Smeaton's Tower

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Smeaton's Tower
Smeatons tower - Plymouth Hoe.jpg
General information
Type former lighthouse
and memorial
Location Plymouth, Devon, South West England
Coordinates 50°21′52″N 4°08′31″W / 50.36441°N 4.14183°W / 50.36441; -4.14183Coordinates: 50°21′52″N 4°08′31″W / 50.36441°N 4.14183°W / 50.36441; -4.14183
Completed 1759

Smeaton's Tower is the third and most notable Eddystone Lighthouse. It marked a major step forward in lighthouse design. In use from 1759 to 1877, it was largely dismantled and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe in Plymouth, Devon, where it now stands as a memorial to its designer, John Smeaton, a celebrated civil engineer.


The dovetail design in a cross-section of the lower part of the tower
A contemporary engraving of the lighthouse on the Eddystone Reef
The base of Smeaton's Tower still in position next to the current Eddystone Lighthouse

The Royal Society recommended Smeaton to the task, who modelled the lighthouse on an oak tree. He rediscovered the use of "hydraulic lime," a form of concrete used in Roman times. The technique allowed concrete to set under water, as Smeaton put granite blocks together using dovetail joints and marble dowels.[1] Construction started in 1756 at a site in Millbay, where Smeaton built a jetty and a workyard in southwestern corner of the harbour to unload and work on stones. Timber rails of 3 ft. 6 in. gauge were laid for four-wheeled flat trucks, which were used to move masonry around the site. A 10-ton ship named the Eddystone Boat was based here, and transported worked stones out to the reef. The ship carried the 2¼-ton foundation stone out in the morning of 12 June 1756.[2]

The work was completed in August 1759[3] at a cost of £40,000 (£5,472,401 with inflation[4]).[5] Many Cornish tin miners were employed in construction, to avoid the possibility of press ganging, a practice which was rife at the time. Trinity House arranged with Admiralty in Plymouth, so that each worker was issued a medal to confirm that he was a worker at the lighthouse.[1]


After the structure was completed, the lighthouse's 24 candles were lit on 16 October 1759.[1] The lighthouse was 72 feet high, and had a diameter at the base of 26 feet (8 metres) and at the top of 17 feet (5 metres).[6]

In 1841, major renovations were carried out by engineer Henry Norris, including filling of a hole in the rock close to the tower's foundation. [7] It remained in use until 1877 when it was discovered that rocks upon which it stood were becoming eroded. Each time a large wave hit, the lighthouse shook from side to side.

The upper part was dismantled and rebuilt as a memorial to Smeaton on a new base on Plymouth Hoe in 1882,[8] replacing the triangular obelisk that had been built there by Trinity House as a navigation aid in early 19th century.[9] It was opened to the public by Mayor of Plymouth on 24 September 1884.[10]

The foundation and stub of the old tower remain on Eddystone Rocks, close to the current lighthouse.[3] Since the foundation proved too strong to be dismantled, Victorians left it where it stood. The lighthouse was depicted on British penny coins from 1860 to 1894, and again from 1937 to 1967.

An 1850 replica of Smeaton's lighthouse, Hoad Monument, still stands above the town of Ulverston, Cumbria as a memorial to naval administrator, Sir John Barrow.

Current use[edit]

Smeaton's Tower has been a Grade I-listed building since 1954.[8] It is open for visitors, who may climb 93 steps, including steep ladders, to the lantern room, and observe Plymouth Sound and the city. It also has an active Twitter account @smeatonstower.[5][11]


  1. ^ a b c "Eddystone - Gallery". Trinity House. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  2. ^ Langley, Martin (1987). Millbay Docks (Port of Plymouth series). Exeter: Devon Books. pp. 1, 3. ISBN 0-86114-806-1. 
  3. ^ a b Majdalany, Fred: The Eddystone Light. 1960
  4. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  5. ^ a b "Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery - Smeaton's Tower". Plymouth City Council. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  6. ^ "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". p. 88. 
  7. ^ "Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette". 15 May 1841. p. 3. The Eddystone Lighthouse has within the past few months undergone a complete renovation, under the direction of Mr. Henry Norris, engineer...a large cavity in the rock, close to the foundation of the light-house has been filled up 
  8. ^ a b "Images of England – The Smeaton Tower". English Heritage. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  9. ^ Moseley, Brian (April 2013). "Trinity House Obelisk". The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History. Plymouth Data. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  10. ^ Moseley, Brian (August 2007). "Smeaton's Tower". The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History. Plymouth Data. Archived from the original on 16 March 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery - Smeaton's Tower visitor information". Plymouth City Council. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 

External links[edit]