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Eddystone Lighthouse, Rudyerd Tower, site of
Eddystone Rocks, 22.5km southwest of Plymouth, Devon, UK
associated engineer
John Rudyerd
date  July 1706 - October 1709
era  Stuart  |  category  Lighthouse  |  reference  SX383336
The first lighthouse on Eddystone Rocks was a timber tower built by Henry Winstanley, who was lost along with the lighthouse in a storm on 27th November 1703. Continuing loss of vessels made another beacon imperative and the next to try was John Rudyerd, a Cornwall-born London silk merchant. He used shipbuilding techniques aimed at enabling the lighthouse to move with the sea rather than (fail to) resist the waves.
On 12th January 1705, Captain John Lovett received a lease from Trinity House to build a lighthouse at Eddystone. This time, Trinity House was determined to derive some income from the venture, as the the earlier light had been lost before they could derive any benefit. Throughout the 99-year lease, Lovett and his heirs would pay an annual rent of £100 in return for collecting shipping dues. A patent to build the lighthouse was granted by Parliament in summer 1705.
Lovett engaged Rudyerd on the basis of his design, which had a smooth conical 'hull' for the tower with an internal central 'mast' and four 'decks'. Rudyerd and his team of 20 workmen began construction in July 1706.
The threat of war with France was ever present, and the men were issued with Admiralty certificates exempting them from naval press ganging. Warships were also sent to guard the team while they laboured on the reef.
Whereas Winstanley had founded his lighthouse on the naturally sloping surface of the House Rock, Rudyerd decided that a stronger foundation would be achieved by cutting the slope into a series of steps. This foreshadowed the work that would be done by John Smeaton on a later tower. However, the gneiss bedrock tended to flake, and the seven steps were cut more roughly than intended.
Then 36 iron stanchions, arranged in two concentric circles, were fixed into the rock. Each stanchion consisted of a pair of iron poles 2m long splayed at one end. The sockets averaged 460mm deep and were 180mm in diameter at ground level, 150mm diameter half way down and 200mm diameter at the bottom. The holes were sponged dry and filled with hot tallow, the poles were heated and inserted splay first into the holes. Finally, molten lead or pewter was poured into the sockets, displacing the tallow and forming a moisture-free seal between rock and stanchion.
The Royal Navy sent two master shipwrights, Norcott and Smith, to help Rudyerd with the construction of the tower. Most of the superstructure was made from seasoned English oak, including the foundation courses shaped to fit around the stepped bedrock. The foundation was up to 3m high and 7m in diameter.
In the centre of the foundation was a square wooden mast some 15m high, around which was built the 'ballast' core of the tower. The initial layer was five courses of Cornish granite (moorstone) followed by two courses of timber beams. There was a second layer like this, and a third layer of four courses of granite and one of timber. In all some 280 tonnes of granite were used.
The lower 3m of the core was solid, with an exterior staircase, but the top 6.5m of the core contained spiral stairs winding around the mast. Above the core were five rooms. In ascending order they were storeroom, keepers' living room, bedchamber, kitchen and lantern.
The outer surface of the lighthouse was constructed from 71 near-vertical timbers, caulked with oakum and sealed with pitch to form a waterproof shell, similar to a ship's hull. The tower tapered to 4m in diameter at the gallery, which was topped with a hexagonal lead-roofed lantern. The whole structure was 28m tall from rock to cupola.
Although the lighthouse was not completed until October 1709, the 24 candles in the lantern were lit for the first time on 28th July 1708. The project had cost Lovett £10,000 and on his death in 1715, the lease was bought by a syndicate of Robert Weston, Alfred Noyes and a Mr Cheetham.
The lighthouse had two keepers but this was increased to three after the death of one left his partner tending the light alone for a month during the winter with only a dead body for company. The keepers noticed that the structure rocked and vibrated in stormy weather.
By 1723, marine boring worms had infested most of the timbers in contact with the sea. A rolling programme of timber replacement was begun by shipwright John Holland and continued by Josias Jessop. In 1744, a storm destroyed 30 of the 71 upright timbers of the shell.
Over the years, the chimney from the kitchen stove — which vented through the cupola — corroded. On the night of 1st December 1755, sparks from the chimney ignited the layer of greasy soot that had built up inside the lantern. The fire quickly took hold on the pitch-coated timber tower. The heat was so intense that the lead roof melted, raining down upon the oldest keeper, Henry Hall. The lighthouse was equipped with just a single bucket with which to fight the flames.
The three keepers managed to find shelter from the inferno beneath an overhang of rock, from where they were rescued the next day. Sadly, Henry Hall died 12 days later and an autopsy revealed a 200gm lump of lead in his stomach. The lighthouse burned for five days, and even the granite ballast blocks split apart. By the next spring only the stanchions remained.
Shipwrights: Norcott and Smith
Shipwright and surveyor: John Holland
Lighthouse surveyor: Josias Jessop
Research: ECPK
"A narrative of the building and a description of the construction of the Edystone lighthouse with stone: to which is subjoined, an appendix, giving some account of the lighthouse on the Spurn Point, built upon a sand"
by John Smeaton, G. Nicol, London, 1793
"Eddystone — 300 Years" by Jason Semmens
Alexander Associates, Fowey, 1998
"Smeaton's Tower" by Christopher Severn, Seafarer Books, Woodbridge, 2005
reference sources   JS

Eddystone Lighthouse, Rudyerd Tower, site of