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Spurn Point Lighthouses (1776), site of
Spurn Head, East Riding of Yorkshire
associated engineer
John Smeaton
date  1771 - 5th September 1776
era  Georgian  |  category  Lighthouse  |  reference  TA397108
Spurn Head is a 5.6km spit of sand and gravel that protects the Humber Estuary. It has both increased in length and moved westwards over time, and it is a danger to shipping. Lighthouses have been built on the point since 1427, and in 1776, John Smeaton completed a pair of permanent lights, as was usual at the time.
Lighthouse pairs consisted of a lower light and an upper light, which enabled ships' captains to take a bearing on each to fix their positions. By the year 1766, the previous pair of lighthouses, built by Justinian Angell circa 1674, were so far inland of the growing Spurn Head that they were themselves a danger to shipping.
John Smeaton, who designed Eddystone Lighthouse, produced drawings for two lighthouses and two temporary lights. These were approved by Trinity House on 21st February 1767. The temporary lights were built that summer by Leonard Thompson of Sherriff Hutton, York. Their ownership and duties and profits generated — from charges to passing vessels — were shared three-quarters by John Angell of Stockwell, Surrey, and one-quarter by Thompson.
After some difficulties in letting the contract to build the permanent lighthouses, William Taylor of York was selected as the lowest priced contractor by Trinity House on 7th April 1770. Smeaton was appointed Surveyor of Works on 6th May 1771, by which time the east side of the spit had receded. The position of the lower light was altered by some 73m towards the northwest. Work then began on the lower light's foundations, driving timber piles to a depth of 2.7m. These works were completed on 23rd July 1771 and the lower lighthouse in December 1773.
A dispute with John Angell held up work on the upper lighthouse for a year but at the end of 1772, pile driving for the foundations began and was completed in February 1773. Four concentric circles of timber piles were driven to a depth of 2.9m and topped with a stone platform some 300mm thick. The upper lighthouse was 27.4m high and built in brick.
In January 1776, a storm exposed the low light’s foundations. Smeaton decided to use hard Hazlecliff chalk stone armour to protect against scour. He then constructed a circular outer wall, founded deep in the sand, and filled the gap between it and the lighthouse tower with more chalk stone.
Both lights were exhibited for the first time on 5th September 1776, using local Cracklers stone coal, which burns with a bright white light. After finishing remedial works, Smeaton certified final completion on 7th April 1777. Oil lamps replaced the coal fires in 1819.
Smeaton's lower lighthouse was replaced in 1852.
In 1892, cracks were discovered in the brickwork of the upper light and the tower was said to move in high winds. It's likely that the foundations were not deep enough and had settled, or perhaps the timber piles had become exposed and begun to rot. A new upper lighthouse was constructed in 1895, and Smeaton's tower demolished.
Main contractor: William Taylor
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
"Reports of the late John Smeaton, F.R.S. made on various occasions, in the course of his employment as a civil engineer" by John Smeaton
Vol.I, p.183-189, Longman Hurst Rees Orme and Brown, London, 1812
Location

Spurn Point Lighthouses (1776), site of