The Eddystone Lighthouse

There are many places I would like to go and film for the Bald Explorer – as you know the programmes are self funded at the moment and because of that I am very limited in the locations I can go. It takes about ten days to shoot an episode and the great expense is accommodation. I suspect that there would be far more costs involved to do a piece about the Eddystone Lighthouse.

My previous post was about the Great Storm of 1703. It was an event which although caused colossal devastation and an estimated 8000 deaths, not to mention a terrible blight to the Royal Navy and other sea faring ships, it goes pretty unnoticed in most history books. The tempest, as written about by Daniel Defoe in The Storm, published in 1704, does get its biggest claim to fame in the destruction of the first Eddystone Lighthouse.

The Eddystone Rocks are an extensive reef approximately 12 miles SSW of Plymouth Sound, one of the most important naval harbours of England, and midway between Lizard Point, Cornwall and Start Point. Taking a wide berth meant almost hugging the coast of France. Many ships had come a cropper and become wrecked on these treacherous rocks.

England has been on and off at war with France in our 2000 year history and it was deemed sensible to provide a light or warning beacon to the position of the rocks, particularly so that mariners were able to navigate to and from the Plymouth harbour safely, especially in bad weather.

Henry Winstanley was a showman and an eccentric who had become famous for his waterworks near Hyde Park; it was a popular attraction for tourists and travellers both in Britain and abroad. Winstanley also lost cargo in his own ships to the hazard reef and decided that something must be done. He designed a lighthouse and informed the Admiralty of his intent to erect it on the dangerous Eddystone Rocks.

Work commenced in July 1696. Finding a suitable place to build such a thing wasn’t simple and it took a while to survey. He was provided with a man-of-war the Terrible, which enabled him and his men to get close and row out with supplies. However, only the rods, roughly twelve feet long, part of the foundations, had been drilled and positioned into the hard rock by the end of the summer and the team had to wait until the follow year to continue the work.

The following year much better progress was made and by the end of June, Winstanley thought it safe enough to stay overnight in the shell. The construction was fine, he just hadn’t expected a French ship to come alongside and kidnap him. Fortunately, he was released and returned to work.

On 14th November, 1698, 60 candles were lit in the lantern room and finally the much needed warning light drifted over the Plymouth Sound. In the spring of 1699, Henry returned and discovered that much deterioration had occurred in such a little time to the wooden superstructure, that he decided to adapt his original building by encasing it with an outer layer, four feet thick of stone and he also raised it an additional 40ft higher. Some people refer to this as the second Eddystone Lighthouse, giving the impression that it had either fallen down or been completely rebuilt from scratch. In fact, this was really a modification and strengthening to the original.

Sadly, when the 1703 storm came, Henry Winstanley, so convinced of his design and strength of the lighthouse made the decision to sit out the night in it. His fate was sealed, for although it had lastest well for five years, the waves and wind were like of which that had never been seen before. The lantern was smashed and water filled the innards of the building. Winstanley and the other men with him all perished.

The Bald Explorer is a self funded project, making and producing TV programmes that become broadcast on the not-for-profit Community Channel and on their Youtube Channel. If you would like to help and see more episodes produced, you can assist by making a donation to the special Paypal account – the donate button is on the right hand side of the Bald Explorer website. Thanks so much.

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