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Grave of John Smeaton
St Mary's Church, Colton Road, Whitkirk, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
Grave of John Smeaton
associated engineer
John Smeaton
date  1792
era  Georgian  |  category  Grave of Engineer  |  reference  SE362336
photo  E.M. Wimperis, after T. Sutcliffe
John Smeaton — one of the first true civil engineers — is buried in the parish church of Whitkirk, east of Leeds, not far from where he was born and lived. He died on 28th October 1792, having suffered a stroke six weeks earlier while walking in the garden of his family home at Austhorpe Lodge. Eddystone Lighthouse is perhaps the most celebrated of his works.
John Smeaton (1724-1792) is rightly known as the founder of the profession of civil engineering. He understood and used engineering as a science and was the first to define his work as ‘civil’ rather than ‘military’ engineering. In a productive career, he engineered projects across the width of Britain, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands.
Smeaton’s wide-ranging interests included scientific instruments, steam engines, canals, harbours, bridges, lighthouses, mills and astronomy. A fascination with how things work led him to make and test models of his schemes, continually refining his designs and recording his findings. He embraced a multi-skilled approach to resolving challenges and inspired others with his intelligence and ‘can do’ attitude.
In addition to Eddystone Lighthouse, he is remembered for many other major civil engineering works, including the Forth & Clyde Canal, Ramsgate Harbour, Newark Flood Arches and Perth Bridge.
The church where he is buried, St Mary's at Whitkirk, lies 1.3km to the south west of his residence, Austhorpe Lodge (demolished, probably in the 1930s). Built by his grandfather, the lodge was also the place of Smeaton’s birth.
Though it’s likely that an earlier church existed on the site, the present St Mary's dates from the 12th century. However, its structure is mostly 14th and 15th century, with later additions and alterations. The 12th century font, a single piece of magnesium limestone, came from the same quarry used for the construction of York Minster. Smeaton’s daughters Ann (b.1759) and Mary (b.1761) had both been married at St Mary’s, in August 1780 and December 1781 respectively.
Smeaton is most likely buried inside the building rather than in the churchyard. Stone slabs in the floor of the chancel are thought to cover the graves of various members of the Smeaton family. One inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of Ann, wife of John Smeaton, of Austhorpe, F.R.S. They were married June 8th, 1756. She died January 17, 1784, aged 59. Also of the above John Smeaton, who departed this life Oct. 28, 1792, in the 69th year of his age.
His daughters also erected a memorial on the north wall of the chancel. The marble tablet is headed by a carved representation of Eddystone Lighthouse. It bears the dedication:
Sacred to the Memory of JOHN SMEATON, F.R.S.
A Man whom God had endowed with the most extraordinary Abilities which he indefatigably exerted for the benefit of Mankind in works of Science And philosophical research: More especially as an Engineer and a Mechanic. His principal work The EDYSTONE [sic] Light-house, erected on a Rock in the open Sea (Where one had been washed away by the violence of a storm, And another had been consumed by the rage of Fire). Secure in its own stability and in the wise precautions for its safety, seems not unlikely to convey to distant Ages As it does to every nation of the Globe, The name of its Constructor.
He was born at Austhorpe, June 8th 1724, and departed this Life Oct. 28th 1792.
Also Sacred lo the Memory of ANN, the wife of the said JOHN SMEATON, F.R.S., Who died January 17th 1784.
In 1855-6, the church underwent restoration and its interior was modernised. In 1888, a marble pavement was laid in the chancel, covering several memorial slabs including the one dedicated to Smeaton. The was Grade I listed in September 1963, and in 1980, major restoration was carried out and the interior was refurbished in its original style.
Smeaton’s life and achievements are also commemorated — twice — in London’s Westminster Abbey.
In 1862, a stained glass window was erected in memory of Robert Stephenson (1803-59), which also features portraits of Smeaton, James Watt (1736-1819), Thomas Telford (1757-1834), John Rennie (1761-1821) and George Stephenson (1781-1848).
On 7th November 1994, a memorial stone of Purbeck marble was unveiled in the north aisle of the nave. It includes a bronze inlay of Eddystone Lighthouse, and reads:
JOHN SMEATON CIVIL ENGINEER 1724 1792
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"Records of the Parish of Whitkirk" by George Moreton Platt and John William Morkill, Richard Jackson, Leeds, 1892
www.bbc.co.uk/history
www.historicengland.org.uk
www.leodis.net
www.westminster-abbey.org
www.whitkirkchurch.org.uk
reference sources   SmilesJSDNB
Location

Grave of John Smeaton