Smeaton's Tower

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Smeaton's Tower
Smeatons tower - Plymouth Hoe.jpg
General information
Typeformer lighthouse
and memorial
LocationPlymouth, Devon, South West England
Coordinates50°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

Smeaton's Tower is a memorial to celebrated civil engineer John Smeaton, designer of the third and most notable Eddystone Lighthouse. A major step forward in lighthouse design, Smeaton's structure was in use from 1759 to 1877, until erosion of the ledge it was built upon forced new construction. The tower was largely dismantled and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe in Plymouth, Devon, where it stands today.[citation needed]

The lighthouse is one of Plymouth's most iconic tourist attractions.[citation needed]



The dovetail design in a cross-section of the lower part of the tower.

The Royal Society recommended Smeaton for the task, and he 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 the south-western corner of the harbour to unload and work on stones. Timber rails of 3 ft 6 in (107 cm) gauge were laid for four-wheeled flat trucks, which were used to move masonry around the site. A 10-ton ship named 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]

A contemporary engraving of the lighthouse on the Eddystone Reef.

The work was completed in August 1759 at a cost of £40,000 (£6,172,473 with inflation[3]).[4][5]

Many Cornish tin miners were employed in its construction. To avoid the possibility of press ganging, a practice which was common at the time, Trinity House arranged with the Admiralty that the workers would be immune from the press. Each worker was issued a medal to confirm he was a worker at the lighthouse.[1]

The lighthouse was 72 feet (22 m) in height, and had a diameter at the base of 26 feet (8 m) and at the top of 17 feet (5 m).[6]

As lighthouse[edit]

Painting of the lighthouse in 1846.
Painting by Anton Melbye, 1846.

After the structure was completed, the lighthouse's 24 candles were lit on 16 October 1759.[1] Each candle weighed between 2 and 5 pounds (0.91 and 2.27 kg; 910 and 2,270 g). A timepiece placed alongside the light was set to chime every half-hour (30 min), alerting the lighthouse keeper to the need to replace expired candles.[7]

The lighthouse candles were replaced by oil lamps and reflectors from 1810.[7] Further major renovations were carried out in 1841 by engineer Henry Norris, including the filling of a hole in the rock close to the tower's foundation.[8] Four years later the oil lamps and reflectors were replaced with and improved lamp and Fresnel lens assembly.

The lighthouse 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.[citation needed]

As memorial[edit]

Smeaton's Lighthouse on Plymouth Hoe.

Smeaton's Tower ceased operation in February 1882, following the installation of a temporary light atop its successor (Douglass's Tower), then under construction on an adjacent rock.[7] In 1882 the upper part of Smeaton's Tower was dismantled and rebuilt as a memorial to Smeaton on a new base on Plymouth Hoe,[9] replacing the triangular obelisk that had been built there by Trinity House as a navigation aid in the early 19th century.[10]

The site was opened to the public by the Mayor of Plymouth on 24 September 1884.[11]

The foundation and stub of the old tower remain on Eddystone Rocks, close to the current lighthouse.[4] Since the foundation proved too strong to be dismantled, it was left where it stood. In 1860, a new penny coin was brought into circulation on which the lighthouse was depicted in the background behind Britannia, remaining on the penny until 1894.[12] The lighthouse was also depicted on a number of tokens issued during the nineteenth century in Devon with face values from two pence to one shilling.[13]

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.[citation needed]

Smeaton's Tower has been a Grade I-listed building since 1954.[9] It is open for visitors, who may climb 93 steps, including steep ladders, to the lantern room, and observe Plymouth Sound and the city.[5][14]

On 15 October 2009, as part of a celebration organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the lantern of Smeaton's Tower was once again lit with 24 candles to mark the 250th anniversary of the lighthouse's first illumination.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Eddystone - Gallery". Trinity House. Archived from the original on 2006-09-09. Retrieved 2010-05-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Langley, Martin (1987). Millbay Docks (Port of Plymouth series). Exeter: Devon Books. pp. 1, 3. ISBN 0-86114-806-1.
  3. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Majdalany, Fred: The Eddystone Light. 1960
  5. ^ a b "Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery - Smeaton's Tower". Plymouth City Council. Retrieved 2010-05-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". p. 88.
  7. ^ a b c Clowes, William Laird (1898). The Royal Navy: A History From the Earliest Times to the Present. 3. London: Sampson, Low, Marston and Company. pp. 14–15. OCLC 645627800.
  8. ^ "Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette". 1841-05-15. 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
  9. ^ a b Historic England. "The Smeaton Tower (1386470)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2009-06-30.
  10. ^ Moseley, Brian (April 2013). "Trinity House Obelisk". The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History. Plymouth Data. Archived from the original on 2013-09-28. Retrieved 2015-02-13. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Moseley, Brian (2007-08-31). "Smeaton's Tower". The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History. Plymouth Data. Archived from the original on 2011-03-16. Retrieved 2015-02-13. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "Lighthouse Gossip". Mr Mycetes. Retrieved 2018-04-15. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Davis, W.J. (1904). The nineteenth century token coinage of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man : to which are added tokens of over one penny value of any period. J. Davy and Sons. pp. 39–40. Retrieved 2018-04-15. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery - Smeaton's Tower visitor information". Plymouth City Council. Retrieved 2010-05-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]