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Eddystone, Devon

Historical Description

Eddystone, a reef and a lighthouse in Devonshire, in N lat. 50º 11', W long. 4º 15', and 10 miles SSW of Plymouth Breakwater. The reef consists of gnuiss rock; is narrow, and about 100 fathoms long; lies at such elevation as to be quite covered by the sea at high water, and not very much above it at low water; and had long a mournful notoriety as the scene of shipwrecks. It probably got its name from the eddy or whirl occasioned by the sea-current striking against it. A question was debated for many years among engineers whether a beacon or lighthouse could be raised upon it of sufficient character to possess stability and to guide mariners. At length, in 1696-99, a lighthouse of a polygon of wood and stone 100 feet high, was built upon it by Henry Winstanley, but was swept away, together with its projector, by a furious storm in 1703. A second lighthouse, a conical structure of wood and stone 92 feet high, was erected in 1706-9 by Mr Rudyard, but was destroyed by fire in 1755. A third lighthouse, all of granite, modelled on the form of the trunk of an oak, 26 feet in diameter and 100 feet high, was built in 1757-59 by Smeaton, and this one stood until its place was taken by the present structure. It was so dovetailed into the rock as to be practically identified with it, and as seen at almost any time, but especially in a storm, it looked very imposing. For some years previous to 1877 the lighthouse-keepers had experienced alarming tremors and oscillations in the building, and on careful inspection it was found that not the lighthouse, but the rock on which it stood, had become insecure. It was therefore determined to erect a new lighthouse on a fresh site at a distance of 40 yards from the old one, in a SSE direction, for which designs were prepared by Mr J. N. Douglas, engineer-in-chief of the Trinity House. The work was commenced on 17 July, 1878, and on the 18 May, 1882, H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh formally lighted the lantern. The tower of the new structure consists of 2171 granite blocks, containing 63,020 cubic feet or 4668 tons of masonry; the total height above high-water mark is 133 feet, the base, to a height of 25 feet, being solid, with the exception of a large water tank let into it. The range of visibility of the new light is 17¼ miles. The old Smeaton lighthouse has been removed and built up on the Hoe at Plymouth.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5