The British Empire and its effect on Plymouth

John Smeaton

John Smeaton was the person who built the first long-lived and successful lighthouse on the Eddystone Rocks. The Eddystone Rocks had long caused problems for unwary ships travelling up the English Channel - whether they were putting into Plymouth or not! The treacherous rocks lay 14 miles south of Plymouth.

In 1755, a wooden lighthouse had been destroyed by fire on the rocks. A suitable candidate to build a more permanent structure was sought and Smeaton's name was recommended. It was something of a challenge to build on the isolated rocks. Building work out at sea was necessarily restricted to the summer months; preparation of the masonry went on in the winter. One of the early decisions to be made related to the choice of mortar, and it is characteristic of Smeaton that during the winter of 1756'7 he devoted many evenings to research on the nature of hydraulic limes (limes that can set under water), thereby taking the first steps in the chemistry of cements. The lighthouse remained on the rocks for 120 years before being removed to Plymouth Hoe and replaced by the current working lighthouse. It says something for his success that his techniques were copied and became the standard for building all future lighthouses.

Empire in Your Backyard: Plymouth Article | Significant Individuals

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by Stephen Luscombe