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Eddystone Lighthouse, Winstanley Tower, site of
Eddystone Rocks, 22.5km southwest of Plymouth, Devon, UK
associated engineer
Henry Winstanley
date  15th July 1696 - 14th November 1698, 1699
era  Stuart  |  category  Lighthouse  |  reference  SX383336
Henry Winstanley, an engraver and eccentric inventor rather than engineer, built the first offshore lighthouse in Europe on the treacherous Eddystone Rocks. One of his five ships, Constant, was wrecked on the rocks on 24th December 1695 and that event may have prompted him to submit a plan to Trinity House for a lighthouse on a tiny rock island far out at sea.
On 22nd June 1694, a patent had been granted to Walter Whitfield to build a lighthouse at Eddystone on behalf of Trinity House, the organisation now responsible for lighthouses in England and Wales. Whitfield probably realised that the task was beyond his capabilities when confronted with the realities of the location. When Winstanley (c1644-1703) became involved, Whitfield was happy to join forces, undertaking negotiations with Trinity House while Winstanley concentrated on design and construction.
Taking his inspiration from ancient structures such as the Pharos at Alexandria (Egypt) and the Roman lighthouse at Dover Castle, Whitfield decided on a polygonal tower. He built the lighthouse at his own expense, on the understanding that he would collect full shipping dues for five years and half dues for the subsequent 50 years. Thereafter, all profits would revert to Trinity House.
Work began on 15th July 1696. However, in the first season only the 12 iron stanchions that would anchor the structure to the rock were installed. Each was some 4m long and 90mm in diameter, fixed into a man-made socket in the gneiss bedrock with molten lead.
In 1697, work began on the solid circular stone base for the tower. This was 3.7m high and initially 4.3m in diameter, increased to 4.9m in diameter the following year. The stone courses were further clamped with circumferential iron hoops to try to protect the foundations from damage by the sea.
The base was topped with an octagonal wooden edifice with external staircases, a domed kitchen and above that the lantern, which supported a large wrought iron weather vane. The whole structure was 24.4m tall from rock to vane. On 14th November 1698, Winstanley lit the 60 tallow candles in the lantern.
Throughout the construction period England was at war with France, and on Admiralty orders the warship HMS Terrible and her Royal Navy crew were both transport and guard for Winstanley’s team at sea. However, during the warship’s absence on 25th June 1697, a French ship abducted Winstanley from the rock and it took the combined efforts of the Admiralty Lords and King Louis XIV to get him back unharmed in early July.
By the spring of 1699, it was clear that the lighthouse needed to be strengthened and enlarged. It was not uncommon for waves to engulf the entire structure, obscuring the light, and the constant pounding of the sea caused it to rock on foundations the cement of which was being rapidly eroded.
The octagonal part of the structure was taken down and the stone base increased to 6m in height and 7.3m in diameter. More than twice as many iron hoops were fixed around the pillar, in the hope that they would compensate for any deficiencies in the mortar.
The timber part was changed from octagonal to dodecagonal (12 sides) and constructed from thicker members, again bound with iron straps. This more robust creation was embellished externally with inscriptions, scrollwork, ornamental wooden candles, a flagpole and a smaller weather vane. The overall height of the lighthouse increased to around 35m.
All stairways were now internal. Accommodation within the stone base began with a windowless storeroom, with a bedchamber above and over that a state room "with a chimney & 2 closets & 2 sash windews" 5.8m wide and 3.7m high.
In the timber part there was an open gallery with a lead cistern that stored rainfall conveyed from the roofs via lead pipes. Above this was a domed kitchen, with access to the flagpole platform. On top of the kitchen was another bedchamber with a candle store. Then came the lantern itself, 3.4m in diameter and 4.6m high, with eight glass windows and candelabra for 60 candles. The lantern was surrounded by a walkway and had four funnels to let out smoke from the candles.
In the early hours of 27th November 1703 a great storm, vestige of an American hurricane, reached its peak over southern England. The light from the lighthouse vanished shortly before midnight, and by dawn all that remained of the structure was the 12 iron stanchions fixed in 1696. The two lighthouse keepers and Winstanley, who had been visiting the lighthouse, were never found.
The lighthouse had cost some £5,000 to build, and by the time of its destruction had generated a return of around £2,000 in shipping dues. Winstanley's widow Elizabeth applied to Queen Anne for the shortfall, and in 1707 received a Royal Warrant for £200 with a further lifetime annual sum of £100 from 1708. Trinity House received no shipping fees — the lighthouse had been swept away two weeks after its half dues began.
After five years of safety, the Eddystone Rocks claimed their next victim just two days after the storm when the tobacco ship Winchelsea was wrecked on the reef on her homeward voyage from Virginia.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"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
www.cichw.net
www.oxforddnb.com
www.plymouth.gov.uk
www.trinityhouse.co.uk
reference sources   JS
Location

Eddystone Lighthouse, Winstanley Tower, site of