After the destruction by fire of Rudyard's oak and stone lighthouse in 1755, a structure was commissioned from a John Smeaton of whom it has been said that he never undertook anything that he did not complete to the satisfaction of those who employed him. Although at that time he was not a professed engineer, but a mathematical instrument maker, he had given evidence of great ability, and Smeaton's lighthouse amply justified the confidence that its architect had inspired.
It was a stone structure, broad at the base, and rose with a line curving gradually inwards, to present a slope on which the sea could act with the least resistance. Mr Smeaton himself said that the trunk of an oak tree had suggested the idea. Though there were not wanting those who predicted speedy destruction to a lighthouse built of such rigid material, it stood 122 years, the most terrific storms having only the effect of proving its stability. The whole structure reached to a height of 94 feet and bore at the top, the appropriate inscription "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."
Though Smeaton's work was substantial, the foundations were not, due to the site chosen by others, and the weakening of its rock base rendered it needful at last to substitute a fourth lighthouse structure for the site of which another ridge of the reef was selected. The replacement was designed by Sir James Douglass and was commenced in 1879. Smeaton's Tower was demolished out at sea on its rocky base and the upper part was brought ashore, stone by numbered stone to be re-erected on the Hoe on a new foundation. No longer required as a lighthouse, the foundation stone of the renamed "Tower" was laid 20 October 1882 and in September 1884 it was was opened to the public.*
*Hardy members of the public still pay good money to climb the 93 stairs to see the marvellous view in all directions from the lantern area at the top. And 2012 has seen the passing of another 128 years of its history - perhaps Plymouth's best-known landmark and a lasting memorial to all those brave men who lost their lives attempting to solve the problem of a placing a warning light out on the treacherous Eddystone rocks.
For visitor information, to the Tower go to: (Copy long URLs into your browser and open from there)