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Smeaton's Tower - 250 years old
Smeaton's Tower
Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe - still standing tall

On 16 October 1759, the 24 candles of the third Eddystone Lighthouse shone out for the very first time.

Some 250 years on, the lighthouse - now better known as Smeaton's Tower - is positioned on Plymouth Hoe, one of Devon's iconic symbols.

These days, it is part of Plymouth City Council's museums department and is a visitor attraction. You can even get married there.

It was originally built 14 miles offshore at a cost of £40,000.

On a clear day you can still see the stump on the horizon where Smeaton's Tower once stood proud against the elements.

You can also just about make out the fourth and current Eddystone Lighthouse perched on the treacherous Eddystone rocks.

At the time, Smeaton's Tower was a revolutionary lighthouse design and the brainchild of engineer John Smeaton.

Smeaton's seen from the sea
Smeaton's Tower - a view from the sea

One thousand tons of granite and Portland stone, it stood 72 feet tall on one of the most notorious reefs in the English Channel.

The first lighthouse, an octagonal wooden tower, was washed away, along with its creator Henry Winstanley, during a violent storm in 1703.

The architect had travelled from Essex to ride out the bad weather - confident his construction could withstand the worst storms. It was a tragic error which cost Winstanley his life.

The second lighthouse was burnt down after a fire broke out in the lantern. During the blaze the lead cupola began to melt and as the duty keeper Henry Hall was looking up he swallowed seven ounces of molten metal.

Lump of lead

It's said no one believed him until he died a few days later - when doctors found a lump of lead in his stomach. It can now be seen in the Edinburgh museum.

In 1756 John Smeaton was asked by the Royal Society to come up with a design for the third Eddystone light. His inspiration was an oak tree - a tall natural object that could withstand gales without breaking.

And that's how he built it - using 1,493 blocks of stone, like the rings of a tree all dove-tail jointed together with marble dowels and oak pins.

A dance at Smeaton's
Smeaton's Tower is used for community events such as dances

Just like a tree, the tower bends in the wind.

It's hard to imagine what it was like out there in the middle of a raging storm, as it bent to and fro and the waves crashed right over the top. It sounds terrifying, but the tower never snapped and now it's the model for all lighthouses built on rocks.

In 1810, the 24 candles were replaced by oil lamps and reflectors, before lenses were put into place in 1845 to increase light intensity.

Permanent reminder

The lighthouse protected shipping for 120 years and there's a good chance it would still be standing there today had the relentless pounding of the waves not eroded the foundation rock on which it stood.

When it was finally replaced in 1882, Smeaton's Tower was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe - where it has stood since 1884 as a permanent reminder of the Yorkshire-born engineer who created it.

John Smeaton has another claim to fame - he also invented quick-drying cement!

Send us your photos of Smeaton's Tower for inclusion in our gallery. E-mail: devon.online@bbc.co.uk




SEE ALSO
Smeaton's Tower through the ages
13 Oct 09 |  History
Shedding light on Devon's beacons
03 Sep 09 |  History

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