John Smeaton’s model for the foundation of the Eddystone lighthouse


John Smeaton was a great 18th century engineer, from Austhorpe, Leeds. He coined the term “civil engineer” and the symbol used by the Institute of Civil Engineers is an image of one of Smeaton’s most famous creations, the Eddystone lighthouse, built on the Eddystone Rocks fourteen miles from Plymouth, in the English Channel . The Eddystone Rocks are a major shipping hazard and are marked by a lighthouse beacon as a warning to shipping. The first lighthouse lasted only five years and was destroyed, and its keeper killed, in a truly fearsome storm, of hurricane proportions, in 1703. Smeaton’s lighthouse, the third to be built on the Eddystone Rocks, lasted much longer, from 1759 until 1877. The structure itself was sound, but it was the rocks underneath that were being undermined by wave action that led to the decision to replace Smeaton’s lighthouse. At the end of its serviceable life the citizens of Plymouth had it dismantled and re-built in Plymouth, so proud were they of this extraordinary pioneering structure. The Leeds collections have the model that Smeaton made for the foundation of the lighthouse. It underwent conservation a while ago, to glue back together some of the wooden components. It is made of oak, and it was in effect the instructions to the masons on how to make the flat platform on which to build the lighthouse. It is comprised of interlocked stones, dovetailed together and let into dovetailed recesses cut into the Eddystone Rock, to key it all together. The story of the lighthouse’s innovative and pioneering design and construction is a fascinating vignette of someone who could engage the brain and solve a significant problem.
Institute of Civil Engineers:
A great little primary school in Austhorpe, Leeds, also uses the the Eddystone lighthouse as the signature symbol of the school. This beacon of learning is rightly proud of Austhorpe’s greatest son:
During the spring and summer of 2011 Temple Newsam House had a John Smeaton exhibition. Smeaton undertook several projects at Temple Newsam House and estate for the Irwins. The exhibition gave an overview of Smeaton’s career and significance, as well as details of his most important accomplishments, especially his famous lighthouse. In addition to items from Leeds collections, we were privileged to borrow objects from the Royal Society, of whom Smeaton was not only a Fellow, but a Copley Medallist as well.

An old West Country folk song about the Eddystone lighthouse is good fun!
Eddystone Lighthouse folksong




4 Comments Add yours

  1. Yes, we've got him on the Tapestry. Is this model on display at the moment?

    B

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  2. Ian says:

    I am not sure. I think the model is kept at Armley Mills; they also have Smeaton's lathe. You could lobby for a Smeaton display at Leeds, I think he deserves it. Like John Harrison, he was a truly great man who solved infrastructure problems, and no doubt saved countless lives.

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  3. Polly Putnam says:

    Umm Temple Newsam are probably having a Smeaton exhibition in the next 18 months….

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