The Eddystone Light
The Eddystone is one of the most famous lighthouses in the world. Not only is it the subject of the well-known ‘The Keeper of the Eddystone Light’ sea shanty but it was the first offshore lighthouse to be built in the open sea on exposed rock barely above sea level.
The current lighthouse, the fifth on the site, marks a treacherous reef 13 miles (22 kms) south east of Polperro in Cornwall. The light flashes twice every ten seconds. On a clear night it can be seen from the cliffs around Polperro, Talland or Looe.
In 1690 King William lll commissioned a lighthouse to be built here
The reef presents a hazard to shipping approaching Plymouth and before the first lighthouse was built, 50 ships a year were being wrecked on it. In 1690 King William III established what is now Devonport Naval Dockyard. He decided that a lighthouse should be built to mark the deadly reef. The King commissioned Henry Winstanley to achieve this task.
Winstanley built the first lighthouse out of wood and it was finished in November 1698. Heavy winter storms damaged it and it had to be rebuilt in the spring. The second structure lasted 4 years but in 1703 it was washed away in a violent storm, along with the keepers and Winstanley himself, who was visiting at the time.
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The 3rd Lighthouse here lasted 47 years
The first two structures had been ornate rather than functional, but in 1708-9 John Rudyerd built the third lighthouse using shipbuilding principles. He built a narrow, tapering column with a ship’s mast through the middle for flexibility. The base was ballasted with stone and the whole structure clad in wooden planks, caulked with oakum and pitch to make it watertight. The light lasted for 47 years before it burned down when the lantern’s candles set fire to the roof.
The light source for these early lighthouses was candles. In 1780 the Argand oil lamp was invented. Its output was equivalent to that of 10 candles and it ran on whale oil. In 1810 candles were replaced by Argand oil lamps and reflectors, which gave the equivalent of 216 candlepower.
Lighthouse keepers had to frequently trim the wicks to ensure the light shone steadily without flare-ups which could be misinterpreted as a flash. Trimming also reduced the carbon deposits on the interior of the lamp’s lens.
In 1755 John Smeaton designed and built a granite block lighthouse using revolutionary design principles and a newly invented quick drying cement. This lighthouse can now be seen on Plymouth Hoe and is called Smeaton's Tower, a tribute its designer.
The current granite Eddystone Light is 95 feet (29 metres) above sea level
The current lighthouse was built in1882 and is the tallest to stand on the site at 95 feet (29 metres) above sea level. It is built of granite blocks, each weighing 3 tons (2.7 tonnes). In 1956 it was altered from oil burning to electric power, with an intensity of 570,000 candela and a range of 24miles (38.6 kms). In 1982 the lighthouse was converted to automatic (un-manned) operation.
- By Car:
From the Plymouth to Bodmin A38 highway, take the A387 at Budge's Shop to Looe and Polperro and thus to the Eddystone Light.
Google Map - The Eddystone Light