French pirates.When he was finally released, his creation was destroyed by one of the greatest storms this century.

Still, it had lasted five years and the next man to have a stab was John Rudyerd. He too went for wood but chose an octagonal shape.

It lasted 47 years until it was floored by fire. Unfortunately keeper Henry Hall died, not from the blaze but through swallowing molten lead from the roof.

[ image: Ode to a legend]
Ode to a legend
John Smeaton's groundbreaking granite and cement design in 1759 would probably still be standing if cracks had not appeared in the rock below.

It was dismantled and James Douglass's tower - the Eddystone of today - was completed on a neighbouring rock in 1882.

It was a sad day for some when the last keepers left.

[ image: North Foreland: Shining bright despite its loss]
North Foreland: Shining bright despite its loss
Fisherman turned coastguard Roger Brimmacombe said: "The lighthouse keepers were our eyes - they could see missing boats, tell the weather and were very knowledgeable.

"Those at the Eddystone were special because when you've been blundering around in the Atlantic, you always looked to that lighthouse to know if you were safe."

David Appleby: "We have outlived our usefulness"
North Foreland keeper David Appleby understands the sentiment. He holds fond memories of his first posting on the Eddystone in 1967 when he was 21.

Now its influence is taking hold again he is philosophical rather than sad.

"I suppose we have outlived our usefulness. The technology seems good, so we just have to find something else to do," he said.

When he and his colleagues leave on 26 November, a way of life will have come to an end.

[ image:  ]
For nearly four centuries Trinity House keepers in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and at Gibraltar have saved ships and lives, sometimes in conditions of hardship.

Often several generations of a family succeeded each other in the profession. Many of their exploits have become folklore or part of public record.

But as one chapter closes, another opens. Eddystone is next year to embrace another change - solar power.

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