The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
A popular local quiz question is to ask in which order the lighthouses were built on the Eddystone or Edystone reef, 14 miles off Plymouth.
The light-keeper who had discovered the fire was 94-years-old Mr Henry Hall (there was no retirement at 65 in those days!) and he was immediately taken to his home in Stonehouse, where he was attended by Doctor Spry. Mr Hall was suffering great pain and he told the Doctor that before he could cure the pain he should remove the lead from his stomach. Doctor Spry rejected this suggestion on the simple basis that he felt Mr Hall could not have survived if he had indeed swallowed any lead. Twelve days later Mr Hall died. When Doctor Spry opened the body he found d a lump of lead weighing some seven ounces, which Mr Hall had accidentally swallowed while attending to the fire.
Mr John Smeaton was then engaged to construct a new lighthouse. He took it very seriously and firstly examined the plans of the previous lighthouses and consider the causes of failure of the other buildings. Having noticed that the oak tree, with its root structure, was able to withstand high winds by virtue of its shape and strength, he conceived the idea of designing a lighthouse to be like an oak tree. Furthermore he decided to prepare the stonework on shore, rather than try to do it on the rock. This would speed the work, he felt.
Work started on the stones at a yard at Mill Bay on Monday December 13th 1756, under the direct supervision of Mr William Tyrrell, who had previously been the mason working at Portland in Dorset on the stones for the Westminster Bridge in London.
On June 12th 1757 the foundation was laid and on August 24th 1759 the last stone was put in place over the eastern door of the lantern. The lantern was first lit on the evening of October 16th that year, which just happened to coincide with a storm. There was some movement of the building but none such to cause alarm to the occupants. Mr Tyrrell died on November 15th 1759 at the age of 63 years and was buried at St George's Church, Stonehouse, Plymouth.
The Douglass lighthouse
Smeaton's lighthouse would be still on the Eddystone rocks today but for the fact that the rock on which it stood was becoming undermined by the sea. Mr James Douglass, son of the builder of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse off the Isles of Scilly, Mr Nicholas Douglass, was chosen to construct a replacement on an adjoining rock.
He designed one that was twice as tall and four and a half times larger than Smeaton'. But he also had the benefit of some advantages that were not around in Smeaton's day. He could use pneumatic rock drills, mechanical cranes, winches and pumps, had quick-setting cement and the use of a twin-screw steamer, the "Hercules", which could carry 120 tons of stone and was built as a floating workshop as well transporter.
But the work was not quite finished. On Saturday December 10th 1881 the working season ended and the large force of workmen were brought ashore for the last time that year. The last relief of the keepers before Christmas was made on Tuesday December 13th 1881 and the moorings by which the steamer "Hercules" had been berthed during the summer were brought ashore to the Trinity House Yard at Oreston. "Hercules" then left Plymouth on Thursday December 15th 1881 for the Trinity House head-quarters at Blackwall, London, where it was to be overhauled. 
In a short report about the 1881 season, the press pointed out that back in March 1881, when the season commenced, the new lighthouse was only a little over 30 feet in height and that by June 2nd it had increased by a further 85 feet. The lantern, which took the height upwards by another 31 feet 6 inches, was completed in October 1881 and had the rapid progress been anticipated then it was possible that Messrs Chance, of Birmingham, could have had the light in place and operating on January 1st 1882. 
As it was, Trinity House published a notice stating that: 'the fixed light at present shewn from the old tower will be temporarily exhibited from the new tower at or soon after the end of January 1882, and thenceforward until the month of March following, by which time the new light will be ready'. 
Apparently there had been one accident -- but only one -- during the construction, which was rather light heartedly described as 'Mr Edmonds's hasty descent on the outside of the tower from a height of 57 feet'. The fall was not fatal. 
The new light was first lit on May 18th 1882, after which James Douglass was awarded a knighthood by Queen Victoria.
But the people of Plymouth had a nostalgic feel for their old lighthouse and asked the Trinity House if they would dismantle it and transport the stones to Plymouth, where they would arrange for it to be re-erected. Thus Smeaton's Tower still stands prominently on Plymouth Hoe, a well-known landmark and a fitting tribute to all the engineers and workmen who had laboured to mark the notorious Eddystone Reef and save the lives of countless hundreds of seamen, of all nationalities.
|© Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK|
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