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THE FOURTH AND CURRENT EDDYSTONE LIGHTHOUSE

 

As the lighthouse built by Smeaton began, after many years of good service,  to succumb to the elements, it became obvious that a replacement  must be designed and built on this dangerous site. This time, an  engineer of considerable merit was chosen for the task - James Douglass who had been appointed by the Brethren of Trinity House, (the Authority who care for Britain's lighthouses), as Engineer-in Chief . He and his son William closely supervised in person every detail of the new-build plus the removal of Smeaton's old lighthouse back to the shore. Their success can be judged by the fact that his creation is still out there today, giving excellent service after 130 years.

 

Douglass used the most modern technology available to him in his time and a number of very creative ideas for solving the countless engineering challenges which arose on the job. The first problem he met was where to establish a new site on the rocks. 

 

It was discovered that moving the base of Smeaton's tower was an impossibility and there would be no alternative to creating a site on an adjacent rocky outcrop. However this was always covered in water even at low tide. It would be necessary to construct a coffer dam - a solid wall all round the site creating a hole which could be pumped dry and allow workmen to build the base inside its protection.  Even so, the window of opportunity to work would only be 3 hours in each tide cycle. In the first year, the men worked, standing waist high in seawater, roped to a boat anchored nearby - always cold, always wet, in soaking clothing, and open to all the elements. Somehow they succeeded in getting 7000 tons of granite out to the site 14 miles offshore and fit numbered blocks together with absolute precision. It was two years before this work was finished and it took two more to create and fit the interior of the tower,  Douglass's lighthouse was fully operational from 1882. and the workings had the distinction of being accident-free throughout that time.

 

The tower portion which rose above the base was planned to rise to  twice the height of Smeaton's - a series of "rooms" rose one above the other from the bottom up, they were: 1. the fresh-water tank (embedded in the base); 2. the engine room and fuel store; 3 the winch room into which supplies and fresh crews were landed; 4; the kitchen and living room; 5.the low-light room which illuminated a notorious and treacherous low-lying rocky outcrop called Hands Deep; 6.  the bunk room; 7. the service room from which all equipment was controlled and finally 8. the lantern room.

These days the helipad forms  another level above this - since 1982 Eddystone has not been manned. Electricity was installed in 1959, powered by a generator and the current beam, rated at 570,000 candle power and visible for 17 miles, has no human attendants - helicopters bring maintenance crews in and out on regular visits. Should you visit Plymouth Hoe, look to horizon for its distinctive flash pattern which is twice every 10 seconds; on foggy days you can hear its horn  blast once every 30 seconds. All controlled from an operations centre at Harwich!

 

Eddystone Lighthouse today

Eddystone Lighthouse today.

A clear view of all that remains in situ of Smeaton's Lighthouse to the left of it.

Courtesy of Steve Thomas

 

 
 
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